Video: Signs of a Wonky Therapist

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  • Deb says:

    I just finished therapy sessions with therapist number 2, a guy. I had previously been seeing a therapist for about a year and a half, a woman. I had transference with her, mommie issues and other stuff. Seemed like I went around in circles with her most of the time. She helped me a bit. Tried to help me get my anger out. I just couldn’t do it, couldn’t take my anger out on her. I felt a deep connection with her, like the mommie I never had. I felt such heartache and sadness all the time. I wrote alot to get stuff out, along with talking. All I knew is that I wanted to just be a part of her and be important to her. I needed her warmth and tenderness, I guess I was very needy. It was all just so sad because I knew that we had no relationship outside of the “room.” She was my therapist and it was a therapy relationship with the best of boundaries. The boundaries had to be there, I got that, but it was so frustrating. Anyway, I wrote a letter to her last April and after she read it she came to the conclusion that she was hurting me instead of helping me and she ended the sessions. I was not expecting her to end our sessions at all. She threw her hands up in the air saying she had tried everything. There was no closure, no nothing, just the end, the session lasted 15 minutes. There was a chill in the air, so different than all the other sessions where there was nothing but warmth and genuine empathy all the time. Anyway, she did give me the names of a few therapists and told me I needed psychoanalysis and DBT.
    I felt like I was completely abandoned by her. She told me during our sessions that she’d never leave me or send me away etc. And she did exactly that as far as I’m concerned. A few weeks after our sessions ended I called her to see if she would write something up about my treatment so I could bring it with me if and when I saw a new therapist. She said no that was not the way things were done, unless the new therapist requested something like that. I asked to see my records, not her personal notes about me, but stuff about my treatment plan – which I don’t believe even existed. She just wrote generic stuff for the insurance company, “nothing real specific” I think she said. I asked her to destroy all the stuff I wrote to her and she said no they were part of my record now. She never told me that anything I wrote and gave her would become part of my record and that she would have to keep it for 7 years. She also didn’t know why she had to keep it for 7 years when I asked her why so long. She also mentioned that she thought I “outgrew” her, whatever that meant, and that she still cared about me.

    So about a month later, after some meltdowns, I began seeing another therapist – a psychoanalyst, a man. My sessions just went around in circles once again. Although he was very nice I did not have a connection with him. He basically just repeated back to me the stuff I told him, I felt like I was talking to a parrot. I talked about my former therapist mostly, talked about the same stuff almost every week. Eventually he had me lie on a couch and he was sitting behind me and he told me to just say what came to mind. What a joke. I did that a few times and decided it wasn’t for me. So I went back to sitting and talking on the couch for months. I took a break from sessions in December of last year and never went back. I’m still on my journey, but I’m flying solo now. I do think therapy helped me some, I was able to get out stuff I had kept in for many many years. But I do think therapy can be cruel, especially if you do not know what you are getting yourself into. My advice is to ask lots of questions to a new therapist and educate yourself. I also learned that therapists do have their limitations. After all they’re only human right???

    • Shrinklady says:

      Yes, Deb, it certainly sounds like you were abandoned by your first therapist. I hardly know what to say. You invested your emotional well being with someone that you’re supposed to be able to trust and then you’re left with a betrayal. I hope you’re able at times to hold dear the goodness you did get from her and to see that her stuff – not your stuff – interferred in going further in your work.

      And by the way, I thought it was wonderful that you reached out to her in a letter. That could have been an invitation for a much deeper connection if she chose to see it that way. Can you imagine how much better it could have been if she were to express appreciation for your letter and seen it as an opportunity to explore your feelings towards her. Maybe she might have said how sad she felt that she wasn’t able to give you more and then checked in with you how that was for you. With that opening, it might have been just the thing to unlock the impasse in your work. It seemed she totally underestimated the more important process that was ongoing in your relationship with her.

      From your description, I have little patience with your second therapist. It sounds like strictly left brain “talk” therapy. I’m aghast that he didn’t pick up you didn’t have a connection with him and to use that kind of discussion as a jumping off point to deepen your relationship.

      And it seems neither of these therapists are aware of brain-wise, body-based strategies which can be very useful for managing anger and indeed, other emotions.

      I hope you haven’t given up on therapy Deb. I can certainly understand if you have though. And I agree totally…it’s good to be an educated consumer when it comes to therapy.

      All the best,


      • Angela says:

        I was in therapy from September through Jan 9 with a therapist who was amazing! I was able to work through the stumbling block I was facing (job issues and needing to explore other options). With her help and my psychiatrist prescribing the right medications/doses, I am happy to report that I will start a GREAT new job with a company that offers amazing opportunitites. The catch? I will be moving from Texas to Seattle! Thanks to my therapist, I am embracing this move with arms outstretched. The key is to work with a therapist who is a good fit for you and then to follow through with all assignments, etc. Also, you’ve gotta be honest with the therapist AND yourself!

  • Kimberly April says:

    This made me laugh this morning! Thank you! Although I could see glimpses of a few little things my therapist does reflected in this cartoon, my therapy is truly progressing, and helping me to live better, happier, with more openness, more trust, more hope, and much less self-hatred. The inner critic is slowly losing her voice. The little girl is finally starting to grow up. The independent one isn’t acting out self-destructively any longer.

    All in all I now like therapy most of the time even though it still can be very painful to face past events that still show up once in a while, and heart wrenching to experience the little girl grieving for what never was and never will be…sometimes also for what happened to her so long ago…My therapist is by no means perfect, but he is so real, caring, warm, empathic, and teaches me so much about C-PTSD as well as about myself.

    I finally went out last night to do something for me – I can’t wait to tell him about it! I still may not understand everything about how psychotherapy works, and sometimes it seems like the field holds some secrets that clients aren’t supposed to know. What I have learned is that good therapy includes a realtionship with a therapist who works cooperatively with you, really cares about you so much that it shows, may I even suggest might love you in an agape kind of way, is not afraid to use various ways to reach you, including a hug once in a while, and does not shy away from talking about acting out, or shedding tears sometimes, or just looking at you and talking about something so deep, from long ago, that lets you know they really do understand.

    My present struggle will be related to termination and that process because this has been a long term therapy, and my therapist is the one who helped the little girl feel safe enough to come out from behind her walls to tell him her heart’s cry. So she loves him…But the adult is so way beyond that… I am hoping that I have enough trust and hope and faith that my therapist who has walked with me thus far will continue to do so during this important and critial phase of therapy. I won’t say I am not afraid because I am, but I can now say that the journey has been worth it. When I first started four years ago I never thought I would think it was worth it due to all of the confusion, deep emotional pain, and tremendous fear. So thank you for the smile this morning and causing me to reflect upon my therapy.

    • Shrinklady says:

      Kim, that was a wonderful description of how good therapy unfolds! Yes, that’s for sure…one’s therapist must be able to be with you as you move through the tougher emotions. And it sounds like you’re with someone who can do that with you. And your “little girl” is growing up. Sounds so good.

      I’m reminded that to be able to be with our clients in this deeper way, we as therapists must continue our own work. I know this for myself in my years as a therapist. Today, I can invite my clients to go to places I seldom would directly encourage when I was a young therapist. Cause this was not something I learned in my doctoral training. I feel fortunate to be given the opportunities since then to stretch myself.

      I’m glad Kim that you mentioned the fact that your therapist can give you a hug here and there. Cause from my experience, hugs truly help contain emotions in a way that sitting across from a each other just doesn’t cut it.

      Thanks for your post and warm regards,


    • Susan says:

      Thank you for posting those thoughts. Your therapist sounds like mine, but I am only six months into the process, so it was a relief to think that maybe it will take four years. I know that sounds like the opposite of what you might think — I mean, who wants to be in and pay for therapy for four years — but it’s just so good to know that I could actually take four years, if that is what it takes, and then terminate therapy, having reached the end of the journey. Even if my point doesn’t make much sense, it does to me. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Amber says:

    I have actually been very blessed that recently (3 months ago), I found a new therapist that is trained is trauma therapy, especially working with structural dissociation. While therapy before that time had been very helpful for me, I still found myself unable to self-regulate when triggered. Enter my new therapist,. Unlike the spoof, my first consult was as if the light had been turned on finally!!

    After me sharing my life story in 15 minutes and mentioning the constant triggering and hyperarousal, he gently looked at me and said, “that kind of shifting is probably indicative of dissociative states–you may be dissociating”. He went on to say that while dissociation can be “out of body” responses, vehement emotion (hyperarousal) is often a sign that very young parts, still stuck in trauma time, have been turned on. He said this was nothing to be ashamed of, that it was a brilliant way to cope when I was a child, who lived with chronic emotional trauma.

    That discussion has become a life-changing experience for me as I have delved deeply into learning all about this, and most importantly finally finding ways to regulate! Coupled with finding some amazing work by Boon, van der Hart, and Steele (“Coping with Trauma-related Dissociation”), my therapy has become a major source of healing. Yet I realize that finding somebody, who actually finally “gets me” and doesn’t make me feel humiliated or bad for experiencing reenactments of trauma, is truly pure gift, because I know that there are many other therapists out there who do NOT get it, nor do they understand how to deal with trauma appropriately.

    • Jacob says:

      (Warning, may contain triggers due to mentions of childhood abuse, please read with caution.)

      Thank you for sharing that Amber. I’ve been working with therapists for years who just did not get it, and made me feel I was wrong for challenging them in any way shape or form. Many of the psychologists I met with were hyper-clinical due to their desire to be completely detached. No genuine emotional connection was possible, they acted emotions but did not genuinely care; and believe me, being hyper vigilant due to extreme childhood abuse, I pick up on false emotion instantly.

      You are so right Kimberly April when you write about the importance of the relationship with our therapist. I cannot see how a lack of genuine emotional connection can help someone like myself who has been experiencing ongoing trauma all their life. The justification that they put forward, that they need to remain detached in order to function, so cannot get emotionally involved rings false to me. One of the keys to good relationships is not the absence of emotion, but rather emotion flowing within well defined boundaries. All good relationships require strong boundaries. I care about my current psychologist, so I am perhaps more protective of his boundaries than he is himself. The genuineness of his caring for me, the reality of the relationship, makes it all the more precious to me.

      Without that genuine relationship I would never have been able to trust. Being able to trust has enabled me to open up in ways I would never have thought possible before. He demonstrates repeatedly that he gets it, he understands the magnitude of what I face every day. He never ever minimizes my pain and suffering.

      My struggle is primarily with the trauma arising from being raped by a neighbor when I was a very young child. I have only a fragment of a memory of the event, but the emotional trauma has been affecting me my whole life. Complicating it was a verbally abusive home, and rejection and humiliation by teachers due to undiagnosed dyslexia; it was not until well into adulthood that my dyslexia was diagnosed. Basically, I have never had a safe place anywhere in my life, not even within myself. Throw in ADHD and it’s not surprising perhaps that I have often been labeled “therapy resistant”.

      More than a year ago I learned of the therapy called EMDR, and started meeting with my current psychologist. For the first time in my life I am actually making progress. The sessions are very intense but I am seeing movement in areas that I thought would never change. For some people EMDR produces fast results, for me it will not be so. It took over 10 months simply to prepare me for EMDR treatment, which is somewhat unusual. I still have emotional meltdowns when what they call “Emotional Parts (EPs)” ambush me in a misguided attempt to protect me. There are times when I think about suicide, not because I truly want to die but because I just want the pain to stop. Depression is never far from my side. But there are now bright moments, little successes, quicker recoveries that give me hope.

      Like your therapist Amber, mine too has helped me with understanding that my emotional meltdowns are connected to the child parts in me, the EPs who have never been able to move on, to grow up. who has never grown up. For those EPs it is still decades in the past, time has not move on, and the trauma experienced again and again in a never ending loop. Thank God for those EP’s, and the ability to disassociate to the degree that I do, otherwise I’d be incapacitated by that daily nightmare, an addict of some kind, or most likely dead. I am slowly learning to accept that their behavior is completely acceptable, understandable, and logical as they think they are responding to the same abuse all over again in new situations. Like you I need to accept that there is no shame in this; my EPs are not all of me.

      There are times when it feels so right, so true, that there is no hope, and that death is the only option. But the actual truth is finally starting to whisper into that darkness that if I hang on, wait long enough, hope will return and things will get better, at least for a while. The deeply open and honest relationship that I and my psychologist are building is the means by which the light of hope has been prevented from flickering out entirely, leaving me alone to die in that darkness. This I know because before starting to meet with him, coping mechanisms used all my life having begun the previous year to start failing me, my hope was close to being extinguished permanently, and most likely me with it.

      Now, for the first time in my life, I am starting to believe that there might actually be a safe place for me. That safe place could be my relationship with my therapist, and surely that is the point, that if there is anywhere in this world that should be a safe place it is our relationship with our therapist.

  • Evin says:

    In so many ways, I think I do have a good therapist. Except–that one about not returning calls. Yeah. That. And I do get triggered by stuff she does–she doesn’t do it on purpose, but I seem to need to work out my early childhood experiences of not been seen or heard and being criticized constantly, so sometimes she does things that trigger that.

    I’ve been telling her for a year that I need to feel heard when these things happen and have it be okay that I feel the way I do. She agrees and encourages me to do that…and then the next time, again, instead of empathizing, she launches into left-brain explanation.

    When we process and I ask why this pattern is happening, she has explained about how I have issues and how healing works. I moved the conversation to email thinking that might help and then when it didn’t brought it in and asked her to re-read things with me and help me understand…and with it in front of her, she got really uncomfortable and saw the pattern, but all she can do is confess that something in my communication switches to her to left brain mode…I’ve asked her to do some kind of peer supervision or case consult and I’m certain she hasn’t. (I think she thinks that after decades of work, she doesn’t need such things).

    I don’t want to leave because I really really like her, but sometimes this kind of post makes me wonder if I’m wrong to stay.

    • Shrinklady says:

      It’s just wonderful to hear Evin how you’ve been bringing this issue up to your therapist. And yeah, it’s too bad you haven’t gotten what you need from your therapist yet. I think though there might be a way to move it forward given that you seem to have a pretty good relationship. I for one would be wanting to give it my best shot before considering another therapist.

      You know Evin, one of the most interesting things about how the brain works is that it doesn’t seem to matter whether actions are real or imagined. I was thinking of this when I read your post. And I wondered if you had considered play acting out a scene that would entail the both of you saying your lines?

      I’m imaging the two of you working together on creating the scene. Once you’ve determined the context, your main task would be to come up with exactly what you need her to say (this might be a bit triggering but it’s good stuff). And her job would be to say it in such a way that you can take it in.

      Maybe you’ve heard of it….in therapy circles this kind of interactional repair is called a corrective emotional experience. Although, typically, these repairs are not play acted out. Nonetheless, these experiences are the most powerful ways to change the brain. And I gather from your remarks that you already are onto that fact.

      Maybe this might be helpful. The following isn’t technically an example of a corrective emotional experience. However it might illustrate what it means to involve the right brain which is what we’re usually seeking in a corrective experience.

      I use a couch in my office and it’s totally comfy. People have often “asked” if they could stay here forever. I reply enthusiastically with the upmost sincerity, “absolutely…for as long as you want” and I make sure to meet their eyes with a gentle smile. Then I allow a moment for the feelings to rise and for my client to soak them up while we both enjoy the connection.

      We both know that’s it’s actually not the case…the time will be up in 50 minutes. But that’s a left brain take on it. We’re working with a right brain to right brain interaction. It’s just play and yet, it has an impact.

      Given the way you describe your therapist, she might be game for this kind of pretend scene. (And it might be kinda fun. 😉

      In any case, I hope your therapy works out for the best,


      • Evin says:

        Thank you! Your ideas do give me some hope. Challenging ideas, but possible nonetheless!

  • Kathy says:

    Hi Shrink lady,

    This video could not have come at a better time for me. I am currently in therapy but hate my therapist and I’m not sure if i should stick with or not. I have been with her for a year and I literally am the patient and my own therapist. I have even discussed this with her and I understand why. It’s because I have issues with women.

    My whole life I have been mentally and physically abused by women in my own family so I don’t trust her. Plus from a very young age I learned I couldn’t depend on other people especially my mother because they always had their own problems to deal with and made me feel like I was bothering them. To me my therapist is a constant reminder of what I went through and I literally hate her.

    So I was wondering if for therapy reasons of working through my women issues to stay with her but the deeper I get into the issue the more I cringe to go back and see her. I don’t even like her therapy style. I feel like I’m talking to a brick wall.

    Would I be better off seeing a male therapist? What do you think? I am so torn on what to do.

    • Shrinklady says:

      Hello Kathy, thank-you for your post. I had to give this one some thought so I’m a little delayed in answering you. It certainly seems as if you’ve given this therapist a good try…not liking her even after a year….wow that’s tough.

      When I heard you say, “feeling like I’m talking to a brick wall” it sounds as if you’re not getting the kind of response you need for the relationship to move forward. It’s pretty hard to create new learning in the brain if a therapeutic relationship isn’t an exchange where our issues are worked through. We must feel safe and have a good connection to do this work.

      Now, it’s natural to have periods where you might not be able to express dislike or anger but you need to have a feeling that you do indeed want to be closely connected with her. I wasn’t quite convinced you really want that.

      The first thing that ran through my head Kathy, was how many people would have stuck it out this long with someone they didn’t like? Good therapy is never that tough…not in my experience neither as a client nor a therapist. And I wondered if you’re just not trusting your own instincts?

      You may have heard before Kathy that one of the tendencies we have, having been so mistreated as children, is to blame ourselves. And so at some level we believe it’s our fault for the neglect and abuse. You might ask yourself if there’s some emotional script playing in the background that in fact you believe: “in order to get the care I need, I have to compromise this much…sticking it out with someone I don’t like, that I don’t connect with”. Because it’s just possible, the person likely being betrayed here, is the little girl in you. (I suspect she’s the one that’s “cringing” even thinking of returning.)

      Here’s a couple options for you to consider. First, decide if you really want to be close with this woman. If you do, then entertain the idea that you’re afraid of being close…a perfectly natural reaction given your history. Ask yourself what you need to hear from her to make it easier for you to connect with her. As long as you can feel authentic caring coming from across the room and there’s an easing off in your dislike, then it might prove worthwhile to continue. I think it’s a long shot based on your description but there may be things you’re not seeing in the relationship and therefore not able to report on.

      The second option is to leave and find another therapist. In both cases, you’d be letting your “little girl” inside you know that you’ll now be on guard to protect her and you’ll be more discerning in finding a good connection where you feel safe. I don’t think it will matter too much whether your next therapist is a male or female, just as long as you feel like you want a connection with the person and you feel safe.

      I hope that helps Kathy,

      All the best,


      • Kathy says:


        I can not thank you enough for your reply. You hit the nail on the head with so much. The question you raised that really opened everything up for me was when you asked why I stayed so long if I wasn’t liking her after reading that I really was taken back by it and asked myself that very same question. For me it brought back so many memories from my childhood of never having a choice in the matter. My mom always left me with my sister who herself was a teenager, single mom, alcoholic, and victim of abuse from all of her boyfriends. My sister put me through a lot and I still have nightmares to this day about somethings that happened to us, but when I would tell my mom about it all she would do was take me to another women in the family with the same problems.

        I learned very early that I didn’t have a choice and I better make the best out of it because my mom had to work to support us and didn’t have a lot of support herself. In a way it made me feel guilty for even saying anything because I knew my mom had no other choice. I realized that with my therapist I was reliving all those feelings. I felt stuck with her and then when I told her I didn’t like her because she reminded me of my mother/sister she told me to stay and stick it out with her. So then I grew more and more resentful of her because that is what my family does to me all the time. I’m not allowed to share any negative feelings because my mom and sister can’t handle it and turn it into a direct attack on them. They call me selfish and a spoiled brat.

        I really can not thank you enough for opening this up for me and helping me get a bigger picture of what is really going on. I absolutely think it is the little girl inside of me cringing and I need to protect her and find someone who will listen to me and connect with me. After all of this I don’t think it matters if my therapist is a man or women they just have to meet those certain needs I have to get past my issues.


  • Beth says:

    Thanks for this bit of educational fun, we sure can be odd ducks at times. In my efforts to find therapists for one of my kids and for myself, I interviewed several people and came across some pretty amusing experiences. First, almost everyone said “You must be feeling so anxious now!” and it became so predictable it now makes me laugh (The first time I heard it, I relaxed and it made me cry).

    One therapist told me “I know more about you than you know about yourself!” on our first interview. Pretty sure of herself!

    One therapist announced “I am self-actualized and I feed the squirrels.” (OK, What?)

    One man asked if he could take notes, and I agreed. He meant he wanted to type notes into his laptop, and the position he assumed was with his head tossed back to one side, eyes shut, mouth hanging widely open. For the entire time!, and then he said “You must be feeling very anxious!”. I was interviewing him to meet with a teenager so continuing with this therapist was out of the question – but humorous, at least.

    Another therapist came to my house relative to my child, sat on my couch and fell soundly asleep.

    One therapist met with my kid a few times, and then announced “I’m too old for this!” when the situation became tested. This therapist was the community specialist and director of a nationally known children’s intervention program.

    One therapist had a habit of walking into the room so quietly it was startling and made me jump. He said that was a common reaction to him! He was actually quite astute and did some good work, but that sneaky approach got me!

    You have not mentioned clinical therapists in the hospital setting. As a parent/observer I can only comment that for the sake of your loved one, you will need a very strong spine, nerves of steel, saintly patience, dogged perseverance, while keeping a soft heart. Do your best, then go home and just cry, very privately. You’ll be feeling very anxious.

    Thanks for reminding us gently how human and fallible we all are, and also how important the connections between therapist and client are in order to earn trust, which is elemental to safety, self respect, and real growth.

    • Shrinklady says:

      Oh that’s too funny Beth…and yet, kinda alarming too. Thanks for sharing.


  • Allen says:

    The big thing here was the fact my T takes 2 days to get back to my emails.
    That much I relate to.
    Everything else goes well. Unless I complain endlessly about another shrink then she feels obliged to defend them. O yes and one last thing, my T [a nice woman to be honest] seems to get grumpy when I talk about a woman I use to know in years gone by. Mind you I do tend to go on about her a bit!

  • Carol says:

    Hi Shrinklady

    I love the cartoon. My first therapist was unethical, it is a long, long story. In the end so I could regain some self belief I took her through a complaints procedure and won.

    I then saw a lovely therapist but I couldn’t tell her the nitty gritty stuff. I have now just seen a psych in psychotherapy whom I had met before and liked. On my first session she told me that she was only going to see me twice. In that session she triggered what I think is the core of my problems, attachment issues throughout my life. I have written to her telling her this and giving her as much history as possible. She knows that I can tell her anything and I have poured my heart out to her. I haven’t sent it yet but I will in the next couple of weeks. I think she sussed out that I have attachment issues but now they have surfaced I really want her to help me and I only have one session left.

    I don’t know what to do so any suggestions would be much appreciated. Thank you..

    • Shrinklady says:

      Hi Carol, I’m sorry that this reply is likely not reaching you in time for your next session. In any case, I thought it’d be worthwhile to respond.

      I also want to congratulate you for being a good advocate for yourself!

      I hope your visit with your therapist went well. When I read your post, it crossed my mind that you might have expectations for your next session that may not have been satisfied.

      I understand that you wrote your therapist giving her details of your history. It sounds like you made a nice connection with her. It’s too bad she’s not able to provide long term work. Just so you know Carol…working through attachment issues – even if your therapist is well aware of them – will usually not make a measurable difference in one or two sessions.

      When a therapist is only able to offer two sessions we consider this to be for short term symptom relief. These types of sessions are good for tips on managing anxiety, relationship problems or depression. They could never replace what is needed to cure you of any of these symptoms and/or problems. (You probably already know this to some extent)

      One of the things you might consider for next time Carol is that when you do quickly attach to a therapist and you know you have limited time with her, I’d encourage you to hold back in disclosing too much. Instead, you might find it more useful to spend the time discussing present day issues.

      The reason I’m suggesting this is that there is a risk of repeating an old pattern. When we attach to someone and we have unmet needs from childhood, we tend to be more easily triggered into abandonment. In other words, the risk is that you may set yourself up for being abandoned and hurt once again.

      In order to change early attachment issues you’ll need longer term work. Most importantly, to change your attachment patterns you need to give your brain “experiences” that it can learn from. This requires time and the assurance your therapist will be there consistently.

      You deserve to get the best help possible Carol. I hope you do find it with another therapist.

      All the best,


  • JR says:

    Hi, I was wondering if I could get your opinion on if I should leave my therapist. I started working with them in a group setting (my previous therapist and I decided this would be a good supplement since we couldn’t see each other regularly enough due to scheduling issues), and then I switched over to the current one as my main therapist. Over the last year, I have started to feel more and more uncomfortable, as it feels that certain boundaries have been crossed.

    It started off with the therapist seeming to disclose lots of anecdotes and stories about other clients in session, and going out to eat with the group on a regular basis. I shrugged it off, as I enjoyed the company of the group and they seemed to have sort of “mama hen” vibe to them.

    Over time, the therapist, one other particular member of the group and I have become sort of a little trio who regularly socializes outside of the therapy context. They once told us that we are in their “inner circle”.

    I have started to feel obligated to hang out with them, and it sort of feels like forced therapy time to me. They both really enjoy my company it seems, and the other group member seems upset if I don’t dedicate enough time to the relationship.

    Also, my therapist charges me at the low end of their sliding scale (though I’ve been working up a tab since I’m currently umemployed), and doesn’t charge me at all for the group sessions as they say I “bring so much to the group and am practically a co-facilitator”.

    This arrangement makes me feel sort of obligated. I also know a lot about the therapist’s personal life, etc.

    I started to really feel uncomfortable recently, when, after texting the group (we use a group chat app for support during the week) that I was having a hard time, the therapist and this other group member guilted me into going out with them to eat, and essentially forcing me to have a therapy session, even though I initially tried to decline.

    I now feel uncomfortable reaching out to the group for fear of them “twisting my arm” again. I think I know what I need to do, but I’m sort of scared to confront the therapist because they can make me feel like I’m really messed up or running away from realy change, etc.

    • Shrinklady says:

      Wow, JR, you’re absolutely right to question your therapist’s behaviour. This situation is not therapeutic at all and it’s placing you in an unbearable position. You’re being asked to “carry” the group, your therapist and at the same time, do your own therapeutic work.

      It reminds me of the untenable position some children are placed when, owing to their parent’s lack of emotional development, they’re asked to take care of their parents’ needs at the cost of their own.

      I’m so sorry this group experience has evolved in this way. I can imagine you running for the hills never to return to therapy ever again. (Please know that good therapy does not work this way and you deserve much better.)

      How can you possibly work meaningfully through your stuff and feel safe that your therapist maintains confidentiality. Then there’s the matter of your therapist’s poor boundaries. He doesn’t appear to have any understanding or appreciation for the therapeutic relationship. Your final comment about worrying that your remarks will be used against you as in a shaming ritual reveals how far away from good boundaries this group has gone.

      You are right to trust your instincts and to bow out of this group. I hope they don’t make it any more difficult for you to do so.

      I wish you the best,

  • Kate says:

    I went to a functional medicine center to get some help with a chronic inflammatory issue that has been going on for years. They are VERY thorough! Including looking at past traumas. Unfortunately, I have a few of those that were pretty severe, including an abduction/sexual assault many years ago. This came up with the MD, and she was very sensitive with me, and I got through that appointment okay. I went on to meet with a small group with a nutritionist, and all of a sudden, I started fighting back tears.

    Now, I am new in this town. I moved here for work six months ago, and I really don’t have any friends here yet. My new place of employment might be closing for lack of funds. I am SUPER stressed out, and I think the memories of what happened so many years ago just pushed me over the edge emotionally.

    Anyway, the nutritionist told me there was a therapist on staff who could see me that day. So, I made an appointment. I told the therapist I didn’t want to dig ‘way back in my past, because I’d done that ad infinitum, but I had these more current issues to deal with right now, that I was lonely, and that I was feeling overwhelmed. I started tearing up again. She said all life stages build on old stages, so she needed to know it all from the beginning, and she said I was in the Integrity vs Despair stage. Remembering this theory from my college intro to psych class, I said, no, actually, I was middle aged, so I was in the Generativity stage. Emotionally, I’m feeling like I’m standing on razor wire, and yet, cognitively, I’m clarifying Erickson’s eight stages for her. I know it shouldn’t be a big deal, but it felt like heavy lifting somehow.

    Later in the discussion, she asked me what I did after work, and I told her that I have lots of hobbies, that actually, each weekday I give a little free time for a different hobby–Quilting on Mondays, watercolors on Tuesdays and so forth. She said, “Oh, so that’s how you distract yourself.” I was a bit taken aback by that assessment, and I said, “Well, actually, I’d call it self expression and creativity.” Now, mind you, I’ve been near tears almost the entire day, and now I feel I have to defend myself from this therapist. Then she tells me that I have control issues. And she wants me to go home and write up a list of what I can control, and what i can’t control. And I’m like, “um, okay.”

    So I went home and googled “Control Issues.” The description on the psych central website is none too flattering. I started sobbing. I sobbed myself to sleep, woke up at 3 AM and sobbed some more. Then, I thought. “This upset started with having to review the most devastating, terrifying thing that ever happened to me in my entire life, and now I’m crying because some idiot therapist didn’t like that I knew more about Erick Erickson than she did?” Maybe I do have control issues, but I feel sort of like a train wreck right now, and I just don’t have the emotional energy to deal with another freakin’ label. I called and cancelled my appointment. Yeesh!

    • Susan LaCombe Ed.D., R.Psych. says:

      Oh Kate, you did the right thing cancelling that appointment. Yeah! It’s clear this therapist was not in attunement with you. Then to add injury to insult she labels you with having “control” issues. What do you say Kate . . . do you think it just might be a projection on her part 😉

      Your instincts were right. If you’re feeling that it’s hard just holding it together, dredging up the past is not going to help. Focusing on the present moment is what you appeared to need in that session. In doing so, you might have been able to siphon off some of the stress you were feeling.

      A trained trauma therapist would never encourage you to dig up the past when you’re feeling maxed. The first task is to establish some trust and safety. Otherwise, you’d be prone to re-activating early traumas when you’re ill prepared. I suspect that’s what you were trying to avoid – and why this therapist sensed your reservations. Instead of seeing the wisdom in it, she calls you “controlling”. My oh my!

      That was also shocking to hear – that she interpreted your creative activities as distractions. My guess is that these activities give back to you – they’re healing strategies – what we call “resources” in my field.

      I hope you’re feeling better Kate.


      • Kate says:

        Aww. Thank you. Good to know there are people out there who get it. I do feel better. Thanks.

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