Why you may have had a bad therapy experience » myShrink


You could say I'm the poster child for "bad therapy experiences". Don't despair - watch this video for a real eye opener.

"Therapy: It's an Inside Job"

  • Peasy says:

    This is perfect and sounds just like my current wonderful therapist. The problem here is ME! I have not yet been able to relax enough in her gentle presence to allow her to work with me despite continuing and various body awareness and relaxation efforts. I want so much better open up to her, but how do I do it? We are both frustrated.

    • Shrinklady says:

      Hi Peasy, yeah, I can imagine it’s frustrating. That “on guard” part of our brain can be a force to be reckoned with.

      I’m not sure whether you’re checking into your body or not. When you mentioned, “body awareness” it seemed that you might be. In any case, that would be the fail safe method of trying out different techniques. You can usually trust your body to tell you what’s a trigger.

      And I wasn’t sure if you’re familiar with the workings of the reptilian brain. That’s essentially what’s calling the shots in your sessions even though you might trust your therapist. It means that how you’re automatically responding to your therapist isn’t your fault. It’s just that the reptilian brain requires a different set of criteria in order to be safe.

      If you haven’t already, try the 12-Second Chill just to be sure you understand how to check in. Then enlist your therapist in an exercise whereby you sit back a few feet from her. Once you’re there, try checking in again to your body to see if it made a difference. You can experiment with distance to see what’s right. Once you’re feeling safe (less activated in your body), you can attempt to move forward in little baby steps.

      I’m glad you asked the question because learning to just “be” with your therapist is so key to your therapeutic process – I’d want this to get settled before getting too deep into the details of your life.

      Best wishes for your therapy,

  • Hilary says:

    Dear Shrinklady, thank you so much for your nurturing and very practical and do-able teaching! It’s exactly what I needed so thank goodness I found you!

    I used to feel so overloaded and often worse at the end of a session with my therapist. We did do a little body/sensing in – but not nearly enough and not in the same way you describe. I’ve started practicing your ideas and it’s making a massive difference in my life in general. And I’m only two weeks in to your course.

    I haven’t spoken yet to my therapist about this new self-soothing skill I’m able to do and wonder what the best way to describe it is. I think she will definitely get it and I’m hoping I’ll be brave enough to ask her if we can do this in sessions. I’m right at the end of therapy and with transference still resolving I think it’s important for me to really absorb this liberating skill.

    How would you sum up your brain wise/body sensing techniques in a few sentences so I can share that with her?

    • Shrinklady says:

      I love to hear that you’re finding these techniques helpful Hilary. Thank-you. It’s these kinds of comments that inspire me to get the word out there.

      So you asked how to broach the subject with your therapist. Just before I reply I’d like to share something about my work. Because it was definitely shaped by my clients – I learned what worked and what didn’t from them. For instance, I don’t recall ever being taught how to work with freeze in the way I do now. That came straight from my clients. So in saying this, I’d like to empower you Hilary to share your own experience with her – that any brain science would take a back seat.

      Actually, it sounds as if you have the type of therapist who is equally open to your input on what works and what doesn’t. I might begin by sharing how you’re using these techniques in between sessions and how it’s helping you. And I’d be very specific on how you felt it worked for you. If her input is positive, I’d offer the idea that you’d like to try one in your session. (If you feel that’s too bold for you Hilary, put the suggestion to her in the form of a question. “I know we haven’t been working this way in general however, I understand from my reading that others are using this technique in their therapy and finding it useful. Do you think it might be worthwhile for us to give it a go?”

      If you’d like to share some brain science…

      I think the biggest revelation from neuroscience and it’s application to therapy is that the brain changes best via “experience”. You see, an “experience” happens in the present and the brain will only change in the present. So thinking about the past or trying to anticipate events in the future doesn’t change you. These aren’t considered “experiences” for the brain to learn from.

      For instance, many folks come to therapy after they’ve unsuccessfully tried to change themselves. They may have read self help books and have had good intentions of changing but it didn’t stick. So therapy has that advantage – it offers an experience that’s hard to replicate on your own.

      It’s also known that the emotional area of the brain doesn’t understand language (except for some emotionally laden expletives and heart felt sayings). So merely talking to your therapist (i.e. with little emotional content) or “thinking through” has it’s limits in terms of changing us. However, when we sense the body we’re actually tapping into the same brain area where emotions reside. We’re also having an “experience” which accounts for why it helps just where it’s needed.

      Your therapist may also have come across the idea that “insight is not sufficient for change”. In other words, while learning about our history and patterns in therapy helps us to appreciate how we got to be the way we are today (it’s comforting to know we came by our problems honestly) – it’s hard to get us to change at our core with that alone. Rather, when we become present to our emotions (that is, we hang out in the body sensations that reflect our emotions) or we merely bring our attention to the sensations in our body, we’re actually doing exactly what the brain needs in order to make change happen.

      Hope that gives you a few idea to go on Hilary. Thanks again for your comment.


  • Lisa says:

    Dear Susan
    You are brilliant. That box analogy is so spot on. Ha!
    Every time I watch /listen to one of your pieces its like – YES! Exactly! ShrinkLady is soooo onto something here. WHY oh why is this not common knowledge/practice for ‘recognized health professionals’.

    I can’t help thinking future generations will look back at therapy in this period and think – as we do about previous generations – ‘Can you believe that’s what we thought was the best way to treat people?! Can you believe professionals and ‘modern medicine’ were that ignorant of basic biological functioning?! I can’t help thinking Cukoos nest except prescription drugs are the 21st century lobotomy. Thank YOU for having the courage to go against the grain and for sharing your wisdom.

  • Sarah says:

    I am very happy to find your site, Shrink lady.

    I am the object of bad therapy by a famous and trusted psychiatrist who decided to read a book about Brain Spotting. He must of skipped the most important section on “grounding” me first.

    What happened is I would go into many violent memories that I had disassociated from, as if they were happening for the first time. Even after the office appointment, the movie reel of my life with a violent psychopath continued. I wanted to jump off the balcony. He gave me medication, I wanted to jump off even more, and doubled locked the doors.

    After taking the course, the sessions were a “piece of cake”. but I am still remaining shattered from the initial memories. Because I lost respect for his unethical method (using a therapy without training) I lost respect and stopped going to him. I am trying to heal on my own, but realize that I do need a lot of help.

    • Shrinklady says:

      Oh I’m pleased to hear you’re no longer seeing that psychiatrist Sarah. It’s so discouraging to hear reports like this…you go to therapy to heal and end up being re-traumatized 🙁 That was not supposed to happen.

      I’m not familiar with what techniques were used in your sessions Sarah but the “movie reel” flashbacks can get triggered if there’s too much discussion going on and not enough “containment”. This usually happens when therapists aren’t checking in with their clients as the session proceeds. Like clients need to be prompted to gauge their activation throughout the session. And the only accurate way of assessing your activation is to check into your body which it sounds as if this whole part was missing for you…as you say, he needed to have started with “grounding”. You’re absolutely right about that.

      Do you have some courage left to try therapy again with another therapist Sarah? It might sound odd to go to therapy to heal from a bad therapy experience, but it might be really helpful.

      If you do take this step, I’d strongly recommend a body-based therapist. In my view they’re the best trained practitioners for working with trauma.

      Every therapist needs to be aware of working with trauma using “titrated” baby steps however few do except for body psychotherapists. And they’re the only therapists that I know who are encouraged to use their own internal signals as guides. That adds another level of safety so there’s less of a chance in being re-traumatized.

      In fact, with body psychotherapy you wouldn’t even be talking about traumatic events until there’s a lot more stability in your nervous system. That way, by the time the subject comes up, you’re in a better emotional state to handle it. So hopefully, this information might lessen any hesitation in giving therapy another try.

      Thanks for your comment and all the best,


  • Tom says:

    Really good video.

    Was seeing 2 separate therapists for the past several months, one of whom seemed to “know it all” but…really just irritated me, but, I could keep seeing “he was right” or wondering “dang, what if…he is right and I ignore what he’s saying?”

    The other guy, like you shrinklady, is really on the same plane as Daniel Siegel (that’s how I found him, but searching for therapists into mindsight in my city, and scanning through pages of Google’s results til I found just that). I’m able to explore my discomforts while being soothed and seen and understood.

    I just ended with the irritating, a**hole therapist today, and seeing this video tonight helps make sense of a lot of this. (Funny, I found your site searching “authority issues” after the a**hole therapist made this claim about me, and I do dig your website, so thanks to him, I guess?)


  • sue says:

    I’ve been pretty overwhelmed for some considerable time, both inside and outside therapy, but couldn’t explain to myself what exactly is going on with me! Now I know! Now I know why I’ve been failing at my job, in relationships, moving forward with ‘my new found life’ (a long story…), not sleeping, etc etc. Thank you Shrinklady! I look forward to exploring your website more, reading your book and watching more videos, but right now I’m just going to think about the crisis-comfort-freeze zones.

  • Judy says:

    I loved your video. It made perfect sense to me and you presented the ideas in a really clear way.
    I have gone to therapists forever, most were kind and helpful. One molested me and I ended up being worse off than when I started. I have a great therapist now, but this is a new way of looking at the
    chaotic feelings that seem overwhelming at times. Thank you.

    • Shrinklady says:

      Thanks for your post Judy and sharing your experience. It’s quite disheartening to hear stories of therapist betrayal, especially when we’re reaching out for help and are already feeling vulnerable. That kind of breach in trust can catch us off guard. It’s not supposed to happen. Therapy should be one area of life where we needn’t have to worry about feeling safe. So I’m sorry that happened to you.

      It’s wonderful to hear though, that you had the courage to get back into therapy. That says a lot about you.

      I’m glad the movie resonated with you.


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