Bad therapy experiences to avoid and what to do instead

young woman curled up tensely looking out window presumably obsessing about her transference relationship with her therapist

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

Bad therapy experiences you can learn from

Click to open for transcript

Hi, I'm Dr. LaCombe, or Shrinklady if you've been by myShrink.com. If you've looked at my writing, you know that I'm pretty excited about neuroscience and the potential it has for changing the brain . . . Because, as you know, if we change the brain, we change ourselves.

I've been using this in my practice, I've experienced it myself as a therapist and as a therapy client, and it is huge, huge for changing the brain because . . You know, I get the impression when I'm talking to people about their therapy, well . . . I get the feeling that they're waiting for change to happen, like they're waiting for it to show up.

But consider this. What if you had a pretty good idea on how change actually occurs in the brain and you could take advantage of it?

Inside a session or outside of session. Actually could use it any time, because that's what this this idea holds for people. It has the potential for changing the brain at a fundamental level. And I think if you're starting to make some kind of change and you don't use this idea, then I think it's going to be hit and miss. So if you're interested, let's get started.

So I was chatting with a client one day and she was saying a lot of her friends had tried therapy, but actually they gave up after three or four sessions and she didn't quite get that because she was in her second year and she was trucking along and making actually making excellent progress.

And I think what her friends were finding is exactly what goes on for a lot of folks. They go for only a few sessions, like they go to therapy, but they find that it doesn't feel very good and they suspect that it might even get worse and they feel it in their gut. It's like they're just not sure about it. And then they give up on it.

You know, I get these emails from folks telling me about their therapy all the time. And the impression I get from their stories is that the therapist is at such a distance, they feel like, well, like they're kind of hanging out there. There's just not the kind of support that's needed. The therapist is too far apart emotionally, and it's really hard when we're moving through the tough stuff.

Some of the emails I get from folks tell they tell me that they might be crying constantly in their sessions and they can't stop. But what's worse is that they're not feeling any better.

See, what's missing in their therapy is the emotional resolution that comes when the work is contained. It's like they show up for therapy like this and they look like this or like this. So what do I mean by contained?

Well, your work is contained when your therapist is helping you move into emotions and then more importantly, through them so that there's a feeling of being settled. So you walk out the door and it's not like going to take you a whole week to put yourself back together again, like what's happening right now with this little girl. Someone is trying to soothe her. And she's being contained, she's learning to self soothe by being soothed from another and her nervous system is learning this and she's going to have that later in life to draw.

You see, what I think is happening is that folks in therapy are going way outside their comfort zone and the therapist isn't able to bring them back. So let me let me explain. Like, this is a diagram of a healthy nervous system. And what I want you to notice is the zone of comfort, because when the nervous system is healthy, we're operating here most of the time. Whatever is happening is contained inside this window. Crisis mode is like feeling easily agitated, cranky often people have anxiety or you're feeling frayed at the edges.

Now in freeze, you're pretty much in shutdown mode. You're feeling blah, maybe burnt out. You have a kind of, oh, I can't be bothered or what's the point of this kind of attitude? Mainly because you're exhausted and sometimes you wonder what's life about because you just don't feel much of anything. You're numb and what's common to both? Your boxes are all open.

You're pulled in several directions at once. You can't prioritize. Go back here. When the nervous system is working optimally, you can close the boxes and then just deal with one at a time. You can deal with one task, one task at a time and stay focused on it. OK, here's the therapy connection. Folks are coming into therapy and they're not changing. Or maybe they're getting worse. You see, by the end of the session, they end up in freeze mode.

Maybe what got talked about takes them right out of the zone or they're in crisis mode, maybe something in their interaction between the therapist and them took them right into crisis mode. See, it didn't get processed and they're hanging out there. But this is what needs to happen in your therapy sessions where we're gently moved back into the zone every time we go too far, the better that you and your therapist are actually able to accomplish this, the more your nervous system is going to is going to move naturally into the zone like this.

You're in the flow. So my main message, the brain learns best inside your comfort zone, and in time your nervous system will learn a new way to be. And this applies to actually most learning. It doesn't matter. Like if you're in therapy or not, you will learn best inside your comfort zone. Learning anything outside your comfort zone is a chore in freeze mode or crisis mode. Basically, we're in survival mode and there's just not a lot of space for new learning to make real change.

You need a healthy, nervous system that needs to be a priority before you get into the deep stuff. So before you get into deep emotional work, your nervous system needs to be ready. Your nervous system needs to be ready to start making those types of changes. However, it is ready to make other kinds of changes, changes that will get your nervous system working better.

So in the coming weeks, I'll be helping you learn how to maximize your nervous system and stay within the zone. So watch your inbox for a lot more of my freebees.


Deep, lasting  change is literally an “inside job”. Brain research explains why: your nervous system must learn new ways to manage stress and emotion if you want better relationships, effective therapy, and a better quality of life overall.

In this movie, Dr. LaCombe describes what really happens when we get stuck in crisis or freeze mode, whether in therapy or in daily life

Praise for the Brain-Wise Video

Mellerbe
Shrink lady – you rule!!!! thanks for this. It makes perfect sense to me – well put together presentation that speaks clearly to non-psychologists...

Joy
Again some really fascinating insights which I want to use in my relationships. I’d love to be more chilled about other people’s annoying habits!...I really like the simple example in the movie of not reacting to the partner dropping clothes on the floor. . .

Victoria
I have just listened to your movie for a second time and bells rang and lights came on. Big bells, bright lights! This is marvelous and I am so excited. Very many grateful thanks to you, and pleeeeeeeze keep going and sharing your ideas and thoughts with us.

Vikki
I have loved both your movies because oh boy I have learned so much from them! So much applied and applies to me. Now I simply have to find a way of staying or at least spending much more time in my Comfort Zone.....Thank you for literally letting me see such things even exist.

Shirley
It totally relates to my life.... Thanks Susan, it makes soooo much sense, looking at it that way. Always a pleasure reading (listening to) you.

Lisa
Thanks for the video – it is very good and you are a clear communicator as well as conveying instant warmth and caring.

Lesa
I’m actually a college student studying to be a counselor so this really interests me.
Becoming “brain-wise” will actually help me in the long run I think. Thanks for the videos!

Sarabb
I think it’s fascinating and I love the way you are personalizing it and putting it all into understandable bytes....I’m looking forward to finding out more about how to take active steps towards creating change for myself. Thanks!

Monica
I am excited about this series. I love learning new things. While I was listening to the slides, I evaluated my current therapy experience.

Soulfuldaze
Great presentations Susan, thank you so much for making these. I love to see a professional step out of their “comfort” zone in order to reach out and help more of us.

I do agree that, great wisdom through painful experience…is an inside job. I truly appreciate and applaud your efforts to make it more understandable for everyone.
I will continue to read…watch….and learn. Thanks again…

Joy
I loved this movie – thank you so much for this! It explains a great deal why some of my past therapy experiences have made me feel worse, not better. The explanations about containment and comfort zones are especially enlightening about this. Also the info about the way the nervous system and the brain work really makes sense. Brilliant stuff – every therapist should know about it.

Morph
thanks for pointing up that “couch potato” is an identifiable problem, on the spectrum of things needing therapy. I have tended to see it as my fault, something I just need more self-discipline to overcome. 

Evelyn
Makes perfect sense and you explained it so well. Can’t wait to learn more.
Great job!

Allison
This video really spoke to me. I work as a trauma counsellor and find discussions around the nervous system to really help normalize client’s difficulty with post-traumatic responses (eg. depression, anxiety, dissociation....For me (and I believe The Shrink Lady has some awesome info on the website) it’s strongly about discharge...P.S. I really liked the idea of using a Rainbow analogy. Very creative

TP
Great video! This helps me not be so hard on myself and to allow myself to go in and out of the zone. You hit a key point about the emotions and being in the comfort zone before going there. Thanks for sharing this great information!

Rachel
I love this. You explain it so simply and clearly, Susan. I will be blogging about this video today.Thanks for being a great resource for therapists and clients!


From Dr. LaCombe . . . Therapy Bootcamp

product illustration showing the online program called therapy bootcamp works on all devices and includes many courses on dealing with transference in therapy

Questions and Dr. LaCombe's Replies

Can't open up in therapy

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Peasy

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.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychologist

Shrinklady

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,
Shrinklady

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Hilary

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?

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychologist

Shrinklady

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.

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Rose

Hi Shrinklady,
Thank you for sharing this. I’m studying to be a music therapist and I have come to realize that I have to accept how my survival mode in an anxious (frozen or crisis) state affects me. It’s been very humbling, but I have to take care of myself so I can be aware of how to take care of my future clients.

With that, I have noticed that my verbal communication is muted when I want to speak my mind. It’s like I have to react when someone asks me a question, but this only happens in a situation that is out of my comfort zone. I would like to learn how to move in and out in my comfort zone so I can speak what I am thinking and not jumble over my words, have trouble listening, and catch on to the general culture that I have noticed others do not believe I catch onto. Internalizing has been my way of surviving, but it can be very unhealthy too in the way that I choose to internalize.

Rose

P.S. I also want to thank Sharon for sharing because this is a topic that I want to become aware of for myself at a personal and professional level.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychologist

Shrinklady

Oh you’re welcome Rose. Music therapy eh…that’s wonderful….love the “right brain” type therapies.

I was glad to hear you mention how important it is for us therapists to take care of ourselves. Indeed, in my own experience, that route has offered the greatest impact on how I work with clients (I was in body-based therapy). It’s been a direct correlation…as I have become attuned to my own body and emotions, I have become more attuned with my clients.

And just to offer some hope…it is quite possible to re-regulate the nervous system so you live your live well within the Zone. The key is to reduce your nervous system arousal pattern on an ongoing basis and especially at times when it’s hardest to do. That in itself, will help to bring you into the present. (You can use the 12-Second Chill for this….although there are easier ways too.)

Now, it does takes a concerted effort over a period of time and there are times when it’s really tough. Even as you begin though, you’ll notice changes in yourself. In fact, I continue to be amazed how clients’ lives continually open up in unexpected ways as their nervous system becomes more regulated.

If you do indeed give it a try, please come back and let me know how it’s going.

Best,

Shrinklady

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David

Your advice makes so much sense to me. This is exactly what I feel.

When I think back to therapy sessions or opening up to others, the feelings you describe are what I get. I feel like I’m touching on something that needs to be touched upon, but it’s like I’m opening up pandora’s box and I don’t know how to deal with it all. I don’t feel any more in control than when I began.

But when I compare that to, say, exercises I’ve done with my swim coach (who’s also a tai chi instructor) that have left me feeling in total control of a difficult mental situation, the feelings are like night and day. The exercises we do involve breath holds and hypoxic training where we relax the body and then put it in a state of stress (low oxygen)… then come out slowly and relaxed, breathing deeply. After a few minutes we do it again. When I finish doing that, I feel like I’ve just conquered one of the deepest parts of my mind and put myself in a state of absolute clarity. It’s amazing.

This video explains why far more clearly than any other explanation I’ve seen. Thank you.

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Rich

Unlike many of your responders, I am (and have been) in a productive therapy relationship for over two years. The crux of the matter is this, I am on the tail end of a 3 + year downward spiral including the evaporation of a ten year marriage, a company closure from a well paying job, the loss of real estate holdings, investments and very, very low income since that point in time. I am also in the process of losing my personal home, I am driving a borrowed car and vacillate between my ‘Freeze Zone and Crisis Mode. I am currently in the latter at a higher state than in quite some time and feel hopeless and truth be known, if not for my daughter, my life would have nothing much to show for the years I have been on this planet. I am despondent, go through periods of rage followed by lethargy. I am intellectually aware of what is happening to me but the emotional waves that come over me are overwhelming and debilitating. I know I need to ‘do something’ but am seemingly powerless to do so and economically trapped at present. I am seeing absolutely no purpose to my life other than fathering my daughter. She is the only value in life I still hold dear. I am feeling crushing defeat at present. This is no way to live and I know thee is another ‘side’ to this, I just don’t see when it will appear again.

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Donnie

It’s so helpful to have this explained in its simplest form. I’ve never been able to pin it down long enough to explain what it is that happens to me at any almost given moment. If that’s how you’ve always been, you kind of have to think that it’s just the way you are. I’ve always thought of a comfort zone as being risk free. Meanwhile I’m swerving in my lane, either getting lost or stuck in a ditch. My therapist is wonderful, and what you are saying is very consistent with her insight as well. She has recommended some mental exercises designed to increase my ability to focus on the current moment in a mindful way. While I’ve managed to develop a pretty decent imagination, I think it’s time to bring my thoughts home to a more comfortable and happier place. Thanks for the video.

Feeling overwhelmed and freezing

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Lisa

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.

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tina coyle

Sounds great how do I get to stay away from whats the use…is that overload or just frustration fro doing all the hard work and not seeing my efforts come to fruition.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychologist

Shrinklady

Hi Tina, yes, I would agree that kind of thinking of “what’s the use” is often coming from “overload”… one way of describing a freeze mode. When we’ve been trying so hard, as you have been, it’s very tempting to do more of the same particularly during those times when we feel some of our energy returning. We automatically revert to what we’ve always done i.e. trying harder.

The problem with “trying harder’ when we’re still coming out of freeze mode though is that we risk being pushed deep into a helpless state where we feel victimized as if something is being done to us. I might suggest an alternative strategy.

Indeed, it might not be in the “trying” where the real problem is located, rather there might not be enough active engagement in the process (of either being in therapy or in your life circumstance – I wasn’t quite sure what circumstance were referring to above).

And…to be fully engaged in the process requires a presence of mind. Unfortunately, we come full circle because being in freeze mode makes being present even more of a challenge.

The alternative to “trying hard” is in “letting go” but not in the usual sense of “thinking” your way there. Coming out of freeze mode requires something quite different than coming out of crisis mode.

I hope that gives you some food for thought Tina.

Shrinklady

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kim

Hi again, what i find the most helpful is the acknowledgement of physical pain…so many therapists in the past have told me, the pain is not real….it’s really in my head. and you are right, but it doesn’t dismiss or negate my feelings or pain experience. thank you for doing what you do.

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kim

Hi there, i am just into therapy and we have talked about neuroplasicity (sp?) when you have always been in crisis or freeze mode as you call them, the first step is knowing what it’s like in the comfort zone…..it’s been months now and i am still exhausted….i think i am beginning to understand that this REAL work takes time. I always wanted to know how to fix me, what i needed to do….my therapist says, “the slower i go, the faster i will get there” thanks for this video – it puts it into plain language that most of us dealing with anxiety or the like can relate to …keep working with us,
thanks,

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Kim

I have been in threapy for a year and a half and am still feeling like I have 100 boxes open at a time. The problem is I leave threapy feeling ok, but go back to the same enviornment so the feelings come crashing back down on me. I am overwhelmed, can’t think straight, and feel like I am drowing. The only reason I stay afloat is my son. I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have him in my life. Your video explains exactly what happens with my emotions and my physical being. I am glad to have this to use as a support system outside of my threapy sessions.

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Deirdre

I am so glad i found your site. All your dvd’d have been very helpful and help me to see that there is hope at the end of the tunnel and i am now able to understand where my therapist is moving to in the sessions. I feel more prepared and in control and spend less time in crisis mode. By using the chill and recognize when my body is screaming at me, i have experience allot less physical pain.

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Deirdre

I have found a great therapist and i really trust her, but when i enter the room i automatically go into crisis or freeze mood. We talk about the family and that is fine, but as soon as we need to deal with the deep stuff, i stutter or have slurred speech or most of the times say nothing. My thoughts travel through my head, but it is like it is impossible for me to verbalize what i feel. I use to email her as it was easier than talking, then we could discuss it in a session. Now i don’t sent to email her anymore as i find myself typing to much detail of childhood abuse and bad choices i have made in life and i am terified of talking about this in a session. She is a great therapist and make me feel like she cares, how can i get myself to open up and allow myself to heal.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychologist

Shrinklady

Yes, Deirdre you may trust your therapist – but your lizard brain doesn’t! And it’s that part of the brain that you need to tame first before you go digging into your past.

It’s like every time you see your therapist, you’re jumping into the deep end of the pool. What you need to do first is sit on the edge of the shallow end and dip your feet in the water. Only when you’re ready, do you even get into the water.

In other words, work on feeling safe first. Try using the 12-Second Chill in your session. By using your body, you’ll be accessing the lizard brain directly.

There’s certainly much more to say on this topic. I hope this helps.

Shrinklady

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Mark

I deployed to Iraq in 2008 on a rather uneventful 9 months. I have not integrated back home very well and now have been to the VA for counseling for three years. I’m currently on medication that seems to not make much of a change and I still deal unsuccessfully with the same stressors. I have since dealt with several addictive behaviors. I started looking online for help that works and ran across the Shrinklady’s Brain-wise video. This makes good sense and I’m looking forward to more information. Obviously medication and government appointed help is failing.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychologist

Shrinklady

Hi Mark, I hope you know that you’re not alone. It’s unfortunate that the information doesn’t get into the right hands. Too many Vets are needlessly suffering as a result.

My work is based in part, on Peter Levine’s. I think you’ll find his site helpful in making sense of why meds and a purely ‘talk therapy’ approach are clearly not the answers. His book, “Waking the Tiger” showed a whole generation of health care practitioners how to resolve “fight, flight, freeze” in the lizard brain – including me.

As you read his book, you might find these articles on how the brain works a useful reference.

Let us know how you make out Mark.
Shrinklady

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Mark

This video helped tremendously. I have been dealing with depression since I was diagnosed with diabetes in 2008. I lost my job, my father had a massive stroke, my parents lost their home soon after that (they have since moved in to my home), and I have been on the brink of foreclosure for over a year. I lost over 100 pounds in 7 months. Outwardly, it seemed like a victory; but my journey to get their was that of self hatred, starvation, and punishment. I have seen several therapist; one of which went out of her way to call me at home, and tell me that she thought I was lying.
My symptoms have continued to spiral out of control, and with my most recent episode I am afraid of these emotions getting any worse. Really afraid. I was in the midst of one of my attacks, and reached out on the internet; only to find this video. It brought me out of my attack. I like to think of myself as a rational person (all points considered), and the advice offered in the video gave me a new insight in to why my previous experience with a therapist was so negative. I look forward to recieving more material. It really helped.

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Lisa

Hello, Suzanne,

How does a therapist figure out where the border is between comfort zone and crisis? If the best learning takes place on the border, don’t we need to hang out there for a period of time within the session? How much time is too much? In my therapy, sometimes I get insight and I am able to process the emotion, and sometimes it takes a couple of sessions to do this. If this happens, I will often feel in the crisis zone for a long period of time – until I resolve what is triggering the emotion.

Thanks for the video – it is very good and you are a clear communicator as well as conveying instant warmth and caring.

Lisa

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychologist

Shrinklady

Hi Lisa, a therapist needs your help in order to tell where the edge is and/or whether you’re feeling outside the zone. The more a therapist is in her body, the easier it is for her to tell this automatically. That would be a really attuned therapist.

I check in regularly with my clients. A client might be talking about something that I think might be troubling for her however there might not be any visible signs that it is so. If I didn’t check in, I wouldn’t have a clue. If she just continued to talk over top of this emotional turmoil, we’d lose that big opportunity for changing the brain.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that as I’ve become more in my body, I’m able to pick up on emotional distress faster. But I miss it all the time too. That’s why it’s so essential to pause and check in.

And by the way, hanging out on the edge for a whole session would be really hard. It probably wouldn’t be good for the nervous system either – too draining for most people and especially if there was no resolution at the end, then what would be the point.

As I am writing this, I can imagine you might have more questions. These are the type of questions I’ll get into in my program.

I hope it helped to clarify some of your questions Lisa,

Best,

Shrinklady

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sue

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.

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Lee Anne

I loved the movie. It made so much sense! I can relate to being a “maxed-out middle-aged woman.” I have been trying to learn better ways to self-soothe than just trying to think differently. The movie really helped me to visualize how the nervous system gets overloaded without us even realizing it. When something really upsetting happens, we don’t have any reserves. That can be a scary experience. You just feel like you’re falling apart. I would like to learn how to “close all of the boxes.” Thank you Shrinklady!

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Leisel

I never thought about the fact that I am ALWAYS either emotionless and wondering why I am even alive, to over reacting and freaking out about the smallest things and then either going into a rage or crying my eyes out and not even knowing why.

I am happy to have seen a chart that puts a picture in my mind of what is going on. This calms down the crazy anxiety a little bit and I am going to try very hard to find a therapist who can deal with severe dissociation disorders. I want nothing more than to be in the normal zone and out of the crisis and freeze zone.

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Cat

What is the 12 second chill??? Is there a video for that???

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Cat

I think my comfort zone is about 1/4 of an inch right about now. I seem to rally between. OMG and “it is just too much for me”. Not sure how to get in that comfort zone.. Have been to therapy with not much luck, never did stay long. One time typed out my entire life trusting him with details I never shared. He said it was bull shit and gave me back my manila envelope with the plans for the new pool in his back yard drawn on the back. I doubt he ever read it. Another problem is I know quite a bit about psychology. It was my first love Coming from a dysfunctional family I began analyzing everyone quite young trying to understand what made them do the things they did. It also helped to protect myself from setting them off. I also have had a life that is pretty unbelievable. I can speak of it objectively yet, therapist with less life experience don’t believe it and seem to assume I feel or react in ways another would. I had a therapist once who had been where I had and understood me perfectly. she moved away and then later died. I have concluded there is no one who could possibly imagine or believe the things I tell them just at face value and I hate having to explain myself and then correct their interpretation. It just sounds like I am in denial and is an exercise in futility I have a very good understanding of myself, where I am and how I got here. I am just in a state of transition and have lost my focus and drive.

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cat

i enjoy the videos you send me and will do my best to use the ideas that come with them. I will also be telling others of this to help them with their crisis i thank you and hope to see you in onother one of your videos .

Thanks,
cat

Crisis and freeze modes

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Sarah

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.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychologist

Shrinklady

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,

Shrinklady

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Camila

Hi, thanks for the video. I’m actually a forensic psych student in 1st year and in freeze zone as you put it for most things specially related to my studies. i have so much going on and haven’t been able to focus on my studies and this is driving me into the crisis mode as i have little control over whats happening at the moment. anyhow this was a great new perspective and im looking forward to more videos.

i guess just like any other psychologist i must look after myself too before looking after others. will be looking at the 12 second chill video but any other tips as well??
Cheers from down under =)

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychologist

Shrinklady

Hi Camila, yeah it’s so important to take care of ourselves as psychologists. I was reminded how important it is in my practice this week. Cause if I can’t be emotionally available to my clients, I set a defining limit on what is literally possible for them.

Yeah, being a good therapist is really all about where we are within ourselves. If our Zone of Comfort is maxed, we can’t go where our clients need us. However, if we expand our nervous system capacity, we expand emotionally.

You had asked for tips. Yes, here’s one tip…and you may already be onto this Camila…

It’s far more efficient to work on yourself – on the inside – than in trying to control things outside of you. By changing your internal environment (there’s probably a better way of phrasing that), what you see outside of yourself, will be transformed.

In other words, how we see the world is shaped by how we experience ourselves on the inside. That’s where we have the greater control. So contrary to the idea of “reduce your stress by cutting back” (which is the common advice and not always preferable especially if you want to complete your schooling), you literally grow yourself from the inside so you are up for any challenge as your life expands.

Hope that gives you some food for thought.

Shrinklady

P.S. And if you didn’t catch this earlier, I teach how to get out of crisis mode with lots of practical tips in my Therapy Bootcamp 😉

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Susan

After eight psychotherapy sessions, the last of which was five days ago, I noted in my journal that I have to tell my therapist that the sessions are too intense — in other words, I am spending too much of the time outside of my comfort zone and often leaving in a state of near-collapse. So after coming to this realization, receiving your video and the explanation behind what is happening could not have been more perfectly timed. I will talk to my therapist about how I can build my tolerance gently while I expand my comfort zone. Thank you for this and all your wise words. They are such a gift.

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Elizabeth

I am glad that I found your video. It has introduced some new things to me that help me make sense of what is going on. I have been in a relationship for 7 years and am recently married. For the past 5 years have not been there for my partner, but feel that I have been on constant Freeze mode. I am very good at taking a lot of what is said to me when my faults are pointed out and I’m told what I need to do; but I forget. Then we both feel worse.

And now I have just gotten a new full time job, and the stresses of everything today has given me a melt-down today where I can’t stop crying. I’m even crying now whilst writing this. However I think there is hope in the ideas expressed in your video. I just want to make myself and my husband happy. I don’t want to continue to say ‘yes I understand’ and then not be able to experience new emotional management and grow and develop into a better person for both of us. I hope I can do this. I look forward to more of your information in my inbox.
Thank you for your help.

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Elizabeth

This is wonderful information. Thank you, Suzanne. It explains what I experienced just four days ago in therapy and why I had to sit in the car for an hour, calming myself down before I could feel safe enough to drive home. Now I understand what happened and I know that it wasn’t just me acting like an emotional loser again. Very helpful and practical–thank you so much for sharing this and for being ShrinkLady. I’ve learned much from your website!!

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kate

I too have sat in the car emotionally overwhelmed and feeling unsafe after therapy. The first time I experienced the overload I sat with my journal in the therapists waiting room. I think I was hoping she’d come out and reassure or calm me. Instead I got a stern and questioning look and learned the.car was a better choice I stuck with that therapist for years. Therapy made me worse and for that reason I kept going – I got more desperate for help. I finally left and started healing. When I returned two years later my therapist said I do better without therapy. All along I just needed someone to accompany me as I dealt with very stressful life circumstances. Thanks Elizabeth and Suzanne for the validations!

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Sara

Thank you for a brilliant video, ShrinkLady. I can really relate to the crisis and freeze modes, and the awful feeling of not being able to think at all (let alone think straight!)

I get thrown out of my comfort zone all too easily, and then it’s like my rational mind is completely gone. I find the idea of a lizard brain really helpful as well because when I’m in the crisis or freeze zones, I know I’m behaving really irrationally, but feel completely unable to do anything about it. It’s like the different parts of me aren’t joining up. It would be fantastic to learn a different way of being!

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Christine

Thanks Suzanne. Once I watched through the whole video it made alot of sense to me. The spiralling between freeze and crisis just trying to survive gets boring. I’m looking fwd to your next installments.

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Sharon

During a session with my therapist, I noticed my arousal level rising. I stopped mid-sentence and took several slow deep breaths and a 12-second chill. It helped. I told him I was on the edge and needed to get back in the zone. He said that was a good skill to know.

However, a week later, I ran into my old therapist at the church we attend. I was going in a door as she was coming out. We have a long history together. Three years ago she terminated me after five years of weekly therapy because of unresolved negative transference. She smiled and said hi to me but I stood frozen in front of her and began to hyperventilate. I wanted to greet her but my reptilian brain was in a panic. I am afraid to go to church and run into her again.

I can’t live like this! How did I sit with her for all those years and now I am unable to even speak to her! Is there any way to find peace with her again?

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychologist

Shrinklady

Oh that’s so cool how you used the Chill Sharon. And yes, I’m pretty sure you can find peace again. In fact, I think you’re already half way there.

I know it’s possible because I’ve experienced something similar myself. That said, I don’t think there’s a quick solution for you but it’s definitely possible for you to one day to smile warmly and confidently upon meeting her.

Everyone’s had moments they’d wish they could replay. Alas, most won’t see this as a sign (and an opportunity!) to do some emotional work. But if you’re up for doing the work you’ll find many other things in your life will improve as well. (I call that the “collateral advantage” of working on a single issue – it affects you on such a deep level that you see improvements on all levels).

There are two ways to approach this problem, both of which require that you understand how the workings of the nervous system bring your level of activation down.

One is related to the way our nervous system responds when activation is running high. High activation means we’re more likely to move into freeze when triggered. If our activation is really running high, it doesn’t take much to trigger us.

When you ran into your former therapist the arousal pattern associated with your automatic internal reaction could not be contained. That is, her presence triggered you beyond what your nervous system (your “bucket”) could handle and the primitive lizard brain moved you into freeze.

And just so you know Sharon, your body chose the freeze response – you literally had no control over this reaction. However, if you’re able to lower your baseline activation level, you’ll be less tipped into freeze. Using the 12-Second Chill is a good beginning. Learning to go deeper using that skill will certainly help. (I explain this a lot more in my Therapy Bootcamp).

Even if you’re successful in reducing your overall level of activation, you still could have an uncomfortable reaction upon seeing her even though you’re no longer going into freeze. To reduce this reaction, you’ll need to do the work of uncovering the emotional issues that you’ve projected onto her (that is, through the negative transference).

Please remember that it’s actually not your ex-therapist that’s the cause of this transference. Once you’ve cleared away the related emotional issues you’ll experience her just as you do any supportive person in your life. Since you’re in therapy now, I trust that you’re already on this path.

I hope that gives you some ideas to work with.

Best,

Shrinklady

P.S. There’s another tool I’d recommend for you that will help you to handle encounters like this without over-reacting. It’s called “The Take Two Technique” (also part of the BCP), and it to is based on systematic desensitization using imagination and body sensation.

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sharon

I recognised the problem of leaving therapy and spending days recovering from a session and your presentation really helped to explain why. Thankyou

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Denise

Thank you so much for explaining how we cycle through emotions. I was mauled by a dog when I was 2 years old, and then endured a violent household and neglect for 15 years. I’ve spent my whole life cycling between freeze and crisis. Mostly freeze, which is good, I guess. I’m so excited to find out how to heal my nervous system so I can endure life’s ups and downs without going out of the zone. I also have’t slept without Ambien since 2006. I’m really hoping I can sleep one day.

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Vicki

I’ve been going to therapy for about 25 years, to 14 therapists, one psychologist, and one psychiatrist. I went to the last therapist for 3 years, which is 2.5 years longer than I lasted with any of the others. I’m still not sure what is wrong with me. I have difficulty dealing with aggressive people and tend to hide at home. I was laid off from my job and have trouble looking for work because I can’t seem to get organized, make phone calls, and meet with people. All of the mental health professionals that I spoke to said that I have anxiety, and some said depression and clinical depression. The last one brought up DID and wanted to try EMDR, which I was familiar with because two prior therapists also suggested EMDR. I think I don’t have DID. “Its An Inside Job” leaves me hopeful that I can find help because I can relate to the crisis and freeze modes, and I would love to be able to live within the comfort zone. Thank you so much for the free video.

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victoria

Dear Suzanne,
This is almost a PS to an earlier message left.
I cannot quite believe this but I have left therapy and my therapist. It was not that I didn’t like her, I did very much indeed and I am very sad to have left her. It was the realisation that 99% of the time I leave sessions in severe Crisis or Freeze Mode, and living alone with no distractions possibly does not help being able to try and even vaguely get back into my Comfort Zone. My poor therapist I am sure means well. She asks me just one or two “normal” questions as I am leaving, but I am so stuck in Crisis or Freeze I hear them but don’t hear them. My sadness is is that in other ways it has helped seeing her by at least slowly being able to talk to someone and open up. However I truly could not go on like this. Maybe in time I will find a therapist who can help me back to my Comfort Zone before leaving. If I may, then just one question. Do you think I should talk to a new therapist about this and ask her whether she does this with clients before they leave? I see with such clarity how incredibly important this is and certainly would be for me. Trouble is finding someone you like/who likes you, and then not lose her because she doesn’t practice what you have talked about in your movie. Thanks Suzanne.
Victoria

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victoria

Eureka! Now I understand!! Most of the time I am in therapy I am either in Freeze Mode and “deer in the headlights” in feel, or in Crisis and way way out of control. This is the way I usually leave after an hour, and very often feel like running, never ever to return. Amazingly I do, though sometimes it takes a month or two!
I now get the idea from your movie and thank you so much. I don’t quite know how to help myself, but just knowing it is very assuredly going to help. It must.
I am new to My Shrink but have heard all about you, and every single comment about you has been excellent. I now see why. I now really look forward to all and any other ‘things’ from you, and thank you. I just know I am going to really enjoy, and learn from being a member.
Vikki

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Andrea

Amazing!!!! So helpful. Thank you so much for creating this video. It makes so much sense to me. You simplified a complex concept and truly explained my problem. I’ve always said to friends, I don’t know how hard to “push myself.” I suffer from depression and cycle between crisis and freeze mode. As a result, I always feel like I’m forcing my way through life. It’s exhausting and I want to change. Even before watching this video, I finally came to the conclusion that sustaining change doesn’t happen when I’m frazzled or shut down. Thanks again!!!

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Marco Lady

I loved the video with your wonderful ideas, but how do I do this in therapy? I have been with a therapist for 2 years who practices cbt. I get brain freeze whenever he asks me a question to help me follow in that direction and give me help. ie: What would make you happy? My brain not just freezes but I have an inability to speak at all! I’m not just saying this… I really cannot speak a word. This is driving both of us to frustration. What can I do to help myself do better in therapy?

Feeling worse after therapy

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Tom

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?)

–Tom

Dear Dr Lacombe,

I’m an osteopath (and 1st year Bachelor student in Psychology) from Belgium and what you are presenting is something that has been my field of interest over the last years. As an osteopath I saw patients coming in with back pain but who were also stuck in the survival mode. The latter I only discovered at their second visit when they described how their back pain had subsided but also how their view on life’s challenges and coping ability had changed. I’ve distilled the parts of my work that have the most impact on this process and written it down in several blogs.
I also started to teach practitioners the principles to this process (which is hands-on) and also they are coming with remarkable recovery stories.
Your video blog shows that the world is changing that many people are capturing this new approach and putting it at their hand and with their heart in it which is wonderful.
So thank you for sharing and look forward to the next confession.

Best regards and be good to you.

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Ruth1

Yes, I do see myself leaving my sessions sometimes worse off than when I arrived. I hope that your resources can help me.

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Joy

Hi Shrinklady,

I loved this movie – thank you so much for this! It explains a great deal why some of my past therapy experiences have made me feel worse, not better. The explanations about containment and comfort zones are especially enlightening about this. Also the info about the way the nervous system and the brain work really makes sense. Brilliant stuff – every therapist should know about it.

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tina

Hi Shrink lady, my biggest problem is that I feel that I have to equal everyones efforts. i.e. If someone does something for me I pay back double. I am always doubly grateful for the smallest thing someone does for me. I always feel endebted to them. I give 100% to everyone that asks and when I ask for something and my needs are put on the back burner I get hurt. Say my husband asks for help and I spring into action trying to find solutions and trying to lighten his load. However when its my turn to need something he is busy or leaves it to later or tell me not to worry. Knowing I will worry and will try to sort it out.

another senario. I work full time my husband works two days a week, he has three day to do anything he wants and on the weekend
I look for him to spend time doing things together and him helping me clean and sort the house for the coming week and he will go off and do his thing and tell me to leave the house know full well that if I do when we get back I will still have to do the bulk og it. Because it does not bothe him he does not worry. It bothers me as if its not done it just plays on my mind and bother me until I know its done.

Am I being crazy here, I get great satisfaction from having everything done then going off and enjoying the carefree hours knowing I can totally relax. If everything is not done then I wont fully relax and will want to cut my outings short and get back and get things sorted. Like ironing clothes for the next week of work. Am I over the top do I expect too much am I ocd. I get so hurt when no one else even thinks of cleaning up.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychologist

Shrinklady

Hi Tina, I’ve run into this pattern quite often in my practice – and by the way, that’s what it is to the nervous system – it’s simply a pattern. That’s good news for you. Cause if it’s a learned pattern – and it is – then it can be unlearned. But not in the usual “let’s analyze and think it through” approach.

I’ve actually had quite a bit of experience with the dynamic including dealing with my own issues with what I call, “emotional caretaking”. So, I’m very pleased to share my thoughts with you.

In body-based language, the activation associated with asking and receiving is too challenging for your nervous system…the short version of the story…you never had much experience with these behaviours early on and so there are not sufficient pathways in the brain.

In other words, you haven’t had much practice and in the same way we approach any new activity, there’s some discomfort. Now the discomfort is no doubt being driven by some early experiences. However, we don’t even need to know exactly what those experiences are to feel better.

You see, it’s the uncomfortable feelings that compel you to clean, even though it’s time to relax. If you work directly with that discomfort Tina, you will see changes in yourself.

Then, in time, you will find yourself basically stepping into new behaviours as if you’ve always been this way. That’s the beauty of the implicit memory system and training your nervous system.

Tina, I hope to hear you say that you expect much more from life!

Best,

Shrinklady

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Tina

I’ve seen both movies a couple of times now. On the first viewing you think you have taken it in, but I strongly advise people to watch a couple of times. You will be amazed. I am not in therapy at the moment, (just stopped, my decision) so it is giving me a great deal of time to think about how much I was always hanging in the wind when I left a session. High activation coupled with a feeling of being thoroughly scrambled, and then stunned on top of it all is not much fun and takes forever to settle down. If it ever does. Before the inevitable next session!
So Thank you Suzanne, these movies are informative, make such sense and so are really helpful.
Tina

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Faye

how do I pick a therapist? the last one I had did nothing and sat there silient the entire time then asked for the money.

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Faye

I enjoyed the video. You touched on a lot of the things I am experiencing now. What are the next steps? Thank you.

Abandoned by my therapist

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Judy

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.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychologist

Shrinklady

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.

Best,
Shrinklady

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catherine ellis

Im so glad I have found this site, I feel so abandoned by the therapist i was seeing and I know I have transferance issues, but I did not trust him enough to speak to him about them, he was emotionaly aloof and I felt not really listened to, I often use to shut down, (the only way I could manage myself), I feel lost and betrayed and I dont know why.

The therapy opened up memories of past trauma and abuse, Im back now on the waiting list for more therapy but I know that I will need help getting over the transference issues I have with my last therapist, but I see that others have had the courage to deal with this and so must I,.no matter how terrified I feel, I don’t blame him or me for that matter but oh the pain is bad……

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychologist

Shrinklady

Oh, I’m so glad you trusted your instincts with your last therapist Catherine that is, in not opening up. It’s pretty hard to heal from emotional traumas if your therapist isn’t emotionally available to you.

Even so, it’d be understandable that you might have developed a stronger transference with him than you cared to and hence why you’re now feeling lost and betrayed. His aloofness could easily trigger these feelings within you.

And just so you know, shutting down in therapy is quite natural – even adaptive – in that circumstance and given your history.

I’m glad to hear that you’re willing to give it another go.

All the best,

Shrinklady

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Steve

I told my therapist about my transference issues towards him the last time I saw him. A few months ago I bumped into her on a date and she ignored me. I felt so embarrassed and humilated and…hurt. Why did she do that? Are therapists supposed to ignore you outside of work? Not even a smile?

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Sandra

Catherine, I’m so sorry to hear that you seem to be in the same position re an aloof therapist and very painful transfer issues as I was, and I will never ever forget it. The pain of not understanding, feeling bewildered, and longing was awful , but I promise you some strategies I learnt in the BCP gave me the help and relief I was desperate for. I just thought I would come and offer what help I could to you after having just seen your comment a moment ago which took me back to where I once was.

Good luck, and I wish you all the very best.
Sandra

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PJ

What a great video! I just learned so much about myself and my spouse.

I’m a survivor of multiple childhood traumas. I went to therapy for one year, steadily at first and then, upon the therapist’s suggestion, only when something cropped up.

About one year into the therapy (maybe 15 sessions total), I finally felt comfortable and trusting enough to dig deeper on a particular issue. It was an issue I didn’t even touch for a year because it was something that often left me numb. Finally, I was starting to feel the depth and weight of this issue and its impact on my life, and I wanted to process it.

I let the therapist know this by e-mail and requested a session the therapist did not respond. Then, we set up the appointment and she cancelled last minute and never wrote back to reschedule. I later learned that the therapist’s personal life was getting in the way of her therapy practice. She had to go silent on everyone for about three months.

When she returned, I tried to see her but I had to stop going because even the sight of her made me feel very afraid.

I guess I’m curious about what your thoughts are. I was devastated. I’m a high functioning person with steady employment, a lot of responsibility at work and at home and in my community, and I was managing it fine and I’m shocked and dismayed at how losing my therapist unnerved me and made me unable to function for a few days.

After five months, I was still crying about this so I found a new therapist. I’m scared of this person though she seems like a sweetheart. I’m starting to wonder if therapy is just madness — going to a therapist to talk about what happened with my last therapist? I think I’m now worse than ever and regretting ever opening up my heart and stability to this much risk in the first place. I had no idea that therapy carried so much personal risk if your therapist just drops you. I feel bad for my therapist but I also feel bad for myself.

Thank you for your thoughts.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychologist

Shrinklady

Oh, I can imagine how this experience might hove blind-sided you PJ especially as you say – your life was functioning well enough. It’s hard to think that you could have seen that coming.

It’s unfortunate that your original therapist just left like that especially as you had opened up to her at such a deep level. It’s good to hear you were able to go there and btw, this bodes well for your future therapy.

However, you deserved time with her to help transition to a new therapist and at minimum, some acknowledgement of how hard this change must be for you.

So, I totally get why you would have reacted fearfully upon her short return and why you’re feeling afraid of this new therapist. You see, you were opening up to an emotionally younger part of you and now having been abandoned just when you started to trust again…well, it’s harkening back to your earlier traumas (that I assume some of which were relational).

If you think of a young child being left behnind and how she’d cope in a world she doesn’t know how to navigate in, that’s what you’re presently coping with.

So, I’m glad to hear you’re taking steps to take care of yourself. Therapeutic relationships are afterall, relationships and things can go awry.

On the flip side, working through this issue will certainly help you to deal with any betrayal you might have experienced earlier in your life.

In fact, owing to how the brain is interconnected, dealing with this current abandonment will help to heal your earlier experiences. As as therapist, I would certainly be encouraging my client to work through this issue before tackling earlier material (We’re more resourced as adults and this being an “adult” experience, is usually easier to move through.)

And just so you know PJ, it’s not uncommon to go to another therapist to deal with what happened with a previous T. The issues can range from a one off comment that your previous therapist said all the way to an extreme situation where abuse was occurring.

This therapist was clearly out of her depth…with her “when something crops up” type therapy. Her awareness of early development and traums seems clearly lacking. So PJ, I’m tempted to think it’s actually better that you are with someone else. Personally, I would only work with a therapist who had a lot of experience in the area of brain-wise and trauma therapy.

I hope that helps relieve some of your queries PJ.

All the best,

Shrinklady

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PJ

Thank you so much for this in-depth response. I really appreciate it!

Hi Shrink Lady. I have been going through a change of life –I think I’m finally growing up! I’m a very young soul who grew up fast. Dealing with all of my life’s challenges from childhood to today, I have a hard time with accepting things for what they are right now. I am very restless and never satisfied or happy with what I have. If I don’t have goals set, I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing anything. I met my significant other online 3.5 years ago and we have been living together for three years. He has small kids….10 and 12 and we have had nothing but divorce battles. I thought I was done with that in my previous relationship/husband. I also moved to a remote location to be with him. I am a real esate agent and it has taken me three years to start earning a living, and I have always paid half of all our expenses. I know I do not belong here in this city and I need to move to take care of the freebird child inside of me. I love to have fun and do new things. My boyfriend encourages me to do what I need to do. I feel stuck in a rut. I don’t know what my purpose is. I am bored to tears and don’t know why I’m even trying anymore. My passion is dwindling and I don’t take care of myslef like I used to. I know my issues are caused by my thoughts. I am alone here and feel my only link to reality is onlline. Your video is giving me another perspective that I may be able to get myself out of freeze mode when I’m alone and down and out of crisis mode when we have the kids and all is about the kids, cooking, cleaning, the ex wife and my boyfriend’s job. I’ll be watching all of your videos and information that you have and maybe it will help me get out of my rut and back to my normal, spirited, positive self that I know I am. Thank you.

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Diana

I understand your way of thinking it does make sense. I have been bogged down with one prob on top of another for so long I definately think I have either been in crisis or freeze mode. There are sometimes so many outside problems and you cannot switch off.

What good therapy looks like

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Laura

I just got a big feeling of ‘Yes’ that’s it! That’s what’s happening this is
Why I’m not progressing, I’ve lost my flow…thank you so much!
My new therapist is going to be as thrilled as me when I tell her about
This I’m sure! Feeling more positive about it already!

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Miki

Thank you for sending out your video, it made me laugh and it made me nod in agreement. My first shrink was a character: shared to much personal information, like his son having a drug problem, constantly took “patients” phone calls during my sessions, would even discuss other clients. I finally was able to quit him but, my next therapist did not work out either, during one session she called me a bitch so, I fired her too. Forward ten years later my psychiatrist recommended I see a therapist that works out of his group and I have been seeing her for nearly three years. I have an intense eroticized transference toward her,( I have obsessions with different people), the one before my current therapist was a man I worked with, and my first therapist. Last year she recommended DBT therapy for me when I was very suicidal. Before this recommendation she wanted to see me twice a week but, I could not afford the extra visit.

I have had plenty of blowouts with my T and I have been more than mean, once I was so angry I stomped out of the room after cursing at her. I did apologize. Late last year she told me I treat her like shit and that she was done with me yelling at her. I have told her in the past I do not like it when she raises her voice at me, so the feeling is mutual. It now feels like she is guarded with me and I feel frustrated and very depressed a lot, especially after leaving a session with her. I tried to leave her last November but, I couldn’t stay away, my emotions were in turmoil. I asked to see her on my old day and she felt I was being demanding and was angry. I am back, she did giving me my old day back but, I feel we are not getting along the way we should and thoughts of leaving are back, I do not know what to do or even think. I would love some feed back on my post. Thanks.

Hi Shrink Lady,
Thank you for your insightful videos, they are great. I identified with your description of freeze mode; I thought these symptoms were depression. Are freeze and depression the same? I wonder if my therapy is working for me anymore? I often leave my sessions upset, crying, angry, frustrated, and I used to arrive angry. I am on meds. and have been in talk therapy for 3 years. How do I approach my therapist with the information you have presented in this video. Do you think she would not appreciate my telling her I believe my nervous system is not ready for me to dig around in my head and, that she may not be guiding me properly? What should I say?

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychologist

Shrinklady

Hello Miki, I read your previous post and this one…thank-you for sharing so honestly. First, please understand that you are not to blame for how your therapy has turned out. It’s an uneasy reality…sometimes clients have to take their own therapy in hand when their therapist is not able to show up in the way they need. And this seems to be the case with what you’ve described.

You may already be aware that therapists are not immune to issues. It seems you’ve hit upon a blind spot with yours. Speaking as a therapist, I don’t say it’s a cake-walk to work with anger when it’s been targeted at you – that said, the primary goal for the therapist – even if it’s the session after an “event” – is to repair the relationship…not to go on as if nothing has occurred. And until the “elephant in the room” is addressed it’s pretty hard to have anything of meaning to come out of your therapy. There’s no such thing as “pretend” therapy.

I gather from your remarks that the energy behnid your anger was not matched by your therapist. (I don’t think that’s unusal. Not many therapists are comfortable working with anger.) What I mean by this is that you weren’t met with the same amount of energy in the opposite direction. I run into these situations less so these days given that I work from a body-based perspective (where anger is channeled through the body) however, let me share with you what I think you needed as if I was right there:

These thoughts are within me in preparation for my next step…I don’t believe the anger was really meant for me and so I don’t collude with that notion. And therefore, I’m a bear about the boundary…I have to be slightly more powerful so it’s clear you haven’t overwhelmed me.

I’m thinking on my feet – I’m going to places within myself I don’t often venture to willingly. As I bristle inside against your rage I mount a force from within me and meet it with an equal amount of love. I will not let you disparage our relationship and I convey messages in keeping with our history together sometimes along the lines of…

“Miki” I would say…”I’m right here, I’m not going anywhere” (I say this as an attempt to reach you through the rage and instinctively I know that rage often has roots in early abandonment)…”this is not you” (i.e I can see the tormented child within you – you are not your baggage…(I’m sure even as you express the anger, you don’t identify with it deep within yourself). “We’ll work together to move beyond this..please stay connected to me” (I try my best to maintain a steady, non-judging eye contact).

Then of course, both of us are shaky and somewhat wasted. We spend the next few minutes unpacking what had happened that led to this rupture. If our session ends in a warm hug we know we’ve overcome something important. Nothing is as it was for either. We’ve both changed for the better.

And it’s not that anger won’t re-surface at some point again in the relationship Miki…like a child…we all need to test the waters to know for sure…it’s that there’s a confidence and a knowingness, you’ll be loved, cared about despite it.

Practically speaking Miki, I imagine you’re asking yourself where do you go from here. My inclination is to encourage you to try and work it out with your current therapist. She might not be the right one down the road, however it seems this discord between you would be carried over into another therapeutic relationship. In fact, it’s probably being carried over to all your relationships even now. The more talking about what’s really happened between you, the better.

You might tell her for instance, that you’ve noticed a difference in how she responds to you and that you believe you may have indeed hurt her. Ask her what you could do or say that might make things better between the two of you. Share with her – if you haven’t already – how important she is to you.

As for your final question…I’ll leave that for now as I suggest alternatives in my BCP program.

Take good care Miki and I hope this has given you some ideas to work with.

Shrinklady

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miki

Thank you for your reply and thought full in site and suggestions. I read your reply the day you posted it but, I haven’t replied sooner because I wanted to read your post several times, absorbing and fully understand what you have written. You are correct, my therapist did not match my anger with love but, with an equal amount of anger. Your prediction about taking any resentment with me to the next therapist is also correct. My relationships with my last two therapists ended badly and because of this it took a while for me to trust my T and open up to her. Plus, I directed a lot of anger over the last two Ts at her.

Last week I mentioned you had written me, how I felt distant from her, and that I could feel she was guarded towards me. I repeated what you wrote, that it felt as if there was this elephant in the room we were ignoring. I told her you suggested I stick with her and work out our feelings. She was very agreeable and smiled. I will be seeing her tomorrow and I am looking forward to continuing where we left off last week. I will tell her how important she is to me as you suggested. An interesting side effect of my situation is my erotic transference has lessened a little bit. I will keep you informed about my progress.

Thank you Shrink Lady for your caring response and advice, for which I am very greatful. I would like to meet you someday.

Best regards.

Thank you for the material. I am currently both in therapy and a practising therapist, also recovering from a stroke which effected my speech and language centres. T he notion of being held and emotional containment hugely important I recognise the work can only begin whe we feel safe .I have contacted your site because of all that I have learnt from my stroke and eager for more
God Bless

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Nick

I think this one video helped me understand a lot. This video is very simplified but yet a very powerful illustration method that lets us visualize what is actually happening to us at those dysfunctional moments in our lives. Just with this video alone I have somewhat of an understanding as to what is happening to me as well as starting to recognize the zone limits or boundaries with myself.

Thumbs Up For The Shrink Lady!

Nick

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Bob

Still not sure what else is at play. The Pt gets a compressing hug through the session?

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychologist