In blogs and book reviews, I see reference by therapy professionals to the “disgruntled ex-client.”  I assume this label is pejorative and the classification perhaps is to warn therapists to create a strong filter when one hovers nearby.

So here’s my warning label: I’m a disgruntled ex-client.  My therapy mostly was harmful.   Before I’m tuned out, I hope some therapists may consider listening as I speak my piece, so they might find fewer like me at large.

I entered therapy hoping to broaden my social life and to confirm my suspicion that my typical family—wasn’t.  I never was in crisis.  My past persona was far too obliging and obeisant to authority, but not unlike a significant population percentage.  Pre-therapy I had friends, a job, occasional dates and was reasonably cheerful.  My total tally in treatment (I hate that word) was just under three years with different clinicians in different formats.

Once in therapy, I bought the full mystique of the psychotherapist as a god with ex-ray omniscience and magic powers.  Therapists reinforced my idealization in subtext: with scornful disapprovals, supporting my unrealistic expectations of treatment, pretending to have “the answers” and contradicting my self-reporting.

The worst, most damaging bout was group therapy led by a disdainful psychologist and a syrupy psychiatric nurse.  Clients were encouraged to bring-your-own-whine, though often answered with bruising dismissals.  The nurse announced “something about you makes me want to kick you.”   They ridiculed my own exploration into cognitive theory via David Burns. When I tried to terminate treatment, the leaders’ simmer turned volcanic as the therapists did their best to retain me through withering diagnoses and threats of a dismal future.  They negated my perceptions.  Defensive and determined, they fired off interpretations like ammunition.  I entered therapy seeking more social interaction; I exited feeling contemptible, isolated and unsure of my sanity.

Another psychotherapist gave me what I wanted—I thought.  She comforted me as a poor wounded deer cheated out of a loving upbringing.  And I left “feeling better” because now I thought I earned my increasingly frequent self-pity.

A third therapist was insightful and respectful.  However my undirected meandering led me toward more self-pity and early-life obsession.

So I’m left to untangle this large knot left by so-called treatments.  I feel hoodwinked.  I combed professional literature and was dismayed by the denigration of unsuccessful clients and the limited discussion about harmful therapy.    We’re labeled resistant, and our dissatisfaction is labeled as transference.  Or we’re conflating our internal pain with an external relationship.  Or we’re difficult cases who don’t want to change or too unstable to be redeemed.   There’s scarce conjecture I reacted sanely to my therapists’ distortions.

As I read how therapists are trained to think, attitudes toward difficult cases, and the defensiveness toward official complaints, it’s clear why therapy left me feeling worse.

It’s entertaining for this alien-from-another-planet, otherwise known as a consumer, to survey the professional literature for a peek at how the profession reduces and codifies its world.   The more white-hot and chaotic the human experience, the more detached the exploration.  Intuition sometimes is forced through  a scientific mold.  When “real life” appears in a psychology textbook, discussion can be absurdly robotic in an “I feel anger when you ….” sort of way.  The milieu is so artificial, jargonized and removed from life in the living room, no wonder therapists see DSMs rather than human beings.  We’re not two people, we’re a dyad; I’m not talking to my doctor; I’m the dysthymic projecting my mother.  There is a pervasive bell-jar perspective of the therapeutic relationship.  With all this categorizing and theorizing, I’d expect the horse to become the zebra.

I’ve walked into a funhouse of twisted mirrors.  My personality quirks are a now a disease.  Stone silence—considered the cold shoulder in civilian life—is now a blank slate and a path toward mental health.  Sarcasm, intimidation and berating are labeled as treatment.  And most damaging—my “no” means “yes” because the therapist sees me as the helpless child incapable of rational observation.  The professional texts HAVE transformed me from a functional woman into a patient after all.

Antagonism in professional literature toward “difficult cases” seems prevalent.  As I read about these, I see images of frenzied, unanchored souls challenging the psychologist’s full, brute force to tame them.   I am amused to juxtapose this trope with the “difficult case” my therapists perceived me to be.

One textbook presents a treatment dialog between a doctor and a “schizoid” client wishing to terminate.  The doctor smacks down every client communication with diversions– argument, interpretation and accusations.  The doctor’s summary commentary condemns his ex-client as primitive, borderline, paranoid, controlling and unable to read reality.   Any sane person might be angry at this doctor’s stonewalling.  At least in this snippet, this “schizoid” client read the situation just fine: his doctor was hostile, unhelpful and mechanically unreal.

Therapy failure is frequently blamed on resistance.  The swath of literature devoted to resistance gives me images of a full-tilt wrestling ring bout.   That’s juxtaposed by another frequent term, non-compliance, which evokes a stern, disapproving super-parent.   Literature attributes these resistances to internal devils like fear of facing fears, self-deception, loss of freedom or even desire to manipulate the therapist.  I won’t argue with these ideas, at least the first two.  But this noncompliance, disobedience perception gives me pause.  Literature I sampled predominantly focused on a battle of the consulting room, a bell jar mentality, as if the client lives there full-time.  Discussions only grazed upon a client’s larger social system and its obstacles to change.    It underappreciated the daunting problem-solving of new behavior (such as losing one’s job or spouse), skill development, the turmoil of role and hierarchy shifts, unpredictable outcomes and the dilemma of compromise (i.e. choosing between the tyrannical boss or a dismal job market), to list a few scenarios.   Haven’t psychologists ever observed an animal pack duke it out for dominance?  Resolving internal conflicts are only the start of reinventing oneself.   I wonder how many theorists have vaulted their own confinements to understand this.

Some resistance articles glaringly omit practitioner errors and misdirected agendas. (I wish I HAD resisted a therapist’s silly solution that caused family distress thereafter.)

However I see the therapist-as-parent as the most misguided treatment model.  When I’m a 35-year-old, talking to a 45-year-old, we’re two adults.  If the doctor play acts I’m the child and he’s the parent, we both travel to a fantasy land which undermines my autonomy and our authenticity together.  He is reinforcing my self-image as powerless – a damaging metaphor for my life but even more harmful when he fails to control his agenda and anger.  Also he communicates that he holds some magic secret I’ll never fully receive. “Reparenting” is a flawed concept—adults no longer have a child’s hardwiring, and can’t return back in time.  We can only go forward.

Reading professional literature led me to feel I was sold on a subordinating, hired relationship aspiring toward strength and authenticity.   With my own tendency toward deference, a game of follow-the-leader-blind-folded undermined my growth. And why should I seek experts, pretending to have answers, in order to understand that experts don’t have answers?

Psychotherapy’s mythology is further inflated by our cultural zeitgeist.   The media elevates the practitioner to a near-shaman who can alleviate the pain of break-ups, unemployment, pet deaths and tense holiday dinners.  Therapy is promised to raise our lives from weary to celestial, remove unwanted pounds and exorcise our vices.  Is your sister trashing your premises or your spouse wasting away on the couch?  Send them to a therapist who’ll carry the lugs.

We need this easement. So no wonder we blindly obey, and no wonder therapists fall off the shaman pedestal.  But I fear the large holes in the literature of self-critique flag that some clinicians could be roped in by their own legends.

Years later as I’m left with many untruths on top of my own irrational remnants, I have a large job demoting my dubious healers.   Reinterpreting harmful therapy is layered and complicated, since I fell into a rigged game.   I unload the weight of my therapists’ self-delusions, similar to recovering from a cult.  I reframe their unclaimed anger.  I regain my selfhood after feeling invalidated by irrational authority.  I understand how I suspended my own judgment to surrender my free will to someone else.  I awaken to how I was defrauded by fake wizards, realizing wizards don’t exist at all.   It’s daunting to face the elements as my own protector and rescuer.  I have to relinquish fairy tales that I so needed.  But didn’t the therapists corroborate them?

Now that I’ve had my gripes, can I muse what I would do as my own therapist and client?

I would make it clear from early in the process that problems were mine to solve, and psychotherapy, at best, can only provide a few tools.

I would avoid all paternalism, regression, contrived sympathy and learned-dependence in favor of an adult-adult dynamic.

I would balance discussion of weaknesses and pain with discussion of strength, health and optimism.

I would explore and support improvement of my physical health.  (I have visible conditions that contribute to fatigue and depression which psychotherapists never bothered to notice.)

I would reinforce a present-life reason for any childhood excavation, so therapy doesn’t become an undirected self-indulgence.

I’d infuse the therapy interaction with a large dollop of real-world common sense.  Realizing when I’m driving, as opposed to being driven, is a cornerstone of mastery.

Most importantly, I would create conversation where “no” means “no,” and “I need to leave” is respected.  Complaints are regarded as legitimate rather than psychotherapeutic events, and my communications are heard and heeded rather than invalidated via diagnosis.

I challenge more professionals to learn from clients, particularly us treatment failures.   Assume most of us are thoughtful beings with credible perceptive powers.  Our dissatisfactions aren’t trivial background grumbling.  We’re talking about consequences that extend long into our lives.

Further Reading

Bates, Yvonne, editor (2006) Shouldn’t I Be Feeling Better By Now? Client views of Therapy. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK: Palgrave McMillan.  A diverse collection of client essays exploring how subtle and not-so-subtle ways psychotherapy turned harmful, with further discussion for professionals of the many issues the accounts evoke.

Dineen, Dr. Tana  (2001)  Manufacturing Victims, What the Psychology Industry Is Doing to People.  Westmount, Canada : Robert Davies Multimedia Publishing.  Dineen critiques the “victim psychology” and pathologizing mindset which creates a detrimental influence on our culture.

Elkind, Sue Nathanson (1992) Resolving Impasses in Therapeutic Relationships. New York: The Guilford Press. A compassionate exploration of stalemates in psychotherapy which narrates how both clinician and client vulnerabilities might contribute to treatment breakdown.

House, Richard (2003) Therapy beyond Modernity. Deconstructing and Transcending Profession Centered Therapy. London: H. Karnac (Books) LTD.  House deconstructs widely-held precepts of the psychotherapy profession through questioning what he calls “the regime of truth” in search of a new paradigm.   A centerpiece of this book is House’s extensive focus on the literature of actual client experiences.

Sands, Anna (2000) Falling for Therapy, Psychotherapy from a Client’s Point of View.  Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK: MacMillan Press LTD.  Analyzing two contrasting treatments, a client reflects on the harm and help from therapy.


1,721 Responses

  1. […] the profession seems to be to feedback from clients. To that end is my modest entry into the fray: https://disequilibrium1.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/a-disgruntled-ex-psychotherapy-client-speaks-her-pie… Tags: alliance, alliance patterns, Couples, Early Change, Norway, routine alliance […]

  2. Great post. Thanks so much for bringing these unfortunate realities to our attention. Your experience really brings to life the need for routine consumer feedback about benefit and fit of mental health services. I posted a link to our listserv and I linked from my most recent blog.

  3. Thanks, Barry. I can see value to feedback on more than one level. Beyond information for the therapist, it would have granted me power as an active collaborator in my own growth.

    Things went astray partly because I had an inaccurate expectation of therapy as something “done to me.”

  4. Hi there,

    Enjoyed reading your post.

    I am a Counsellor in Auckland, New Zealand, and have met first-hand dozens of people who had previously been to a myriad of different therapists for little or no (or worse) result. I often say to them “while I might from time visit your past, I have no intention of seeting up camp there and moving in”.

    The relief on their faces is palatable.

    I also say to my clients that if we haven’t had some sort of meaningful progress on the original presenting issue or issues in 8-12 sessions, then they need to fire me, as clearly I am not the right person for them – this time, they look a little gob-smacked, and then laugh, perhaps wishing that such an opportunity had been granted to them with other practitioners.

    I utilise a session by session evaluation tool with each client, and when they come back, I assess their progress from the last session to the current one.

    If we can’t measure our progress, we can’t ultimately help anyone.

    Kind Regards,

    Steve Taylor
    24-7 Ltd

  5. Steve, I would like that. It would help me toward the direction of standing on my own to feet.

  6. Exactly – the championing of client soveriegnty can be achieved without having to therapeutically abandon the client.

    I have an easy to follow rule: I don’t go where I am not invited to go, and I invite my clients to “bounce” me any time they like if I am heading into a cul-de-sac, when where they want me is on their main road.

    I have another name for the DSM:

    “Damn Stupid Motive”

  7. In Norway, where I live, there isn’t any public talk about the fact that psychotherapy may make clients worse.

    But three years ago a book about CDOI was published. And this year the Journal of the Norwegian Psychological Association has printed some articles about user influence in therapy. My general impression is, though, that we have to wait for a long time before this becomes a reality among most of therapists.

    About ten years ago I was in therapy. I was so traumatized of that “treatment” that I still suffer because of it. And there is no help program for traumatized clients.

  8. Sigrun, I’m sorry you went through this. Though my harmful therapy was relatively subtle, it is a years-long process distancing from its effects. I’ve found some comforts along the way in reading (Therapist by Ellen Plasil is a book about a recovery from extreme abuse) and talking to others.

    This Boston organization facilitates networking. Conversations with others have been of great relief to me: http://www.therapyabuse.org/about_us.htm

    This organization has resources and a forum:

    Wishing you well. Friends discussed that there are rewards and discoveries in fighting through the trauma.

  9. Thank you for the information and support.

    I’ve met supportive people on the Internet since I began to blog two and a half years ago. This summer I also started a closed blog for people with bad therapy experiences (we link to your blog there, but we only write in the Scandinavian languages).

    A journalist in the Journal of the Norwegian Psychological Association, who had read my blog, asked me some time ago if I could write in the journal. I wrote about this topic – when therapy harms. It was published this month, and my former therapist reads the journal.

    Here’s a book written by a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst on subtle manipulation in therapy, “Gaslighting, the Double Whammy, Interrogation and Other Methods of Covert Control in Psychotherapy and Analysis”: http://amzn.to/awsLIQ

  10. Thank you for the the book title–I ordered it–and congratulations getting the journal article published. I assume it will be in Norwegian, but if it’s English, I’d hope to read it.

    I sent you an email about another discussion that’s beginning.

  11. Yes, it’s in Norwegian.
    And thanks for the email.

  12. Autobiographical book about a bad therapy: “When Boundaries Betray Us” http://amzn.to/bnGCIF

    When the book was pubished, a therapist called the author, a professor of theology, “the client from hell”.
    Although I don’t see the world in the spiritual way as the author does, I think she makes some good observations of the relationship between professionals and clients.

  13. Sigrun, I did read that. I had difficulty reacting to it, because I was never clear what happened to turn the relationship so sour. However the author’s feeling of betrayal signals to me she was led down the garden path in some fashion. The mere fact therapy can feel like an intimate relationship–but isn’t–can make it problematic.

    I did start the Dorpat book and think it’s excellent. The phrasing of something, a tone of voice CAN establish a hierarchy that ultimately diminishes the client.

  14. Great post, and I’m sure a lot of ‘disgruntled’ clients will feel relieved to know they’re not alone. You may have seen (if you tracked Barry Duncan’s link) that there are a number of communities of therapists now who are disgruntled by the patriarchal mantel and for-your-own-good attitude that many use as a shield, and the wishy-washy, anything-goes, passivity that others skate by on.

    Steam has been building from the inside at the same time that ex-clients are finding each other on the ‘outside’. Research and magazine articles are being published about it. Time for a next wave in therapy, we hope. If you don’t mind, I’d like to quote some of what you’re saying and provide a link to your post from my website. Is that okay with you?

  15. Thanks for posting this. People need to know how dangerous bad therapy can be. I’ve got a formal complaint pending against a bad therapist. Once that process is completed, I will blog about it with all the gory details. Ideally I can link to your site too – spread the word!

  16. Margaret, good luck with your complaint. Therapists complained against often use hardball strategies to discredit their clients, painting them as delusional, etc. As has been pointed out, often the client has presented no evidence of this so-called delusion until she files a formal complaint.

    I lost my grievance, a failure to refer. He covered two bases accusing me of being delusion AND insisting his actions were for my benefit.

    My larger battle has been within my own mind and emotions. I’m determined now not to let this experience scar any more of my life. I’ve found the most clarity talking to others who’ve been through it through this:

    Sorry for the necessity of it, but please let me know about your blog. If you haven’t found this already, another friend is doing just that.


  17. Free Web Conference for the Public: “How to Know If You’ve Found the Right Therapist”:

  18. Hi. I just found you and glad I did. I have a blog “Multiple Personalities Don’t Exist” from the title, you can surmise that I had a bout with a psychiatrist that believes personalities do exist.

    Thanks for your post. I’ve put a link on my blog to your site. You have interesting people following you and I am relieved to read their opinions. It’s easy to feel alone as an ex-disgruntled. Cheers, Jeanette Bartha


    • Hi Jeanette, thanks for taking a look. I have come across reading that does agree that multiples have been a concoction of the therapy industry. So many fads, so much damage. We’re not alone. I just started to read your blog and will add a link to my page.

  19. Your thoughtful comment on my blog triggered my unsolicited reading of yours. The wise questioning of what I wrote is reflected in what you have written here. Thank you.

  20. I call it “the aftermath”. The wierd thing is, I forget I function better, feel better, work better when not submitting my every move, inner or outer, to the “interpretation” of another. Then I find myself trawling boards like these and remembering… myself.

    I’ve been raped physically, emotionally and spiritually in therapy. I’ve successfully pursued lawsuits, fired therapists who’d galloped into the “transfererence/countertransference woods” much too greedily. I once actually fired a guy who didn’t know he was hitting on me! Yes….and ladies, anyone who’s been out on a Friday or has read one of those 70s pick-up manuals knows exactly what I mean: Laugh too hard at my bad jokes, mirror my body language, make sure mine is the last appointment of the day.

    Actually had to fire that boy twice: “Dr. Y, I will not see you in a psychotherapeutic setting nor will I pay you for your services any further as I am uncomfortable with the level of sexual tension in the room after 3 sessions. I am not seeking transference-based therapy and ask that you please refer me to a suitable colleague.” Got a phone call begging me to see him, he had an opening…Friday at 5pm.

    Never got a referral.

    These days, I look at it this way: Sometimes you still want a second, non-invested opinion on things in your life. When I hire a therapist, I’m hiring someone to SHOW UP. By this I mean: Be 100% present with me and the problem du jour. I do not expect agreement, I expect tactful honesty. I do not expect expertise, I expect someone to know a little more than I do. Like a Himalayan trek guide: I expect you to have been at least halfway further up the designated mountain than I have.

    Like when I hire a car mechanic: I’d prefer it if we both drive Hondas. But he (or she) absolutely MUST know more about her Honda than I do about mine. What the blink am I talking about? I want my therapist to know more about their inner weather than I do about mine; because I expect them to be able to SHOW UP when I’m foundering AND to be able to honestly say, if or when it becomes true: “You know what, I’ve reached the end of my ability.”

    I used to train horses and I used to tell my clients (the owners): My job is to make myself obsolete. If you still need me in x years, I haven’t done my job and you should not pay me. When I realized the horses were quicker to grasp the concept than the owners, I got out of the business. The owners wanted a dependency to make them feel safe(r). After a point, it was a false safety and I found, at least in the kind of work I did, that I was firing at least one $700/month client each week. Hard to eat on those numbers, but it was the right thing to do.

    As a culture, we are primed religiously and politically for “redemptive dependencies” and they can be bugger-all to relinquish. A while ago, in therapeutic circles, there was the idea of the “good enough” mother. We need to put forth the idea of the “good enough” life, the “good enough” solution to the problem. This is not to say that we don’t strive for excellence!

    But I have crippling PTSD and I probably always will. My brain has been rewired. I can spend my energy raging against that, trying to fix it. Or I can take a good look at the new new territory, accept that my “inner furniture” has been rearranged, and turn my attention to what I still want to accomplish.

    For I have learned that we grow NOT in succeeding, but in striving. As absurdist playwrite said: “Try. Fail. Try again. Fail better.”

    In the permission to “fail” we find the freedom to fly. At times, other will fly with us. At others, we fly alone. But we must shatter the bell jar and turn from navel contemplation. Sylvia Plath killed herself, remember.

    But if we can find, somewhere, the strength to survey our territory and say, “YES! I see it.” And not turn away, even when it rots, then we become warriors of the soul. We may not win. But we will not regret.

    (Sorry. Think I was possessed by Churchill a moment there. Fellow posters, I so deeply know your pain and the temptation to surrender and be pulled under. You need not fight if you are too weary. Sometimes just floating IS enough. Others WILL come: A voice in the wilderness, a book falling off a shelf, and overheard conversation. Even a wild woman posting on an old string like this. These waves and tempests tossing you must have an end. Be sure you do not confuse yourself with thrashing too much.)

    Nuf Sed.

    • Ann, I understand what you’re saying, “wild woman!” Your process as you describe it is similar to mine.

    • I know this is from some years ago, but thank you. I have a lot of work to do receiving and appreciating a ‘good enough life’ but actually I think this very phrase will be an invaluable tool. I recently found that I have a brain that work in a funny way – my working memory is terrible unless I can compensate with (in my case) usually written or visual instructions. I have done this for myself without being aware of it…but believe me, the fact that I saw and read this is worth 20x someone speaking to me. So keep your fingers crossed that it might go in this time.

  21. ps: YAAAHOOOOO Sigrun. You GO girl. Excellent work.

  22. Wonderful post, Ann. It was refreshing to read a post by someone who is strong in her recovery. You blew me away. My blog stating that Multiple Personalities Don’t Exist attracts people who want to disagree with me and argue that, yes it does because I have it! It is a syrupy-brown mire to swim in and it goes beyond having a difference of opinion. We have a difference in our willingness to decompensate for the attention of a therapist.

    Is anyone able to give names of articles, blogs, or anything else? I am learning much about people like me who have been hurt by therapy, but most people want to be anonymous.

    And thanks for posting TELL. I didn’t know of it. The essays are very helpful.
    Best. JB

  23. p.s. thanks for the link to my blog. I am doing so much reading, writing, and networking that I can’t keep up!

  24. Ann, I wished I’d been more effusive-loved your post too.I can tend to slide into self-pity about how therapy taught me to self-pity, and yes, I’m bolstered by the strong, I’m-gonna-be-OK posts. Bad therapy’s best lesson seems to be teaching clients how to be good victims.

    Jeanette, happy to make the link. I highly recommend TELL, and I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the smart, insightful contacts I’ve made through them.

    • “Bad therapy’s best lesson seems to be teaching clients how to be good victims.”

      I know this is an old thread, but I though it important to pull out this quote. Absolutely spot on.

      Especially when you consider the etymology of the word “victim”: “person or animal killed as a sacrifice”.

      ‘Victims’ (the reason we’re in therapy after all) are sacrificed on the alter of ‘the greater good’ – meaning that we keep the predators amongst civil society busy revictimizing previous (and designated) victims so that the ‘normal’ norm aren’t threatened by them, nor inconvenienced by us. “If you’re torn, beaten and bleeding, please scream quietly so you don’t bother anyone.”

      Like you disequilibrium, I was overly (stupidly!) “obliging and obeisant to authority”.

      “The more white-hot and chaotic the human experience, the more detached the exploration. Intuition sometimes is forced through a scientific mold. When “real life” appears in a psychology textbook, discussion can be absurdly robotic in an “I feel anger when you ….” “

      Odd thing is, all the therapists I saw spent all their efforts convincing me my fears were exaggerated. How then to explain that I was later warned (after an incident that once again proved this wasn’t true – by a minister no less) to change my name and never let my mother find me.

      In therapy-land there are, apparently, no serial killers nor mass murderers nor sadists nor torturers that we have to learn how to recover from: only the type of people for whom “I feel anger when you …” would be the start of a reasonable discussion.

      • birdfeeder, your post is powerful, thank you! I really have nothing to add, except a thought that keeps recurring to me. I think therapists/psychoanalysts play down reality, because they are unconsciously afraid of their own parents and their own rage towards them and therefore perpetuate the vicious cycle of denial. Since therapy is built on an authoritarian construct, guess who always wins? The “parents”.

      • I’m sorry you for what you lived for as well as treatment you received. I think you and 1234nyc are right. It’s easier for therapists to deny everything because they often seem unequipped to deal with their client’s realities. I too had small scale experiences in what you described–therapists brushing off things I needed to deal with.

        Yes, the “I feel anger” training I received was insane. I can’t imagine any real life setting that this would be an effective response. It turns us into robots.

        I found time, distance, and taking back my life the best healers. I doubt any therapy would have accelerated healing for me because it only enforced the notion of controlling pseudo-authorities. Subordinating myself to these superparents only made things worse. Once I rejected them, and saw what a game it was, I started to feel better. 🙂 .

        (This is a replacement of my own earlier post, because I did the “reply” thing wrong.)

  25. I hope you enjoy therapyisacon.wordpress.com 🙂

  26. There is sufficient evidence from professionals, within and beyond psychology, and a growing body of articulate and insightful testimonials by ex-clients, such as your own, to assert unequivocally that psychotherapy is not a science and therefore has no right to pass itself off as in any way related to medical treatment.

    Rather therapy is a moralistic religion or, as you say, a kind of cult, that eschews reality — wherein lay most ‘psychological’ problems and solutions — and instead trades in a peculiarly American mythology that idealizes self and relationships (especially therapy itself) and as such fosters the very self-deceptions it claims to remedy.

    As a recovering Freudian who spent 16 years as a master’s level ‘helping professional,’ including sojourns in two doctoral programs (psychology and sociology, respectively), I very mich admire the insights you have attained after only a relatively brief involvement as a seeker of therapy.

    However it concerns me that you still seem invested in wanting to find the perfect therapist. I invite you to consider that such a God simply does not exist and would not charge you to listen to you if she or he did exist. I further invite you and all other interested parties to come together in solidarity to seek alternatives to therapy.

    Therefore please contact me @ jeffreysh@earthlink.net so we can begin to explore ideas, and thank you for your brave and extremely well-thought out and well-written revelations. . . .

    • Jeff, I’m always interested to hear from someone who invested heavily in the profession and then abandoned it.
      Actually, I’m not invested…at all…in finding the perfect therapist, or any therapist. I listed my “ideal” therapy, which is self-care, because I didn’t want to criticize without countering with some kind of constructive alternative.

      As I stated in the piece, I do think as individuals we’re seeking someone or something to ease our burdens. This sounds like a rich conversation and I’ll write when I find a little more time.

  27. An article I wrote in the Journal of the Norwegian Psychological Association is now available on the Internet. Unfortunately Google is a bad translator, so I don’t know whether it is possible to understand for non-Scandinavians http://bit.ly/fr7N2Q

  28. Sigrun, congratulations on its publication. I understood the majority of it, with only a small section of it and some titles confusing. (I had the most trouble with the third paragraph, your account of what happened.) However, I did appreciate your point about more conversation needed and agree that it’s extremely difficult to find professionals who understand after harmful therapy.

    Even in computer-translation I found it very well written.

    I was also interested in the books and authors you mention–is anything available in English?

    Praise to you for proposing this conversation with the profession and praise to the editors of the journal for publishing this article.

  29. Did you mean from “I am among those that perform poorly …?”

    I write that I’m amongst those clients who function badly in a therapy where the therapist “knows better” than the client herself what’s best for her. I did not get help with the problem that I primarly sought therapy for (childhood abuse). In the fourth year the therapist said that “we” don’t work with abuse in (t)his therapy. I went into a state of emotional numbness because I was shocked. I became cronically ill. I felt I had been deceived.

    The books I mention are not translated into English, as far as I know. “The client – the forgotten therapist” is on CDOI, as developed by Barry Duncan and Scott Miller, written by Norwegian contributors.

    Tom Andersen was a Norwegian psychiatrist. His “samforskning” literally means co-research – between therapists and former clients. I don’t know whether he wrote on this subject in English. Maybe you could google his name and “co-research”. A Finnish psychologist writes a little bit here: http://www.nfft.no/site/bilder/eija-liisa%20rautiainen%20.pdf

  30. Sigrun
    That’s the paragraph. Actually, what I understood was close-but the translation interfered a bit. By and large, the computer “interpreter” was clear and literate, and I was able to read the article. I’ve read another book by Duncan and Miller. This co-research concept is great, and I hope what is learned is shared in other languages.

    I’m not aware of any here, but then I have no insider knowledge. But the professional journal articles I have seen, starting at square one, by wondering whether therapy can be harmful at all, are discouraging.

    Therapist “knows better.” I could probably write a mountain on that theme. But I reflect back to the excellent Dorpat book you recommended.

  31. Sigrun, thanks for the good article. We need more of them. I wish the books you mention were translated. I will take a read of those that are. We have to keep pressuring publishing houses. I’ve had a book on the market for a year – with a literary agent – hard to sell a memoir about bad therapy. Even with an agent, it’s hard to find a publisher. Could be the subject matter as well. lol The working title is: Remembering Lies: How My Psychiatrist Coerced Me into Believing I had Multiple Personalities.

    It’s lonely out here in the debunking multiple personalities movement!

  32. Sigrun I hope you get some thoughtful responses, and Jeanette, I hope you find your publisher.

  33. For some reason, the following was not accepted at the GoodTherapy page on “50 Warning Signs of Questionable Therapy”, so I’m trying here:

    Here are some items on the web that seem worthwhile for therapy clients, former clients, and therapists alike to read and think about:

    http://www.psychotherapy.net/blog/title/the-lake-wobegon-effect A blog entry about the “lake wobegon effect” from a study where therapists rated their psychotherapy skills.

    http://www.42online.org/node/109 An article by a therapist about the conflict between independent therapists’ desire for autonomy and accountability.

  34. Thanks Mary. Those post offer much to think about. I do wonder about these evaluations because I see a gulf of difference between therapy being a temporary salve for life’s pain, and offering some concrete strategies for exploring real improvements. My therapy, unfortunately, only offered the former, and which both my therapists and I failed to realize.

    I think “50 Warning Signs” often rejects links. However you’re always welcome to post here.

    I should post my own link:

  35. Thanks for the info that 50 Warning Signs often rejects links. I had previously posted something with a link, so when this one didn’t appear the first time I tried, I thought I had made a mistake and tried again, but with the same non-result. Perhaps different moderators make different judgment calls.

  36. They’ve rejected my links too, only to accept them when I included them in a post as a description rather than a hyperlink. It’s probably a general rule to stem potential shilling or abuse.

  37. Though this article is a slog, it’s an interesting look at, among other things, the foundation of the therapeutic relationship.

  38. Ummm. make that http://www.therapistabandonment.com

    Its new. What can I say…?

  39. Okay, somehow the first comment I left disappeared. Too bad because it was long.

    I wanted to thank you for your blog and say that I, too, had a negative therapy experience which has impacted my life. I’ve also filed a formal complaint and am waiting for the results of the ethical investigation.

    I won’t re-type my whole story, but anyone who is interested in visiting my brand new site http://www.therapistabandonment (which also deals with other issues or harmful therapy) is just recently up and running. I will post my whole story there soon.

    I believe this is an important topic and want to provide a support forum, gain information and hopefully write a book about my experience and the experiences of others — my attempt to heal and promote public awareness and self-advocacy.

    My educational and professional background is in the field of psychology and counseling which gives me sort of a unique perspective. I can definitely say that therapy was a deeply damaging experience for me.

    Again, thanks for your blog.

  40. Ellery, so sorry you had this experience, and I hope you find solace in what others are saying on this topic.

    It’s a long journey, but I believe it’s quite possible to pull away from a deeply wounding experience in therapy. Once I started reading professional literature I realized the destructiveness not only came from the therapist’s lack of judgment, but also that his training was so abstract and theoretical that he lost perspective about the everyday “human” factor between the two of us.

    I feel strongly too that therapy is far “oversold,” rarely accomplishing as much as we’re led to believe. I think both professionals and the public are pulled in by this delusion.

    I also think therapy can actually REINFORCE depression, with its emphasis on hurts, slights and imperfections, and its creation of artificial relationships that encourage dependence and idolization.

    Another article that explores some of this further:

    I found great assistance with this organization that facilitates conversations between consumers who’ve been through this. It’s been such a blessing to share experiences:

    I have to fight hard not to get depressed how therapy trained me to be so depressed. Depending on my mood, it’s a vicious or comical circle.


  41. Lots of intelligent thoughtfulness here, which helps me as I’m trying to decide whether or not to leave my psychoanalysis (heavy-duty, five times a week, Kleinian). Three years on, I feel fine but she’s in denial about it. I cut off one day and she practically had a heart attack. I’m going down to three days a week in Sept. so now I’m ‘resistant, deceiving myself’ etc. I’m not. I feel fine, all my friends agree I’m fine, my family life has been transformed and my only worry is a therapist who won’t let me go (or even taper down) gracefully. I don’t want to be the kind of analysand who slams the door and disappears, because that does no justice to all that we had, and all she’s done–but it’s beginning to look as if there’s no alternative. All advice appreciated!! Disheartened

  42. Alice, I can only reply as a friend, not a professional, but from what you describe, it seems that the tables are turned and the therapist now is asking you to take care of her–on your money. As I described in my story, therapists can have their own “resistance” to clients leaving them, and at worst, try all sorts of manipulation to prevent it.

    Mine seriously put me down which left me very confused on top of my previous vulnerability. You’ve paid your bills and kept the contract and I don’t think you owe her anything beyond a thank you and goodbye, leaving her to work out her apparent issue.

    The “kind of analysand” we are is THEIR label. The bottom line is living life, not the therapy room.The bonds in therapy unfortunately can turn cult-like if the therapist is unchecked.

    If you’re looking for more peer support, I found http://www.therapyabuse.org helpful. I understand your current situation as more an entanglement than outright abuse, but it sounds like your therapist has abandoned her professional responsibility in favor of her needs.

    I’m happy to read that you were helped in therapy, feel good and ready to move on. Sounds like something to celebrate.

  43. I’ve added a new essay, under the pen name Madeline Aimes, at Mentalhelp.net:

  44. Alice, I say: just bail. You’ve had enough, you are ready to move on. It’s your life, your time, your money. It doesn’t matter what the therapist thinks of your decision.

  45. This is a wonderful and very much needed post. I am saying this both, as a therapist and as a former therapy patient. I know first hand what bad therapy feels like and also what it feels like to be violated by a therapist. I had experiences similar to those that the author is describing here and was insulted and humiliated by being objectified and infantilized by some of my therapists. Having experienced that, I swore to never replicate it with my own patients. My beliefs about how people should not be treated in therapy were not met with enthusiasm by my colleagues, who preferred to remain defensive about their traditional approach to doing therapy work. They were just seeing me as an odd ball.

    On the other hand, I don’t see the whole picture exactly how the author sees it. I know, also from experience, that even though we are not helpless children in relationships with our therapists, but a therapist-patient relationship is certainly a power-imbalanced one, where the therapist holds more psychological power because he is in a position of a helper and the patient is in a position of someone who receives help. On top of that, the patient opens up to the therapist, not the other way around. This makes the patient a more vulnerable one in the relationship which, in turn, creates dependency whether the patient likes it or not, so we cannot speak of this relationship as the relationship between equals.

    I would like to do a little self-disclosure to illustrate my point. My last therapist engaged in a very close personal relationship with me, and at some point we terminated therapy and started seeing each other outside of therapy settings. I was confused about the nature of our relationship and this confusion resulted in a profound trauma that I am still trying to heal. I did not feel at all that we were equal adults. There were certainly adult parts of me and him that were relating to each other on one level, but on the other level I did feel like a child who was engaged in inappropriate relationship with the parent and this hurt me a lot. This is the reason why the patient is never responsible for sexual or intense emotional involvement with the therapist. It is the therapist’s responsibility to keep professional boundaries intact. Just like it is the parent’s responsibility to keep the boundaries with his or her children.

    All of the above is not to say that we become helpless children in relationships with our therapists, as I mentioned before. This is just to note that it is not a black-and-white issue. The adult part of the patient absolutely should be acknowledged and respected by the therapist. At the same time the patient’s vulnerability and dependency on the therapist cannot and should not be denied.

    As to the child wiring in our brains, we do have it! If you look at the latest brain research, it proves that our old childhood experiences live with us long into adulthood, in fact, for the rest of our lives. Read the works of Dan Siegal and Alan Shore if you want more information on the subject. Also, get some Peter Levine’s books, who has researched trauma and how it operates within us in great detail. There is a substantial body of research that has proven that our childhood experiences continue to play out in our present life.

    By the way, I am in a process of reporting my therapist’s unethical behavior to the licensing board. If someone wants more information on the subject of abuse in therapy and bad therapy you can email me privately at


    You might also want to visit a couple of websites that have a wealth of information on that.


    I am working on creating my own blog about abuse in therapy and also am going to write books and articles about it. I fully agree with the author of this post that this should be taken out into an open public discussion and that it is time for mental health professionals to drop their defenses and to start exploring what is helpful and not so helpful in the way they work and how it can be changed.

  46. Marina, thanks so much for your post. I’m sorry that you also experienced bad therapy. Clearly you’re processing the good and the bad and using your wisdom to add to the discussion. I look forward to your writings, and certainly hope you’ll check in here with updates.

    I’ll try to clarify a couple of my points, for we might not necessarily be “apart” about them. I certainly agree that the therapy relationship has an imbalance of power. As I former client, I felt that imbalance was unnecessarily intensified when therapists played a shaman, authoritarian and parental roles with me. This was harmful 1) because it was fantasy-based 2) encouraged my helplessness. So I hope therapists will ask many more questions about these dynamics.

    And I’ll agree completely that our childhood experiences influence our feelings and actions in adulthood. What I challenge, based on my own experience and discussions with others, is this notion that therapists have some magic re-parenting powers to “rewire” our emotional circuitry. And as much as I “revisited” the pains and slights of childhood, nothing was “rewired,” and only left me with the bad habits of victimhood, blaming and feeling awful.

    That said, I do think some healing is possible. Over the years I’ve improved my skills both in internal balancing and external coping. I can’t credit therapy, unfortunately.

    I wish you well in your complaint (these can be hard to win without concrete evidence of the therapist committing some unarguably egregious action) and wish you great success in opening those discussions we both advocate.

  47. Thank you for clarification, Madeline. I see that we are not so much “apart” in our views after all. I can perfectly relate to your discontent in regards to disrespectful treatment of therapy clients/patients. I have experienced it many times as a patient in different ways, subtle or not so subtle.

    Also, your insight about therapists intentionally intensifying the power imbalance between them and their patients parallels mine. I have been trying to raise this subject with my colleagues to no avail. All I got was blank stares with no clue of what I was talking about..

    While the possibility of “re-wiring” some of our neural circuits in therapy is still an open question for me because I have actually experienced some of it, what, I believe, needs to be revisited more than our childhood is the way how therapy has been conducted from the beginning, if this healing modality is to survive at all. Therapists certainly don’t have any magical power to “re-wire” anything and any claim, direct or implicit, that they can do that are based on ignorance and arrogance. I believe (and also know from experience) that we all have innate capacity to heal and can do so when given the right conditions. In this sense, therapists can facilitate our healing if they are able to create those conditions, and those are acceptance and respect of our individual process. If the therapist genuinely wants to understand the client, their needs, goals, desires, their entire world, inner and outer, this could facilitate their healing rapidly. Actually, this idea is not new at all. This is what Carl Rogers advocated but unfortunately his approach was largely discounted by mental health community.

    In any case, I think that opening discussions on those subjects is the first step to finding solutions and I am very committed to that.

  48. A friend, who is very against the whole notion of encouraging transference in therapy, also thinks that Rodgers needs more credence.

    Sweeping my childhood closet hindered me because it became an isolated exercise in feeling woeful. It left me feeling more powerless and enforced a self-definition of victimhood.

    I do think it’s possible to change one’s emotional response to difficult people and situations, Perhaps a therapist could have supported this for me, but the emphasis would have needed to be need to be changes I try outside the therapy room, rather than the therapy itself. I also have found body work, including yoga, calming and helpful.

  49. Bodywork has done wonders for me as well. I didn’t find it calming though, it was rather intense and resulted in a cathartic emotional release almost after each session so I have to pace it very carefully, otherwise it will re-traumatize me just like some of my psychotherapy did. I assume, that we all have different experiences with every kind of healing modality, because we are all different and each one of us heals in our own way. That is why I always try to be careful in evaluating what works and what doesn’t whether in psychotherapy or any other healing method. What works for me may be counter-productive for somebody else, even though I do believe that some things could be generally healing or harmful for almost everyone. I certainly found it harmful when one of my therapists was intentionally trying to intensify my transference by taking on a parental role with me. It resulted in me getting re-traumatized more than healed. But even that particular experience was not all negative. With all the trauma that it caused me, a certain part of this experience was still healing and moved me forward in my personal growth. As I live on and integrate all my life experiences along the way, both wounding and healing, I appreciate the complexity of life and become more accepting of the fact that I may not be able to sort everything out and to find answers to all my questions and solutions to all my problems. Oftentimes, answers and solutions come on their own terms, not on ours..

  50. A most interesting discussion. I too was pretty much tortured by my doctor who used sodium amytal interviews (truth sessions) restraints, sequestration, et al to control me. I was in repressed memory therapy – although didn’t know that when I started.

    Nearly seven years later, after I took less drugs, I realized what was happening.

    I found it necessary on a personal and a social level to sue him and hold him accountable for his actions which works only in the short run because the psychiatry and psychology industry permits people like this to continue practicing.

    I agree, the imbalance of power in a therapeutic relationship can be huge and we need to keep writing about these issues so the public is educated and reminded that: therapy is a business, therapists don’t have magical powers or insight, and that much harm can be inflicted.

    To everyone here, thank you for taking the time to share your stories, and for getting your blogs going. Keep writing! My blog is about multiple personalities. If it’s OK, the link is http://www.jeanettebartha.wordpress.com

    I think multiple personalities is the ultimate example of therapy screw ups and the biggest catastrophe the psychology business has seen in recent years – and it continues to pick up steam.

    Again, the profession, and former patients like us need to keep publishing.

    I look forward to more comments about these issues. Jeanette Bartha

  51. p.s. in general, people are not given credit for resiliency.

  52. Jeanette, thank you so much for your post. Stories like yours make me so angry at the ignorance of the mental health profession that I can’t find the right words to describe the shock and disbelief that such ignorance exists!

    I can relate to your feelings of holding perpetrators of abuse in therapy accountable. (I consider what happened to you one of the most horrible cases of abuse by mental health professionals). We can take legal and board actions against individual practitioners, but it won’t change the global dynamic within the profession as long as the public is not educated about psychotherapy process, its dynamics and what can go wrong there. That is not to say that legal, civil or board actions against unethical therapists are futile efforts. Even if they don’t always produce desirable results and many perpetrators can get away with what they do, every act of protest against their tyranny is a building block in the process of changing the system. On a global scale though as long as the public is brainwashed by the mainstream information and doesn’t know anything else, ignorance and harm that it produces will not only be tolerated but also sanctioned by the system and accepted by the public.

    As to MPD (multiple personalities), I have been always fascinated by this diagnosis because it did not seem real to me, but I did not have any objective information to either believe or disbelieve it. My gut sense refused to believe that such thing existed (yet another prove that our intuition knows better!), but I did not feel confident enough to form my opinion about it, again, for the lack of objective information. Thank you for telling your story because it does give me information on the subject that I was lacking. I think we all have a tendency to disconnect from painful reality when we are in a deeply traumatized state. It’s just a natural protective reaction that our body uses to survive, and it very well may be that we could “zone out” so much that we might not remember events that were traumatic. Forming “alters”, however, seems to be something that some people made up for movies and fiction books because it sounds fascinating and sophisticated:)) I think each one of us has “alters” in the sense that we have a tendency to model those we admire and to act as if we were them because it helps us feel good about ourselves. There is an actor in each one of us and we constantly act out some of the human qualities that we need at the moment, it’s only natural..

  53. By the way, you are absolutely right that no one gives us credit for the resilience! After all, just merely surviving such horrific abuse is an indication of your incredible strength and courage, leave alone turning this experience into something constructive and beneficial to others!

  54. Marina, we’re all coping with different lives, different pasts and no doubt will take different paths to bettering them. That challenges any “one size fits all” type of theory or approach. As the best with your grievance process.

    Jeanette, you’re telling a courageous story, and the truth behind the myths perpetuated in tv and movies. I have a minor career writing scripts. When I’m writing I put myself inside the heads of different personae to write characters. I thinks we all have that in us. Different personalities, different parts and roles we’re able to play. It’s all who we are as humans, and not a thing to drug or pathologize. Feel free to link here and give updates on your blog and writings.

  55. I’m a licensed mental health counselor in Boston, MA. I’ll be the first to admit that there are a lot of bad therapists out there. Most of my clients have been in therapy before (some for several years) without success and share “horror stories” about their previous therapists. I feel this is something that’s true in any profession (Don’t get me started on all the bad PCPs I’ve been to!). Part of the problem with mental health is that there is no unifying theory or practice in our profession. Different therapists have different approaches, and finding out which approach works best for you could be the answer. There are approaches that call for the therapist to be more nurturing , more cold and analytical, to focus more on childhood events, or to focus more on present behaviors. There is even an approach that calls for the therapist to actually argue with the client (ie Dr Phil)! Therapist directories like goodtherapy.org and Psychology Today have the therapists mark what their approach is and you can even search using those criteria. The treatment method and theory I use is Rational Emotive Therapy. You’ve probably never heard of it, but I find it to be highly successful for my clients. Something I do that I think all therapists should do is I ask for my client’s feedback at the end of most sessions. I’ve noticed that a lot of the people that go to therapy have timid personalities, are afraid of hurting my feelings, etc, and it takes a lot of coaxing from me to express how they really feel about how therapy is progressing. I think it is really important to give your therapist feedback about what you like and don’t like, and what you need more of and less of in therapy. It might be helpful for you guys to ask a therapist ahead of time what which psychological treatment models they subscribe too. You can even ask them to describe to you what that treatment model is like. Also, you might want to give the bad therapists you have been to a bad review on yelp, so other clients don’t have to go through what you’ve been through. I wrote an article on my website called “warning signs of a bad therapist”. Maybe you guys could contribute to it if I’ve forgotten anything.


  56. Marina, thanks so much for your comments.I very much appreciate your consumer advocacy and education, and your encouragement of consumer feedback. I thought your warning signs list very good and think it’s wonderful you posted it.

    I have a couple of responses that I hope will be more “food for thought” rather than contention. One of my problems with therapy is that it’s so wrapped up in theory that human connection and common sense get lost. The bottom line is simply one person trying to help another live a better life, and relationships don’t take on a new definition in the consulting room. Though a therapist might talk about theory to a new client, the client might not always understand its ramifications.

    I definitely could raise my hand when you mention timid clients, though I was reasonably competent in other rooms in my life. I see this deference as an inherent problem in the therapy set-up–how we’re preconditioned about therapy, our expectations, and sometimes subtle signals from the therapist. (Sigrun recommended the excellent Dorpat book above.) If we see therapy as a “last resort” to solve problems and ease pain, the therapist can seem quite magical, an image that some therapists feed, unfortunately. Since therapy’s goal is empowerment, one already is starting out with a contradiction. I applaud any therapist who tries to put the relationship on a more realistic footing and imagine this isn’t always easy. There are years of deference to “authority” to unravel here. In fact, its unraveling well might be key to the therapy.

    Dr. Phil–don’t get me started on that scold….

    Interesting you should mention Yelp. I just ran across this article and response recently which maintained therapy was “too special” for reviews on Yelp. I’m glad to see you advocating for client feedback. Thanks again.



  57. Ran across a request for respondents in a study about termination.

  58. “Too special” for Yelp. Hahaha. Also “too special” for empirical research, evaluation, criticism, evidence, proof….

  59. Transparency is a scary thing.

  60. The APA needs to see this blog. I hope you will forward them the information ATTN Ethics Offics Look uo American Psychological Assoc

  61. Ellerj, thanks for the support. I wrote this piece believing I covered some thinking I hadn’t found in professional literature. Excepting a handful of books, I’ve found little acknowledging potential harm, particularly non-sexual violations. I’ve found literature little criticizing some fundamental assumption I discuss. And I’ve read little speculation how much “treatment” might be little more than a circular exercise. I’m more than a little discouraged losing my grievance, the fact that everyone I know also lost, and from defensiveness against professional critique. Professionals who brave those waters generally are dismissed or analyzed/diagnosed pejoratively. The harshest dismissals seem aimed at us “malcontent” clients.

    I’d love for these issues to be expanded, but feel most action will have to come from inside the profession. I’m fine if someone wants to forward this to the APA; as a member of the “uncredentialed” public, I’ll have no standing with them.

    Hope things are OK with you.

  62. I found the following website interesting and very relevant to what we are discussing here

  63. Marina, thanks for the link. Those drug stories are indeed scary. I’ve had drugs suggested to me, and found out years later that some other conditions, including hypothyroid are the root of what looked like “depression.”

  64. By the way, speaking of therapists like myself, who dared to go against the mainstream psychotherapy, your observation that they get analyzed/diagnosed by their peers, therapists and supervisors is absolutely correct. In my situation, when I and the therapist, who exploited me, saw other therapists together in order to achieve some resolution, his actions were not even questioned! The fact that he had crossed a professional boundary on many occasions was not even noted, let alone judged. What became a focus of sessions was my reactions to what he did. In other words, it was implied that my “preoccupation” with the abuse was a problem, not the abuse itself (!!), and, therefore, I became the focus of scrutiny, I needed to be analyzed and diagnosed, not my perpetrator!

  65. Marina, what you describe is so painful, and an argument that consultations can redouble the injury rather than serve as a safety net. This attack can be devastating to a consumer who sees therapists as authority figures and can’t reconcile these evasive strategies with the kindly professional only there to heal them.

    I misguidedly sought followup solace with the woman who referred me to my damaging therapists. She lightly told me they “goofed up,” but compared it to a store not carrying the dress I hoped to buy. She had me explore what I did to set them off and repeatedly drilled me that they weren’t bad therapists, this was merely a “bad match.” I notice that “bad match” thing is a common therapist mantra.

    Therapists also deflect debate by going all “academic” on us. A dissenter has no credibility because the argument isn’t structured as scientific method. As if so much of therapy, from Freud onward, is rooted in real science.

    The only way I know to counter these games is to anticipate and get ahead of them. My the first graph of my essay essentially is “they’ll discredit me, but here I go anyway.”

  66. My experience with their way to invalidate you has been their trying to make you crazy by questioning your reality. Usually they do it by saying “So you FELT that So-and-So insulted you..” as if the insult did not really take place but that it was just your perception..Everything becomes about you, especially if problems arise in your relationship with them or their colleagues, as if they were not just human beings with their own limitations and the capacity to hurt like everyone else..

  67. Oh, I experienced something similar. My therapists were acting out, and when I reacted, the guy denied all their behavior to tell me my reaction was a “distortion.” When a therapist’s back feels against the wall, he frequently uses diagnosis as a weapon. Their education is precise training in how to play mind games.

    I DON’T regard the consulting room as a well-designed “laboratory” for a relationship. It’s very one-sided, it’s play acting. Anyone who relates to friends, co-workers or bosses like she relates to her therapist would be pretty…well…er…dysfunctional.

  68. I’ve been glancing at this page and various links from it off and on since my last post in May (time flies!), and making mental notes to respond to some things mentioned. So here goes with some – perhaps more to follow later. (In fact, I think I’d better break up what I’ve got so far into more than one post.)

    Re Marina’s August 8 post: In some ways I can agree with/appreciate the comment to the effect that to help clients, therapists need to create “the right conditions …, and those are acceptance and respect of our individual process.” My perspective is that what therapists need to provide is an environment that helps the client help her/himself. However, I believe that often more than just acceptance and respect are needed – but precisely what is needed will depend on the client, and their particular strengths and weaknesses. For example, a therapist needs to be patient and refrain from intervening or being too demanding while a client struggles to practice something difficult for that client (even though it might be easy for the therapist or for other clients), and needs to get out of the way to let a client use their strengths.

    However, I have some serious concerns with the sentence, “If the therapist genuinely wants to understand the client, their needs, goals, desires, their entire world, inner and outer, this could facilitate their healing rapidly.” One concern is that in the real world, “wants to” does not automatically make one “competent to.” In some cases, the therapist needs to accept that they don’t understand – or that acceptance without understanding may be an important step in understanding. A second is that wanting and trying to understand can sometimes be a form of treating the client as an object. I would urge therapists to try to form the habit of noting when they use the phrase “I want to” in reference to a client, since that may be a sign that they are indeed seeing the client as an object rather than as another human being.

    I heartily agree with Marina’s August 9 comment that “What works for me may be counter-productive for somebody else,” and Disequilibrium’s follow-up, “we’re all coping with different lives, different pasts and no doubt will take different paths to bettering them. That challenges any “one size fits all” type of theory or approach.” Unfortunately, many therapists seem to take the easy (but often ineffective because it ignores reality) route of one-size-fits-all approaches. But, more subtly, a therapist may genuinely subscribe to the philosophy described by Marina and Disequilibrium, and apply it well in some aspects of their work, yet be unaware that they are using a one-size-fits-all approach in other aspects of their work. (There will be an example in the next post.)

  69. (Post #2) On September 12, Marina said, “Different therapists have different approaches, and finding out which approach works best for you could be the answer.” This may apply for some people, but the closest I’ve come to finding an existing approach that seems as though it might work for me is the Client Directed approach of Duncan, Hubble, and Miller. However, I have not been able to find anyone in my (moderately large) city who practices this approach.

    Marina also said on September 12, “Something I do that I think all therapists should do is I ask for my client’s feedback at the end of most sessions. I’ve noticed that a lot of the people that go to therapy have timid personalities, are afraid of hurting my feelings, etc, and it takes a lot of coaxing from me to express how they really feel about how therapy is progressing.” I agree to the extent that being receptive to feedback is very important for a therapist to do a good job. But “asking for the client’s feedback at the end of most sessions” is an example of the unaware use of a “one-size-fits-all perspective that does not fit al”l that I mentioned in my preceding post. There are other possibilities for getting feedback that may be better for some clients. Some of us find therapy sessions emotionally and mentally draining; for such clients, the end of the session may be the worst time to ask for feedback. Possibly some of the clients you describe as taking a lot of coaxing fall into this category. What I would consider better alternatives for me (and probably also some other clients) include the following:

    1. In the first session with a new client, ask them to give you feedback on how you are doing, any time and in whatever way that works for them. Emphasize that that is helpful for both of you. Be sure to put this in writing – some of us don’t take in everything well orally.

    2. Develop (or use existing) feedback questionnaires – or at least, give the client the option of a questionnaire rather than being asked orally for feedback. Again, some of us are better with something written than something oral. Also, some of us are better with something that is not so face-to-face as being asked directly. Be sure to tell the client that the questionnaire is not to be taken as written in stone – if they can write their own questionnaire that fits them better than the one you provide, so much the better. Be sure to give the client the option of taking the questionnaire home and filling it out when they have more time to think and articulate their thoughts and feelings.

    3. Be pro-active by remembering informed consent as much as possible. Make every effort to give your reasons for interventions; to ask if an intervention might be helpful before engaging in it; to give alternatives (e.g., “would it be better if I did x or y?”). Try to ask, “Does that make sense?” when you propose something to the client, or when you explain something.

    4. When you ask a client a question, be sure to give plenty of time for them to respond before coaxing or otherwise intervening. Some of us need time to access our thoughts and/or feelings, and then to figure out how to articulate them. Thirty seconds might seem like a long time to you, but might seem too short for some clients.

    All of these would to me be preferable to coaxing or drawing out, which can lead to the client’s feeling treated as an object to be acted on, or feeling pressured, rushed, manipulated, invaded or even violated. But, one size does not fit all; I’m sure some clients find coaxing or drawing out helpful. So this needs to be treated as an informed consent issue: Ask the client if they find coaxing or drawing out helpful; if they say yes, then ask them if they can give any advice on how and when works best for them. If they say no, then don’t do it – but suggest (or ask if they can suggest) other alternatives, such as the above.

  70. (Post #3) Also on September 12, Marina said, “It might be helpful for you guys to ask a therapist ahead of time what psychological treatment models they subscribe to. You can even ask them to describe to you what that treatment model is like.” I realize this is well-intended, but it just seems so disconnected from the reality that I’ve experienced in therapy. When I first tried therapy, over 25 years ago, I tried asking prospective therapists what type of therapy they practiced. But the answers didn’t mean anything to me – and I wasn’t adept enough in oral interaction to ask more questions. The situation is only a little bit better now that we can look things up on the web. First, my experience is that different therapists may interpret or implement the same model in quite different ways. Second, many say they are eclectic, which can mean a whole gamut of things, but which many describe as, “I choose the methods that I think will work best with you.” And informed consent seems to be honored in the breach.

    My experience is that most therapists are not very receptive to questions about what they are doing and why. I could give oodles of examples. Here are just a few:

    In my first appointment with my first therapist (not counting the one I didn’t go back to because she spent so much time in the first session talking about herself personally), I asked what therapy was. She said, “A safe place to work on your problems.” That sounded good, but wasn’t very informative, so in the second session (I’m one of those timid types who needs time to formulate a response and to psych myself up to ask it) I asked, “What do we do in therapy?’ She said, “We talk.” Period. That level of information was typical of her – I felt treated like an unintelligent child.

    The next therapist I tried said things like, “Are you sure you’re not second guessing me?” and “Oh, I love to talk about my theories” when I asked questions about what she was doing and why. More feeling treated like an unintelligent child.

    So, after giving up on therapist 2 (and developing considerable deterioration in the process), I asked the third one, over the phone before making an appointment, “Do you let your patients know what you’re doing?” She assured me that she did. But she rarely did; often I got responses like, “I have my reasons” if I asked why she did something, or “I’m not perfect” if I said something was not helpful for me.

    A few years later, when I considered trying therapy again, I asked one therapist (who was highly recommended by another therapist I had considered) over the phone what his philosophy of therapy was. (That was before I learned the phrased “theoretical orientation” or “treatment model.”) He said he didn’t understand the question. So I asked, “What beliefs do you base your work on?” He said, “Therapy is not a religion.” I did not make an appointment with him.

    The last time I tried therapy (several years ago), I tried a therapist who had a website that said that he fit his approach to the person as well as the problem. That sounded good. I assertively went in with a list of things that were “more likely to be part of the problem than part of the solution,” together with suggestions for more helpful alternatives. He mostly went along with that for a while, and indeed after a while I started seeing improvement in my problem areas. But then he decided that it was not helping me (despite my protestation that it was), and started intervening in ways that were not helpful (and didn’t make sense to me). One was to say that he thought I was harming myself by focusing so much on how I was different than him, and that I should focus more on our similarities. So in the next session, I brought in a list of situations in my experience where focusing on differences was key to understanding. That didn’t make any difference to him – he said that if I cared about evidence, I should work with a cognitive therapist. (I had previously tried two cognitive therapists. One gave the impression, “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with the facts,” so I gave up on him after two sessions. The other seemed like a very nice, polite, earnest person — which was a refreshing change and of some value in helping me believe that it was possible for a therapist to be humane, but what he had to offer professionally seemed more like a fundamentalist religion than something I could buy into. That, unfortunately, seems to be the case with most theoretical orientations to me)

    I hope to post more when I get a chance – maybe in the next couple of days.

  71. Mary, thanks so much for your posts. I’ll essentially add what reading them triggered for me, rather than directly responding to points.

    I too never would have understood theoretical approaches meant, particularly what they’d mean to me personally. I had no idea what would be best for me or even what therapy-appropriate goals were.

    Though therapy never helped me, I can trace a personal growth that time and experience provides. I’m much less anxious than I was years ago. I’m better able to keep my eye on goals, less trapped by my own ego or someone’s negative emotions. I have different ideas about friendships and relationships. So flipping back now, I reflect whether any therapist could have facilitated reducing anxiety and in improving life skills. I don’t know.

    It would have been nice to receive guidance in problem-solving. I wonder if therapy theory is too far removed from what I needed–simply to live life better. All my therapy was on a different planet than my parking myself in the guru’s office led to believe I could be magically transformed.

  72. Hi Mary, I’d like to respond. I thought all of your responses were great and I hope that current or aspiring therapists will get a chance to read it and implement your suggestions. I’m afraid that I simplified my previous response too much and that might have confused some people. When I used the term “feedback” I was referring to all of the examples you used above and more. The only one that I don’t use is the questionaire, although I did used to work for an agency that would have clients fill out a detailed one about every three months. I certainly wouldn’t scold a client if they were not able to think of any response at the moment and of course I give people time to think. I don’t find silence to be “awkward”. I also consider the appropriateness of asking for feedback during a particular session. If someone is crying while talking about how their child died, I’m not going to interrupt “so how am I doing as a therapist?” I also try to wrap up each session in a positive and encouraging way.

    I want to assure you that I do a lot of individual tweaking and pride myself on having a “tailor made” treatment plan for each unique client. Just as a small example, each client sees a different side on me. Although this is going to be simplifying it again, if a client is anxious, I’m a very calming and serene presence. If a client is depressed, I’m more energetic. What the client sees is a persona based upon their own individual needs. I also wanted to assure you that psychological theories are different from say, the theory of gravity. They are very detailed but at the same time are just a frame work. If psychology was as easy as “when a client has blank issue, do blank” it would not have taken me 9 years of study. It really is a skill or even a talent. I am constantly reevaluating and changing my approach for each individual.

    I had noticed that two of the responders were therapists who have been in therapy. It used to be a requirement and is definitely still encouraged that therapists see a therapist. This is very helpful so therapists can experience first hand the kinds of complaints that you have spoken about. As both a professional and a consumer, I can honestly say that unfortunately I have had bad experiences as well and those bad experiences provided a valuable lesson of the things I do NOT want to do. I have also had good experiences.

    Again, I am over simplifying here, but if I provided examples of all the techniques I use and the ways that I use them depending on the appropriateness of the situation, I would have wrote an entire book. I wish everyone the best of luck on their journey towards wellness.

  73. Hi Mary,

    I appreciate your detailed posts, especially your comments on my posts.

    Before I respond, it is important to note that there is TWO Marinas here. I don’t know if you noticed this, but from your posts I got an impression that you believed that all Marina’s posts came from the same person. I am Marina Tonkonogy and there is also Marina Williams here. All the points that you discussed in regards to asking for clients’ feedback and suggesting that they ask the prospective therapist what approach they practice were not brought up by me. Marina Williams brought them up, and she already responded to your posts with explanations. I can only respond to your comments on the points that I brought up here.

    Actually, there is only one point in my posts that you seemed to disagree with, and that is when I said that the therapist’s desire to understand the client could be the major healing factor. You commented that “want to” understand does not automatically translate into “competent to” understand. I fully agree with that, and I did not say or imply in my posts that one translates into the other, so we may not see this differently after all.

    The therapist’s desire to understand the client’s experience does not mean that he/she is capable of understanding it. In fact, I don’t believe that it is possible at all for any human being to fully understand the other human being. I, personally, never needed any of my therapists to be able to completely understand my experience, but I did need them to have a desire to understand it. Also, as a therapist, I never pretended or implied that I was able to understand any of my clients’ experiences fully or even as much as they wanted me to. I just let them know that I had a genuine desire to understand them and would make my best effort to do so, but that my understanding will always be limited. I am also not sure what you meant, when you said that by wanting to understand the client the therapist makes them an object.

    There is another point that you made about acceptance and respect that was not quite clear to me. If I am not mistaken, your idea was that if my agenda is to respect the client and accept where they are right now, then I will be pushing my agenda on them rather than attuning to their needs. If this is what you meant, then logically this doesn’t make sense, as if I attune to their needs, that is exactly what acceptance and respect is, so there is actually no contradiction between what you and I see as a healing factor.

  74. I’ll go a little off topic here. Just wanted to share the link to my interview/article on yahoo associated content regarding abuse in therapy

    • I read this article. The problem is that the warnings signs you mentioned would not become apparent until it’s too late, until you ARE being abused, so abuse has not been avoided.

      If therapy is so risky an undertaking that articles need to be written about how not to get abused in it, then why go at all? Why not solve one’s problems some other way? Which is what most people do and have done since forever.

      • therapyisacon: I was abused for more than ten years as a child and am very traumatized. How does one “solve” that on one’s own?

      • therapyisacon,
        I totally agree with your comment. I would say that the reason people still seek out “professionals” is because they still haven’t learned to trust their own abilities. In addition most people unless they have had a bad experience or know someone who has believe the hype, they believe that therapy is a safe place to discuss their issues. Most people have no idea the damage an incompetent therapist can do. Most people have no idea how broken the system is. This entire blog is filled with countless stories of terrible therapy outcomes. I would like to read some stories where someone was actually able to hold their therapist accountable. I want to read a story where a client won a large psychiatric malpractice lawsuit. It’s one thing to SAY people have the ability to sue and to see the criteria listed on the web it’s another to actually read about a case that has happened.

  75. Can I extend warm appreciation to clinicians who’ve read this blog and participate here, because I assume it’s not easy to read us criticizing the profession. Many of us have felt stranded after harmful therapy because the situation was too hot for our subsequent therapists to handle.

    However, I hope the criticism, the discussion and even the–venting– will be valuable and maybe help both consumers and professionals synthesize new approaches. If we can be collaborators about therapy’s shortcomings and possibilities, together we might emerge with some new insights.

  76. Marina, terrific article, “How to Avoid Getting Abused in Psychotherapy.” I found it very accurate in my experience and will do a link to it. The another side of the equation is the client. If she is primed to see therapy and the therapist more realistically, she is less likely to be abused.

    PS. I wanted to add a nice “comment” on the page, but the software wouldn’t let me.

  77. Thanks for putting the link on your blogroll. Also, it is not hard for me as a clinician to participate in this discussion and read all the criticism of the profession, because I know that there is a real basis for such criticism and truly believe that the methods of psychotherapy have to undergo a major reform, if it is to survive in the future as a healing practice. Besides, having been harmed in my own therapy as much as I was, I am no different in my emotional reactions from all of the disgruntled psychotherapy clients here. I have been on both ends of therapy process, as a client and as a therapist, so I definitely see what is wrong with psychotherapy from a client’s standpoint. On the other hand, having done therapy work myself, I know what challenges this work presents to professionals and how the methods that they are required to use create a trap for them that they often cannot escape.

    As a matter of fact, therapists get very much abused by the system during their training years. During this time, most of them don’t get paid at all, and while working for non-profit agencies they are often pressured to do things that are either not therapy related or even questionable from an ethical standpoint. They often don’t feel safe to discuss their cases openly with supervisors and colleagues for the fear of judgment let alone sharing their emotional struggles with certain clients, which means that they can’t always get the help that they need. Unfortunately, many of them prefer to tolerate the current state of affairs instead of trying to change it, which results in them living with the whole array of unresolved insecurities, anger, fear etc that undermines their ability to be effective at best and harms their clients at worst.

    Since I have “been” there and “done” that and got profoundly disappointed and disillusioned in the whole profession, I decided not to practice, at least temporarily while I am trying to heal and until I get clarity on how this work can be done differently. I will continue to advocate for changes in the profession and, in a meantime, I am planning to look for a job as a social worker..

  78. I read a book (I’m now unable to find) about how the training process itself can be abusive and how the treatment of trainees might then carry into practice.

    Yes, the more I read, the more I’m think the problem more than a minority of therapists going rogue and attributable to an entire theory and system. When my therapist abused me, he was adhering to a training that pathologized me and preempted the possibility real common-sense communication. Meanwhile I attributed therapists with super powers, part my disposition, but also reinforced by our culture and the therapists themselves,

    I just skim-read a 1983 book, Shrinking of America: Myths of Psychological Change by Bernard Zilbergeld that explores how too much is expected of therapy. I think the possibility of harm would decrease and therapy would be more beneficial if it were viewed more realistically.

    I had a very positive experiences with a geriatrician (case worker) and a social worker. They executed very concrete, specific assistance -helping a disabled family member- and were invaluable.

  79. I am glad you brought up a point of mutuality in psychotherapy process and that clients’ unrealistic expectations often force therapists to adopt a God-like position of all-knowing expert. I can tell you from experience that the majority of therapy clients (at least the majority of my clients) do not have an independent mindset of a free thinker as you and other people who participate in this discussion do. What you and I and others with similar outlook perceive as an attack on our human dignity is perfectly fine with many others, believe it or not. I enjoyed working with clients who had an independent attitude because it allowed me to relax and be more authentic with them. I didn’t have to worry too much about making a mistake and monitoring every word that was coming out of my mouth, as I knew that those people appreciated my candor as long as my intend was to help rather than moralize them.

    There is a great book by Merilyn Peterson “At personal risk” that explores how American culture puts professionals, not only therapists, but lawyers, medical doctors and others on a pedestal and gives them an unquestionable authority. I came from a different culture, I am Russian, and when I came to US I was shocked by how much power and authority professionals have here. In Russia we respected their training and experience but never saw them as all-knowing Gods and certainly didn’t have a blind faith in their expertise. I think, the desire to see a professional as an expert, who’s expertise is beyond doubt, comes from people’s unwillingness to think for themselves. It is much easier for many to have a therapist think for them..because then they don’t have to make independent decisions and take responsibility for the choices that they make.

  80. I imagine the burden that client deference puts on you, because you’re then dealing with a fragile eggshell. Unfortunately, many therapists foster the dynamic, stepping right into the wizard role. However, it’s not an easy task to teach there ain’t no tooth fairy with life’s answers, but that would be a valuable process.

    I hope the infamous media therapists aren’t the pinnacle of practice (though Dr. Phil was bestowed with an APA Presidential Citation), but these are examples of therapist-as-expert in full flower.

    An equally hazardous therapy tradition is literally teaching clients how to be depressed, by dwelling, drawing out and reveling in all the hurts and injustices of life. None of this “freed” me, in fact, quite the contrary.

    Believe me, any of my free-thinking is hard-earned.

    So interesting what you say about Russia. I assume you’re well-aware of how Americans perceived the USSR and its citizens before the dissolution. Of course, we never were privy to what really happened in Russian households.

  81. Yes, client’s expectation that I know “the secret” to their everlasting happiness and could “fix” whatever didn’t work in their life were a bit unsettling for me, as I was forced to take on the role I didn’t want to take on. Fortunately, those people didn’t stay with me as I was not the type of therapist that they needed.

    As to the Soviets, yes, I was well aware of how we were perceived by Americans, and, of course, many perceptions did not reflect the reality, just like my perception of Americans was not accurate before I emigrated. The reality in general, whether here or there or anywhere is more complex than it is presented. We try to simplify everything, create polarities like “good” and “bad”, “light” and “dark”, “God” and “Evil”. It’s easier to live this way when everything is neatly separated, but it robs you off fullness and richness of life..

  82. Marina: It’s interesting to read about diffences in Russian and American culture. And that reminded me of a seminar several years ago. I live in Scandinavia, and we had a visitor from the U.S. He was a lawyer and mental health advocate. Unfortunately I have forgotten his name. He hold a speech about differences in wages and status between Russian and American psychiatrists. In Russia the patients weren’t so much poorer than their psychiatrist, but in the U.S. the difference between psychiatrist and patient was huge, which constituted power imbalance between the parts.

  83. This is a great point, Sigrun. We were all relatively poor in the USSR. Professionals were not well paid, mostly because it was not a free market economy. Doctors, psychiatrists and lawyers did not have private practices, they were employed by state clinics and government organizations, they did not pay anything for their education and training as education was free for everyone. There were also no licensing boards and they didn’t have to go through the process of getting licensed. After getting their degrees and completing practicum requirements they got employed by clinics, hospitals and judicial system. It is also worth to mention that employment was not a problem. Universities, where they received their degrees simply assigned them to a specific work place after graduation, where they had to work for a certain period of time ( I think, it was two or three years) and then they were free to work for any employer. Their salaries were not much higher than those of engineers, economists, computer programmers. This contributed a lot into not seeing them as some kind of higher beings, and so the power imbalance between them and their clients was much less than here. Of course, there was still a psychological power imbalance, since patient’s health and well-being always depends on the doctor’s competence and client’s legal situation depends on the lawyer’s competence, but even psychological imbalance there was less than here, because there the society did not put professionals on a pedestal and, therefore, they were not arrogant as they are here.

  84. (Post #4) On Sept 12, Disequilibrium said: “One of my problems with therapy is that it’s so wrapped up in theory that human connection and common sense get lost.” In my experience (which includes a lot of reading involving a variety of theories, as well as my personal experience as a client), reality also gets lost in the theory. The theories seem to be attempts to make thing simple – but real life is often complex.

    Disequilibrium also pointed out the NY Times article on Yelp and therapy and the psychcentral commentary. I agree that the author’s use of “special” seemed inappropriate – but after reading the article and the comments on it, I see that there definitely are problems in using Yelp for therapy reviews. I had previously been concerned about the fact that people often made comments like, “horrible” or “wonderful,” without any specifics to back up what was horrible or wonderful, but reading the comment about how someone can pay Yelp to block bad reviews was really eye-opening. Some way for clients to rate their therapists online is certainly needed, but after reading this article and the comments, I believe that Yelp is not a good way to do that.

  85. (Post #5) On Sept. 19, Disequilibrium, responding to elleryj, expressed discouragement at how little concern there seemed to be about the issues discussed in her blog. There are in fact a few (admittedly not a lot) therapist/researchers who are concerned about harmful therapy (including, of course, the ones who have expressed that concern in the Good Therapy page about warning signs of harmful therapy.) Some of those concerned are active in the APA and publish in APA and other journals. Here are some relevant articles that I am aware of:

    Scott Lilienfeld (of Emory University) published an article “Psychological Treatments That Cause Harm,” in Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2007, Vol. 2, Number 1, pp. 53 – 70. I don’t know if it’s available online. However, you can find a discussion of it at the Psychotherapy Brown Bag (PBB) blog; a web search on “Making things worse through treatment: Iatrogenic psychological interventions” will find it. (BTY Jeanette: Lilienfeld does list “Induction of alter personalities” as one type of harm.) The PBB blog is open to reader comments, so leaving a comment is a good way to spread the word that many of us are interested in the subject of harmful therapy, and to suggest to the bloggers that you would like to see more discussion of articles on harmful therapy.

    I also don’t know if any of the following are available online; if you are interested but can’t locate them, possibly an email to the author(s) might prompt them to send you a copy.

    Michael Lambert (of Brigham Young University) has been concerned with harmful effects in therapy, and has worked on feedback mechanisms that can give therapists early warning of potential harm. He was president of the Society for Psychotherapy Research in 2005 – 2006. In his Presidential Address to that society (published as “Presidential address: What we have learned from a decade of research aimed at improving psychotherapy outcome in routine care,” Psychotherapy Research, 2007,Volume 17, Issue 1), Lambert was upfront about the problem of ineffective and harmful therapy by saying, “In randomized clinical trials (RCTs), in which treatments are offered by carefully selected and closely supervised therapists to carefully screened patients with a specific disorder, about 35% to 40% of patients experience no benefit and a small group of patients, perhaps between 5% and 10%, deteriorate.”

    The January, 2010 issue of The American Psychologist contained three articles devoted to the negative effects of psychotherapy:

    “Negative Effects from Psychological Treatments” (pp. 13 – 20), by David Barlow (of the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, at Boston University) discusses the fact that the study of negative effects of psychotherapy has not had as much attention as the study of positive effects. He points out that the methods used in research to document positive effects often do not look for or record negative effects. He urges more use of what is called “ideographic research” (studying one subject at a time), involving collaboration of clinicians and researchers, to supplement the more usual “nomothetic” research, which looks at average outcomes in a group of subjects.

    “How Would We Know if Psychotherapy Were Harmful” (pp. 21 – 33), by Sona Dimidjian (University of Colorado) and Steven Hollon (Vanderbilt University), discusses ways in which treatment and/or decisions made about treatment can harm; factors that complicate attempts to detect harm; and possible ways to detect harm and understand it.

    “Training Implications of Harmful Effects of Psychological Treatments” (pp. 34 – 49), by Louis Castonguay (Pennsylvania State University) and three coauthors, recommends that psychotherapy trainees be made aware of possible harm from psychotherapy treatments and discusses possible harmful therapist behaviors (e.g., rigid rather than flexible use of techniques) that need to be addressed in training, as well as monitoring for possible harmful effects.

  86. Mary, I could also cite an additional body of literature written by clinicians on the subject, but having spent a considerable time inside therapeutic community and, particularly, inside psychoanalytic community, I can tell you that all those wonderful articles that they write and studies that they conduct have not so far changed a thing in terms of what is continuing to take place in therapy rooms. I don’t deny the value of the written word, as it still raises awareness of the issue and breaks the silence. However, those who “raise the concern” in writing do not have the courage to take concrete actions like holding their colleagues accountable for unethical behavior. One of my subsequent therapists, whom I told about my ex-therapist’s inappropriate behavior, did not “raise the concern” at the Ethics Committee of the organization, where he and my perpetrator belonged. He knew my perpetrator personally, they were colleagues, but he didn’t approach and confront him about what he had done to me and didn’t raise the question of taking away his professional membership. What he did instead is that he put an article on his website that describes the abuse in therapy in general. This was his way of making a compromise with his consciousness. Also, another subsequent therapist that I saw briefly was honest enough to admit that the Ethics Committee of his professional organization had not investigated any cases yet. He said: “This subject is very unnerving for therapists to talk about.” And yet, since more and more instances of abuse in therapy become known, they can’t deny it any more and have to do something to strike a deal with their consciousness. Creating Ethics Committees that don’t fulfill their roles and writing articles that don’t result in concrete actions is a perfect solution for them. This way they feel like they are doing something to change the status quo, when they are really doing nothing. They get to be “ethical” while staying in good relationships with their colleagues/perpetrators, who continue referring patients to them so they could maintain their practices. My perpetrator also wanted to strike such deal with his consciousness by trying to chair the Ethics Committee in his professional organization.

  87. Marina T and Marina W: Apologies for confusing you. I will try to be more careful in the future.

    Marina T: Thank you for pointing out my confusion of the two Marina’s.

    Also to Marina T: You said, “I am also not sure what you meant, when you said that by wanting to understand the client the therapist makes them an object.” Actually, what I said is, “wanting and trying to understand can sometimes be a form of treating the client as an object.” I emphasize the “and trying” and the “sometimes.” To elaborate, sometimes a person can want so badly to understand that they become very aggressive in pursuing their want, seeing the other person only as an object of their desire to understand. In therapy, this might sometimes take the form of asking lots of questions that are way out in left field, wasting the client’s time that could better be spent on listening what is most important to the client. I certainly don’t think that this happens all the time, but that it is something (one of many things) to watch out for.

    You also said, “There is another point that you made about acceptance and respect that was not quite clear to me. If I am not mistaken, your idea was that if my agenda is to respect the client and accept where they are right now, then I will be pushing my agenda on them rather than attuning to their needs.” This is definitely not what I was trying to say, and I am puzzled how you got this out of what I wrote. If you can give me quotes from what I said that lead to this interpretation, possibly I can give some clarification.

    (I haven’t read all the responses to my posts 1-5 yet, but noticed this one pointing out my confusion of the two Marina’s, therefore wanted to respond to it now. I would like to post some more things related to others’ earlier posts, then read over the other responses to my posts and reply as might be appropriate.)

  88. It’s easy to get lost in all our posts..Anyway, I found the quote you were asking for. Here it is

    ” However, I believe that often more than just acceptance and respect are needed – but precisely what is needed will depend on the client, and their particular strengths and weaknesses.”

    I translated this quote as that you believe that attunement to client’s needs has to be added to acceptance and respect. I, however, was saying that when therapist attunes to client’s needs, this is a manifestation of acceptance and respect.

    As far as wanting to understand the client, by no means, I was talking about the intrusive curiosity that you are describing. My idea of therapist’s desire to understand is that it should match client’s desire to be understood. Hope this clarifies what I said.

  89. (Post #6) Re Marina T’s Sept 19 post of the Mindfreedom website: One book mentioned in one of the links from that site is Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, by Robert Whitaker. I definitely recommend it. It is very carefully researched and written, but does present a scary story. (Like Disequilibrium, I had one therapist who urged medication; I am very glad that I firmly said no to that.)

    Whitaker also has websites related to his concerns with treatment of mental illness. The page http://robertwhitaker.org/robertwhitaker.org/Anatomy%20of%20an%20Epidemic.html has links to the key studies reviewed in the book.

    In his book, Whitaker points out that psychotherapy can in some cases be preferable to medication. But I have reason to believe that he is aware that psychotherapy can also sometimes be harmful. His website http://www.madinamerica.com/madinamerica.com/Home.html has links to blogs, and he invites readers to submit “op ed” blogs to be considered for posting. Disequilibrium or some of those who comment on her blog might be interested in submitting something for Whitaker’s blog page.

  90. Thanks for your comments (was away a few days.) Mary, I’ve looked at some of the literature you mentioned. (That Jan 2010 APA issue is available in some academic data bases.) It struck me as having the usual “scientific” veneer, yet really not digging in to the issue.

    I think it’s ridiculous to describe a power struggle or disconnected relationship in scientific terms. Say we have a bad relationship at the office with a boss or co-worker. How is this described? As many labels as therapists slap on it, or interpretations they put it through, a breakdown with a therapist is essentially that stuff, albeit with the further complication of the power and disclosure differential and the professional’s expected role role.

    I also think harm can arrive when the therapist crosses no lines per se…inflating a client’s expectations, imposing his values on a client, encouraging deference, dependence, blame or self-pity, to name a few. One very respected therapist seemed to believe I magically would hatch whole and healthy as once I visited truths about my mother. Again, I see nothing “scientific” about this. It’s people deluding themselves.

    I know that harmful therapy seems scary topic for many practitioners. If they’re truly interested in harmful therapy, they only have to open the cases of the many complaints filed (and usually lost) with licensing and grievance boards. I’ve yet to read anyone who studied those.

  91. I just want to add to Disequilibrium1’s point that harm could be done without crossing any ethical lines. I’ve had that experience as well in addition to the one where the lines were clearly crossed. So, the phenomena of abuse is much broader than what is described in the professional literature. At this time, we have only sexual abuse of patients/clients acknowledged by professionals as if this is the only way to abuse people. In my particular case, my therapist was emotionally seductive and I developed exactly the same traumatic symptoms as those who were sexually abused in therapy. Victims of sexual abuse from therapists told me that it was not sex itself that harmed them but what led to it which is emotional seduction. However, if nothing overtly sexual took place, the abuse is completely invalidated! My first therapist abused my differently. He was patronizing and disrespectful and liked playing power games. His attitude, probably, harmed me more than the inappropriateness of the last therapist.

  92. Marina, a friend experienced a not-consummated seduction in therapy and described it as extremely painful and the repercussions long-lasting. I recall Susan Penfold in her Sexual Abuse by Health Professionals: a Personal Search for Meaning and Healing talks about events you describe. Yes, there can be arrogance and power games, or the therapy can mishandled in various directions, without the therapist being outright abusive. In many cases a harmful therapist might be outright kindly, as in the example of the therapist as wizard, or creating an infantilzed client. Or therapy can take on myriad distortions as a world in itself, becoming disproportionately dominant in a client’s life.

  93. This reminds me of a great paper by Michelle Webster on emotional abuse in therapy and many various forms it could take. Here is the link

    It also came to mind that there are so many people that idealize their abusive therapists, even think that they saved their lives! My therapist is one of them. He is Jungian and was abused by his analyst the same way he abused me but refused to see it as abuse. He kept repeating as a broken record “This guy saved my life”. The most interesting is that this “guy” was also abused by his analyst, who in turn was abused by his analyst, famous Carl Meyer, who was analysed and abused by Jung himself:)) I told my therapist that I was honored to be at the end of the chain of this noble Jungian tradition:)) Jung was notorious for abusing his patients. The story of his relationship with Sabina Spielrein is truly heart breaking.

  94. Marina, that is a great paper, and one of the few pieces I’ve read specifically about emotional abuse in therapy. My reaction: I very much appreciate that she travels territory I haven’t seen elsewhere, yet she, like other therapists, make a number of assumptions I think open for question.

    I very much liked her recommendations for putting emotional abuse in the forefront. Given that this article is now 20 years old, I ‘m pessimistic it moved professionals to action. But her suggestions sound quite valid to me.

    I thought her quite accurate describing the effects of emotional abuse on the client–the self-blame the self-doubts. Those were loud repercussions for me and I’m happy to see the discussion out there.

    Her 1991 view of therapy seems quite paternalistic–the cradled client, the parenting metaphor, Alice Miller’s quote about the “correction emotional experience.” I frankly don’t find it corrective to be beckoned back into a childlike state, which I feel sets the stage for likely abuse, by provoking the therapist’s power issues and encouraging the client to suspend judgment. I suspect clients idealize therapists less because of who they are and more because of stated and implied promises they make–they’re the “expert” who will lift the client’s pain.

    I think if we look at therapy through a more realistic lens–dynamics that happen in life also extend into therapy–we can move to healthier relationships. As is, if we let ourselves be someone’s sycophant in life, we’re likely to be injured, I don’t see therapy as any different.

  95. I don’t really remember the specifics of the article. I believe I could have missed the particular paternalistic attitude that you mentioned. When I was reading it, I was so excited that someone, particularly a clinician, spoke openly about emotional abuse in therapy that I didn’t pay much attention to anything else. As far as the corrective emotional experience goes, the idea of it is that therapist should be careful not to respond to client in the way that others responded to them in the past, so the client could have a different, hopefully better experience at least with someone. The problem is that therapists often translate this idea into the idea of re-parenting client, which is doomed to fail because no one can re-parent an adult person. This misinterpretation of a corrective emotional experience as re-parenting results in paternalistic “expert”-like attitude on therapist’s part. Besides, if therapist is simply respectful and reasonably attentive to client’s needs, that by itself would provide a corrective emotional experience to many people regardless of their history. I agree that this could happen in any relationship, but whether we like it or not, when client stays in therapy for some time, therapist becomes a significant figure to them, so when f.e a co-worker provides a corrective emotional experience, it won’t have the same impact on us as when therapist does it.

  96. I agree, I’m happy to see someone talk about emotional abuse in therapy. She does talk about the corrective emotional experience and therapist as parent. And though while not paternalistic, but she discusses therapy as a place to re-experience pain with the therapist as witness. All that “reliving” was itself harmful to me, instructing me how to be passive, self-pitying and depressed, rather than an active adult.

    Mind you, I seem to find at least some disagreement with almost all professional writing. The Shrinking of America was one of the few books that didn’t get my antenna twitching.

  97. (Post #7) Re Disequlibrium’s Sept 19 reply to Marina:

    Comparing your therapist’s “goofing up” to a store not carrying the dress you hoped to buy is, in my opinion, grossly insensitive and off in a fantasy world, as is having you “explore” what you did to set them off. Something “setting off” a therapist would be most appropriately described as countertransference – i.e., something that comes from the therapist, that is the therapist’s responsibility, not the client’s. These incidents remind me in some ways of a couple of things my last therapist said:

    When I tried to talk about the counterproductive therapy I had had with previous therapists, he said, “Remember, I’ve had bad therapy, too.” I found it odd that he said, “remember,” since he’d never mentioned his having “bad therapy” before. So in the next session, I asked him if he could tell me (in the subsequent session, since I wanted to give him time to think, rather then pressuring him), if he could give me his definition of “bad therapy” and if he could (if he was willing; I wanted to respect his privacy) give me an example of what had been “bad therapy” for him. So in the subsequent session, he said his definition of bad therapy was therapy where the client does not move forward. In other words, he made no distinction between therapy that didn’t help and therapy that harmed. He also gave as an example of his own “bad therapy” a case of premarital counseling where, after the first session, he and his future wife agreed that the therapist didn’t share their values, so didn’t go back to that therapist.

    In a session where I talked about being easily intimidated and having difficulty with being asked questions that put me on the spot (thinking primarily of therapy experiences), he said that people treated me that way because I spoke so precisely; they assumed that anyone who spoke that way was used to the kind of aggressive oral interaction which I in fact am not used to.
    I appreciate your comment, “As if so much of therapy, from Freud onward, is rooted in real science.” I am a scientifically oriented person. When I first tried therapy, I naively assumed that psychologists and psychiatrists would also be scientifically oriented. My therapists #1 and 2 both seemed, not just unscientific, but anti-scientific, so I decided to try a psychiatrist after my counterproductive experiences with them. She was initially a tiny bit better, but soon became as capricious, arbitrary, and superficial as the first two.
    In subsequent reading about psychiatry, I have learned that psychiatry is typically the last choice for a residency for medical students – and so psychiatry often gets the med students who were rejected by the other residency programs. Caveat emptor.

    In subsequent reading about psychology, I have learned that there is quite a bit of animosity between the scientifically-oriented psychologists and the “I can rely on my intuition” types of psychologists – in fact, the more scientifically oriented types formed a separate organization, the Association for Psychological Science, in 1988. Yet, representatives of the American Psychological Association do appear to claim that clinicians use science – for references and discussion, see the Psychology Brown Bag February 2010 Psychotherapy Brown Bag Article “Is There a Research-Practice Gap? Not if You Listen to APA…” (the easiest way to get to it is a web search on “Is There a Research-Practice Gap?”, including the quotes). This is by Scott Lilienfeld, whom I mentioned in a previous post.

    Lilienfeld has also recently written an article “Public Skepticism of Psychology: Why Many People Perceive the Study of Human Behavior as Unscientific,” that appeared in the June, 2011 issue of The American Psychologist. In it Lilienfeld said (p. 5), as an illustration of the anti-science perspective of some APA members, “A former president of APA, Ronald Fox (2000), wrote, ‘Psychologists do not have to apologize for their treatments. Nor is there any actual need to prove their effectiveness.’”

    This Lilienfeld article is interesting reading, but I suspect that his view of the quality of science in psychology may be inflated. In the past couple of years, I have gotten enough past my feelings of intimidation regarding anything therapy related to actually read some research on therapy. (My education and many years work experience are in a STEM field, so I have quite a lot of experience reading and critiquing scientific papers.) My impression of the ones I have read is that the scientific quality is poor. (I realize that there is poor research in every scientific field, so there is the possibility that I haven’t yet hit on the good research in psychology.)

    Taking all this into account, it appears to me that a prospective psychotherapy client seeking a good therapist may be caught between the Scylla of therapists who put their “clinical judgment” on a pedestal, and the Charybdis of the advocates of “empirically supported treatments,” which I am not convinced have as much sound evidence behind them as is claimed. There are some therapists who are not at either extreme, but finding them can be difficult. One therapist/reasearcher who has impressed me more than most is John C. Norcross. His book Clinician’s Guide to Evidence Based Practices (coauthored with Thomas P. Hogan and Gerald P. Koocher seems like a fairly reasonable discussion of the situation. As the title suggests, it is aimed at clinicians, but I think it should be fairly readable for many clients. I suspect, though, that few therapists follow the guidelines proposed in the book.

  98. Disequilibrium: I definitely agree with your September 20 comment, “I DON’T regard the consulting room as a well-designed “laboratory” for a relationship. It’s very one-sided, it’s play acting. Anyone who relates to friends, co-workers or bosses like she relates to her therapist would be pretty…well…er…dysfunctional.” Therapy was so disconnected from the rest of my life; yet, regrettably, it crept into the rest of my life in various ways – and that was a big part of the harm from it.

  99. Marina Williams: Thank you for your reply and clarifications. I am indeed aware that psychotherapy theories are not like physical theories – but the “framework” aspect of them is a big part of what I find problematical about them. The framework typically seems to influence what the therapist hears, how they conceptualize “help” (both ends and means), and the questions they ask. One of the frustrations I have found in therapy is dealing with the frameworks – trying to get the interaction out of them when they don’t fit. That has been a challenge that I have generally been unsuccessful at meeting. Therapy often has seemed like talking into a black hole: The therapist seems to hear only parts of what I say. Often parts that are very important to me (for example, qualifications, uncertainties, or complexities) are left out. It is certainly desirable to tailor the therapy to the client, but this may involve getting outside the therapist’s usual framework. In other words, the therapist may believe they have tailored the approach to the client, but the client may see the approach as not fitting.

    I agree with Disequilibrium’s comment, “I hope the criticism, the discussion and even the–venting– will be valuable and maybe help both consumers and professionals synthesize new approaches. If we can be collaborators about therapy’s shortcomings and possibilities, together we might emerge with some new insights.” This seems in line with my comments in the preceding paragraph.

    Marina W. (and/or other therapists reading this), one thing that might help us on this path would be if you could describe some things you have learned from clients (providing that their privacy is respected, of course) that have helped you improve your practice.

  100. Disequelibrium1, I know exactly what you are talking about when you described how “re-living” certain past experiences together with the therapist harmed you and undermined your ability to function. It has been a big part of my own debilitating experience in therapy. There is a lot to say about this one. Many aspects are involved in this harmful dynamic, but the major reason why people get harmed this way is because many therapists are ignorant of how trauma functions in our body. Only recently, Peter Levine’s conceptualization of trauma opened our eyes to the dangerousness of forced catharsis. That is not to say that catharsis itself is dangerous. It depends on a person and on a situation. There have been many times in my life when catharsis helped me as it released a lot of inner pain I was unaware that I had. But I can compare it with physical exercises. We all know that being physically active improves our health, but if we constantly push ourselves to go far beyond our limits, our health mostly likely will be damaged. Also, releasing emotional pain, unlike exercises cannot be perfectly controlled. It’s easy to get stuck in that place and then we just dwell and feel miserable rather than release emotional toxins. Therefore, this experience may NEVER be forced on anyone. Besides, the requirement to experience it in a presence of a therapist unnecessary intensifies transference and creates dependency that is also very hard to break.

    We are living creatures and, as every living creature, human organism has natural cycles just like everything in nature. There are times for sadness, times for joy, times for creativity and enthusiasm and for every other human experience. There are times when we naturally want to release our pain and there are times when we want to distance ourselves from it. Our body knows better what we need at each given moment than any therapist. This is what I have learned and I have learned it hard way.

    Too bad I have to leave this discussion for a week. I’ll be out of town but I am looking forward to coming back.

  101. Marina-It’s nice that I’m not the only one who felt that the forced and prolonged hand-wringing “catharsis” in therapy did not necessarily release a thing. I didn’t feel better. Nothing healed. I just got into very bad emotional habits revisiting so much sadness and misfortune, trying to be a good client. I wish I’d put my emotions into the half-full part of the glass. Have safe travels. I’m enjoying the discussion.

    Mary-thanks again for the reading resources. I can’t possibly see how researchers possibly could evaluate anything except perhaps physiological changes (blood pressure, hormones, brain patterns?) But to monitor “improvements,” accurately, it would take a reality-television crew, and even then there might not be agreement, is this person living a better life.

    In replying to my complaint, my therapist congratulated himself that I was thriving under his care, when nothing could be further from the truth. I thought a coo-ing, phony therapist was helping me, by becoming my mother substitute. That was fine in the short term, but undermining to lasting changes.

    Becoming a more functional, effective adult ultimately is what helps me “feel better.”

    I even disagree, to some extent ,with the “boundary setting” that so therapists preach. In some situations, it’s not pragmatically advisable to take a big stand on one’s behalf, and that’s when maturity and skill (which therapy can’t teach) come into play.

    I”ll be interested what Norcross has explored. .

  102. Marina T, Thank you for providing the link to the interview with you – and thank you for doing the interview. Here are some comments:

    1. I agree to a great extent with your paragraph beginning “Before we explore …” but would like to add some subtleties.

    First, sometimes a therapist’s needs and a client’s are compatible. That’s what sometimes makes it so hard to give evidence that a therapist has done something harmful – a therapist may be able to provide evidence of successful therapy with many clients, so might make the case that “something was wrong with this particular client” when they harm rather than help. The key is in your phrases “fulfill his or her needs instead of attending to the needs of the patient” (with emphasis on “instead of”) and “are confident that they act in their patients’ best interests.” Indeed, one thing that has concerned me repeatedly about therapists is that so many of them seem overconfident. Although becoming more self-confident was something I initially hoped for as a result of therapy, instead I become afraid of being overconfident, like the therapists.

    Second, I’d like to add the following to the list of possible therapist “needs” that might lead to harmful therapy: The need for intimacy (this is a good example of a need that might be compatible with helping some clients but can lead to harm for others); the need to gratify their curiosity, especially in a titillating way; the need to “prove” their theory right; the need to be appreciated (e.g., for their warmth or for their ability to understand people); the need to confront or argue; the need to show their prowess at one-upmanship; the need to “mold” others (although the latter two might be special cases of the need for power); the need to be seen as an idea person, or to be seen as sophisticated and erudite, etc.; the need to play Sherlock Holmes in diagnosing, etc; the need to get their “fix” when the client “gets it.” (The last actually was something one therapist said to me, although he didn’t use the word “fix” – he said that what keeps him going as a therapist is when the client “gets it”.) I’m sure the list could be extended.

    Third, although I agree that in many cases clients “get easily seduced by the special treatment they get” and “misperceive the therapist’s inappropriate behavior as loving and caring,” these do not occur in all cases where therapy harms. The client might just be easily intimidated – and come to therapy in part to learn not to be. This was the case with me. I tended to blame myself and internalize the therapists’ negative comments (e.g., “You expect too much” from one; “I can’t help you if you take everything I take as criticism” from another – even though I wasn’t taking everything she said as criticism.) So one could argue that the problem was me, and that’s what I tended to do. On the other hand, I was aware of the problem, was working on it before therapy, and hoped for help with it in therapy. Catch 22.

    2. As you suggest, your list of “common signs of abuse” may not all fit in all cases. In the hope that it may be helpful to other clients who have experienced harmful therapy and/or therapists trying to help such clients, I will use my case as a specific example of one possible variation from the general pattern you give: For me, #1 did not apply. I feared therapy sessions, but kept going to “try to be brave and take the music.” #2 and #3 did apply. So did #4, but not in the way you describe. Instead, I felt more and more ashamed – – because I “needed” therapy and because I wasn’t good at it. This led to avoidance of family and friends. I was afraid I might slip and let someone know my “shameful secret.” Aspects of #5 definitely applied: I felt worse and worse, to some extent lost interest in activities that I previously enjoyed, and felt ashamed – but not of the dependency, but for the reasons mentioned above. I did start feeling suicidal; this is part of what, thankfully, finally convinced me to quit therapist 2. I don’t think #6 applied, at least not as stated. I was very aware of thinking that the therapist behavior was inappropriate, but somehow felt I deserved it – I tended to feel ashamed for complaining, for believing it was inappropriate, or for not being able to do anything about it. It just reinforced the belief, which I had been trying to shake, that I was inherently a second class citizen. I also started seeing myself as hypersensitive. The progress on my problems that I had made in the year preceding therapy mostly deteriorated. #7 did not apply – there weren’t any emotional highs in my therapy experience. The closest was the time therapist 2 slouched down in her chair and said, in a way that sounded very genuine, “I don’t understand you!” There was a momentary hope that finally she realized, and maybe things would turn around. But it was fleeting, since she quickly sat upright and went on with something that seemed like a change of subject.

    One reason I may not fit your “prototype” of signs is that I don’t fit the profile your description seems to assume of going to therapy for help dealing with childhood abuse. I did have some gripes about my mother, but after experiences with three really poor therapists, I realized she wasn’t as bad a mother as any of those three would have been.

    3. The section “What are the potential dangers of abuse in therapy” again seems to presuppose an experience different from mine. I didn’t admire or idealize any of my therapists; I didn’t feel loved, cared for, or rescued by them. I just felt lost in a whirlpool of behavior that didn’t make sense to me, and tended to feel ashamed for having difficulty coping with it and for thinking that the therapists’ behavior was unreasonable. To some extent, I wanted to trust them, I wanted evidence that they were right. I didn’t know where to turn, especially after three negative experiences.

    I gave myself six months to “get over it” after therapist 3. When I hadn’t, I tried another therapist. Although the particulars were different, it was a similar experience in that he seemed to jump to conclusions on the basis of minimal evidence and made assertions that didn’t make sense and weren’t backed up. I tried off and on for several years. About five years later, one therapist did indicate that the original therapists’ behavior was inappropriate, by saying, “That ain’t the way it’s s’posed to be.” I did have a considerable drop in my anxiety level with him, but then he started doing things that didn’t make sense to me. I wouldn’t call them inappropriate in the sense that the previous therapist behaviors had seemed inappropriate and shocking, but they seemed like coming from a belief system that was like a religion to me, so I quit seeing him, but left with kindly feelings toward him. So I can agree with your statement “their mistrust is often reality based.” I’m not entirely sure I agree with your analysis about the power imbalance relationship, although I think there was some element of power imbalance going on. Part of my hesitancy is because the concept of “power” is pretty fuzzy for me. But, I think more than that, there are questions about human differences that need to be addressed in talking about problematical therapy: differences in values, worldview, and customs.

    Also, I don’t think it was my intellect that was telling me that the therapist was an expert. My intellect was telling me, “My gosh, this person is really out of it!” but my emotions were saying, “Oh, no, they’re an expert; who are you to question them!” I needed to trust my intellect more than my emotions, but the therapists appealed to my emotions, and (at least for the three initial therapists) dismissed my intellect.

    Possibly therapy has changed since the mid-eighties enough that getting a second opinion is more likely to be helpful now that it was then. But I’m not convinced.

  103. Mary, I found myself with the same conflict between my emotions and my intellect. To listen to me talk to the therapist, you’d think I was OK. I told him what he was doing wasn’t therapy and left. Feelings–have taken years to untangle, including a guilt that I somehow was truant in the School of Life somehow. Illogical, I know.

    Now I realize that even the extremely “sweet” therapist, while giving me comfort, also was –sweetly–undermining my deep-set need to be a confident, autonomous adult.

    All this made my maturation, the process of independence from my parents, far more complicated than it needed to be.

  104. Wow, really interesting discussion in the comments lately!

    One of the Marinas wrote:

    but having spent a considerable time inside therapeutic community and, particularly, inside psychoanalytic community, I can tell you that all those wonderful articles that they write and studies that they conduct have not so far changed a thing in terms of what is continuing to take place in therapy rooms

    That’s where I went wrong – believing that my therapist was a responsible, ethical health care professional who knew she wasn’t supposed to do all those harmful things from the bad old days of therapy. I thought the whole profession was past all that. But no.

  105. I think much of the problem –seriously–is the theory. Human interactions are codified, categorized and abstracted them beyond recognizability. So basic states like arrogance, obstinance, dominance and self-delusion aren’t considered. The consulting room becomes a pseudo-world.

  106. A couple of comments showed up on my dashboard, but not on the actual blog. I don’t know if this is a software glitch or they were deleted.

  107. Hi, just checking to see if it’s ok to air my own therapist grievance here? I’m actually looking for support in making a decision and I’m riddled with fear and guilt.

  108. 1234nyc, you’re most welcome. There are a couple of therapists in the discussion–the rest of us will be peers-with-opinions. I know that guilt-fear thing extremely well. This website, with peer networking is another resource.

  109. Hey 1234nyc – You’ve got my support. If you’re thinking of quitting therapy, I say: just do it. It’s your time, your money, your life. You don’t have to justify your decision to anyone. You can always find another therapist.

  110. Ok, thanks! My grievance is for the peers-with-opinions only, not the therapists, if that’s possible.

    I’ve been with my current therapist for 16 years. I have received a lot of help from him actually and he has helped me navigate through many different love relationships and troubles in my life. My childhood has come up from time to time. I’ve had an ongoing eating disorder that is under control though it plagues me still in times of stress.

    Three months ago, I left a cult-like religious organization that I was involved with since 1994 and was very heavily involved. My work in therapy actually guided me to ultimately leave the organization, since it was surpressing the truth of my childhood to such an extent that I was no longer relating to others in a real way. I was superior to all because I was part of this elitist group of advanced souls. Embarrassing to relate, but there it is.

    In trying to figure out why I was so attracted to this religious group and would subsume myself like that, I started reading Alice Miller’s books – almost all of them. I was a little shocked by what I found, but it made perfect sense.

    Now, eventhough I’m aware that my therapist has helped me, I’m a little upset in thinking that it could be entirely possible that I don’t want to be in any kind of system of thought or any kind of system of therapy at all. In other words, I just want to be on my own and live my life as me, whatever that means. I honestly don’t trust my therapist anymore and I don’t want to do anymore gestalt chair work or do exercises to change me. It feels like I’ve spent a thousand years trying to change myself. Enough with the exercises and manipulation. If I’m angry at someone, I’m angry at someone. If I’m tired, I’m tired. If I don’t trust you, I don’t trust you, etc, etc.

    The nitty-gritty of it all is that I’m realy doubting whether gestalt is right for me anymore. After reading Alice Miller’s books, it seems shallow to me now and very simplistic, almost naive.

    It’s impossible to give you a complete picture, but this is like a really rough sketch. I guess any reactions or thoughts are appreciated.

    Thanks for listening.

  111. I feel very much in the same boat, where I decided enough with the exercises, systems and “self improvement” (that didn’t) already.

    I think we’re attracted to powerful therapists, and cults because we NEED to believe in a strong, wise force, much like we once saw our parents. Then a time comes when we see those folks as flawed mortals, just like us. I think it’s part of maturation. I think most people in our society are governed by this “authoritarian structure.” It’s the way we were raised and schooled.

    The more I review my therapy, the more convinced I am I bought snake oil and was an agent in my own abuse. It’s embarrassing. I feel guilt and fear for not succeeding at their system. Yet another side of me knows it’s MY life, not their world. I no longer believe that therapy could have offered any miraculous transformations.

    That since I left, I’ve since discovered Life, problem solving, and understanding other viewpoints to be much more healing than all the manipulations of therapy. I can hold viewpoints more fearlessly, be more forgiving…sometimes…cope…sometimes…with difficult situations. So growth doesn’t stop leaving therapy. For me, it actually started.

    I’m guessing you googled your way here to get support leaving, as opposed to googling your way somewhere else.

    You’re going to learn much about your therapist when you tell him you want to leave. If you suspect HE’S so dependent, he’ll freak destructively, you do have the option of just leaving. You might know him well enough to sense his reaction. No matter what he does, it’s your life and your therapy, as someone here said.

    One note, the therapists are here because they’ve been abused themselves. If they want to respond, maybe they could do it…with their peer hats on…:-), if that’s OK with you.

  112. It’s ok for the therapists to respond, but I won’t be able to listen to any advice that is therapeutically driven.

    I’m still mulling over your response – thank you for that, and wanted to add another question. Has anyone here had any negative reactions to gestalt therapy? I feel a little nuts that I’m so opposed to it now and would like to feel a little less nuts. It seems too formulaic and built on really simplistic principles.

  113. After I left therapy I inadvertently found myself a few times in a situations with its overtones, and stayed removed from it.

    I’m not familiar with gestalt therapy, but all my therapy was simplistic, formulaic and unrealistic magical. So yes, I definitely felt I was led down the garden path. As nutty as I felt I remember 1) our culture pushes this therapy mythology 2) the therapists particularly believed their own stories.

    I believe several posts above parallel your process, As Ann said,”As a culture, we are primed religiously and politically for “redemptive dependencies” and they can be bugger-all to relinquish.”

  114. Hi 1234 nyc – First – Gestalt therapy. Oh jeez. My ex-therapist was using those techniques on me (in a covert way, i.e. without my prior knowledge and consent) and when I caught on and researched Gestalt, yikes! (I mean to post a lot more about this on my blog.) Gestalt has links to cultic organizations and therapies like est, Scientology, etc. It’s actually really interesting to trace the development of all these therapies. Many of the gurus/originators worked and studied together at various points.

    Anyway, YES, enough of the chair work!

    But you know what? I think you said something very healthy:

    I just want to be on my own and live my life as me, whatever that means.

    Honestly I think that is all you need to say to your therapist. Sure, he might freak, he might pressure to you explain your decision or stick around for some termination sessions or whatever, but you don’t have to. You can do the old say-goodbye-on-voicemail move to avoid hassle and drama. Therapists tend to frown on this but so what? This is about YOU. YOU are ready to go.

  115. Still reflecting from these wonderful responses, thank you! Here’s a great quote, imho, from Alice Miller’s web page “FAQ: How to find the right therapist”.

    4.I feel guilty because of my mistrust. If I can’t trust I will never find what is good for me.

    Your mistrust has a history and your need for SPECIAL understanding too. Your caregiver didn’t deserve your trust and the child felt this very strongly because his body knew the truth. It couldn’t develop trust. Now, trust your body signals, it is the silenced child who is speaking, who starts to talk and needs your truthfulness. If you don’t feel good with a person, take your feelings seriously, don’t push them away, try to understand these feelings. Once you feel truly and deeply understood by someone, your body will let you know this immediately and very clearly, it will be relaxed without any special exercises.

  116. Your process is spurring mine, and my morning thought whirled around how I could have been so slavish–to anyone. My goal is now is more an interdependence rather than putting myself in anyone else’s hands.

    I question Miller in that while many people help us along the way, I don’t believe will be anyone that special and completely trustworthy and think that myth is a disservice. At best, I think, some of the people will help us some of the time.

    Sometimes I try to wipe the slate clean and imagine my life free of therapy-culture influences. This is nigh to impossible, but I try. My most “healing” steps have been my friendships, my competencies, meeting goals, working through difficult situations, and in some cases, working with abusive people whom I needed in that moment. And instead of more self-understanding it’s helped me to understand- what’s ticking with others who hurt me. Sometimes I can calm someone else’s fears and get him focused.

    Therapists so brainwash us to be dependent, it can be difficult to imagine that civilization did progress without them. Columbus discovered America, explorers moved West, long before they arrived.

    Contradictory, this process of meditating myself AWAY from my navel.:-) (Hope I’m kinda making sense.)

  117. Marina T, Thank you especially for your first post of Sept. 24 in response to my list of articles on harmful therapy. Several comments:

    First, your experience of your therapist perpetrator being on his professional society’s ethics committee was eye-opening for me – not because I couldn’t believe that would happen, but because my therapist #2 (who definitely did not work on an informed consent basis – not even a written agreement as to payment policies) has also taken the “ethics expert” route – e.g. teaching a course in ethics. I had hoped that this was a unique situation, but your comments make me wonder just how common it is. In other words, I wonder how many ethics committees are dominated by such people.

    One thing that might be helpful in improving the lack of effective disciplinary action among psychotherapists would be to try to get suitable public interest groups involved. One such is Public Citizen. They have a Health Research Group that includes a project on pushing states to improve physician accountability (see http://www.citizen.org/Page.aspx?pid=1248), so it might be worthwhile urging them to expand to include non-physician “mental health” services. (Unfortunately, their contact information does not include an email address, just snail mail and phone.) I’ve been thinking of contacting them about this issue in any event, so will put it on my definite to-do list. I encourage others to do so. Does anyone else know of other groups that might be worth trying to urge to move into this field?

    But perhaps you are wrong when you refer to your ex-therapist’s involvement with the ethics committee as striking a deal with his conscience. It may be that he has no conscience, and that his involvement on the ethics committee is instead an effort to improve his reputation.

    The subsequent therapist’s saying “This subject is very unnerving for therapists to talk about” does seem like an extreme cop-out. Clients often talk in therapy about things that are very unnerving for them. I, for one, would like a therapist who sets a good example. But, in my experience, they so often seem just the opposite of a good example.

    But measures in addition to disciplinary actions are important to decrease the incidence of harmful therapy. I am more hopeful than you that some of the articles I mentioned are indeed the beginnings of improvement. For example, Lambert’s work is a concrete effort to reduce the incidence of harm, and Lilienfeld’s efforts to caution against use of specific methods known to cause harm are likely to have some effect. Also, he has shown (in the other article I mentioned by him in a later post) willingness to name names in decrying the lack of caring about accountability by “leaders” in the profession. Although I don’t think the Castonguay et al paper is of the same caliber as the Lambert and Lilienfeld papers, they state the importance of screening potential therapists before and during their training to weed out those who are likely to cause harm. This is one of those “unnerving” things that the profession has avoided discussing in the past. And, of course, efforts such as you are taking to inform consumers of therapy of potential problems are important. I see all of these as complementary signs of progress – all of these are needed, in addition to improvement of the disciplinary process. Two other factors that make the chances better that at least some reforms will be instituted than in the past are the existence of the web, which has made the discussion more public than it was twenty years ago, and the increasing pressure for accountability from insurers. The psychotherapy professions have been pushing for “parity” for mental health (i.e., insurance coverage on terms similar to those for physical health), and as that is becoming more a reality, the professions are coming under more scrutiny.

    Unfortunately, it will never be possible to eliminate all unethical practitioners (compare physicians and politicians), but I am hopeful that at least some improvement is beginning.

  118. Interesting, my offending therapist also did a term on his state’s grievance board and I heard of another instance of the offender actually on the board when he committed his offense. Maybe this is like the philandering evangelist, I don’t know.

    I’m really challenging here, but there are many levels of offense–outright exploitations that violated therapists’ current ethics–sexual, economic, interest conflicts. Then there are the more subtle emotional abuses we’ve discussed. Beyond that are the more “garden path” transgressions, which treatment is seemingly benign but in its way harmful and ineffectual. I think therapy needs to be examined on all these levels. There is so much grand theory which effectively discounts the end user.

  119. Marina T, Thank you for posting the link to Michelle Webster’s article. Like Disequilibrium, I have mixed feelings about it, although not exactly in the same way she does – but don’t think I’m up to articulating them. I appreciate your comment in your response to her that “if therapist is simply respectful and reasonably attentive to client’s needs, that by itself would provide a corrective emotional experience to many people regardless of their history.” That I can definitely agree with – but it seems so rare.

    One thing I noticed when I started reading Webster’s article was the year, 1991, which triggered the memory that in 1991, I tried therapy again, hoping that talking about my previous therapy experiences would help me get past them. The therapist in some ways seemed better than others I had tried – in particular, she sometimes said things that were not as simplistic as other therapists had said, which gave me the impression that she was somewhat more in touch with the real world. But when I talked about my previous experiences in therapy, she commented ,”Well, at least they’re beginning to crack down on therapists getting sexually involved with clients.” That’s nowhere as bad as the therapist comment in Webster’s article about how being abused by the client’s brother wouldn’t be as bad as being abused by her father, but I still think it’s pretty insensitive and unprofessional. I do believe the therapy professions are finally beginning to move a little beyond the 1991 general state of affairs, but it is definitely slow moving. One thing that I take as a sign of progress is the results I found when I tried to look for references to Webster’s article and to Lilienfeld’s article Psychological Treatments that Cause Harm. I found only one journal article referencing Webster’s article, and two pages of hits in a Google search on it. In contrast, I found sixty journal article citations and 19 pages of Google hits for Lilienfeld’s. Some of the articles look interesting, so I’ll try to look them up when I get a chance.

    By the way, has anyone else read Bad Therapy: Master Therapists Share Their Worst Failures, by Jeffery A Kottler and Jon Carlson? I wouldn’t go so far as to say I recommend it, but it is telling in a sense. The idea, that “master” therapists should describe their worst failures so that other therapist can learn from their mistakes, seems good. But what I found disappointing are the attitudes that the majority of the therapists involved show toward their mistakes. Some of them are outrageously insensitive toward the clients. Only a few of the therapists came across as really decent people that I might consider trying as a therapist. Also, the editors seemed to have their own agenda of drawing out the contributors about their childhood experiences and how they influenced their practices.

  120. Admittedly I skim-read Kottler’s “Master Therapists….” only because it didn’t touch me personally. What I got, maybe unfairly, was a self-congratulatory sense as opposed to any real humility. I can’t “defend” this impression and since I didn’t read the book carefully, this might be quite skewed.

    When I read an interesting decades-old book, I do long for a follow-up that reveals if the author has updated thinking or perspectives about the profession.

    Because the malpractices I experienced were more subtle, I connected to the broader critiques, Tana Dineen’s Manufacturing Victims, Yvonne Bate’s Shouldn’t I be Feeling Better by Now, Bernard Zilbergeld’s The Shrinking of America and David Smail. Just reread parts of Masson’s Against Therapy, and wished he’d written another book taking off on this “conclusion” chapter,

    I agree with other authors we have a need to “sages” in our lives. I wish the sages were more honest in what they can and can’t provide.

  121. 123nyc: If you’re doubting whether gestalt is right for you anymore, then it probably isn’t right for you anymore. You’re not nuts for being so opposed to it now. Sometimes something is helpful until we grow, then we need to – well, grow beyond it. Sounds like you’re ready to do that.

    Disequilibrium: Your skepticism (September 27 post) that researchers can’t measure improvement in the sense of ”Is this person living a better life” is indeed warranted. In therapy research, “improvement” is measured by the “instruments” that are used to make the diagnosis for the “disorder” being treated – which begs the question, “Is the diagnosis, (hence the treatment) addressing the client’s concerns?” But my impression is that the question of “deterioration” is often addressed in more than one way: In addition to deterioration as measured by the criteria for the diagnosis, other types of deterioration are sometimes (and should always) be considered as well – for example, questions such as, “Is therapy helpful?” may be used, or signs of developing additional problems.

    I definitely agree with your Sept. 28 comments that theory is often the problem – this seems to be the case in Webster’s article. The theory is too one-size-fits-all; real life has a tremendous diversity of human thought, belief, behavior, and their interactions.

    Re Sept. 30: So now we have four cases of therapists practicing questionable therapy who have the veneer of “ethics expert”. I agree that therapy needs to be examined on all the levels of offense and transgression that you list. Also that the grand theories (plural added) effectively discount the end user. This fits into my earlier comments that all too often the client is seen as an object for the therapist’s imagination to work on, not as a real person to be helped in a way that makes sense to the client. (That being said, I realize we often don’t see others as they really are – but the therapy theories, I believe, worsen this natural tendency by providing a pre-existing framework that often serves to constrain the therapist’s observation skills: They tend to see what the theory says is there.)

    Re Oct. 1: Yes, “self-congratulatory” fits with my impression of most of Kottler and Carlson’s book. I do recall a couple of contributors, however, who seemed to exhibit some humility – but definitely a small minority. Humility (at least, the genuine, “There’s a lot I don’t know” kind, rather than the almost bragging, “In my humble opinion …” type) is something I value, and a quality I’d like to see in a therapist. I was amazed that therapists, on average, seem to have much less of it than most people I encounter.

    Yvonne Bates’ book was in fact an important find for me in the difficult, ongoing process of dealing with my negative experiences with therapy. I wrote some things for the newsletter, Ipnosis, that she edits (or did edit), and participated in a web discussion group (on a site that is now defunct) that had summaries in Ipnosis. In contrast to the book, I found both of those unpleasant. Most of the participants in the web discussion group were therapists, and didn’t seem interested in taking my views seriously. For example, one responded to my discussion of things I considered counterproductive for me in therapy by saying that omitting those “would be like asking me to practice with my hands tied behind my back.” The newsletter also contained some distressing articles. Examples include some “theory of everything therapy” articles of the sort that you and I question, and a column by a therapist who was the subject of complaints by several clients for a cult-type practice. Also, Bates herself seemed uncomfortably (to me) fascinated by the “falling in love with the therapist” type of transference. So while I appreciated the book, I found the activities they lead to quite demoralizing.

    One thing I did appreciate about Bates’ book was that it was not as strident as some of the other books you mention. Frankly, I have been uncomfortable with much of the use of the word “abuse” in connection with therapy, although I have been getting a little more tolerant of it in participating in this blog, deciding that it is at least in part a difference in values or subcultures that needs to be respected as individual differences. (I certainly have no qualms in using it in some cases, such as when therapists seduce clients sexually.) You might have noticed that I tend not to use it, referring instead to harmful therapy, counterproductive therapy, or iatrogenic therapy. But one thing I did appreciate about Tana Dineen’s writing in particular was her phrase, “The clothes have no emperor.” Often in therapy, the phrase “the emperor has no clothes,” has come to mind, but Dineen’s twist on the phrase might be more apt for the situation.

    I don’t know if I’d say we “need” sages in our lives so much as we “want” sages. Unfortunately, there are many un-sage people (especially in the therapy professions) who are ready and willing to adopt the role of sage. When I went to therapy, I was looking in large part for a role model, someone who set a good example. What I found was quite the opposite. I so often thought, “I don’t want to be like this person; they don’t exhibit the values I’d like to live by.” But after the first one, I felt helpless and kept trying to look for help. I didn’t know where else to turn.

  122. Professional literature generally has impressed me as one-sided and self-congratulatory. A practitioner has some brilliant testimony, but we never hear from the recipient of this masterful treatment. I recall David Smail calling the literature condescending if not downright contemptuous, and I agree.

    “Results” are extremely difficult to measure for many reasons: participants have tremendous investments, plus what initially might be soothing and reassuring often is not beneficial for the long term. Is the client actually taught to fish or merely provided a meal? I’m sure many of us have known others who are obliviously antagonistic or nonfunctional, yet swearing by some therapist, evidently soothing but failing to provide awareness of fellow beings. (I recently saw a Broadway monologuist, who’d led a privileged life, bitterly wearing her defects like a trophy, and labeling herself as a case that 12 therapists were needed to shore up.)

    I’d like to see evaluations, from clients, 5-, 10-, 20-years out as to whether therapy truly provided turning points in their lives. I’d like to see licensing board complaints studied. I’d like to see interventions evaluated from a “real life” yardstick. If it’s condescending and manipulative at the dinner table, it’s similarly so in the consulting room.

    That’s ashamed about Bates’ and her circle, since I felt the book at least toward the right direction in that it entertained feedback. I too question the encouragement of transference and generally found it a step toward role play and dependence and away from reality and autonomy. I also dislike the word “abuse,” for its use seems better reserved for more extreme interactions, and prefer the word harmful, yet realize its common use to describe everything from light bullying on.

    I’ll assume we all have individual degrees of wanting or needing sages. I was quite deferential as a young adult, and was in the “need” category. We’re raised generally to depend on strong leaders–wise or not– and defer to authority. Based on my experiences, I’m sure many a therapist has reinforced this makeup. We all have pockets of flaws and failures, and it’s easily for a therapist to manipulate them for gratification and profit.

  123. 1234nyc; There are critiques of Gestalt, and Perls around the web as well as Jeffrey Masson’s “Against Therapy” book. I had my own bad experience with a traveling teacher from Esalen, pretending to teach writing, then turning the class into an confessional/unlicensed therapy session which clearly delivered her some personal payoff, I’ve been conned, and I can’t swear in my now middle-age I’ll never be conned again. And like Mary said, we also can outgrow something that does help us in one moment.

    My goal now is less self-absorption, less quest-for-understanding and more doing and living. When I encounter “difficult” people, I try to work with their pain and fear. It’s worked much better for me than the hours of introspection led by therapists. Seeing through and walking from con artists can be a painful, but great thing ultimately.

  124. Well, today was my last therapy session and my therapist was very respectful and let me go. I said I wanted to live my life on my own and be me.

    Thank you all for your support. I don’t think I would have been able to take that step so easily without your encouragement.

    I feel already like a babe lost in the woods, but that’s to be expected…


  125. I am still out of town but got a chance to go online and skim-read the latest posts. For now, I just would like to correct some facts about http://www.therapyabuse.org (TELL) website, since I have been corresponding with them and receiving support from them for some time.

    TELL website and TELL organization are NOTHING like this blog. They have a very specific purpose of helping those, who have been sexually abused by their therapists. TELL members don’t see their experiences simply as harmful therapy. They define it very precisely as abuse and that is how I define my experience as well. TELL doesn’t have same views on therapy as the participants of this discussion do with may be a couple of exemptions (I know one person there, who would agree with SOME of the ideas discussed here). In fact, TherapyAbuse as a group is quite traditional in their views on therapy and doesn’t believe that the whole therapy profession needs to change. They believe that there are certain therapists, who are unfit to do therapy work and should not be allowed to practice, but they don’t have a problem with the whole profession. That’s what http://www.therapyabuse.org is about:-) So, they might not be the best place to refer to, if the referred individual has suffered from harmful therapy other then sexual abuse from their therapist (which doesn’t have to be a consummated sexual involvement, by the way).

    Also, TELL respondents don’t divide themselves into “peers” and “non- peers”. They have both, therapists and non- therapists, among their members and they all see themselves being in the same boat. When I contacted TELL the first time asking for help, no one “warned” me that along with “peer” support I might also get a ” therapeutically- driven” advice. It is clearly said on their website that even though some of their respondents are therapists, TELL does not provide therapy, only emotional support. Frankly, no one who contacts them cares if the responding person will be a therapist or not. When you have gone through the same experience that I and TELL people have gone through, you just desperately need to talk to somebody who have ” been there, done that” because you know that no one else can understand. That being said, it’ll probably be impossible for me to explain here why abuse doesn’t have to be anything extreme or even obviously hurtful and, in fact, believe it or not, could even be enjoyable on some level! One has to live it in order to understand it. It’ll also be impossible for me to explain such a “fuzzy” concept as a power imbalance in therapeutic and many other relationships, as well as to explain why those, who have experienced what I experienced in my last therapy, would always see their experiences precisely as abuses, not ” harmful therapies”.

  126. 1234nyc, cheers. So glad that went well and your guy was calm and it was respectful. Whew. Major congratulations. I did feel like a babe in the woods when I was “sprung” and since had concentrated in not defining myself through therapists’ filters. Those events we would-have-discussed-with-our-therapists continue, but happily, we handle ’em.
    Marina, I assume our experiences at TELL are as individual as those we correspond with there. I was matched with others who’d experienced non-sexual abuse, and my private conversations over the years have gotten around to many things we’ve talked about here. But yes, this depends on whom you’re matched with. My specific correspondent went through training, but then didn’t go into practice.

    My bad experiences in therapy ran the gamut from outright manipulation, bullying and invalidation (the most abusive parts) to more subtle subjugation. Because I began therapy as a quite deferential young woman, I think the “powerful sage” figure was the last thing I needed. The worst was the therapist’s out-of-control rage, but the subtle damage was well-meaning professionals practicing bad theories. In my opinion, we each have our experiences, and and its our call how we label them.

  127. Just found a book I was trying to remember in an above discussion about power and abuses in psychotherapy training.

    On one hand, I’m happy to see this discussion. On the other hand, I’m amused how professionals express their indignation when the abuse happens to THEM, but complaining clients too often are invalidated and dismissed.

  128. 123nyc, I’m very glad to hear that your therapist was respectful of your choice to end therapy. That makes the difficult task of “weaning” yourself from therapy a little less difficult. And it’s just good to hear accounts of therapists who behave in a respectful manner. Also, one thing I forgot to mention earlier is that many therapists consider their job to be getting you to the point where you can go it on your own, without their help.

    Marina, thank you for your discussion of the difference between this website and TELL – and Disequilibrium, thank you for contributing your experience with TELL. Those should be helpful for others looking for support for “bad” therapy experiences.

    I certainly would use the word “abuse” for some therapist behaviors (including sexual seduction of a client by a therapist, whether or not consummated and whether or not the client enjoyed it at the time). I also consider most “cult” type therapists to be abusive. There are other practices that I consider to be in a gray area – I respect others’ right to call them abuse, but I am not comfortable with that label in all such situations. Depending on the situation, I might call them one or more of unethical (e.g., evading informed consent), insensitive, harmful, counterproductive, incompetent, etc. That is simply a matter of my own personal preferences, one aspect of a general preference for moderation and distinctions in language. Indeed, one problem I had with most therapists I tried was precisely that they tended not to be moderate and to lump lots of things into one label. I was uncomfortable with their (to me) extreme language; it didn’t fit the real world as I see it. In fact, sometimes it gave the effect of distorting what I said.

    Also, I do believe that there is usually (but not always) a power imbalance between therapist and client, but would be leery if you did attempt to give an explanation of it, because I believe that just what it is can vary from case to case. In my case, there was a power imbalance because I was there in large part because I am uncomfortable with personal attention, was not very adept with oral communication, and tended to have difficulty dealing with authoritarian and domineering people. I expected an uncomfortable amount of personal attention as inherent in therapy for me, but was totally unprepared for the type of attention (and the lack of informed consent), and the authoritarian and domineering therapists. I am also aware that not all therapists are as domineering and authoritarian as the ones I happened to encounter 1, 2, 3. If I had happened on a different therapist at attempt 1, 2, or 3, things may have proceeded differently. But maybe not – maybe I am just too “different” for therapy, or at least with all but a very unusual therapist. I do agree with Disequilibrium that there are many well-intended but misguided therapists as well. And there are therapists who realize with regret that they have been misguided in at least some cases (for example, that they have bought into what they were taught, when it was not all it was cracked up to be).

    Disequilibrium, thanks for mentioning the Power Games book. I’ve looked it up just enough to get the impression that it focuses on psychoanalytic training, but it would be interesting to see what aspects of it might apply to other training as well, and what therapists in other theoretical orientations think about it.

  129. As far as I’m concerned, any handle or label to understand a difficult experience is useful and justified. I personally shy from the word “abuse” because it carries–for me–overtones of some therapy-think which I’m trying to avoid. My worst experiences were derision, bullying and dismissals, which would have a much softer imprint had I not seen my therapist as a guru-savior. The softer damage was their encouraging infantilization and magical thinking.

    I’m so averse to the therapy culture, when someone starts pulling out the “my in-law is SO borderline,” or has a ” my ex has Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” I cringe.

    Power imbalances: story of my life. I used to whither in the presence of domineering people. I won’t claim to be King Kong, but life has taught me better to hold my own. Astute therapists might have noticed this and done their best to dismantle this dynamic in therapy, but instead they cultivated it. Because of my “subordinate” reflexes, I’ve struggled with power imbalances in many forms both professionally and socially. So I wonder if any therapist could ever help someone with my makeup, given that power always will be imbalanced.

  130. Disequilibrium1, it seems that you just disagreed with Mary S. You said that power always will be imbalanced in therapy and I see it the same way. (By the way, this is why just like you I don’t think I would be in therapy ever again). May S. said that power is not always imbalanced in therapy and that it varies from case to case. Looks like right now it is a discussion between you and Mary S. Since Mary S. would be leery if I attempt to explain why power imbalance always exists in therapy, I certainly will not make such attempts. It has been a major theme of my life-trying to explain my visions to those who were leery of my explanations, and I feel like changing this theme because it kinda doesn’t feel good any more.

    The only explanation I would like to give you Mary S. right now is that I never attempt to claim that my visions reflect some kind of universal truth. I myself hate when people make such claims, and I am well aware that life is way too complex to be squeezed into some neat little theories and rules. I think, however, that, our individual experiences give us visions of life that we get very attached to that become our individual truths, and, I believe that there is nothing wrong with it. If I have certain visions on certain subjects (like in my article, f.e) that doesn’t mean that I am claiming that my visions are the only right ones. If you got the impression that I make such claims, I assure you that it has never even crossed my mind. I find it unnecessary to include “I think”, “in my opinion”, “in my view” etc in every single sentence in order to continuously reiterate that my visions are subjective. I believe, it should be clear by default. I appreciate though that you noticed that abuse or harmful therapy (whatever you wish to call it) is a much broader phenomena than what I described in my article. Next time I write something else on this subject, I will include a little disclaimer saying that I am talking about a very specific experience of seduction in therapy. As far as your other observations, I appreciate your thorough review of the article but don’t have anything to say in response because the article was not meant to describe broader range of experiences that you are talking about. You are absolutely right about every single point that you mentioned, but whether you are right or wrong is beside the point, as, once again, it was not my aim to describe every possible case of how abuse/harm may occur in therapy.

    As to TELL, I am glad Disequilibrium1 that you received support from them even though the harm that you experienced in therapy was different from what they had experienced. I am a little surprised that there was some matching process that they did in order to find a match for you, because when I contacted them and sent a group message, everybody who received it responded, so by now I have corresponded with 7 people. This is exactly what their website says about how they respond to those who need help. I suppose they found a specific match for you because your case was different from what they usually deal with.

  131. I’m “agnostic” on many subjects: the potential of therapy, can there ever be a power balance, OR can the power balance be minimized to not interfere with mentoring and problem solving. I can only speak from my experience. and my.

    Actually, my most low-agenda therapist was a Horneyan analyst, who did say useful things, who didn’t make me feel accountable to her. However, I think the analysis process itself only encouraged harmful self-obsession. She truly believed in it, and I do trust her sincerity in that it made a difference in her life.

    I’ll assume I received no special treatment from TELL–I went to them many years ago, when presumably they had a different procedure. I renewed my relationship when I asked for input for this and the other blog post I have on Mentalhelpnet.

  132. I also speak from my experience only and have never claimed otherwise. Besides, as you just noticed, there are people out there, who were helped by the same approach that harmed you.

    I just get confused by your posts sometimes because some of them contradict each other. Below are two contradictory quotes:

    “I’m “agnostic” on many subjects: the potential of therapy, can there ever be a power balance, OR can the power balance be minimized to not interfere with mentoring and problem solving. I can only speak from my experience.”


    “I wonder if any therapist could ever help someone with my makeup, given that power always will be imbalanced.”

    Those two statements oppose each other or so it seems to me. Also, it seems that there was a therapist in your life, who helped you despite your make up.

    Also, thank you for the link to the book. From my experience of having been a member of mental health community I could say that therapists unfortunately often do NOT express indignation about being abused in training and I wish they did. When people don’t rebel against abuses, they tend to displace their anger on others, in therapy they direct it at their clients.

    I cannot speak of how TELL operated a long time ago because I contacted them in May this year. In my correspondence with Jan Wohlberg, the founder of TELL, she clearly stated her beliefs on therapy. She doesn’t believe that there is anything wrong with therapy profession as a whole and that the problem is individual therapists, who commit ethical violation. I disagree with her on that and that is why I started participating in this discussion. She and I, however, did not have a chance to discuss what we are discussing here because we were focused on a specific issue of seduction in therapy. There was one person out of those 7 with whom I have been communicating so far, who expressed her views on therapists’ tendency to intensify transference that are similar to mine and yours, but I don’t think that she or anyone, who has experienced seduction in therapy is “agnostic” to the power imbalance issue. For those who suffered the harm that TELL members and I have suffered the assumption that power imbalance doesn’t always exists in therapy equates to assuming that they share responsibility for what happened to them with their perpetrators since the relationship was “equal”, and I doubt that anyone in TELL believes that they hold any responsibility for it and that applies to me as well.

    May of us were harmed because our therapists-perpetrators acted as equals in our relationships with them, because they denied that they held a more powerful position in the relationship and we believed them. They became our friends, lovers, colleagues, parent figures, children, who needed our attention while on some level still remaining therapists, who were clumsily trying to attend to us in a therapeutic way, and clients to whom we attended. They claimed that they loved and cared about us and, in fact, in some ways what they did was experienced by us as love and care, and that is what makes this experience so complex and so difficult to those who have never been through it to understand. Victims of seduction in therapy were happy to become “equals” with their therapists only to realize later that the “equality” was only an illusion and that our vulnerabilities were exploited. Then we understood a very simple reality that clients are the ones who are more vulnerable in relationships with their therapists and that is what creates a power imbalance regardless of what therapists do or don’t do. Therapists could INCREASE the imbalance by intensifying transference, but they cannot CREATE imbalance. Imbalance is created by the therapy situation, when one person comes for help and that simple act of coming for help makes him/herself vulnerable to the other person’s influence. This puts the other person in a more powerful position by definition regardless of what they do. Therapist may or may not take advantage and exploit this vulnerability, and if they do exploit it, that by definition constitutes the abuse of power. This is just as simple. Now, I guess, I should say “in my view” or “from my experience” once again so I wouldn’t sound as if I am making universal claims. My experience with power imbalance, however, is similar to that of TELL members and many other people, who have not come “out of closet” yet, because they feel (and their feelings are reality based) that their trauma and abuse of them would be invalidated by many, because it is impossible for many people to understand how two adults, who have “consented” to be either friends or lovers or colleagues or all of the above, could not be equal.

    Power imbalance in therapy is TELL’s fundamental concept that they believe and will continue to believe strongly, because to them denying it is equal to denying the reality of their abuse and the reality that their therapists were 100% responsible for it.

    All of the above is not my intend to argue about power imbalance in therapy. When people aren’t willing to try to understand you, arguing makes no sense. I just wanted to clarify further what I have learned about TELL from my experience of dealing with them, because I hate when people get misinformed or mislead by the lack of information.

  133. Please understand I’m simply someone with a bachelor’s degree who wrote an essay, would probably survive in graduate school 20 seconds and doesn’t consider my musings any consequence more than just that…batting around thoughts. I wrote the “disgruntled” piece in hopes it might comfort those who shared parallel experiences and challenge clinicians to see their practice more through a recipient viewpoint.

    OK, on power, let me see if I can refine a few musings. I agree, the therapy’s foundations are unequal, as you said, one person making him or herself vulnerable to another person’s influence. Worse yet, the entire enterprise built up from based on its founders’ whimsical, intuitive, often arrogant ideas, and ripe with hazards for abuse. Additionally, even much of the profession will admit its tangents have run from simply ridiculous to quite harmful. Not a pretty picture.

    There are examples everywhere of harm that comes between “adults.” I’ll assume the barrier to absorbing this is the benign image and expectation of therapy and maybe society’s want/or need for sages..

    I’m agnostic in that I can’t visit consulting rooms throughout the world nor ever fully know what goes on with people if I could. I observed some “imbalanced” relationships, be it teacher student, parent-child, employee-employer, where the affect of that imbalance appears less prevalent, creating a stronger, more less constrained participation by the “weaker” party. I’ll assume in the therapy universe, this has occurred and someone somewhere out there received authentic, life-changing help.

  134. Disequilibrium1, thank you for clarifying your thoughts further. First, I dare to assume that you would survive more than 20 seconds in a grad school, and I am not saying this because I am trying to flatter you or anything like that. I am not someone who gives compliments, but I am not afraid to acknowledge someone’s intelligence or perceptive abilities if I see them, and I certainly see those abilities in you as they are expressed in your essays.

    I assume that what we are discussing here pushes everyone’s painful spots. It would be also fair to assume that everyone, who participates in this discussion was either traumatized in therapy or mistreated by their therapists in some way up to some extend, some more than others, some could say that it wasn’t really a mistreatment but just ineffective therapy, some would acknowledge that their therapists hurt them unintentionally, but that didn’t make the hurt any less painful, some would recall that their therapists were intentionally sadistic etc. Every case is unique and yet we could still find similarities here and there in terms of what happened externally and in terms of how people processed it internally, what they made out of their experiences, what kind of lessons they learned and what kind of belief systems they constructed as a result of processing what happened to them. This duality-the similarities and the overlaps of many people’s individual experiences on the one hand and the uniqueness of each experience on the other hand- makes the subject of this discussion enormously complex, and our personal wounds and pain make it a “hot topic” that is not easy to discuss. Once we touch the spot that is still raw and hurts, our whole body screams “ouch!”, all objectivity and contemplative mood goes out the window, we fly off the handle thus hurting the other person and ourselves further, and then it just keeps escalating and escalating until nobody understands any more what they are talking about.

    I agree that there is no way for any of us to know what goes on in every consulting room in the world, and, yes, I guess, it is fair to assume that there might be cases somewhere, when the power imbalance is minimized to the point that the client doesn’t feel overwhelmingly dependent on the therapist and doesn’t have much difficulty leaving therapy and ending the relationship with the therapist after they received what they needed from this person at that particular time. In fact, I hope that those cases do exist, and, for myself, I am trying to figure out how therapy could be conducted in the way that would minimize the client’s dependency on the therapist and maximize the effectiveness of therapy. I am doing it not only because I was hurt as a consumer (client) but also for a selfish reason as a provider. If therapy was conducted with the idea to minimize client’s dependency, it would make it much easier on therapist as well, as in this case therapist would not be held overwhelmingly responsible for therapy outcome.

    I also think that it is important to separate the part of the power imbalance (not “imbalance”) that is created by the reality of therapy (one person is in a more vulnerable position no matter what the other one does), and the other part that is artificially created by therapist through the misuse of theories, or theories themselves, or therapist’s own personal issues with power and control or all of the above. I think when therapists start an open and honest discussion about the validity of certain theories and how they use or misuse them and about the effectiveness of current therapy training, this will minimize the part of the power imbalance in therapy that is artificially created by therapists, and so the total imbalance and the potential harm to clients will be minimized. The other part of imbalance that is naturally created by the situation cannot be minimized as it does not depend on what therapist does or doesn’t do, so that is just something for both, therapists and clients, to accept, be mindful of and make individual decisions on how they want to deal with it.

  135. Marina, Thanks for your kind words.

    I agree with your observations that we’re discussing hot spots. Furthermore, likely we’re redefining experiences that someone else –a person in power–inaccurately described for us, now grasping for our own truths. There will be parallels and diversions, and I think one person’s “handle” won’t negate another. And we’ll each have our own paths for recovery, some perhaps venturing back to therapy, others staying far away.

    I really like your point about minimizing potential affects of the power imbalance. I have seen some discussion about “informed consent,” but going back to my naive mindset, I don’t know how I could have understood the collision course enough to consent. However, it would have been nice for someone to start with much more undersell i.e. “It’s your life; I’ll never understand much of it; I certainly can’t tell you how to run it; I can’t magically transform you into the prom queen, and I won’t solve your problems. However there are some tools therapy might provide you…”

    There are so many other assumptions and methods I consider open for question, but power, the very way the therapist and consumer relate, well could top the list. (Maybe second is therapy’s pseudo world.)

    The therapy industry is so entrenched, it clearly isn’t going anywhere. At best I hope for throwing out truthful questions, to encourage therapists to get real feedback (not wishful thinking) whether they’re changing lives, and courageously to take responsibility for failures.

  136. God, I just typed a nice essay and lost all of it because my computer decided to shut down by itself for some reason!! ..Whatever happens is for the best (old Russion proverb)..so may be I’ll say it better this time..

    Disequilibrium 1, you grasped the essence of what, I believe, therapy should be based on, when you said you wished that therapists would be able to start the work by saying:

    “It’s your life; I’ll never understand much of it; I certainly can’t tell you how to run it; I can’t magically transform you into the prom queen, and I won’t solve your problems. However there are some tools therapy might provide you…”

    You may not believe it, but what you said was the main theme of my training in graduate school! We were taught by our instructors that we don’t have the ability to fully understand another human being and, therefore, should suspend our judgments, and that we also don’t have magic solutions for anyone. This, however, was taught in theory. In practice, though, we were pressured to solve, understand, diagnose, “treat” …do something to make people “normal” (according to our standards), adjusted, functional, “acceptable” members of the insane society..

    Having been around mental health professionals for the past 10 years, I had a chance to see their human vulnerabilities and human limitations that, unfortunately, they could not accept. If they could accept their humanity and all the limitations that it imposes on them, they would be able to accept their clients’ need to find their own unique ways of living, healing and growing instead of measuring everyone with one yardstick. Many of them don’t do harm intentionally. They are ignorant of how their words or actions affect clients because they are too anxious and too busy to prove to themselves that they are doing a “good job”, because they take on responsibility of making people’s lives better which is not their responsibility at all. They are trying to do the impossible and then get frustrated with themselves and their clients when they don’t see the results they want to see..They struggle with same things every human being struggles: insecurity, the need to know that they are doing something meaningful, that they are worthy of something, the fear of failure, the fear of being judged..all stuff that comes from ego and vulnerability that each one of us has..I have compassion for human limitations as long as people can honestly admit that they have them and accept them. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case..

    If any of my colleagues or supervisors saw this blog and saw me participating in this discussion, they would call me a traitor because I am exposing their humanity here, but I don’t care. As much as I am angry about their denial of realities of life and how much therapy can help, I don’t see them as monsters, just as not so strong human beings who, unfortunately, don’t have the courage to face these realities.

    By the way, you can take a look at the famous Gloria tape where Rogers demonstrates his method with his client Gloria. His approach to therapy so far has been the closest one to what you wish therapists would do. Here is the link

    I believe this doesn’t show the whole session but you can watch the next video to see the whole thing.

  137. Marina, drats about your essay and thanks for reconstituting it.

    Wow, something really changes in the indoctrination to transform trainees from inquiring mortals to mountaintop oracles. I learned more from looking at professional literature than anything else. It was so objectifying and polarizing I thought I was spying behind enemy lines doing this reading as a…er…”patient.” Starting with the fact I always functioned and was never a patient. I agree with you completely that therapists are trying to do the impossible.

    And worse yet is the corollary, the patient/client/consumer by necessity must diminish in rank, intellect and validity to accommodate the therapist’s overinflated stature.

    I could rant on about the complexity of life, the uncertainty of many decisions and values, and the absurdity of therapists’ impositions, but I suspect everyone here knows that already.

    I feel I would have been helped had I had a session like Roger’s. Both he and Gloria were honest and respectful. I also liked the honesty and humanness of Rogers reflecting on his journey after the session. Rogers impressed me as asking Gloria if he was correct rather than imposing an interpretation on her. So there was a humbleness and give and take and the “answers” were presumed as Gloria’s domain.

    In true nautilus fashion, Gloria herself was struggling with the idea that she wasn’t able to be the perfect parent and live up to her “nice lady” image. (Something I appreciate, remembering the 1950s Mom image.) That’s exactly the issue with most therapy.

  138. Marina, re your Oct. 6 post: I don’t see how the assumption that power imbalance doesn’t always exist in therapy equates to assuming that those who have suffered the harm that you and TELL members have suffered share responsibility for what happened with them. If a therapist seduces a client, then that is prima facie evidence that there was indeed a power imbalance in the therapist/client relationship in that case. In those rare cases in which the power imbalance is not present, the seduction would not occur – the client would both be aware of what the therapist was doing and be able to stop or deflect it before it caused harm – or even make it clear to the therapist that it would be a silly thing to try. A therapist’s seducing a client is grossly unprofessional and unethical; the client does not share any responsibility for the therapist’s behavior.

    When I wrote parenthetically that there is not always imbalance in the client/therapist relationship, I was thinking of one specific example; I later thought of another. Here they are, in case this will help you understand what I was thinking about: The first case was someone whose posts I read in an online discussion of therapy. Other therapy clients were talking about problems they had had with therapists. This person commented (in a way that did not appear at all condescending or blaming) that what she found helpful about therapy was just having someone to talk to about what was bothering her. She mentioned that some therapists she had tried had done some really weird things – but they still listened enough to be helpful, and she could easily ignore the extraneous stuff. The second case was someone I knew who said she used therapists because they could help her look at something a different way. She was very aware of possible power issues in therapy, and did deliberate things to prevent or diffuse them – such as sitting in the therapist’s chair so that the therapist had to take what was normally a client seat. Neither of these people seemed to have any sense of dependence on the therapist; they were there for help of a specific type and did not see the therapist as being in charge. But I do think such people are the exception rather than the rule.

  139. Disequilibrium1, I love the same thing about Gloria tape as you do: mutual respectfulness, humbleness and the attitude of open inquiry. Keep in mind though that Gloria was not a typical statistically averaged client, she was much more developed and sophisticated than the majority of people that come to therapy. Roger’s style worked for her because she was not expecting him to give her solutions to her problems but was willing to gradually go deeper and deeper within herself to understand her inner struggles. He only facilitated her self-understanding but did not impose his own understanding of her on her. Also, notice, that she tried a few times to get him give her solutions and he refused to do it. He gently but firmly put the responsibility of finding solutions to her problems back on her whenever she tried to put it on him and she accepted it. Many clients, however, don’t accept Rogerian style. They come to you expecting that you would give them magical tools because they believe that this is your job and this is what they are paying for and get angry when you try to do what Rogers did. They don’t know and don’t want to know the value of self-reflection and self-introspection. They want to be “fixed” as if they were just a car and you were a mechanic. The majority of patients/clients/consumers are nothing like Gloria!:) So, this didactic video shows an ideal therapy session that rarely happens in reality not only because the majority of therapists are not like Rogers but also because the majority of clients are not like Gloria.

    Mary S., I am afraid I won’t be able to give you further explanations on power imbalance in therapy, as this topic touches most painful spots in me and when my wounds are touched I am in no way articulate enough to answer questions like yours. I fear that my explanations would increase misunderstanding rather than clear it. You might want to contact TELL about it. There are many intelligent people there, who have learned hard way what power imbalance is in therapy. They might be able to answer your question because their abuses had taken place many years ago, they had time to heal unlike me and aren’t as vulnerable in regards to this subject as I am, so they are in a much better place to answer your question.

  140. Marina, I did see what the transactions you mentioned with the Gloria video. She was so insightful, I half wondered if she was scripted, though Rogers talked about her like she wasn’t.

    Based on my experiences and human nature, I’m sure you’re right about most clients expecting magic. I might “blame” some of this on how therapists present their profession in the media– many therapists’ websites even have this implication or outright claims–but also how we’re raised in this society.

    However, I feel it’s very important for the therapist to dismantle this expectation of magic rather than take on the wizard’s role. In fact, I think this disillusioning might be the most important thing therapy might actually accomplish. The way we’re raised and taught conditions us toward obedience to even the most foolish authorities, and an important part of maturation is owning our own decisions when to follow and when to question. A difficult challenge for therapists, and I assume they need many tools to avoid the trap of accommodating this guru expectation.

    My harm/abuse happened decades ago and I’ve gone through quite an evolution. Initially was raw hurt, helplessness of “trying to be heard,” guilt that I’d flunked therapy and therefore didn’t want to better myself, a conflicts about “disobedience” and doubts about my own sanity. I’ve evolved through the years to under at the therapist’s fear and needs, to thinking I was duped, and now, feeling the episode was more than one therapist–it was their system.

  141. Marina, I appreciate your 10-6 discussion “May of us were harmed because our therapists-perpetrators acted as equals in our relationships with them, because they denied that they held a more powerful position in the relationship and we believed them.”

    My personal experience wasn’t seduction, but I’ve read how this plays out, the client can be led toward the notion she is the therapist’s special chosen one.

    My therapist did invite me to social events, tried match-making and encouraged me to join a small in-home congregation to which she belonged. I did “feel” like an equal, but indeed was not. I’m unclear if these conflicts were smashingly harmful (they violated ethics at the time) but were at minimal misleading me the therapist was my equal.

    I know at least two people who had an erotic, though unconsummated relationships with therapists they felt their doctors provoked and nurtured. Both found this extremely harmful.

  142. Disequilibrium1, thank you for acknowledging and validating the emotional injury that was done to me. You can’t imagine how difficult it is to find those who could understand, whether they are therapists or lay people. My trauma was so recent that I assume I will be going through the motions of anguish, guilt, shame, pain of betrayal, fear of exposing my wounds to others because I may be invalidated and thus re-traumatized..It’s been only six months since the relationship with my therapist-perpetrator ended..so this is still very raw.

    You mentioned the isolation that victims of therapy abuse/harm experience. It was clearly your case as well as mine and many others, who are still afraid to come out and talk about what happened to them for the fear of being misunderstood at best and judged at worst. I believe, this isolation (or self-isolation) is the main source of suffering and the main challenge that we encounter while trying not only to cope with our traumas and to continue to function but to make something meaningful out of our experiences such as informing others about what could happen in therapy and trying to change the current state of affairs in therapy industry.

    You are absolutely correct that this is a much larger cultural issue that has to do with blind obedience and compliance with authorities. Power is not necessarily destructive by itself, as I suppose that the society needs to have a hierarchical structure in order to function, but power can only be used constructively if its purpose is to serve others rather than to be self-serving. Absolute or unquestionable authority for me is a dangerous non-sense. I think, there might be special situations when authority and expertise has to be unquestionable. I doubt that I would question the actions of airplane pilot while I am on the plane that he is flying:) In that case I would blindly trust his expertise:) but those cases are an entirely different story and they are just a matter of common sense.

    I think I mentioned in one of my previous posts the book by Merilyn Peterson “At personal risk”, where she explores the subject of authority and obedience in American culture in a very specific context of boundary violations in professional relationships with therapists, lawyers, medical doctors, clergies etc. This book is the most comprehensive review of the subject I have ever read in terms of its depth and broadness.

    Disequilibrium1, I was struck by what you said about how one of your therapists violated professional boundary with you. From your previous descriptions I got an impression that you were harmed in therapy through the bullying, manipulations and crazy making techniques. Apparently, there was also seduction on top of it. My definition of seduction is that it does not have to be erotic. I think seduction occurs whenever the therapist makes you feel “chosen” and special to him/her. I assume that many of us have a long history of mistreatment starting with childhood, and when someone shows kindness and gives us attention we always wanted and never had, it’s like a dream come true! ..Especially when this attention comes from a therapist who is perceived on some level as a surrogate parent figure..Our deepest dreams and hopes that we nurtured from childhood get exploited and manipulated. This, for me, is the worst betrayal ever.

  143. Marina, I’m sorry you lived through this, and thank you for feedback. Unsure if sure my experience is parallel, but I certainly was “sold” a bill of goods which I dove in whole-heartedly.I unsure that “specialness” applied in my instance, save joining the therapist’s congregation, but I promise you, had I been offered it, I would have bought it for reasons you describe.

    I’ve had an unfortunate brush with elder abuse and had the privilege/misfortune of seeing con artists in action. They were brilliant figuring out the other person’s needed role, and filling it. Too much like therapy.

    My reading about therapeutic seduction, consummated or otherwise, talks about that “chosen” phenomenon. Jan W. recommended Susan Penfold’s book about sexual abuse, telling me the sex wasn’t the most harmful part–it was everything that led to it. http://www.amazon.com/Sexual-Abuse-Health-Professionals-Personal/dp/0802081061/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1318114327&sr=8-1

    I was perversely comforted by Ellen Plasil’s book Therapist,
    more of a cult experience really, It was control, sexual and economic exploitation so bad, it made my situation look minor.

    I was quite vulnerable to authority before therapy, so utterly shaken and raw after I exited. I had no perspective at all, only guilt, nor any real support. I did take comfort from the Petersen book. On re-read years later, I was bothered by what impressed me as Petersen’s idealism. If I remember correctly, she saw it as a goal for clients to jump back to therapy and trust authority again. This book was written in another time, I wonder if she still feels that way. (Or I read this into it.) But I appreciated her as one of the few takes on the subject. And she does talk wisely as our pre-conditioning to obey authority.

    I agree with your take on hierarchy. I assume all or most animals have it as well, and its deep in our conditioning and wiring. Reflexive “rebellion” doesn’t work either, because sometimes compliance is the expedient response. It’s always about choices.

    Aftermath: my perspective keeps shifting. But maybe, perversely again, I wager I benefited more from damaging therapy than consumers who merely were reassured and soothed. I’ve had to do much thinking, about my needs, my relationship to authority, about being seduced. I’ve also had to forgive myself for being so fooled. The process has been in waves.

  144. Disequilibrium1, I guess, I did not communicate accurately what I wanted to say. I didn’t mean to suggest that our experiences parallel. I see from your descriptions that in some areas they overlap, in others they are distinctly different, but what seems strikingly similar to me is the ways in which you and I have been processing them. Just like you, I could thank those who harmed me for giving me an opportunity to do much thinking, reflecting and accumulating wisdom from my experiences, even though I wish I could learn same lessons some other way. Just like you, I can describe myself as a middle-aged woman who has come to understand hard way what is truly valuable in this life and what isn’t, who is not willing to spend her precious life energy and the remaining time on this earth on bullsh..t and who can see not only through con-artists but through anyone who is not honest. Just like yours, my process has been in waves, and I think those waves are just a reflection of life as it really is-always fluid and changing. So our experiences might have been different but our ways of learning from them and integrating them in order to heal and grow sound similar.

    As far as experiences with authorities, I suspect that our different cultural backgrounds play role here. Authorities in Russia acted differently from authorities here. Their commands and directives were more emotionally rather than religiously or moralistically driven. As you probably know, Soviet Union didn’t have any official religion. We were raised atheists and morality was taught according to cultural traditions, not any religion, whereas here morality is religion based. So, when authorities act from emotions rather than principles, they allow you to disobey them every once in a while, when they are in a good mood:) That is why, as a nation, we are awfully unstructured and disorganized:)

    It’s interesting that my therapist-perpetrator felt about authorities the way you do. Please, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to compare you with him in any way! But the main reason why he tried to behave as “equal” in relationships with his clients was because he had extreme intolerance to anyone who presented him/herself as an expert or an authority and, therefore, he idealized his relationship with his own therapist, who also acted as his “equal” and who seduced and exploited him. He always denied that his therapist abused him, on a contrary, he felt that the guy saved his life, which very well might have been the case. Helping someone and abusing them are not necessarily mutually exclusive actions. My therapist both helped me and abused me, and I am still trying to figure out which part of my experience was bigger: the help or the abuse. This is where the whole struggle is: the curse and the blessing go hand in hand, they perfectly co-exist and that is why this experience is so difficult for others to understand. It is paradoxical just as life itself: the curse carries the blessing in it and the blessing carries the curse..

    • Marina, it does sound like we’re both experiencing a process, though our experiences were dissimilar. It’s absolutely possible for someone to both help and hurt us, making it very difficult to sort out the emotions from the experience. The therapist who cooed over me comforted me at the time, but conveyed her expectations that my life miraculously would change for being in her care–it didn’t. My analyst had some very wise watchwords–the analysis process only made me self-involved and self-pitying.

      I’m also middle-aged, and very thankful for what life has taught me over the years. I’m much calmer, less eager-to-please, more discerning. With the exception of some meditation technique, I doubt much of this could have been taught in therapy.

      Interesting what you say about absence of religion. As you’ve probably observed, religion can serve to control and create guilt–for both good and bad effect.

      I believe the curse and blessing can exist side-by-side, particularly in relationships. That’s what makes it so difficult.

  145. Accessible journal article on iatrogenesis: I’m sure many of us could add to his list!

  146. Thanks for posting the review of Power Games. Interesting – but sounds like it probably captures most of the book, so I’ll use it as a substitute for reading the book. One thing I particularly appreciate in it is the quote from Paula Fuqua, “In the end, the supervisor’s authority and expertise [are] a double-edged sword. [We] have the potential to foster growth or create pain, harm, and havoc, and we don’t always know which will result.” Her awareness and honesty are refreshing. The therapy professions really need to pay more attention to how to decrease the chances of harm and havoc.

    Also thanks for the link to the journal article on iatrogenic therapy. Lilienfeld’s article is more comprehensive in types and causes of iatrogenic therapy than this one, but Ghraiba’s distinction between “adverse effect” (temporary negative effects of therapy, like side effects of drugs) and “iatrogenisis” (chronic or permanent disorders caused by treatment) is a good point. Also, it’s good to see the subject being brought up in a variety of settings.

    Another article on iatrogenic therapy that I recently read is “The elephant on the couch: Side-effects of psychotherapy”, by Michael Berk and Gordon Parker, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, Vol 43(9), Sep 2009, 787-794. The authors point out that patients and practitioners alike typically are concerned about possible adverse effects in drug therapy, but rarely express concern about possible adverse effects in psychotherapy. (The authors don’t make the distinction between adverse effect and iatrogenesis made in the preceding article, but use “adverse effect” to encompass both.) They argue that “there is a need for greater awareness and appropriate monitoring of risks” (p. 793) in psychotherapy. I agree!!

    Still another article: Christian Jarrett, When therapy causes harm, The Psychologist Vol. 21, 2008, pp. 10 – 12, available online at http://www.thepsychologist.org.uk/archive/archive_home.cfm?volumeID=21&editionID=155&ArticleID=1290. It includes discussion of Lilienfeld’s article, criticisms of it, and Lambert’s work.

  147. Mary, thanks for the link. I wish I could access the Berk/Parker article at a reasonable price. What tugs at me in Power Games is the therapists’ frankness in addressing instances when THEY were mistreated in training. I wish this same passion and analysis existed discussing these same games with consumers.

    When I read these other scholarly pieces on iatrogenesis an think back to my own experiences, I merely shake my head. The “feedback” Lambert suggests, had it been accepted seriously, might have interrupted my worst therapy. However, I gave verbal feedback numerous times, and the therapists disregarded it. In his response to my grievance, the therapist reported a completely fictional account of my “progress” as he perceived it.

    My subtly harmful therapy seemed initially had me enthusiastic, and I would have given glowing feedback at the time. It’s only in retrospect can I see how misdirected that therapy was. I was an agreeable, compliant client, which, turned out the be much of the problem.

    “Outcome” impresses me as so abstract to evaluate. I think the bottom line of therapy should be how someone lives life. I don’t see how that can be evaluated really.

    I believe many of these scholarly articles are so in therapy-think that they overlook common wisdom. The pitfalls the mentor-protege relationships, power games, bullying, egos, invalidation, and retaining tactics are among the many ever-present dangers in the therapy.

  148. Disequilibrium1, I also have somewhat skeptical outlook on scholarly articles, especially their “outcome” measurements. They remind me of the time when I was working for the agency contracted with the Department of Mental Health. In order to receive funding they, of course, had to comply with DMH “standards of care”. DMH required to document therapy “progress” in quantitative measurements such as “reduction of crying spells from 10 to 7 times a week”:)) and some other non-sense like that. That’s why when I hear about someone trying to measure therapy “outcome”, I want to say to them: “Are you going to count the number of tears one sheds or the number of times one smiles per day or per week to define their “progress”?

    On the other hand, I also don’t think that there is such thing as “common wisdom”. I believe everyone develops their own wisdom as they grow over the life time. “Common sense” is also too abstract idea to rely on at all times. Who’s common sense? Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that we continuously have to strive to discover bits and pieces of “common common sense” that could also be defined as “objective reality”, but I also believe that we have to be mindful of our limitations of how much of this reality we could see.

    There are certain realities that we all can agree on such as if we hold the hand over a flame long enough, it’ll hurt and if we continue to hold it, it’ll burn or other facts that are obvious to everyone. Everything that goes outside of what is obvious to everyone becomes subjective.

    Those therapists that you and I and others see as bullies or abusers or in other ways harmful have their own “common sense” or “common wisdom” that they rely on that is different from yours or mine. They would give you their own logic in response to your and my logic, and we would argue until the proverbial cows come home about who’s logic is more logical and it wouldn’t take anyone anywhere..

  149. Marina, I smiled when you talked about measuring outcome. Maybe a picture might emerge if the client was followed around by camera crews….but even that would produce disagreement about whether a life has improved. There are so many factors, choices, traits, variables in any life, I’m unclear how “progress” can be measured. I personally think I moved my life more forward when I was better able to replace self-analysis with doing and going toward goals.

    I ‘ll agree that a consensus “common sense” would be as evasive as as “scientific one, and the more I think about it, the more I go around in circles. The literature I’ve read gives me the strong impression of a pseudo world, where actions and interaction now are filtered through skewed interpretations. There even seems a struggle to describe what we’d call “a constructive relationship” in real life. Everything seems so convoluted.

    My therapists used “professional” justifications for being bullies. What they considered interpreting and countering resistance, I would call acting like a domineering, arrogant jerks. It’s a street interpretation vs. what they read in textbooks. I think therapists have a responsibility to be respectful, non-controlling, non-manipulative human beings first, and this should not get pushed aside in the service of therapy.

    But yeah, all of us have our concepts of this.

  150. A new film about Sabina Spielrein, the first patient of Jung, who was abused by him, is coming out. Here is the link to the trailer

    There is also a documentary about her and her relationship with Jung called “My name was Sabina Spielrein” available on Amazon.

  151. Wow, that looks powerful, and I do hope it starts conversations. I quickly perused a book titled Unauthorized Freud: Doubters Confront a Legend, a scathing anthology criticizing Freud. Among the accusations–Freud never actually cured anyone. I’ll eagerly await this film.

  152. This film is not about Freud, it’s about Jung abusing his patient, and not just one patient. He abused many. He was much worse than Freud in this regard.

  153. I wasn’t clear. I only made that leap because this appears to be discrediting one of the “titans.” Looks like Freud will be in this story. Wonder how he’ll be treated.

  154. Freud will be in this story for sure, but this “titan” is not the main focus of the story. Main characters are Jung and Spielrein. Freud played a disgusting role in this story. He completely supported Jung and invalidated the abuse..that figures. I don’t know how this woman survived at that time. Not only she survived but thrived as a professional. She was also an analyst and she opened her own clinic for children in Moscow. In 1942 she was killed by the Nazis with her two daughters.

  155. I just hope that they don’t portray this relationship as something romantic and beautiful because that would infuriate me and all other survivors of “professional incest”.

  156. There are a handful of reviews already. Anytime I hear about any story of the abuse of a charismatic figure, guru, huckster, therapist, I get angry and my wheels start spinning.

  157. Same reactions here, especially when I was a victim of it myself and especially because I am personally connected to the characters of this story. My therapist-perpetrator is the third generation of Jung’s followers, who never questioned the behavior of their “guru”. On a contrary, they saw his behavior as a tacit permission for them to do the same and they did! My perpetrator’s analyst was abused by his analyst, who in turn was abused by his analyst, and that guy was abused by Carl Mayer, a former patient and, later, a collaborator of Jung, also a victim of Jung’s abuse. The most amazing thing is that all his victims except Spielrein worshiped and idolized him. She was the only one, who was able to stand her ground and confront him, even though, given the time that she lived in and the general level of awareness, she was not able to see the true extend of this exploitation.

    The problem is that this particular kind of abuse is very difficult to recognize as there is a part of this experience that feels very good to the victim. After all, she is in love and transference love in therapy is more intense than in any other relationship, and she feels that she is loved back only to realize later that she was used and that the person, who became the central figure of her life, is just a selfish narcissist and never really cared about her.

  158. An abusive therapy relation gets a boost from the therapist’s credentials appearing to legitimize the behavior. So, to pick an absurd scenario, the therapist could tell the client to get on the floor and jump like a frog–this will be healing–and the client might her judgment in the face of the “authority.” It’s extremely sad.

    Additionally, the client often thinks she “needs” the therapist’s expertise to change her life and relieve her pain. As I mentioned in my essay, it’s a rigged power game.

    It’s taken me decades to realize that all my therapy was a scam in my experience.

  159. According to what you’ve told, yes, your therapy experience sounds like a total scam. What disturbed me most in your story is that you were abused by the whole team of therapists just because you decided to leave. This NEVER happened in any of my therapy with any therapist, no matter how they exploited me in different ways. This is something that I, thank God, never had to deal with.

    My experience and this of others, who were seduced in therapy, is different though. I never got a boost from my therapist’s credentials and never felt that I needed his expertise. I was totally acting out my childish idealistic desire to be loved by an older man, obviously a father figure, and he totally exploited this natural instinctual desire by acting lovingly, by creating intimacy and stirring up the erotic energy instead of helping me work on my stuff that I brought to therapy. This experience causes the same damage as incest, that is why it is called “professional incest” in legal terminology. What makes it more evil, at least in some cases like mine, is that a part of this experience is REALLY healing. Those sick jerks, perpetrators, often have a high level of psychological sophistication, intuition, deep vision, perceptiveness. They are able to see your inner beauty and to reflect it so you could see it. It is so important for us to feel seen and heard that once someone does it, especially in a professional setting, you are hooked. It validates you and gives you confidence at first, but later it becomes a drug that you have to keep taking in order to feel your human value. Then, when you realize that someone who brought you back to life is simply using you to fulfill his own needs, it is devastating. Even in equal relationships it’s traumatic, but in a power-differentiated relationship, where you are the vulnerable party and the therapist is the powerful party, an ideal parent-image, it is crashing. There is no betrayal worse than this one.

  160. I’ve heard at least one other story similar to yours. I’ve been through a few rounds of that in equal relationships, but yes, the inequality does make it extremely devastating. And yes, it’s never 100 percent destructive or we wouldn’t have gotten involved and stayed to begin with.

    I’m Sorry you had to go through such pain. It’s a complicated sequence that draws together so many of our needs and currents.

    I felt the more “benign” therapy damaging in different ways–encouraging me to feel like a victim, magical thinking, and subordinating myself to “authority.” It was opposite what I needed to do, and simply “living life” has been much more transforming.

  161. I’ve been reading about guru/hucksters recently, Tragedy in Sedona about a self-help guru and people who died while taking one of his seminars and Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless by Steve Salerno. The latter book eventually wanders into some pretty stretched conclusions, in my opinion, but still is an interesting expose of the transformation “industry.”

    Before anyone admonishes me these self-help types usually aren’t licensed professionals, these accounts parallel how I EXPERIENCED licensed professionals.

  162. “A Dangerous Method” was directed by David Cronenberg, so you just know it’s going to be totally freaking weird. And the material is pretty freaky to begin with! But I have my doubts about how historically accurate it will be.

    I’m curious about “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (or whatever it’s called), since it involves a young woman’s post-cult recovery. Bad therapy can easily get into cult-ish territory. Anyone seen this one?

  163. No, therapyisacon, I haven’t seen “Martha Marcy May Marlene”, but I just looked at the trailer on youtube..Looks interesting.

    As far as “A dangerous method”, that is my fear too. I am afraid that they might have romanticized the whole thing or just simply made it a fascinating “love story”, when the only “fascinating” thing about it, in my view, is Jung’s outrageous narcissism or, in a plain language, selfishness. I happened to have learned a great deal about Sabina, Jung, their relationship, the way he treated his other patients and how he was behaving with his wife Emma and his children, about everything related to this case. It is more than just a history, it’s very personal to me for the reasons I described in my previous post and also because I understand Sabina culturally since she was Russian too. So, I believe that I have a fairly accurate idea of what took place, but the trailer gave me an impression that they were not concerned about historical accuracy. The main thing I didn’t like is their choice of the actress. Keira Knightly, in my opinion, is just as close to who Sabina was as I am close to a giraffe. The way she plays Sabina portrays a sexually aggressive woman and that’s it, and this is so far from who she really was. At least this is what I see in the trailer. From the trailer you can’t see her sharp intellect, her psychological sophistication, her insight, her incredible sensitivity and vulnerability, her deep perceptive ability and unique visions that drew Jung to her in the first place. After all, this woman became a brilliant analyst for God’s sake! She established a clinic for children in Moscow, wrote a book and about 30 articles. Most of all, for the rest of her life, she was trying to persuade those two arrogant egomaniacs, Jung and Freud, to stop acting like children and to start collaborating with each other. She was corresponding with both of them after they split trying to bring them back together, because she understood that their split was hurting the whole field, but their personal egos were more important to them.

    Also, I didn’t like how they showed Jung’s wife Emma in the trailer. She makes an impression of a little housewife desperately holding on to Jung because she is threatened by his relationship with Sabina. Firstly, Emma was an incredibly strong woman and also a bright psychoanalyst herself. She did put a big value on her marriage, but her motives were more complex than what the trailer shows. She wanted to establish herself as an analyst, and, living at the time when women were a second class and were not taken seriously, the only way for her to do that was through staying married to Jung. Also, in Swiss culture, the public image of an intact family is more important than what actually goes on in the family, and she was trying to preserve that image at any cost especially when the children were involved. Sabina was not a threat to her. Jung never had any intention of leaving her for Sabina, and if that’s what they are showing in the film, it is simply not true. Later, she faced this threat when Toni Wolff, the other Jung’s patient, came into his life. For that woman Jung was willing to end his marriage, and he made it clear to Emma that if she did not accept Toni as a part of his life, he would leave her. Sadly, she accepted.

  164. Please report back once you have a chance to see the film. The early reviews, I assume based on the film festival screening, seem to imply the film had its share of Hollywood titillation, ahem,but also the potential to create some discussion.

    Anything that depicts cults or self-actualization hucksters also provokes my thoughts about therapy. When cable TV ran those Jonestown anniversary shows, my head was spinning.

    Frontline ran something years ago called My Doctor, My Lover. I believe it’s available for viewing at the Museum of Television and Radio as well as some libraries.

  165. My recent reading was the book Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless by Steve Salerno, a scathing expose some of the most visible self-improvement gurus and the hucksters they are. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but I’m still glad it’s there, and is drawing comments on Amazon. I liked the first part of the book, which talks specifically about the enterprises. However the latter half of the books free- floats into a rant of societal ills, blaming the self-help movement for much of it. I found that discussion too dispersed and unsubstantiated to be taken seriously, though I tended to agree with parts of it.

    As imperfect as the book was, it gave me thoughts to chew –how salesmen in our society prey on our needs and self-doubts and our instinctive search for someone to bring us into the light. And while I won’t blame our self-help/therapized culture for ALL our problems, I do think it has contributed to a widely used vocabulary and categorizing that isn’t necessarily helpful. I think the book opens a good discussion.

  166. Hi, I am questioning whether therapy is effective, at least for me. I was in therapy for seven years and realized just last year that my therapist was using me. He infantilized me, used me for his own sexual gratification and made me feel worse than when I’d started therapy. The ONLY thing that has helped me to feel better is to talk to others who have gone through the same thing in therapy. For this reason I have started an online group for survivors who were used, abused, or exploited by their therapists. The link is: http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/professional_exploitation/

    Thanks for starting this blog. It’s been an interesting read and makes me feel like I’m not so alone with all of the the quesitons I ahve.

    • pennsylvaniaflutist, you have my deepest sympathy and indignation at what happened to you. Shame on that therapist and the community that supported him!

  167. Hi, I just clicked through to your group–thanks for starting it. I believe the client is the only authority about what is effective in our lives. Like you, I felt infantlized (minus the erotic component) and was helped through reading and comparing notes with others who had gone through it. I have found a silver lining in ditching my gurus, albeit a painful,hard-earned one. In additions to books and resources mentioned in our discussions, here are links with more discussions and possible places to mention your Yahoo group.

    Here are some links:
    (This moderators usually “ban” posting direct links but will take descriptions, ie. Yahoo group called,… to enable people to find you.)

  168. Thanks so much! I will look into these links and see what I can do to promote the group. Amy

  169. “A Dangerous Method” won’t come out for another couple of weeks, but I’ll probably see it the first weekend, and then will report back. I will have to keep in mind that it is for a mainstream audience who likely knows very little about either Freud or Jung, never mind Spielrein. Also that Cronenburg is probably using the bare bones of the real situation to explore some issues or themes that interest him personally. I.e. it’s not a history lesson or critical work, so I can’t hold it to those standards. However, I find it interesting to consider how pop culture influences our ideas of mental health and therapy, so the film should be interesting from that perspective. But I have a feeling one of the major “takeaways” for many people will be that childhood trauma leads to adult kinkiness that is only harmful if you suppress it, and anyone who doesn’t have weird kinks isn’t being honest with themselves. So, no acknowledged kinks = THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU.

    • I boil when I think about pop culture’s depiction of the mental health industry. While I believe our histories definitely shape our personalities, I disagree with the popular notion of the instant cure–that if we can only recall that horrible moment when we were in third grade, we’ll forever be freed from influence.

      I suspect much in that film is going to get me angry, both in what the story will provoke, and what the filmmaker says about mental health.

      • on November 7, 2011 at 8:32 pm therapyisacon

        Oh jeez, yes, that horrible suppressed memory from third grade that explains it ALL. It’s so stupid. Why is it never the clear-as-day memory from a couple years ago?

        I’m looking forward to the juicy discussion we can have about the movie in a few weeks!

  170. And once I’ve discuss these memories, be it from third grade or a couple of years ago, it doesn’t “liberate” me in the slightest. All the discussion only trains me in depression and self-indulgence.

    It’s coping with life and accomplishing things, not obsessing in the consulting room, that makes the most positive life changes for me.

    • Hi, I’m back to post a comment, because I’m feeling lonely and angry with a slowly evolving realization I’ve been having for the past month. As you may remember, I left my therapist of 16 years recently with the support of people on this blog. Now I’m starting to see more clearly how my therapist had it all wrong. He didn’t get some basic obvious connections which I’ve had to come to on my own. I feel very cheated and duped. These connections and paths to healing aren’t minor but major psychological ones. I’m very angry and know that he would deny this. He denied them in one of our last sessions. What pisses me off so much is that it was my life, my intelligence, my perspicacity that was put on hold and supressed. I’m writing this in hopes to find a sympathetic ear. Thanks for reading.r

  171. nyc1234, I’ve felt very much like what I understand what you’re describing–I’ve felt duped. I felt like therapy would offer me some sort of miraculous deliverance, only to discover years later that my therapists were just some guys who were taught a bunch of terminology in gradate school. Like what you describe, I felt I suspended my judgment in deferring to theirs. Duped is the word indeed. If I got anything from therapy it was paradoxical, I no longer believe in wizards.

    I know what you mean about lonely and angry. Slowly I’m feeling it’s possible to fill up those holes, just in the living of life.

    Anyway, I get that you’ve definitely confirmed your decision to leave. That was big for me.

  172. Oh, and I’m convinced gestalt therapy is for simpletons. Sorry, I’m just angry and I know this is not the place for quick little comments.

    • Me too! Once I figured out that my therapist had been doing Gestalt on me, I started reading up on it. It’s bloody ridiculous and the originator, Fritz Perls, was obviously a nutjob with major personal problems. He was basically the last person anyone should life advice from.

      • therapyisacon, what was wrong with me that I didn’t do the research you did? Congrats on seeing through the malarky. See my later post on the issue of rage and the gestalt theory. Took me forever to finally stand up for myself. pooh.

      • We’ve all been told that this baloney somehow is on the same par with medical services. They’ve been trained and validated by prestigious institutions. Much of what we watch and read tell us these are serious, qualified, responsible people who will improve our lives if we follow their program.

        No wonder I was fooled.

        It takes a huge amount of critical thinking to see through the hokum. From what I’ve seen too, many of them understandably are terrified of criticism. All but one of my therapists were obtuse shallow phonies who I wouldn’t l relish joining for coffee in real life.

    • Oh I didn’t see through the malarkey right away. It took me 11 sessions to add up all the red flags, realize something was wrong, and bail. Only later when I was trying to make sense of the situation and looked into the therapist’s “credentials” did I find out that she was doing Gestalt therapy on me.

      In that 11 sessions she managed to do quite a bit of damage. I was constantly being negated (she’d say “challenged”). It really did replicate the experience of having an emotionally abusive parent. Everything I said was wrong, I could only be right when she had “fixed” me.

      Oh, then there was the confidentiality violation. What a ****.

      • therapyisacon, wow, sounds terrible what you experienced. I guess different therapists modify the Gestalt techniques to suit their methods, because my therapist was never outright abusive like that. He was much more understanding – up to a point. I’m not a complete masochist; I would never have endured what you endured for 16 years. What I do remember was that whenever I felt close to a breakthrough, the process would lay foul and he left me “sitting” with my painful feelings. I would consider that convert abuse since he was, in fact, abandoning me to my most inner private feelings. I’m assuming he did this because he had not dealt with his own most painful feelings in a complete and healing way. It was either sit with the pain or do chair work. The chair work was like a distraction actually. Even though it would make me feel better, it couldn’t get at the root of the issue. The same problem would then resurface a few days later, unchanged. I wouldn’t call that successful therapy.

        I hope I’m not being indulgent by going on and on about Gestalt therapy, but it helps me a lot to write about this to people who may undestand. There is no one else I can talk to now.

        The other realization I’ve had is that Gestalt dream work is also shallow. While I’ve been out of therapy this past month, I’ve come to understand two major dreams I’ve had in a way that was never possible in therapy. The understanding I’ve come to is so incredible, I almost can’t understand how my therapist avoided so completely these unrefutable, accurate interpretations – except that he avoided arriving at them simply because he was married to his method. I know my interpretations are accurate, because they are ah-ha moments where I understand fully and compassionately why I act the way I do. It’s not a self-absorbed state or a silly Gestalt psychodrama, but simply the truth, unvarnished and liberating.

        I want to thank you guys/gals again for conversing with me. Your openness and attentiveness is very helpful.

      • [replying to 1234nyc below-system won’t let me reply directly]

        That was the crux of the problem with my therapist – my interpretations/thoughts/assessements of my particular situation were bang-on, but my therapist simply could not accept that. She’d just keep picking at me until I finally changed my mind. I think she was using the confusion technique to do so; she kept abruptly changing the subject or asking random questions or attempting chair work. (She never called it chair work, she’d just out of the blue suggest that I pretend someone was sitting in the empty chair blahblahblah, which I never really did because I thought it was stupid.)

        When I got copies of her notes on my sessions, I was really disturbed at what I found. Right from the very first session she doubted the basic truth of what I was saying, despite not knowing me at all. It’s right there in the notes. How is therapy possible when the therapist refuses to believe you?

        I’m glad you are posting and that we are having this exchange. It’s motivating me to get back to work on my blog. I have heaps more to say!!

      • Ugh, reading your post makes me so angry. That therapist sounds like she had some real blinders on. What was she hiding from? Her own fear was causing her to hurt her own patients. How convenient for her. What a nice setup for her to placate her own insecurity.

      • The more I read, the more I wonder if therapists’ training contributes to this unreal world some of them seem to live in. Nothing is straight up, rather it’s all filtered and interpreted for some deeper meaning. So everything is distorted because they have to take what they see and hear to other places. Utterly convoluted.

  173. Thanks for your response. It helps me to feel like a sentient, intelligent person,rather than an ungrateful, misunderstanding, doesn’t-get-it-yet therapy patient.

  174. nyc, comment away; This discussion began with an essay a year ago, so there’s no rules or format.

    I assume we’ve all “outgrown” things that have worked for us for a while. And we merely have to turn on the news to know disillusionment with former idols.

    You said that you did weather some difficult storms and made changes in your life. It’s hard sometimes to “pat ourselves on the back” for things we’ve accomplished, but sounds like you’ve gotten through stuff.

    Disclaimer again: I’m a peer who’s also had bad therapy. Web-based support group of more folks:

  175. NYC (just saw your second comment. Ohh boy, did I feel like a “bad patient.” I felt so guilty, crazy, like I’d “flunked” therapy. Now I feel, like, boy, was I in the cult. But whether it’s breaking up with a shrink, or a partner, it can be one of those forehead …thunk…times. He promised me something I thought I needed.

    • One of the reasons why I left was that I no longer wanted to have this other person, my therapist, running around in my head guiding my life. Our sessions had reached a point already more than a year ago, where I was mentally struggling during the week to throw him out of my mind. Everything I was doing had to refer back to any guidance or thought he had thrown my way that week. Granted, this is how therapy works, but how does that liberate the patient? One could be dependant on advice forever. Plus, the gestalt chair work was masking my own feelings because it’s based on some simple, but incorrect assumptions on how the mind works.

      I remember asking my therapist, what do I do with this rage I feel? I knew it had great significance. I felt intuitively that this rage was a vital part of me, simply because it was so powerful and primal. He really couldn’t answer the question. I then felt ashamed of my rage and reasoned that it was not acceptable since he would not validate it. Instead I heard from him these ideas about good anger and bad anger. Anger that is empowering is good. Anger that comes from a victimized stance is bad. PUHLEEASE! What I’m going to say next may be controversial, but I dare my therapist to say such a thing to the victims of the holocaust. Where does a sex abuse victim put his/her rage? Where does an abused child put his/her rage? Rage doesn’t reason with good and bad, it just is and is completely justifiable. Rage is a defense and protection against further abuse and a healthy, normal human reaction. Any theory, such as Gestalt, that would deny the reality and validity of victimhood and rage, is based on a fundamental lie.

      It was exactly at this point of realization about rage that I no longer could trust my therapist. My body would not relax and I was completely incalcitrant. I knew he had done me a disservice. Despite the many times he had helped my navigate through my life, he had also cleverly, without his knowing, guided me away from myself. Had he guided me to myself, I would have left many, many years ago. I would not have needed him, because I would have had myself as a guide.

      • 1234nyc, I’ve been reading your posts and it makes me think of something my therapist used to regularly say: “It is the job of a therapist to work himself out of a job.” YET he kept me there seven years! Interesting. 😦

    • It’s sad, because obviously if we felt the therapy had helped us, we wouldn’t be regretting the length of time spent.

  176. I think a large issue for many people is dependence vs. interdependence. When I was younger and in therapy, I presumed any forceful personality wiser than me. Therapy only reinforced this, because of the THERAPIST’s needs. We have to look at what therapists are taught-a bunch of theory, terminology, how to diagnosis people–which is questionable since categories all are so arbitrary.

    They aren’t taught wisdom. There’s nothing they learn in grad school that qualifies them to run someone else’s life, and if they pretend this ,I think they

    In retrospective,I’m angry they pretended to advise me on my life, I’m angry they encouraged me to stew in my sorrows, and I’m angry at the entire psychobabble framework they disseminate which is a convolution of life, in my opinion.

  177. I assume if there ever was a large central discussion about “what is a healthy life” there wouldn’t be a consensus. Maybe that’s the first problem with therapy. Because if we ever started a gritty discussion comparing goals if our ex-therapists, I wonder if there would be an agreement.

    But one thing I believe, is that a healthy life includes loosening of the authoritarian constructive, the reflex we had as children to defer to the instruction and wisdom of a stronger elder. I believe as adults we can ask others for an opinion, but ultimately make our own choices and be responsible for them. However, I believe therapy keeps us in a “holding pattern,” keeping that authority figure still present, as opposed to setting us free to steer our on destinies.

    And maybe that’s why it’s so scary to make this break. There’s no Santa, there’s no wiser elder, though there are always people around us to lend us opinions we might keep or discard. The weight of responsibility for our own lives can be scary when we’re emerging for the cradle, even if that cradle was of unsound construction.

    I see many therapists not understanding this. Look at therapy in the media or interactions on the internet. The therapist is The Authority.

    • (Half-joking, but only half…) The discipline of psychoanalysis started in Germany/Austria….what does that tell you 😉

  178. NYC–That thought has crossed my mind as well. Not exactly an era and place of humanism and enlightenment.

  179. Rats. “A Dangerous Method” will not open in Canada until mid-January. I really want to see this film! Have any of you seen it yet?

    • I saw it last week here in New York. It didn’t spare Jung or Freud, especially Jung, portraying them both with their flaws. Spielrein was also not made a heroine, but the film was definitely in her favor. The film also showed these psychoanalysts groping in the dark for their theories, which is was accurate and fair. All in all, I though it was a good film, but wasn’t clear what the ultimate message was, except that Jung slept with his two of his patients and that Freud was an insecure tyrant.

  180. The film doesn’t open here until closer to Christmas. I hope it starts discussions. There aren’t many works that discuss therapeutic seduction as a narrative rather than a theory. For those in NYC, or within striking distance, the Museum of Television and Radio there lists a 1991 PBS Frontline documentary “My Doctor, My Lover” as available for viewing. I hope everyone is well. Paradoxically, my continual “critical” look at therapy has helped me understand and maybe somewhat immunize me from other manipulations.

  181. I really enjoyed this guy’s essays which read like the product of hard-won knowledge. I edited this to reflect the link’s new address.

    Click to access therapy_short.pdf

  182. I’m a very opinionated lay person, though we’ve had people in this discussion with professional credentials.

  183. Sooo, I finally saw “A Dangerous Method” this afternoon. It didn’t say a lot about psychoanalysis. The characters had some theoretical discussions but it didn’t seem to amount to much. Mostly the film is concerned with the relationship between the three people, though primarily Spielrein and Jung. If these people hadn’t become famous and influential, I’m doubt anyone would find them interesting enough to make a movie about them. Considering who directed it, I thought it would be more… edgy, weird, intense. But it wasn’t. It was just OK.

    However, I’m a sucker for period films so I enjoyed the costumes, sets, etc. The fabrics of the olden times always seem so luxurious in movies. I wonder if they really were?

  184. Danger Method came and went quickly at our local arthouse, so unless it returns, I might have to wait for the video. Imagine I”ll have a strong reaction. I’ve had the same thought as you about those luxurious costume films. I do wonder if people really were that decked out–particularly considering bathing facilities were more primitive.

  185. I appreciate you creating this blog and giving people a place to voice their concerns. Often times I think when something happens to us we think we are unique and that we are the only person experiencing that thing. Clearly I was so wrong. While each person has their own unique story and flavor to add there is still a common thread. We each went to a “professional” seeking help of some kind and ended up worse for it. After my most recent negative experience I am questioning the entire therapy model itself. I am still shocked and amazed that my former therapist was essentially able to get away with violating the ethical rules that govern her profession. I myself have been in weekly or bi-monthly therapy for about 15 years with what I feel has been little to no benefit from these so-called professionals. I do feel I have gained some insight from books I have read, people I have met and our discussions. I believe there may be more incompetent, harmful therapists than good ones and one of the biggest challenges I see to that is the lack of information surrounding complaints and disciplinary actions being filed. I think it would be helpful to have a national database that clients could search. Everyone claims they are afraid of being sued, what they fail to mention is that it is not always so easy to find a lawyer who will take a case. Lawyers generally only pursue cases of sexual misconduct, they find cases of emotional abuse hard to pursue because it’s the client’s word against the therapist. So after spending more than a year trying to get justice I now have to realize the system is broken and justice will not happen on this side of heaven. All I can do is try to help someone else make different choices than I did.

    • Phoenix, not sure what compels me to write this, but you have my real sympathy for having suffered emotional abuse at the hands of someone who was suppose help you heal. Instead you received further wounding. This sympathetic feelings goes out to everyone here on this blog. There is definitely something criminal about these horrifying scenarios.

    • Phoenix, you have expressed very well the core problem that brings us to blogs like these. Good on you for speaking out.

  186. Hi, Phoenix, love your id. I know well that feeling of feeling alone, stranded and “gaslighted” by the therapist who did everything in his power to convince me I was crazy instead of blaming himself. As I stood back years later and reflected on my therapy, I felt thoroughly conned, as much so if I’d given my money to some hotel-room self-improvement huckster. And that was the “non-abusive” therapy. And the “abusive” therapy was not seen that way by the therapists’ peers, but hey, the American Psychological Association gave that exploitative bully Dr. Phil a Presidential Citation.

    Blogging, reading, talking to others who went through it was more helpful than therapy ever was. I just found essays by another former client, that muse about the erroneous assumptions of the therapy model.http://www.justinwyllie.net/psychotherapy

    I’d love access to a database like you describe.

  187. Phoenix upthread you asked about who has held therapists accountable. In my reading, and talking a a newspaper reporter who researched this,I understand therapy abuse cases are very difficult to win unless the offense is blatant and provable. I’ve thought the job is disciplining therapists is left mainly to peers (someone correct me if I’m wrong about licensing board composition). Outright sexual abuse cases have been won. But I’ve yet to “meet” someone wining a t complaints about more subtle abuse, or simply raising our hopes and taking our money..

    I’ve read a few critiques of the system, notably Tana Dineen’s Manufacturing Victims, Shrinking of America: Myths of Psychological Change by Bernard Zilbergeld, and the 40-year-old Psychotherapy, The Hazardous Cure by Dorothy Tennov. I’m unaware of these books, thoughtful as they are, affecting the juggernaut.

    This woman, for instance won her case and saw the therapist’s license suspended, and even then not even revoked. http://www.survivingtherapistabuse.com/my-story/

  188. Here is an additional resource on therapy

    This website has just been uploaded and will be constantly changing and growing. Many other posts on many important topics related to therapy are coming.

  189. 2duraka, as a consumer, I’m so happy to see the discussion you’ve begun in your blog. I’ll link to it from here and look forward to your explorations. I’ve found, as I tried to explain above,that therapy doesn’t have to be blatantly unethical to be harmful. I think the first step is to get the relationship on a more realistic footing. Thanks.

  190. Readers of this blog might be interested in a thread on the Psychology Today blogs. It started with an article by psychiatrist David M. Allen, titled “The Limits of Cognitive Therapy.” Allen subscribes to the “integrationist” school of therapy. Robert Leahy, a psychologist of the Cognitive Behavioral school, wrote a response article (in which he mistakenly called Allen a psychoanalyst). Both articles generated a lot of reader comments. Leahy’s article is at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/anxiety-files/201111/cognitive-behavioral-therapy-proven-effectiveness. It has a link to Allen’s article. The articles give an idea of the conflicts between the different schools of psychotherapy. But I was impressed by the fact that Allen responded to comments; Leahy didn’t. (I actually had a fairly extended dialogue with Allen, under the name Skeptical Mary.)

  191. Mary, you’re a formidable skeptic. Brava for questioning the articles, and your strong, informed substantiation of your assertions.

    I write from untrained observation, but I’m struck by a few parts of this discussion. I’m dubious how outcomes can be measured because of the complexity of human distress and the wishful thinking and investment that consumers put into therapy even before researcher bias. I personally seen therapists completely inaccurate in their outcome assessments.

    I’ve no doubt some clients enter therapy and “feel” better, even quite quickly. Therapy often inflates us with hope and makes feel understood, maybe for the first time. However, quick relief is far different than making substantial long-term changes.

    I read some of Karen Horney’s writings years ago, found them enjoyable and helpful. My simplistic understanding: she explains our irrational parts in talking about conflicts, the conflicting relationships with those closest to us that are internalized as we mature. These conflicts lead to the creation of false selves in order to cope. In other words, the irrational parts of the human personality are large entanglements that are strongly “protected” and difficult to address as giant knots.

    It’s interesting to read “have you read” one-upmanship that mental health professionals play with one another, It certainly doesn’t increase my respect for them.

  192. Yes, measuring “outcomes” is a very dubious part of any attempt to be scientific or substantiate the effectiveness of psychotherapy. The “measures” that researchers and therapists use often seem pretty arbitrary. The ones I’ve seen often have questions that I don’t understand, and things that seem irrelevant, and miss things that seem very relevant. And if the therapist is doing the evaluating, the results could be very different than if the client responded to the same evaluation questions.

  193. I would have a very different report about my outcome when I was in it, as opposed to some time later. Like most clients, I’d invested a great amount of hope, time, and money and convinced myself that the ridiculous exercises were somehow worthwhile. As time passed, I realized it made not a bit of difference in my life. Now decades later, I see the detrimental effect of it.

  194. I received an email today about another Psychology Today fisticuffs, this one over a research study of long-term therapy. As an unschooled consumer who wonders how the quality of a human life ever can be measured (save –perhaps –once-institutionalized patients) I maintain a “pass the popcorn” attitude about this.

    The first is a link to comments from Michael D. Anestis, Ph.D. who sent the email:

    I’ll link to his links on Psychology Today as well.


  195. Funny, just yesterday I got into an online debate (on quite a different forum, it was a post on “life coaching” that set it all off) with someone about the effectiveness of therapy. Of course – considering my screenname – I said that therapy has not been proven to be effective. Another poster replied that yes, it has, for decades now, and then got into the usual logical fallacies (it’s just a few bad apples, other professions aren’t perfect either, etc). I replied with some links and search terms so she could find the info for herself, and left it at that. (I’m fine with people writing me off as an internet nutjob, but it’s much harder to write off the likes of Bernie Zilbergeld and David Smail.)

    So what I find so amusing and affirming about the Psychology Today debate is that even amongst the experts, the true believers, there is no agreement on 1) how to properly evaluate therapy, 2) what evaluation results mean, 3) whether therapy should even be evaluated because each real-world case is too unique. Even they haven’t got a clue about the true worth of what they are doing – but they still presume to advise us laypeople. That is what galls me the most: that the therapy industry KNOWINGLY misleads the public that therapy “works”. And they charge a lot for this useless activity.

    • Just a thought: I think therapists should only practice if they’ve done the necessary “work” and have proven in their own lives what they profess to offer to others. Many therapists have not done the work. Since I’m a singer, it would be the same as a voice teacher promising to teach you how to sing a high C, when they can’t do it themselves – no good.

      • on January 31, 2012 at 5:40 pm therapyisacon

        Can you imagine, say, being able to reference-check a therapist by speaking to their ex-clients, ex-lovers/spouses, neighbours, their therapists, etc? Getting info on their financial well-being and credit history?

        “Oh hey, this therapist owes their ex thousands in child support. But I’m sure that has nothing to do with their recommendation that I do long-term therapy.”

        “Oh hey, this therapist has been arrested twice for domestic violence. I should totally follow their advice on my marital problems.”


  196. Hehe, yes, those would be big alarm bells! But, a therapist doesn’t have to a perfect person, that would be unfair. I do think they need to be some sort of HONEST living proof of what they say they can do for you. Patients enter blindly with trust in something they know absolutely nothing about and therefore have no yard stick to measure the “doctor”. It’s real taboo to ask the therapist too many questions about them. If you do, they just reflect the questions back on you. The therapist is like a closed closet where all the light is shined on the poor patient. How can a patient make an informed decision with no personal info about the therapist? Sounds simple, right? But, the deck is stacked against the unaware and uninformed.

  197. The “script” is structured to lead us to believe we’re the one with problems and that somehow if we travel through the therapist’s dark, mysterious chamber, we’ll emerge into some sort of happy land (cue the Disney chirping bluebirds) on the side.

    At least that’s how I bought the myth. Now, I see a therapist argue these were my projections. (Client’s fault! Client’s fault!) But as I reflect on the stagecraft, it’s designed to make us feel like “patients” in the presence of the knowing and powerful. The professionals need make their entrance with their “authority” cloak even in a casual web discussion.

    So given the therapist’s life is as messy as anyone’s can therapy transact on a realistic footing?

    I’m too amused by the debates. I think the professionals fight with so much acrimony because somewhere in the recesses in their minds they fear the truth.

  198. on February 7, 2012 at 6:43 am | Reply Otis Poissonnier

    I’m continue learning from you, and I’m bettering myself. I really enjoy reading everything that’s written on your blog. Keep the posts coming. Really enjoy it!

  199. Otis. Thank you so much for “listening” and for your feedback. I feel I’m providing questions rather than answers. Though it might create an productive synthesis if professionals had more conversations with their critics.

  200. Followers of this blog might be interested in psychologist Bruce Levine’s February 26 blog “Why Anti-Authoritarians are Diagnosed as Mentally Ill” on the Mad in America website. Levine’s post has generated a considerable number of comments.

  201. Mary, that is an interesting article and sets my thoughts in several directions–how normal childhood can be “diagnosed,” and why a large body of counselors seem to threatened when therapeutic tenets are questioned.

    Mary, I very much enjoyed what I assume was your post at the end which talks about the ramifications the authoritarian model in psychotherapy.


  202. I remember bitterly an experience with my ex-therapist. I read to him an angry letter I had written to the religious organization I belonged to at the time, a letter that criticized the organization for how they treated their gay/lesbian members. My therapist responded so blandly and offered very little support. At the next session I brought it up complaining that he had not congratulated me on a job well done. He responded by apologizing that he was not in tune with me and that he did know I had problems with authority. Kind of like an apology with a one-two slap. The other odd thing is that my therapist is a gay man, too.

  203. oops, “my therapist is a gay man” should read “my ex-therapist is a gay man”

  204. 1234nyc: The more I look into the therapy model, the more I understand its flaws. When it’s presented as one person, processed and perfected, beaming his beneficence on another frail and flawed. it’s utterly bogus and likely to cause harm. Yeah, you’re describing what seems like a thudding dismissal of a complex and contradicting (and I presume heartbreaking) situation. I can only begin to imagine the conflicts of it.

    As Levine alludes to in his article, strategizing our relationships with “authority” can be a lifeline art. At my ripe “middle” age, I constantly assess when to blend in, when to leave, when to speak up, as well as the price of compromise.

    The article presents interesting ideas why so many counselors, who present themselves as truth-seekers, seem to slow to deconstruct their own profession.

    Could I return to my birth and chose my disposition, I suspect I’d still opt for a skeptical, “anti-authoritarian” one. Painful, yes, but much more interesting.

    • Thanks for the support, dis. I think my therapist was afraid of direct expression of anger in general, especially towards authority. He did say previous to writing the letter that he found the organization’s stance on homosexuality confusing. But, once I started expressing emotion around it, he’d get kind of quiet. Weird.

  205. nyc: That sounds likely. And If your therapist’s faith was important to him, I wonder if he had his own conflicts around the issues you discussed too.

    I have to imagine that disillusionment around a religious institution or group is every bit as heartbreaking and conflicting as distancing from a loved one, maybe more . After all, these institutions are lifelong harbors of strength and support, like a family.

    I’m in pain when I learn the dishonor of some religious leaders and institutions toward the LGBT community, (I assume) it forces some people to choose between their own truths and their community.

    There are many moments I can’t do anything but just sit down and be confused.

  206. Hi everyone,

    There is an article on Psychology Today on “love” in therapy that I am sure all of you will find outrageous. Here is the link to the second part of it http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evil-deeds/201110/secrets-psychotherapy-whats-love-got-do-it-part-two

    I don’t know where the first part is. I am sure it can be easily found there. I couldn’t even read this one part, it was too much. I just glanced at it, got the idea and posted a comment to it. I don’t know if any one of you would want to comment as well, but I just wanted to send you the link anyway because I find it outrageous that such ideas are being promoted and sold to the lay public.

  207. Thanks Marina. I read of nothing but pain from clients who were lured into “loving” their therapists. The emotion alone dominated sessions and impeded any benefits they might have received. The article sounds like a justification for a therapist currying his ego. This is what I submitted, though it’s yet to appear:

    This article reminds me of two characters–the strutting, grandiose Lothario, deluded that his conquests are lucky to receive his attentions AND the patriarch-knows-best who sees “patients” as “needing structure, limits, firmness, guidance, encouragement, confrontation….”

    I agree with “Amused Reader” that the article demonstrates no concept of a consumer viewpoint. Purchased “love,”stoked by counselor role-playing, can be far more damaging than the real-life version which at least provides the unrequited soul with authentic feedback. The client ultimately feels duped that she was charmed into surrendering her defenses for an artificial performance.

    Real healing is the ability to live more competently–often the result of time and experience. That “love” in 50-minute compartments is like fairy dust is indeed magical thinking.

    Let me propose that therapists take their noses out of their theory books and consider common sense. I see not one dab of “love” in this article. It reads as utter condescension.

  208. Great response, disequilibrium1. I couldn’t be even half as articulate as you were in your comment because the pain is still raw and as long as it’s raw it’d be hard for me to put my experience into words. That’s the reason why authors of those articles are very bold presenting their dangerous ideas to the public and those like me and others who were “loved” by their therapists have trouble speaking up. I’ve gotten so much invalidation of my trauma from both, the practitioners and the lay persons, that every time I see an article or a viewpoint in the media that not only justifies but glorifies abuse, it hurts like hell. I know that the ordinary reader is very susceptible to brainwashing and is prone to believe those with impressive credentials. After all, the word “love” by definition creates a positive image in our both conscious and unconscious minds. We are brainwashed by the culture to romanticize love, and any romantic version of love is a dangerous illusion, especially in therapy, where a therapy situation by itself makes real mutual love and intimacy impossible. On the one hand, the practitioners’ desire to brainwash people is very disturbing and, on the other hand, the clients’ desire to be brainwashed and their commitment to live in a dream is even more disturbing and doesn’t fail to amaze me every time I see it. I know so many therapy clients who believe that “loving” their therapists and being “loved” by them is very healing. Every time I tried to give them an alternative look at the reality of their situation I got blasted! They were ready to take a bullet for their beloved therapists! By the way, I started an article on a perceived “intimacy” in therapy on my website. I am only done with the first part of it but more is coming. Here is the link
    http://therapyconsumerguide.com/intimacy-in-therapy-reality-or-a-dangerous-illusion/ There will be more posts on laws and ethics soon. I also want to recommend the blog that I found very impressive http://www.beyondmeds.com Anyone who wants can also follow me on Twitter @TherapyCG.

  209. Marina, Thanks for your words. I think your “reality vs. dangerous illusion” piece is lovely, both your ideas and their articulation. (Maybe a book developing?)

    My damaging therapy is not fresh, and stems from a mutual dislike, so I wrote more from my reaction to the overall arrogance.

    I agree with all your points–intimacy in therapy isn’t reciprocal, so is far from “lessons” about love, assuming there is such a thing. Can I add more exploration? One point is raised by an article respondent about how therapist “love” can horribly sabotage a real-life relationship. A married woman fantasizing about her therapist with her spouse in the living room? If a client is single, then she’s beaming her fantasies toward a relationship that will never be realized. Then generally, if therapy assumes disproportional energy in a client’s life, that is equally sabotaging.

    An important issue is how “love,” idolization, creates a fertile ground for extensive damage when (note I don’t say if) a therapist drops professional demeanor and says something miscalculated or inaccurate. The client has suspended her judgment making it much more difficult to sort out reality. And If a client diverges from her idolizing or deferential role, this easily can provoke retribution from the unconsciously spurned therapist.

    Then there is the issue of the therapist’s hubris. That article reminds me of the lounge lizard –let’s give him a green poly leisure suit. “Hey babe, one night with me, I’m taking you to heaven, and your life will be forever changed.”

    A little grandiose, perhaps? 🙂

  210. Marina…your wonderful statement “I hate to intellectualize about human experiences because this sucks life out of them” is in such truthful contrast to Diamond’s assertions in his article. His theories feel so formulaic, like a cookbook: hole in soul+therapist’s love =miraculous healing.

    An important source of my pain when I was younger was feeling incompetent–I felt in childhood long past its expiration date. So that last thing needed was a Wizard to idolize. Over the years as I racked up a professional resume and threaded through difficult problems, I felt ready for my driver’s license. (OK, I exaggerate; I did drive a car on schedule.)

    I’m confident there is an array of reasons people find themselves in therapy, and a spectrum of “needs.” Diamond’s formulaic certitude is so presumptive.

    • I’m writing from a smartphone, so I have to be brief. First, your comments, Marina and Dis, are spot on, imo. I’m more a little concerned that Psychology Today published this. Therapists sleeping with their patients is sexual abuse plain and simple. Any other explanation serves only to gratify the therapists prurient interests and issues of power. This is not to be taken lightly.

  211. Uh oh, I spoke too soon. Sorry, guys. It’s been a rough week. The author doesn’t advocate sex between therapist and patient, as you know. I think his take on love in therapy is naif and off the mark, though. I really enjoyed reading your comments. (*sheepishly signs off*)

  212. Hi nyc. Hope it’s a good, if rainy day. As I understand the article, the author, Stephen Diamond, is firm that sleeping with a patient is taboo. However, he seems to applaud a patient’s eroticized love, which he deems as transference and magically transforming. A therapist having the hots for a patient too is just dandy as long as it’s “handled properly.”

    Marina and I strongly disagree. In my short-track experience talking to other women, an emotional affair or unrequited (or perhaps encouraged? ) crush can be devastatingly damaging for a host of reasons.

    I’ll paste some excerpts from the article.

    “The psychotherapist’s offering of non-physical or platonic love to the patient is what encourages, stimulates and enables the patient to gradually reciprocate in kind. To open up to love…..

    “To relinquish control and be more receptive to love….This libidinal energy is daimonic, which is to say that it is uncannily powerful, and can be both destructive and creative. If the erotic transference can be handled properly, without dismissing, denigrating or rejecting it, while at the same time firmly maintaining clear and consistent boundaries, this newly liberated libidinal energy or love from the patient can be redirected out into his or her life beyond the therapist’s office.For now, the patient has once again experienced love, at least to some degree, albeit in the relative safety and security of the sacred container or temenos of psychotherapy. “

  213. NYC, if you knew how many typos I’ve posted to the universe, you’d know I deserve the sheepish prize. Good to hear from you.

  214. Disequilibrium1, thank you for understanding. It doesn’t happen too often that my ideas are understood exactly for what they are, so every time it happens I appreciate it very much.

    You know, I am trying to get a feeling of what Diamond’s article really was-just an expression of his stunning ignorance and way too common professional arrogance or a perpetrator’s attempt to justify his own and his unethical colleagues’ misdeeds. My gut tells me that it’s the latter. Actually, the reason why I think Diamond is a perpetrator himself is because this kind of an article can be only written by someone who is emotionally invested in the issue discussed. And why would you be emotionally invested in it if it hasn’t been your personal experience? He is certainly not someone who has been victimized by “love” in therapy, so the conclusion is that he is a perpetrator. Actually, I am wrong. He could be both, a victim and a perpetrator of “love” in therapy, who has never acknowledged his own victimization and therefore can’t or doesn’t want to see “love” in therapy as damaging and destructive. My therapist who “loved” me was also “loved” by his own therapist but was never able to see it as abuse in spite of all my attempts to open his eyes to it. He idolized his therapist, constantly kept telling me that the guy “saved” his life.

    Disequilibrium1, one of my major life issues has been the same as yours-feeling incompetent. Since I remember myself, my father never failed to communicate to me that I could do nothing and would never amount to anything and made sure that I always remember it. At best, I was treated like a piece of furniture that has nothing valuable to say. At worst moments, I was told to learn my place and not to discuss his orders. Later, in my adult years, I realized that he put me down because he felt threatened by me. I was a smart kid and developed my own views on things that were more insightful and made more sense than his and this threatened his ego very much. Needless to say, the way he treated me made me insecure about my abilities and capacities and this issue has become permanent in my life despite my intellectual understanding that I am a quite capable person.

    Now, imagine someone like me or you (since you have the same issue) seeing a therapist who constantly tells you that you are fantastic, gifted, that you have a unique vision of life that others don’t have and that he admires your talents very much. He also tells you how much he cares about you and how important you are to him. He encourages you to put your talents into a good use, tells you that you’ve got all you need to conquer the world. He basically tells you “you rock!” Also, imagine that his admiration and acknowledgment of your talents are spiced up with erotic energy that comes through his voice, facial expressions, gestures, questionable statements that contain enough to communicate attraction but not enough to get himself in trouble. How would all of the above affect someone who has been put down, belittled and criticized for her entire life by many people starting with her father? Of course, she would be in love with this guy pretty soon and her love would take on a very obsessive and addictive quality. And it’s mostly the fact that this man is her therapist and is, by definition, less vulnerable and, therefore, more powerful one in the relationship that makes her love for him so destructively obsessive and addictive. This experience becomes a living hell on earth. This man becomes everything for her-a symbolic “loving” father she’s always wanted to have so badly, a symbolic lover who penetrates her energetically (both roles together “father+lover” make this whole thing similar to incest), a compassionate caring “doctor” and a best friend. At the same time, she knows that they will never become partners nor will he ever care about her as a real father would nor will they ever hang out as friends do. She doesn’t understand what kind of a relationship this is and that drives her crazy. When she tries to clarify it and confronts him, all she hears from him is either empty abstract words about intimacy and significance of their connection or, all of a sudden, he remembers that he is her therapist and uses a convenient trick that therapists often use when they get defensive. He turns tables and starts wondering why she is asking all these “suspicious” questions implying that what she is experiencing has nothing to do with his behavior. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this tactic as we all know it too well.

    Anyway, all of the above is just to say that no sex is needed in order to qualify the above therapist’s behavior as unethical. Sex with one’s therapist is not the cause of emotional damage, it’s just a manifestation of it. The damage is done long before the sexual part comes into play and it’s very frustrating that not only therapists but our society as a whole doesn’t understand this. The so-called “intimacy” with therapists or what I call an “emotional intercourse” is what harms clients. Sex may or may not be a part of it and it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a part of it because the trauma is always emotional. I don’t want to diminish the sufferings of those who have been sexually exploited by their therapists on top of being exploited emotionally, but I do think that they have a better opportunity to heal than others because they get validation from the society at least up to some extend. Of course, we all are stigmatized in our culture as “troubled women”, but those who have been sexually abused are, at least, validated by the legal system (if they can present the evidence).

    Last but not least, I want to say Disequilibrium1 that I am SO GLAD that you brought up a good point that encouraging erotic energy in therapy messes up with clients’ relationships with other people. I just wanted to yell YES! As I read it because it amazes me how people are not able to understand such trivial fundamental truth! Of course, when the woman-client is married, the emotional “intimacy” with her therapist does not help her marriage in any way, and, of course, if she is single, this “intimacy” distracts her from finding a partner and being available to some decent man who, unlike her therapist, will be available to her. It’s blows my mind that many people don’t get this and it enrages me that professionals who are supposed to be more enlightened than others encourage this emotional infidelity and destructiveness in a name of “healing”!

  215. Marina, I share your outrage at this article which I consider simultaneously naive (thanks nyc) and arrogant. This guy has his nose so deeply in grand theory that he doesn’t understand the simple idea of verbal footsie.

    I’ll join you in your theory that Diamond wrote this article to justify his own behavior. More quotes:

    “Paradoxically, as psychoanalyst Erich Fromm points out, the patient has commonly come to psychotherapy, consciously or unconsciously, precisely because of problems concerning love.” ….””How to provide such therapeutic love without overstepping the physical or romantic boundaries is part of the art of psychotherapy”….”So erotic love can and sometimes does interfere with treatment. Especially when it takes possession of the psychotherapist and won’t let go. But, more often than not, when properly handled, love provides the basic curative power in therapy.”

    This certainly hints of attractions to patients that he justifies because this “love” is healing and was handling masterfully. Oye.

    And yes, your point about addictiveness is yet another argument about this stuff being encouraged/allowed to happen in therapy. And don’t get me started 😐 on counselors who duck tough “here and now” discussions by turning it into something to “interpret.”

    A feeling of competence, yes, that’s very much what I needed when I was younger. But even if a therapist reassured for months on end, this is a feeling I could only get through using my resources in the big wide world. Another thing I needed: realistic view and expectations of other people. The distortions of a therapy relationship didn’t support this either.

    If I ran the circus, the second rule after “do no harm” is “is this common sense?” I refuse to see the consulting room as a sacred place where the customs of human interaction don’t apply.

    Another musing. When I meet these mind scrambles, I think of them as “lion’s mouth moments,” kind of gauges where I can react, think about my reactions, maybe reframe the person and the experience in a new way. It becomes chance to see that lion’s mouth is really the character of a backstage puppeteer.

    • I’m 4 years late, but I want to thank you and Marina for these comments in particular and I hope you don’t mind my verbally processing my current situation here.

      I entered therapy a year and a few months ago after a sour relationship turned into a devastating breakup and I needed something just to stay alive at the time, and I realized through that experience I did have some long-standing emotional issues to work through.

      I also promised myself after that that I’d never allow myself to stay in a relationship with anyone who had that sort of emotional leverage over me, where I depended on them intensely, but they didn’t seem to need me anywhere near as much.

      Fast forward to right now. I absolutely adore my therapist. She feels like a kindred spirit, and a friend, and yeah, there is an attraction on my part, but for the most part my issue is how much the illusion, the lack of realization that this is, supposedly, a professional relationship, took over for the past several months of therapy.

      Thing is, I really don’t know what I was picking up on from her. I’m hard-pressed to believe it was intentional–I don’t even know what her orientation is (I’m female), so I don’t feel good about calling abuse or manipulation here, but there was something I was picking up on. One or two incredibly innocent (seemingly? I’m not good at being able to tell anyway; I’m so prone to reading too deeply) comments that nevertheless pulled me in, and a really playful way of communicating. But also, some people are like that with everyone, so I really don’t know what to think, and I feel a certain way about myself and my appeal to others that I assume any such interpretation must be my own wishful thinking. And I have felt that she’s an ethical person who does care and wants to help. I don’t know. But at this point, even the level of familiarity that makes her feel like a close platonic friend and not a therapist (though really, what should a therapist feel like? we have no evolutionary precedence for such a relationship) is messing with me.

      But I don’t hesitate to acknowledge that the profession as a whole is set up precisely for problems like these.

      It was through studying types of therapy for a research project that reality hit me over the head. I couldn’t relate more to your reactions towards the way therapy describes human emotions and experiences alone, let alone clients– or “patients”. It reminded me that what I was feeling didn’t match reality. And yet, the feelings were so real, definitely for me and on some level for her (I could never interpret her as pretending to care, there’s no question it’s genuine, but that almost makes the matter worse). But ultimately, even though I feel so special a few days a week in that office, I’m just another client. A job. She wouldn’t even know I existed if I (or, well, medicare) didn’t cover it. Forgive me for being political, but I can think of no better an example of the level of absurdity capitalism has currently reached than the concept of “commodified compassion”. And this profession has compassion as its sole purpose, rather than just as a consequence like other professions– nurses, doctors, teachers etc.

      The face that therapists are meant to put on… “unconditional positive regard”, as well as their almost complete opacity (my T isn’t strict about self disclosure, but that doesn’t = vulnerability, absolutely not at the level I’m experiencing it). It’s illusory. It’s a promise that no human being can live up to, and when combined with the meager limitations inherent to therapy, it all seems like a cruel joke when I step back and look at it.

      I put just a few of these concerns forth in the session I had this morning, but I couldn’t manage to voice them until about 15 minutes or so before the session ended. After which I had to leave. Because the next client was waiting. I’m just one of many. She has real people in her real life that matter to her on a personal level, vs a level of people you work for.

      I don’t want to make any rash decisions as I’ve only been in this space for a few days, so I’ll bring it up again at the next appointment. But I find myself hoping she’ll convince me to stay. And yet, when I told her that part of me felt like bolting, she didn’t seem to be terribly opposed. And I think a lot of people would be glad about that, but to me it just felt like another piece of evidence of my being unwanted. I’m kind of messed up in that sense, but those are the reasons they tell you to go to therapy, right?

      I still believe relationships can heal, in a mutual way– not a “fixing” way. And upon stopping to think critically for 5 minutes, I am baffled at how someone whose true feelings you’ll never know other than “unconditional positive regard” can help you heal and function better. I need someone who will get angry at me, but doesn’t threaten me, so I can learn not to fear abandonment or violence. I need someone who will exchange vulnerability with me, not just passively observe mine and reassure me. Ultimately I need a friend, or a partner, a healthy relationship that’s real. It’s when I don’t know what’s under the non-judgmental surface that I can’t entirely feel safe– because one thing I DO know is that not even therapists are perfect. Maybe, especially not therapists. And maybe counseling has its role, but proper Therapy is so invasive, stepping into someone’s psychological landscape with the goal of achieving a certain end is as invasive as surgery with none of the prerequisite knowledge for the mind that we have for the physical body.

      As an aside, I just want to say that when I learned about the concept of transference (which I’ve known of for a while now), I was absolutely horrified. Horrified by the idea that it was something that needed to be discussed, and worked through. I can’t think of anything more retraumatizing, honestly, than making myself even MORE vulnerable when I know for a fact that my feelings were running down an impossible path, and that I WILL with 100% certainty face rejection, which, no matter how compassionately expressed, would crush me and send me into a shame spiral that would be horrific to recover from. I already feel worthless, gross, unappealing, unlovable in that particular area of life (though thankfully, it’s not as bad these days in other areas of life). I don’t think something that I would experience as traumatic would help me work through anything. It sounds an awful lot like desensitization, rather than corrective experience in this particular case.

      In any case, I’m sorry this is so long, and thank you so much for putting this essay, and your comments, out there. It’s an incredible relief to realize that I’m not the only one who’s struggled with the “therapeutic relationship”, and I’m not the only one to feel that it’s not just an uncomfortable necessity of healing, but an unhealthy dynamic of its own. How do you mix intimacy and professionalism? It makes no sense.

      I’m tired and hurting. I don’t want to quit. It feels excruciating, like dying, very close to the level of pain that brought me to therapy in the first place. My heart is breaking at the thought of quitting– I honestly am not entirely sure I can go through with it. I’ve been feeling like I’ve been stabbed in the gut all day. I can’t imagine life without her– especially considering that at this point my social anxiety has wreaked enough havoc that I have nobody nearby except her. At the same time, though, I know I should not break my promise to myself to leave any situation where I was being emotionally hurt by a power imbalance. This is no different, except this time I’m recognizing it before any actual physical abandonment… and now I know rationally that I am capable of living through heartbreak, at least. I hope this time, if I have the courage to try at all, I can do so alone.

      It is not the same as what happened to either of you as I don’t feel manipulation was intended in my case, but on some level I understand the pain of the confused nature of the relationship. I hate that I’m going through exactly what I came to therapy to recover from. I hate that my world and my understanding of it are breaking down again. But maybe claiming my own agency this time is the healing I was led here for.

      I just really don’t want to.

      • Foxes, I well identify with your questions and that examining therapy itself feels “close to the level of pain that brought me to therapy in the first place.”
        I appreciate your explorations like “How do you mix intimacy and professionalism? It makes no sense.” }

        So many provoking thoughts: “… this profession has compassion as its sole purpose, rather than just as a consequence like other professions– nurses, doctors, teachers etc.” ” And maybe counseling has its role, but proper Therapy is so invasive, stepping into someone’s psychological landscape with the goal of achieving a certain end is as invasive as surgery with none of the prerequisite knowledge for the mind that we have for the physical body.”

        I’ve asked myself: how can contrived, engineered nonmutual relationships cultivate more authentic relationships and lives? How does one person making all the rules guide another’s empowerment?

        I only began my own paradigm shift long after I was out of therapy, not during it. I didn’t have the extra complication of an attraction, though I saw my therapists as “authorities.” It was extremely painful to dismantle that I’d purchased performances.

        Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see but a couple of practitioners write about these common sense questions.Given how a few providers have reacted on this blog, some of them seem resistant to the topics.

        I wouldn’t begin to offer an opinion where you’d go from here, except that I’ve shared some version of the pain of burst illusion. I ultimately learned from that than from supposedly “good” therapy. And there was something paradoxically liberating in realizing the pain, hopeless dilemmas and devastating problems would be part of the texture of my life–rather than futilely waiting for a therapist to address or fix them.
        Wishing you silver linings.

      • Foxes, lot of great insights and things I can relate to.

        This I relate to a lot:
        “The face that therapists are meant to put on… “unconditional positive regard”, as well as their almost complete opacity (my T isn’t strict about self disclosure, but that doesn’t = vulnerability, absolutely not at the level I’m experiencing it). It’s illusory. It’s a promise that no human being can live up to, and when combined with the meager limitations inherent to therapy, it all seems like a cruel joke when I step back and look at it.”
        One of the main things I’ve struggled with is the basic confusion of just trying to understand what in the hell WAS that? Because of the opacity and the evasions and the heavy filtering, i was perpetually disoriented. There were elements of a romantic relationship, friendship, parent-child, disciple-guru. But it was none of those things. A bizarre laboratory version of a human relationship, with artificial boundaries that are considered sensible in the world of therapy, but end up being totally incongruent with the feelings and impulses that are exposed.

        The unconditional positive regard persona is not only illusory, I think it lures vulnerable clients into dangerous idealizing. The T presents as fault-free, perfectly attuned, compassionate, there for you. Brings out dependency and neediness. Finally, says the wounded client, somebody that gets me and cares about me. But not really.

      • As AdamP said, “what the hell was that?”

        It’s appears human, while being absolutely engineered robotics. The performance therapists deliver to clients is nearly opposite of the remote pathological specimen they seem to see us as in their literature. It’s oh so intense and oh so bogus.

    • Thank you for your response and the well-wishes, Disequilibrium–I definitely appreciate those right now 🙂

      “I’ve asked myself: how can contrived, engineered nonmutual relationships cultivate more authentic relationships and lives? How does one person making all the rules guide another’s empowerment?”

      Thank you for wording this line of thought so well, because that’s where the question leads for me too. Sure, on some level I feel nurtured (or did, I’m not so sure about that after all this dismantling), but even if reparenting were valid, parents are, ideally, increasingly honest with their kids before they send them off on their own. Kids start being asked to consider their parents’ feelings, how their actions affect the parent, as well as vice-versa. “Reparenting” in therapy is essentially, “I’ll treat you with the same patience I would a 6-year-old until you can grow up”, and the internal logic alone there is so sloppy that I wonder why I accepted it as valid in the first place.

      I really enjoy the work of Brené Brown, who talks a lot about vulnerability and its place in healing. A lot of therapists like her work too, and mine has been using some of those ideas with me (though I brought them to therapy on my own, and my therapist is only familiar with them through me). But a key component of her work is that showing vulnerability with someone in your life close to you whom you really, truly trust, is healing *because* the response you get from them, if they are supportive (she also makes a point of being very selective with the people you form such a relationship with), also shows their own vulnerability, and reassures you that you’re still worthy despite whatever’s triggering your shame. It makes sense; that’s how we forge connection. But it’s also, I’m realizing, kind of impossible in a therapy setting, and I think the parts of me that could most benefit from healing, the ones I have so much shame around discussing, are ones that would be damaging to expose to someone who is not equally vulnerable. That’s why Brené Brown suggests being selective– because a lack of mutual response can be damaging.

      Having “purchased performances” is an excellent way of putting it. My therapist comes across as very authentic– I believe that what she chooses to express is real. But what I question is whether filtering your personality to the level required by therapy techniques can really be called authentic– lies of omission in every other circumstance are still considered dishonest.

      I’d be interested to hear an intellectually honest reflection on questions like these from a therapist too, honestly. And I think, just for closure’s sake, before I go–if I ultimately decide to go, I’m so emotionally torn for one, she’s an emotional crutch in a situation of isolation and toxic living conditions, and I know my current quiet acceptance won’t be so quiet or accepting the next time I’m actually in her office–I want to try to bring up a few of these questions. I did in my last session, but not very articulately. Maybe her response… or deflection, possibly, would help me clarify what I need to do.

      I think a lot of them parrot what they’ve been told, and don’t question beyond that. If you’d have asked me a few months ago I would’ve too. And I can understand, because even the nicest person doesn’t want to hear that the premise they’ve built an entire career on and invested so much time and money into is wrong and even harmful. I’m honestly glad I had to face this now, because I had every intention of going into the deep kind of therapy as a profession too (my dear therapist told me I’d be good at it, too, before I even told her I was considering it, which I was. That makes me a bit sad, not sure why). I still want to do something to help, if I can find an avenue that my conscience doesn’t object to, but none of that emotionally invasive, reparenting, “i’ll fix you” stuff. Even if you approach it as an alliance, and try to reduce the power dynamic, the entire concept of working through transference has the air of wanting to be the one to “fix” someone.

      I realize now too, that I was drawn to that stuff, yes, partly out of pure compassion and empathy for everyone who’s experienced what I have or worse, but partly out of ego–the need to “save” others. I feel it with my therapist, too… the way she says things sometimes has an air of satisfaction over being the only one who IS there, and there no matter what, who won’t leave me. I’m not mad or resentful really, and I’m not sure I could be given that I have the same inclination. I just recognize it. And admittedly, there’s something comfortable about it, until I remember the reality of the context. I think most of us want to feel like we personally have made a difference, but I want something I can take my ego out of a bit more– I have no right to take someone’s money only to get all codependent and weird on them, while also maintaining this weird “professional” setup of.. scheduled caring.

      The argument I hear about the “commodified compassion” or “being paid to care” objection is that, people can still care even if they get paid. It sounds right for a while, but like I was saying before, comparing therapy to any other helping profession falls apart once you realize that with many types of therapy, the job isn’t getting paid to do a task and happening to care about those around you spontaneously, as much as it is JUST to show compassion, and accept, and “love”. That doesn’t always completely impede someone’s ability to care, but it both limits and informs it.

      And plenty argue that this setup allows for a sort of “pure”, idealized, “Agape” love, and as such more perfect and more healing. But I don’t think the Greeks ever considered compensation part of the definition of Agape, nor do I think they considered it something that could be limited to a specific 50 minute window once (or even three times, as in my case) per week. And let me tell you, when you’re extremely upset, nowhere close to the rational part of your mind, feeling like you’ve stepped out of your own body and trying to reign in your crying–hearing that time is up right in the middle of that really doesn’t feel like a pure, healing love.

      “I’ve shared some version of the pain of burst illusion. I ultimately learned from that than from supposedly “good” therapy. And there was something paradoxically liberating in realizing the pain, hopeless dilemmas and devastating problems would be part of the texture of my life–rather than futilely waiting for a therapist to address or fix them.”

      I really like this point you made, as it’s along similar lines as to what I’ve been thinking about lately. I have a few diagnoses, one of them BPD, and part of what the research for university that I mentioned was about is essentially, what recovery means, and whether someone can “fully” recover from such a disorder, considering I do consider it a collection of coping mechanisms that helped us survive but hurt us in adulthood. (Regrettably, I feel my ability to write this paper is now compromised and I’m locked in now, but maybe I can find a spin on it that’s still mostly authentic.)

      I’ve been thinking about a “wounded healer” archetype lately– I like archetypes; I think stories teach us a lot about our experience as humans. The healer tries to heal in others the wound that he can never heal in himself. And thinking about wounds that don’t heal… I never really liked or wanted to accept that idea, and much less the idea that you can’t recover from something like what I’m experiencing. And I’ve come to something like– I’m very optimistic, so I think full recovery is possible in that you can get a LOT better. Not-disordered. But you can’t measure it, really, because nobody is ever “done” working through things; it lasts your whole life. Most mood, anxiety, or personality disorders are, for the most part, amplifications of the wounds, fears, and tendencies everyone has to some degree. I like to think they can be healed to a degree where the pain doesn’t diminish your quality of life; I would like to eventually not have a debilitating, panic-inducing fear of abandonment for example. But it will never be like not having experienced those things. Even if all that’s left is being sensitive to those struggling with the same thing, just the memory of how much it can hurt changes you. And that reality doesn’t have to be miserable, I’m finding. It just /is/. And it is, for everyone.

      Nobody welcomes abandonment, nobody has an easy time losing somebody who meant something to them. I can’t expect to be immune to any of that, anyway, no matter how much therapy I do, and no matter how much I heal through that or anything else. Most people don’t feel suicidal after, and I think it’s also healthy not to feel like you’ve LOST your very self once it happens, but the devastation part happens to everyone. It’s a part of life. And maybe enough lessons teaching me that I can live through it– because I’m sure more will come– will be enough to begin to quell some of the attachment and fears of abandonment that I struggle with.

      What’s funny is, I’m realizing as I write this that I know stopping therapy WOULD devastate me. I’ve shed tears every day since last Wednesday thinking about the possibility. I’m probably more afraid of doing so than is “normal”, if you could somehow pinpoint that. But in spite of that, I realize that now I wouldn’t entirely lose myself, and that my life would not be over. Maybe if I were being abandoned and had no control over the situation, I’d still feel those things. I’m not really sure. But I DID learn from last time, in the sense that I’m even consciously considering leaving someone I’m extremely attached to for my own well-being (or even being able to fathom my well-being as something besides being around whoever I’m attached to most at the time) instead of staying where I know that the most likely outcome is that I’ll be hurt without even allowing my doubts into my consciousness.

      Something that makes it even harder is that– some people have bad therapists. Honest-to-god, careless, ill-intentioned, manipulative therapists. And that’s not my case because, while staying in therapy might not be good for me, I also can’t deny that she HAS helped me grow, and has done what she could to avoid hurting me and to make up for any instances where I pointed out that she had. I’m thinking I’m just reaching a point of diminishing returns, which isn’t too far off, and past that things could easily start deteriorating. Maybe I’m at that point right now. But as far as I can tell (and this is one instance where I am pretty sure it’s my gut telling me, rather than my mind rationalizing it) about the person behind the therapist mask, she IS good in the sense of being well-intentioned. And her mask is thinner than most–she HAS related to me with authentic parts of herself, which is part of why I’m hurting, and part of why I think therapy (at least the “deep” kind) is kind of… impossible to do well. Either you’re cold and impersonal, or you act like a person and can’t live up to what that brings up in someone (people want to relate to other people in a mutual way), because the framework doesn’t allow for it.

      It’s actually pretty hard for me to accept complexities like that I suppose; that being around good people, who I really get along with and am on the same wavelength as, might in some contexts be bad for me. “Black and white thinking” is a “BPD symptom” and I’ve always been better than that at grey, but I’m spotting more and more the places where I’m not, and learning why grey can be so hard to accept. It’s easier to leave if you can vilify someone or make yourself hate them, because then there would be no choice left to make.

      I can absolutely understand how learning from the pain you experienced in therapy taught you more about living than therapy itself, given all of that. I have to wonder if this isn’t the last stage of a healing cycle, and the real “test” of what this cycle has taught me about life since that breakup–since I believe in stuff like that and all 🙂

      (I go into every comment convinced I’ll only write a couple paragraphs, and unfortunately, it seldom works that way, haha. My mind works a million miles an hour even when I’m not working through hard stuff. Thank you for reading.)

      • Foxes, many thoughts, any loud and clear ones.

        Again, I take everything in therapy as a speculative theory, including the idea of re-parenting. When we go to therapy as adults, we no longer have a child’s small vulnerable size or a child’s forming brain. We likely have responsibilities majority of hours we’re not in therapy. This regressive play-acting was detrimental to my functioning outside the room.

        Also, as cold and harsh as my parents were in many ways, they still ensured my survival, kept me fed, clothed, sheltered and educated. And they were REAL. We have common memories and people. For better or worse, they did know me when. A therapist putting on an act can’t possibly fool me she’s authentic.

        The word –healing–often used in therapy, personally doesn’t settle for me. (Maybe again this is part of my rebellion against therapy.) Emotions, memory and responses are so different than a broken arm or a cavity. I’m nearly 65, and I’ve calmed and centered considerably from the timid young woman I was. Part is needing to placate others less, part of proving my own competence, part is better understanding other’s power displays. Rather than being more “vulnerable,” I needed to be sturdier and more effective, skills I had to accumulate in life, not therapy. Many people who knew me in real life gave me food for thought.

        I’m a lay person, and I try to stay neutral whether anyone stays in therapy. There are many alternatives, for calm, for enrichment if that’s ultimately your choice. I’ll link to this blog, not as an “argument,” but rather another person’s thoughts.

    • Thank you for the excellent link– it parallels so many of my objections with therapy in a nice, concise way and I can wrap my mind around them better. I appreciate your neutrality as well, as I’m not asking for advice so much as verbally trying to organize what I’m thinking in a space where other people have similar perspectives (which I guess is part of what drew me to therapy in the first place, though I’m paying deeply for this particular sounding board, even with the physical expense being covered by insurance, which, thank god). It’s definitely something I have to sort out and come to terms with whatever I decide on my own.

      I guess for me personally there is a lot I feel “wounded” by, still, and this sudden wave of cynicism I have concerning therapy hasn’t extended to the idea of emotional healing in general, though a lot of that looks like the effectiveness you describe, so maybe we don’t differ on that as much as our choice of words would imply 🙂 When I say vulnerability I don’t mean it in the sense of accepting a victim identity– For me it looks like something as simple as talking to someone where I’d otherwise be horribly anxious and avoid it, or being otherwise authentic and disagreeing with someone (my therapist, even). Being in partnership with someone. Generally doing “life stuff”. “Risking” fits my concept of it equally well, I think, but those things are risky because they expose vulnerable parts of oneself. Hiding away and agonizing over what’s holding you back at the expense of actually doing those things seems the opposite, since there’s no risk there; though for myself, understanding has been a path to push me in a certain direction. I don’t think I would have found this blog or any of the others that have helped me solidify my thinking without some degree of inclination towards self-observation and finding patterns of behaviour and thought (“why is this therapy feeling wrong even though everyone says it’s the Thing To Do?”), at the same time, I am often guilty of prioritizing the thinking over the actual doing-what-needs-to-be-done.

      Reparenting is just an odd idea. I’ve had friends tell me about how healthy relationships have helped them grow and undo some of the damage a difficult upbringing has done, but these were relationships between two adults behaving like two adults, who were friends or partners, mutually supportive. Somehow therapy is the one thing exempt from that definition of “health” and now that I’ve put words to that thought it’s so strange to me how it’s accepted as a given, though I guess it shouldn’t be given the amount of weird stuff people have ascribed to over the course of history.

      And come to think of it, my unhealthy relationships and their consequences have helped me grow, too.

      I’m inclined to care about pretty much anyone, except for rare circumstances regarding those lack caring or have shown me none themselves, so I don’t have trouble believing that some therapists (definitely not all, though) do care– such that there is education for therapists on how to NOT to attach or care so much, to detach to avoid compassion fatigue. I think that alone is telling of how unnatural this setup is; humans instinctively connect and trying to control and moderate the exact right amount of caring is just weirdly *inhuman* and I don’t know how so many caring people DO become therapists in light of all this.

      …though on second thought, it might not be bad to have had my own class for clients on how not to attach to a therapist.

      • Your next to last paragraph about therapists’ compassion fatigue and moderating just the right amount of caring is very telling for me. It’s yet another example that the normal “flow” between two people is distorted at every turn in therapy.

        In contrast to what seems encouraged in therapy, I’ve worked hard since in being less open and private. I have a way of confessing everything and it’s a struggle to tell someone that parts of my life are none of their business. I think part of the privilege of adult-hood is that our rooms are no longer open to inspection and we’re not accountable to every adult in our path. Nothing seems to escape inspection in therapy, even one’s stream of consciousness. (And please tell me that everyone’s stream of consciousness is as crazy as mine.) My younger self had difficulty owning my reality and making decisions; I thought I needed that “strong” person to do that for me. I needed to function more as an adult; therapy took me backwards.

        I found this paradigm shift very painful. Seems like you’re exploring many tough questions.

  216. This was a good post, thanks for stopping by my blog and leading me back here. Therapy can work, I am a therapist and I see a wonderful therapist. But I’m a bit of a maverick or unorthodox in my style – so while I may be client-friendly, my stance makes me an outsider amongst other therapists who buy the DSM medical model. I try not to think about it. I’m so sorry you suffered what you did. It’s good you know what you would want if you ever decide to try it again.

    • Hi Patrice,

      I just googled what the DSM medical model is, because I remember my ex-therapist asking me if I had looked up what my code stood for, the code that appeared on his invoices that I would submit for healthcare insurance. I was kind of shocked when he asked me this, especially since he asked with a twinkle in his eye, as if it were something I was curious about and burning to know or something. I thought to myself, “Why would I want to know what my label is? Why would I want to think of myself as a diagnosis?” He finally did give me the diagnosis and it has fucked with my head ever since.Btw, this was after 12 years of therapy. Odd.

  217. This is the link to Patrice’s blog post:

    Patrice, I’ve run across a few questioning writers. David Smail, a former therapist, who steers readers from therapy entirely, but writes a great deal how class and societal conditions contribute a to a personal make-up. There are some expensive-to-get books by British therapist Richard House that discuss the “regime of truth” and search for new paradigms.

    But yes, I believe an important step is to stop pretending that art is medicine. And lowered expectations…absolutely yes. Had I started with that idea, perhaps the experience would have been more real and beneficial. Likewise, had I never been imbued with the idea the therapist was some sort of shaman.

    On the social class you discuss: I actually grew up comfortably, but I saw that inside some of those large houses there still remained the panic and desperation of earlier generations in politically dangerous situations or struggling for survival.

    I’m among some reading this blog who won’t return to therapy–“life” was a much better lesson book. At late middle age, I decided the last thing I needed was any institution hinted at my being one-down or parent metaphors. But I’m happy that professionals are reading and searching.

  218. Just a follow up comment on the exchange with Patrice. I am happy too that professionals are searching and have started questioning at least some of the established standards of practice. I am seeing this more and more so it looks like things have shifted at least a little bit. I know from experience though that changes come to people very slow. They come to some faster than to others. While some are ready to question and re-evaluate the status-quo of the profession as a whole, some may only be ready just to start reflecting on some of the rules and ideas they are supposed to follow but are still not willing to let go of many others..But this is just one of life’s realities..

  219. I can appreciate the difficulties of changing ideas and a culture. Anyone who has been through the training has a large investment in doing things a certain way, and cutting loose from that is difficult for many reasons.

    I found even the basic “setting” of therapy, the counselor’s “authority,” the power differential, ultimately regressive even when the therapist was kind. No one recognized the too-cooperative client might not be a good thing.

  220. I fully agree that the very foundation of therapy structure with its basic premises of what is healing and what isn’t needs to be questioned and explored in terms of its usefulness. I’ve noticed though that when I just simply pose a question about one therapy standard or another trying to invite a respectful and exploratory discussion, this often gets perceived as my attempt to annihilate everything that has existed in the system until today with all the good and the bad parts of it, which has never been my intend. For a long time I’ve been struggling to understand why it’s so difficult for many people, lay persons and professionals alike, to understand that life is complex and that every issue has many layers and dimensions to it that need to be brought to the surface and explored before the road to solving it can be seen. Sometimes just seeing certain realities becomes a solution in and of itself. But being able to see and accept reality for what it is requires a certain degree of detachment from our beliefs of what it should be that each one of us has. That’s not to say that we should suspend our core values because if we do that we’d loose our authenticity. We just simply need to ask ourselves if understanding the issue being discussed (whatever it may be) is more important to us than being stuck in a comfortable familiar self-righteous posture. I think, people on both sides, practitioners and consumers alike, could get stuck in their comfortable places, which is perfectly understandable from a human standpoint, but change by definition is uncomfortable, and if we want to see some positive changes in the system, each one of us who has concerns about its status quo and who wants changes, whether they are professional or not, has to be willing to get a little uncomfortable.

  221. Marina, I’ve seen of what you describe in my internet discussions –professionals who seem downright afraid to question the long-held beliefs. Witness there’s so little written about harm in therapy, including listening to client voices.

    I found many common practices utterly harmful. I’ve likewise read other accounts of interactions clients found extremely harmful but not legally unethical. I can look at many accepted ideas against a yardstick of common sense and think, “huh.”

    I appreciate the obstacles facing those who challenge beliefs. I’ve seen professionals go after one another with nasty ad hominem attacks and “analysis.” It’s even more frustrating that therapy is supposed to be about truth-seeking.

  222. Hi Disequilibrium1,

    I wanted to thank you for your links to further information. It’s helpful to me, particularly the Richard House book, I found it for cheap online so am ordering it and can’t wait to read it. I found an interview of he did and was able to learn of his views through that and found them validating. I couldn’t find the David Small information, but tried.

    Thanks again. Patrice

  223. Patrice, I’ll be interested if House offers some useful ideas. I understand parts of his writings: that he listens carefully to client voices, summarizing what he considers the best of them and favors a reconstruction. From there, though, I wasn’t as clear about his proposals moving forward, but that wasn’t as relevant in my life. 🙂

    One of House’s books is now electronic on Google books

    David is David Smail (like snail with an M) is a UK therapist-turned skeptic. He might be a painful read, for he’s definitely a critic and has taken heat for it. He feels t that the source of many human sorrows is the individual’s unyielding social environment and that therapy has limited applications. I think he’s thoughtful, though don’t know how relevant he’ll be for your explorations.


    My essay above was reprinted on Mentalhelpnet where it was linked to and discussed sympathetically by a group of Canadian therapists. I otherwise haven’t read their posts, but perhaps they’ll be of interest.
    Up the thread you’ll see a few other professionals who have “dropped in.”

    Thanks again for listening to us.

  224. Yes, Patrice, thank you for listening to us here and on your blog. I couldn’t get on your blog today for some reason, so I don’t know if my last response was published there, but in any case, I am sure you have read it and it’s all I need:)

  225. As far as professionals attacking each other, I think it’s a tendency that all humans share, not only professionals. I do agree though that therapists’ attacks might get especially nasty because of their love for “analysis” :). It amazes me that people who talk so much about relational boundaries with clients and make all this “boundary” talk a major issue in therapy, have no clue about relational boundaries when they talk to each other! They have no idea that analyzing anyone who is not their client and who hasn’t given their permission to analyze them is an invasion of that person’s private space and is a major boundary crossing but they do it left and right with each other..

    And, yes, disequilibrium1, just like you I found many established and widely accepted therapy methods utterly harmful, but when I was talking about getting detached from our views and beliefs, I meant that I could be perfectly content with anyone, whether a professional or a lay person, not agreeing with me and seeing things differently as long as they are willing to listen to me and to try to understand me, not shut me up whether implicitly or explicitly. After all, everyone is entitled to their opinion and I respect everyone’s right to express it whether I like it or not. But discussing any controversial topic of any kind whether it’s therapy or conflict in the Middle East or pro-life/pro-choice controversy only makes sense when both sides despite of all disagreements genuinely try to understand each other. Otherwise their “discussion” is nothing but an exchange of verbal punches or hidden pokes that are usually done in a “civil” way with a “nice” face so no one could see what I am really doing. These verbal fights might give one an immediate relief, but it doesn’t serve any long-term constructive purpose, it doesn’t convince anyone and it doesn’t solve anything. I might get feisty when I have to withstand an attack, but after I defend myself I usually leave that situation entirely as it’s clear to me that the other party is not interested in having a mindful and meaningful conversation.

    We all tend to operate in a reactive rather than reflective mode, and I think we all need to be mindful of that if we really want our discussions to be constructive and to bring about some positive changes.

  226. Marina, you raise some very good points. I agee that being reactive is a human tendency, and therapists have been trained with some “weapons” the average person doesn’t necessarily possess. I’ve been guilty myself of analyzing behavior that annoyed me as in “she flips between being a bully and playing victim,” and far from stoppiing the person in her tracks, it just adds fuel to the fire.

    I enjoyed Pyschotherapy: The Hazardous Cure by Dorothy Tennov, copyright 1975, which was intertwined with the emerging feminist current at its writing. She argues against pscychodynamic explorations and toward more immediate behavioral approach. One of the book’s quotes from Meiitta Schmideberg: “Analysts of all countries tend to deprecate the opponent’s point of view as ‘not really analytic’ or accuse him of ‘not having been analyzed deeply enough’ or of ‘suffering from resistance.’ Such arguments are, or course unanswerable.”

  227. Just found it on Amazon. Thanks. I’ll look into it.

  228. I’ll link to Tennov’s book, which unlike those UK textbooks, is easy-to-find and very inexpensive. A well-written book that questions many firmly-held “truths,” Though its discussion of women was a product of its time, I think much still applies.http://www.amazon.com/Psychotherapy-Hazardous-Cure-Dorothy-Tennov/dp/0385116578/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1334006062&sr=8-3

  229. Yep, that’s the one I found! Thanks again!

  230. More on the subject of love–I love this quote from David Smail: “I would certainly not want to argue that people cannot be transformed by love (though neither am I sure that they can), but I would, without claiming it to be impossible, want to urge caution over extending such a possibility to therapeutic ‘love’, which is but a pale imitation of the kind of committed love which may transform, and, coming too little and often too late in the client’s life, may simply prove addictive.”

    I also ran across this article and discussion, with over 500 comments. I won’t say I read them all, but some were OK with the event, more seemed to find love in therapy particularly hellish. While therapists consider it therapeutic, I don’t know how it differs from any other crush except it’s the result of the stagecraft of therapy, sort of like falling in love with an onstage rock star, but the stage in this case is within the confines of an office.

  231. Thanks for the links. Since this is such a pain triggering issue for me, I will read the articles and the comments slowly. I’ve noticed that with all written material on this subject I have to read a little, take a break, let it digest and settle and then read another portion..I am mostly triggered by the polarized visions of this whole therapy subject that people have and many people’s inability to see and appreciate the bigger picture that includes many different dimensions.

    As far as “love” in therapy, I know by now that it is a toxic and destructive illusion that people take for a real thing because they are fooled by their therapists and also because people usually love illusions more than reality. I actually think that this kind of “love” is much more dangerous than a crash on a rock star. We don’t have a relationship with that rock star that we have a crash on and he or she can’t exploit our feelings since they haven’t even met us. Besides, when a teenager has a crash on their favorite celebrity, I don’t see it as necessarily pathological unless this disturbs their daily life. We all havel had our “heroes” when we were young, this is just a stage in our human development that passes with age (hopefully!). Therapist is someone we open up to while he is not required to do the same thing. We need his help while he doesn’t need ours. So, we are vulnerable in the relationship and he is not which gives him a tremendous power to influence us, which he usually does and this is where the potential for abuse resides.

  232. I mentioned the rock star crush because I don’t think there’s anything transforming about it. I eventually realize my fantasy won’t come true and abandon it, but it’s not a spiritual or psychological experience that bestows health or freedom from the next delusion.

    I agree that “love” in therapy much more dangerous than a crush on a rock star or even an unrequited love in our everyday lives. The therapist performs the role of a caring person, so there’s great confusion just how real this bond is. The rock star or the unrequited love, after all, give us authentic feedback–not any or much encouragement– while the therapist continues his intense focus and interaction with us.

    The “theory” as I understand it, is the “transference” is supposed to the “worked through” as a means to a mature, mutual relationship.

    “Then, having understood the profound difference between desire and love, and having worked through the unconscious illusions (i.e., psychological defenses) behind your intense desire for one person, you can proceed to offer genuine love to everyone.”

    I’ve read therapists on the web extolling the virtues of dependency, idealization and childlike activations, implying these reactions are some enchanted, fairy-tale pathway toward emotional health. I don’t agree that going backwards brings us forward. This certainly wasn’t my experience.

  233. I didn’t say that falling in love with a rock star is a transforming experience. I said that it is just a normal developmental experience that each one of us had at some point in our lives, usually when we were young, and then we outgrew it as we matured.

    With therapy, yes, the premise that transference can be “worked though” in the way that psychoanalytic theory prescribes is fundamentally false and is a dangerous illusion that does much damage to clients and also doesn’t serve practitioners well.

    Disequilibrium1, I had very similar experience in my first therapy as you had and my reaction to it was also similar to yours, so I am not arguing your take on it. I never have. You seem to repeat your point over and over again as if I am arguing with you but I am not. I may just see some other dimensions of this issue that you might have never thought of, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t see what you see. If I try to bring attention to A, B and C elements of one situation, that doesn’t mean that I am rejecting or disagreeing with D, E and F. In my experience, every life situation has many elements to it that are connected with each other and influence each other all the time, and so one single element cannot be taken outside of the context,in which it exists and understood on its own without its relationships with all other elements. Therapy is not an exemption and what applies to life in general also applies to therapy as it is just a part of life, nothing more and nothing less than that.

  234. Marina, I apologize if I appeared to disagree in any way. In fact I was agreeing with you, and if I appeared argumentative, it was against the articles we’ve posted and conventional wisdom held by therapists. My posts were attempts to add my thoughts to yours.

    I agree completely that therapy is not an “exemption,” and what applies to life applies to therapy. That’s exactly the way I see it. I also experienced that transference was not “worked through.” It didn’t happen in my life or therapy. AND when therapy fostered my regression, I worked through nothing, so therapy only left me with pain and bad emotional habits.

    I brought up the rock star crush as a real life example. Crushes were not “transforming” in my life, and I don’t believe anything magic happens in therapy to make them so. Furthermore I feel that dependency, idealizing or regression aren’t healthy or transforming either as some therapists believe. Therapy only led me into a one-way tunnel. And there I remained after therapy with new delusions and regression.

    I did analysis for close to two years. Though my therapist said some wise things, analysis itself was an exercise in complete madness. I went into what I now understand as meditation psychosis–things were heightened like a bad LSD trip. I was weird and new agey, and I lost a few good friends because I was so nutty. (A Jungian analysand added to the delusions!) Friends eventually convinced me my mind was playing tricks on me and I returned to earth. This experience wasn’t “transforming” either.

  235. If there are any readers from the UK, there is a call for participants in a research study about harmful therapy.

  236. I have followed a great deal of this discussion with interest. I am currently a student on a counselling course. The attitude of the tutors leaves a lot to be desired. I have also had a bad experience with a counsellor – a lot of what has been written about on here resonates with me. Thankfully, I ‘escaped’ after about eight sessions as it all felt so wrong. Now I reflect back on the sessions, I nearly always left feeling confused, doubting my perceptions and generally feeling ‘belittled’. Once the initial ‘honeymoon’ phase was over, she became increasingly confrontational, almost ‘attacking’ in her style. She too would ask questions that were impossible to answer and would also change the subject quickly, leaving me feeling ‘fragmented’. In the end I took a month long break. I was going to go back for a final session and let her know why I wanted to stop, but she did a last minute cancellation on me, changing her story as she did so which felt like (yet another) power game so I just told her I wasn’t coming back. I have absolutely no regrets, I think she would have continued to undermine me. She knew what my vulnerabilities were and was more than happy to play a cat and mouse game with them. Quite a few times I saw her literally smirking and she would make comments (in a nasty patronising voice) like ‘ohhhh – listen to youuuu! – but without any further elaboration.

    God, what a cow!

  237. jorobs, You were insightful to see the situation for what it was, and exit quickly. Many of us learned too late that an individual counselor might be no more evolved than the schoolyard bully. The more some of us feel we “need the therapist” or believe a performance that the therapist is safe, the more difficult and damaging the separate can be.

    You might be interested in the October 5, 2011 link to a book on power games in psychotherapy training and the October 9, 2011 link to an article discussing it. Best to you.

  238. Thank you for your comments – I did look at that link and very helpful it was too. I suppose the message that comes out of all this is one of ‘buyer beware!’. It holds in other fields of life, so no reason why it would not hold in this particularly complex field. I suppose, with the benefit of hindsight, I went into this with a great deal of naivety – isn’t it amazing how hope really does triumph over experience? I think with my experience the writing was on the wall from the very first session. When I outlined my reasons for going into therapy (a bullying type of situation at work) her very first question to me was: ‘How do you know I won’t do the same?’

    Now, it may be that there is some merit in that type of challenge further down the line when a trusting and supportive relationship has been established (with emphasis on ‘may be’). But to be so directly confrontational in the very first instance when I had made it clear that the workplace bullying had lead to a breakdown is just plain – vicious. I suppose at the time I was unable to accept the implications of such a provocative question so found myself fudging an answer to the question along the lines of ‘ethical guidelines’. However, again on refelction, surely it was not my role to point out to her that as a member of a professional body she is bound by ethics?!

    Having reflected on the later sessions, her provocative stance continued and had the effect of undermining my perceptions. The few times I came up with assertive statements, she would challenge them, as though they held no validity. It did feel like ‘crazy making’. She seemed quite keen to establish what my value system was and then do her best to attack it. Instinctively, I found myself withholding any personal details about my children, for instance, as I intuitively felt that she was dying to ‘lay the boot in’ with regards to my parenting. I also felt she had already made up her mind about the nature of my relationship with my partner – yet she knew next to nothing about it.

    Again, it may well be that there were and are aspects of my relationship with my partner and children that could be explored but at that particular time they were not what were causing my difficulties. She seemed very keen for me to to fully ‘own’ my part in how I had ‘co-created’ this stressful workplace bullying situation. Believe me, it was something that I had spent months if not years exploring. The reality was that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time – there was a huge power imbalance and I didn’t stand a chance against someone who I (and others) would describe as a sociopath. The only way I could have avoided the (sociopath) situation was not to be there in the first place – it was the equivalent of being held at gun-point in a dark alley. The counsellor did not seem to be able to comprehend this and wanted me to ‘take ownership’ and accept responsibility for my part in this. When you are mugged in a dark alley, the only real ownership you can take is that you shouldn’t have gone down the alley in the first place!

    What might have been helpful, for instance, would have been to explore ways of asserting myself with (sociopathic) authority figures. However, as anyone who has ever encountered this type of personality disorder is aware, these are incredibly difficult situations to deal with and often the only way to deal with them is to leave the toxic person/environment – which is what I did. Why not just accept my explanation at face value, at least in the first instance, and explore what other approaches I might have been able to take? In the longer term, it may be there are aspects of my personality/behaviour that could have made me vulnerable to this type of person but, again, that would be something to explore further down the line within a safe therapeutic relationship. However, her mind was made up by session two when she nonchalently observed: ‘You are a bit of a victim!’

    Gee – thanks! That’s me nicely labelled and thrown down the garbage shoot then! I suppose after that, having confidently made her diagnosis, she then proceeded to ‘play devil’s advocate’ and provoke her ‘victim’! What arrogance.

    I can only draw the conclusion that the counsellor I saw was using the sessions with me to pursue her own agenda, using me as the ‘whipping boy’. You know what – I can get that kind of aggrevation for free in a pub brawl so why pay £60 for it?

    • ‘How do you know I won’t do the same?’ Wow, that’s bold! She gave you a gift by letting you know upfront who she was.

      It’s been my observation over the years that, for the most part, the people who come out of truly abusive families are either trained abusers or trained victims. They both go on – in their own ways – to bend society into believing the false (and harmful) notion that “There is good in everyone. If someone is being unkind to you it’s because they are victims, and the solution is to be kinder to them.” That way the abusers can create a greater pool of compliant victims by shaming ‘normal’ people into believing this, and thus prevent them from developing skills to detect and defend against predatory people (skills which include – as you pointed out – getting away from them).

      It’s another observation that the majority of people who go into the mental ‘health’ profession come from either that pool of abusive families, or the neighbouring pool of dysfunctional families. Some are attracted to the profession as a way of working out their own stuff. But a good number of the trained abusers also go into the mental health profession, mainly because it has a steady supply of vulnerable people (after all, why else would someone go into therapy?). They are the ones who few authors write about, the ones who get their jollies from f***ing with people’s heads.

      It suspect that your ‘therapist’ comes from the latter category. I wouldn’t be surprised if she herself is somewhere on the psychopathic spectrum. In that case, there is no point discussing professional ethics, best practice, treatment modalities, etc.., cause that’s not what she’s there for. She’s there to manufacture victims, at best.

      I don’t know if your previous therapist was a parent, but if not I imagine she’s using her practice to produce the next generation of victims and abusers. Good for you that you had the presence of mind to escape.

  239. Not sure if my other (rather long) reply was successful. However, thanks for your comments. I would urge anyone seeking therapy to go with their instincts – it is not supposed to be a boot camp or training session for the SAS. I think the problem is that many people seeking therapy are already beating themselves up quite badly and have probably taken on a rather masochistic attitude of ‘it must get worse before it gets better/no pain – no gain’. To my mind, that is not what therapy is about. Surely the goal is to help a person better understand themselves? Once a person has gained increased self-awareness then they can better understand how and why they are where they are. Only then can they start exploring ways of behaving differently or making changes or whatever. It seems to me that there are just too many therapists out there with massive agendas which don’t have much to do with helping the client but more to do with control/money/power/psychological manipulation etc.

  240. Birdfeeder – just read your response – yes, I think you are spot on – I think she is somewhere on the psychopathic spectrum and (thankfully) childless.

  241. In my (ahem) worldview 🙂 we all have pockets of fear and irrationality, including therapists, and we all have times that our irrational side overtakes us. I assume the same applies to most childhoods–that most of us have times when we’re misunderstood, mistreated, isolated and have our abilities stifled rather than nurtured. And wee can always look around and find others whose lives appear easier and luckier than ours.

    In other words, I think vulnerability, pain, failure and deficiency are part of being human, and given the right circumstance, someone else can stoke or even exploit this.

    So many therapists market themselves implying we ought drop all these normal human problems at their doorsteps. I do believe that we can grow as people and self-sabotage less (I’m agnostic how much therapy can help with that) but life will always present pain, failure and problems, both for clients and therapists. I think it would be so much “healthier” if therapists presented themselves and their process more realistically.

    Jorobs, I join you in taking issue with the “‘it must get worse before it gets better” precept. Dwelling in MY pain gave me no insight or transcendence–only the bad habit of dwelling in more pain. It not only taught a depression habit, but my “self-pity” made me dreary company. Don’t get me started on my analysis when I thought everything was magical.

    I so strongly disagree that the “confrontational” approach on the theory it is healing. It sounds like a sick abusive spouse….knocking em around makes em feel better. I don’t think so. I’ve heard consumers describe Gestalt therapy particularly in these terms.

    Jorobs, I know savvy sophisticated people faced with workplace bullies, and it’s always a challenge to figure a strategy. I think that those people are often at jobs. Sometimes they can be contained somewhat, sometimes not. There are books devoted to this topic. When I was more *naive* I asked two therapists about a boss who sexually harassed all the women. One said “Is he so bad; he hired YOU.” Another said, “Oh, he has boundary disturbances.” What I needed was advice I eventually got from a friend “No one has to put up with this.” Common sense–so easily missed in therapy.

    I do think therapists well-meaning, but their interpretations can muddy the situation instead of help. They’re not in our skins or even first-hand witnesses to anything in our lives. They haven’t lived with our problems. It’s really up to us to find the answers. Like you said, “buyer beware.”

  242. It’s interesting that you mention Gestalt as the counsellor I saw had been trained in Gestalt. In the past I think it was a particularly confrontational approach but I think there are practitioners who are incorporating some aspects of the approach into a much less abrasive style of therapy. However, old habits die hard. Fritz Perls who founded Gestalt was a very nasty piece of work so it is quite curious that he became so famous. If you look at the Gloria tapes (which are still pretty much part of the curriculum for trainee counsellors/analysists) you can see his style in action – confrontational, abrasive. I do not think he succeeds in helping her at all but I don’t think that was his objective – I think he wanted a good fight and he admits as much during the session! (he actually says: but we had a good fight didn’t we!’)

    I suppose if you consider his approach in the context of the times (fifties and sixties) it makes a bit more sense as he was attempting to cut through all the social niceties that governed behaviour. But society has changed so dramatically since then that watching him in action now he just looks like a screwed-up dirty old man. Extraordinary that he became something of a guru as his personal value system was highly dubious (totally neglectful father, horrible to his wife) . But I think Gestalt was a bit of a cult – it emerged from the 60s human consciousness movements and in fact was one of the inspirations behind NLP, One of the guys who founded NLPhas a pretty shady past too but I guess that is often the case with cults.

    Talking of cults, I think that therapy is a bit of a cult too – there is this mystique and intellectualism surrounding it but really if you look at its roots there is no real science behind it. Freud, Klein etc – all theories but no real proof that they actually work more than a placebo – or more than talking to your grandma/milkman/cat/goldfish etc.

    There are so many cults out there you can’t even avoid them – religion, medicine, education, to name but a few. I am finding a lot of parallels between the counsellor training and other training I have done in the past. It’s the power and control stuff – I guess people who want power and control are attracted to institutions (have a look at at the bullyonline website to see how common bullying is in institutions like education, health, the so-called ‘caring professions etc.) As birdfeeder wrote, the caring professions are great for a continuing supply of fresh victims!

    BUYER BEWARE! Think that will be my new mantra. Or maybe – don’t be naive, how to spot a psychopath.

    This is one of the best pieces I have read about being ambushed by misguided cult leaders – very funny and makes me want to take up meditation.

    Sadistic Teachers: http://www.lorinroche.com/dangers/dangers/sadism.html

  243. And as sadism was the title of that piece, now I think about it there was more than a whiff of S and M in my counsellor’s approach (the sniggering reactions, her bringing up the subject of sex when I had not mentioned it and then more sniggering – perhaps she was a pervert :).

    Reading that piece about sadistic teachers again makes me wonder about therapists and their own sexual agendas. Although they are not supposed to have sex with their patients the whole issue of sex cannot just be dumped outside the front door so it is somewhere swirling around in the therapy room. A lot of the early therapists were at it with their clients – Freud for instance. Fritz Perls was incredibly promiscuous.

    Thank you for starting this blog – I have found it fascinating!

  244. I read the Roche piece and was delighted he was able to “see through” those teachers’ take-down so quickly. This no doubt was hard-earned knowledge.

    Yeah, wholesale spiritual systems, the self-improvement industry and psychotherapy seem related franchises, though the latter has the legitimization of credentials –in the US anyway– and the endorsement of the medical community. (Let’s see, how many people did I offend in that sentence.:-)).

    I’ve found a huge parallel between my therapy experience and cult conditioning.

    A few others here and I participated in a thread on another site which began as a discussion of harmful therapy. Eventually therapists jumped in to oppose our criticisms, and it has been fascinating to see their strategies. The first was an outright scold about is being disgruntled and complainers, as if we were the unhappy kids at summer camp. Later came the smug “it only works if you want to change” and “you have to do the work.” Finally a couple of the therapists sidetracked our attempts to discuss issues by putting words in our mouths, mischaracterizing questions and labeling us: ie.”seeing conspiracy,” “black and white thinking.” They brushed aside our discussion of authoritarianism by being authoritarian. I can speculate they also use these tactics to subjugate their unfortunate clients.

    Client accounts of therapists who seduced them have been truly nightmarish. And yes, there’s a strong sadistic component to many of the stories, including Grace Towers’ Fish in a Barrel.

    Blogger http://therapyisacon.wordpress.com/author/therapyisacon/
    has a detailed account of her attempts to file a grievance of a Gestalt-oriented counselor. It’s revealing that psychotherapy seems so ill-defined that accreditation bodies (in the US) welcome the most outrageous methodologies under their tents.

    PS. I took a writing seminar about 1985 with a respectful guest teacher at Naropa which was fine. However I suffered a subtly sadistic, manipulative wanna-be therapist writing teacher –from Esalen Institute–at the NY Open Center.

    • I just want to use this web space to post my personal experience now having been away from therapy for 6 months. I feel very sad. I still feel duped and let down and I also feel angry, but mostly very sad. I was in a Gestalt theory inspired therapy for 16 years and I am still processing the growing awareness of bullsh*t.and blindness inherent in the practice of Gestalt. Thanks for listening. I’m really enjoying these posts by very astute, intelligent people.

  245. Ironic how the word “awareness”, a buzzword for Gestalt practitioners, doesn’t lead to an awareness of the bs being dished out. 😉

  246. NYC-I’m sorry you have to deal with this passage. I was absolutely paralyzed six months after bad therapy, and from this distance, it seems like you’re extremely astute in untangling the deceptions you suffered.

    If it’s any compensation, you’re on a far faster track than me. It’s taken me a couple of decades to move from intimidated> investigative>angry>guilty>sad >more guilty and finally >duped/suckered. I still have the resist the depression habits that therapy installed or the notion that I might provoke anyone else in the therapy community to explore questions we have about harmful therapy. (To the therapists who do explore them–thank you.)

    I do feel my experience has given me some unusual equipment to recognize other charlatans on one hand, and maybe even have compassion for human weaknesses. Therapy turned out to be a “growth” experience, only the opposite of the way the therapists promised.

    I too appreciate this discussion. You guys are a formidable, thoughtful, articulate community of skeptics. 🙂

  247. Gestalt therapy is on Lilienfeld’s list of “Psychological Treatments that Cause Harm.”
    Link to pdf article: http://tinyurl.com/cf7lsx3
    Personally I find this list is only a start.

  248. An interesting article. There has been criticism of Gestalt in the past and I think the type of therapy as practised by Fritz Perls and his disciples had the potential to be extremely harmful. I think there are some valuable theories and methods but they need to be employed in very safe hands. And thereby lies the crux of the problem, if you ask me. I would agree with the author of the article (Jeffrey Schaler) below who states that the most important qualities of a therapist are good charater and emotional stability.


    This is what worries me about the training providers – I do not think they are discriminating enough about the students that they accept on the courses. Of the students on the course I am doing there is not a single one I would employ as my therapist. None of them is a sociopath or a psychopath/narcissist (as far as I can tell – not that I am an expert!) but they are all still very much struggling with their own issues. No doubt I am too, but I realise that my background is far less traumatic. A few of them have had very traumatic childhoods to the extent that I think they find it difficult to recognise less overtly abusive behaviour. This is not intended in any way to be critical or judgemental but I sometimes think they lack the type of intuition and insight into human behaviour that someone less emotionally scarred would have refined over the years.

    There is also a curiously deferential attitude by most of the students towards the course leaders which in my opinion is not deserved. I have been quite shocked by their lack of respect and empathy towards students and there is definitely an attitude of ‘them and us’ which is not particularly conducive to learning or developing. I question their value system, or lack of it. They seem more interested in gaining a sort of brutish power over the students and manipulating some fairly base emotions than actually facilitating healthy learning. The few times I have remonstrated I have been very firmly put in my place and I know that at least one of the leaders resorts to verbal intimidation tactics (behind closed doors) when a student shows too much spirit of independence. While we all know this has happened, what is shocking is that he is refusing to allow students to record any one to one sessions with him! So much for empathy, respect, accountability and all those other rather important qualities.

    This is a good critique of Fritz Perl’s ‘interview’ of Gloria in which the author demonstrates that Perls fails to achieve what he purported to set out to do (although, in my opinion, he did achieve his unstated goal which was to control, dominate and belittle her.)

    Click to access humanismo_1.pdf

  249. Your posts about Gestalt, particularly the elephant ride, paint it as a chamber of horrors. This video is of institute teacher Joseph Zinker, training a new generation of therapists to evoke a client’s fear and nervousness.

    Your observations of your training course must indeed be eye-opening. How can anyone certify anyone else as emotionally fit, when we all have our fears, blind spots and deficiencies?

    It’s highly damaging when one gets entangled with an outrageously unstable therapist. But even when therapy is superficially “benevolent,” I found most therapy imparts of a message of powerless client at the knee of the guru, beseeching wisdom in eyedropper dosages. So while the therapist might be seemingly “supportive,” the here-and-now dynamic often is subordinating.

    In any event, I didn’t find the laboratory room of therapy in any way accelerating the acquisition of life wisdom.

  250. Thank you for your response. I suppose I would equate some kind of emotional fitness with – the therapist putting the emotional needs of the client above his or her own needs or agenda. Yes – I totally agree that each person has their own vulnerabilies – but perhaps that could be celebrtated (in or out of a therapeutic relationship). Thank you for including that clip from Zinker – I had always thought he was one of the more benevolent gestalt therapists but from what I see in that clip he was just another dirty old man trying to get it on with (far too obliging) female victms.

  251. Maybe that interpretation was a bit harsh – but I think he did try to disarm the woman with an approach which was definitely crossing boundaries. She as the eager ‘student’ wanted to please him so in a way it was like a microcosm of what could happen in a therapy session.

    What I have a problem with, is adopting this kind of approach WITHOUT fully explaining exactly what is being done and why and with the full permisssion of the client.

    So, for instance, with a client who has difficulty with boundaries, the therapist could explore this and then, with full permission and having properly explaned what was going on, could try out an experiment in which the client was ‘allowed’ to tell the therapist to ‘fuck off’ or whatever. In safe hands, I think that could be beneficial.

    Looking at what happened in that clip, Zinker could have said to her: ‘I notice that you are being quite aquiescent’ or something like that. ‘Are you trying not to offend me?’ To my mind that could be quite helpful as it would explore her attitude towards power/gender/age/authority figures etc. Obviously there was a huge power imbalance going on there and he could have explored all that. Instead, I think he was enjoying being the wise guru in front of an adoring audience – his ego seemed very much on display there and there were some sexual politics going on which again I think could have been explored if his ego would have let him.

    What seems to happen, and what happened to me when I saw a Gestalt therapist, is that they do the experiments, without explainiing what they are doing to the client. To my mind that is unethical. The therapist I saw played a huge amount of games with me but thankfully I saw through her quite quickly – guess she wasn’t a skilled enough predator!

    I think a lot of people (myself included) have a very complex relationship with authority figures (which I imagine goes back to their relationship with their parents) and so the relationship with the therapist will in many respects be an indication of their attitude towards authority.

    In our society generally we seem to be in awe of people with professional qualifications, thinking they can ‘fix’ us when in reality they are just – people, with lots of frailities etc. I think what is the key, though, is good will, a conscience, a genuine desire to help. Carl Rogers is an example of this, in my opinion. If you read his books, he seems genuinely to want to heal people and it’s not all about ego, power and domination. I think he was a real inspiration.

  252. So – on reflection – yes, you are right – he is demonstrating to the student how to evoke a feeling of discomfort in the client but without also demonstraing how to explain to the client that this is an experiment designed to help her react and respond in a healthy way when someone crosses a boundary.

    Guess they don’t want to give away all the tricks for free – after all people spend a lot of money on those training courses……..

  253. I have no first-hand experience with Gestalt therapy. But conversations with a few ex-clients have been about therapists who were consistently hostile, confrontational and undermining.

    I’ll confess to being intimidated as well by authority figures the period I was in therapy. Most of us were conditioned to that from birth and through school. However, this intimidation was collaborated by the therapists themselves pretending some knowledge of life, particularly another person’s. They also control the conversation and narrative and withhold pertinent information.

    I had many reactions to the Zinker clip above. He did impressed me too as posing as a guru. That he gave his students a strategy for ALL clients forward–don’t back off–seemed foolish to me. I was in group therapy briefly with a guy so socially intimidated he couldn’t get his chin off his chest. Zinker would have his students pummel the guy. Conversely, a pugnacious client might feed on the brawl without understanding the message.

    And to actually instill “fear and nervousness” in clients–without telling them the purpose of the strategy, seems like taking the exercise far off track.

    Funny thing about boundaries. If start we telling everyone to Eff! -off, we’re going to lose jobs and get thrown out of stores. In fact, I don’t think it necessarily wise to “defend” boundaries in every instance. Sometime it’s better to swallow our pride in service of larger goal. Often times we’re taking a huge risks changing boundaries. Sometimes force might be more effective, sometimes tact. We often can’t predict the outcome the creating limits with someone else. A therapist has no way of knowing this. Awareness of boundaries is at most a starting place, and I think it a mistake to teach boundary defense as a mandate.

    The class itself was curious in other ways. Students on the floor. I personally found his profanity presumptuous for a group of people. Zinker is in other videos, sounding like quite the authority on human change. He’s a hypnotist. People can change in a few minute. If you click the
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XQP-Z1WpVI Ugh.
    Here’s a slew of training videos, should you have the stomach for it. http://www.youtube.com/user/Lifematrex

  254. I hear you – or rather I read you! I agree that the whole boundary thing is VERY complicated but, to my mind, it does lie at the heart of some of the problems inherent in human relationships. I am not suggesting for one minute that telling someone to f—off is an effective strategy – on the contrary. But, I suppose what was being demonstrated in that clip was that Zinker had pushed a boundary – a sexual /physical boundary as what he was saying to the female student was provocative, suggestive and also did not respect her physical boundaries.

    There are some people, in that type of situation (men or women) who would remonstrate quite vocally. So a therapist can tell, quite early on, with a few little ‘boundary violations’ what a client might or might not put up with. My personal view is that if someone is violating my personal boundaries – man or woman it doesn’t matter – in a way that feels demeaning or belittling or disrespectful then – I will not tolerate it. I won’t be aggressive about though.

    I am not sure about the ‘swallowing pride’ thing – that is different to defending your boundaries. Telling another person what you may or may not put up with is not to do with pride, necessarily. Also the ‘wider goal’ – again I really do understand where you are coming from here because I am a person who will constantly be considering my children, partner, siblings, family, peers, neighbours while completely forgetting that I exist at all!

    My view is that one should always defend one’s own personal boundaries – no-one else will do it for you . But, having said that, I am also acutely aware of other people around me and how my behaviour/actions might impact on them. I would always feel bad if they way that I had behaved or acted had impacted negatively on someone. It would never have been my intention but we can alll make mistakes.

    Once again, thank you so much for providing this forum – an amazing resource. (Just so you know, I have incredilby mixed feelings towards the training insitute I am with – there is so much that feels wrong to me….)

    • Zinker introduced the F***-off suggestion, telling the student that he could tell him that. I think many students will give teachers a great deal of leeway entering their personal and psychological spaces, because of long conditioning. Teachers are closely related to parents, who have “rights” to be in our spaces.

      I agree that boundaries have very large bearing in our lives, and as we talk about them, we’re no doubt referring back to our own personal examples.I think each “boundary crossing” presents a choice of how we might respond, and found sometimes it’s best only to draw the boundary in my own mind, and not interact with the person.

      One time, long story, I literally “needed” the assistance of a particular neighbor in helping a dear friend. The neighbor regularly took digs at me. I said something once or twice, and succeeded better by befriending her, so we developed an affection for one another.

      I’m frequently involved in short-term creative projects. If I have one of those impossible collaborators, sometimes I have to choose between tolerating an unpleasant situation short term, or saying something and risk endangering the project. I’ve arrived at different solutions. Boundary setting can be risk-taking and a few times I have said something, and even at my most tactful I’ve miscalculated–badly.

      Drawing boundaries with co-workers, bosses, etc. can be a calculated risk sometimes has to be done after considering all the options. Or say there’s an enraged large, drunk man in a business establishment, who’s annoying us, but we’re going to leave in a minute. Or in a different circumstance, how do we handle an otherwise a dear friend who’s chronically late? I find it always a calculation to decide what to tolerate, what to overlook. If I recall under the influence of therapy I’ve dropped “imperfect” friends that I’ve later regretted.

      I’ve found “needing to win” creates its own gremlins, and I best consider all options. If can get too crazy about boundaries, trying to control everything. That said, I do stand up when needed.

      Thanks for your kind words about this blog. Every good wish in finding your own truths in your training.

  255. “I think many students will give teachers a great deal of leeway entering their personal and psychological spaces, because of long conditioning. Teachers are closely related to parents, who have “rights” to be in our spaces.”

    How very perceptive of you…..this is precisely the situation I am struggling with on the course that I am doing – a lot!

    Some of the students have had such terrible early life experiences in terms of unpredictable (and worse) parenting that I sometimes think they do not have sufficient resources to spot when authority figures are being manipulative and not working in their best interests.

    My parents weren’t perfect (who is?) but the more I hear of others experiences, the more they are starting to look like saints!

    The Zinker clip is actually highly instructive. I think it speaks volumes about how the younger, female student allows the older male guru type figure to enter into her personal boundary space, in a quite provocative way. She fudges her words in order not to confront him or maybe ‘hurt his feeling’ or not challenge his authority or….something….again, to my mind there are sexual and authoritarian politics going on here and it would have been very interesting to have explored that with all the students.

    Notice how the student avoids any direct challenge but states: ‘you are very close…’ Her choice of words, and the manner in which she says them, speak volumes – in their own way. He then acknowledges that he has crossed a boundary with her by saying to her: ‘you could tell me to fuck off’. Again, this is highly provocative and confrontational – rather than allowing her to tell him how she is feeling about his having crossed into her personal boundary space, he suggests to her that she could swear at him.

    Most people in that type of situation would be feeling uncomfortable, at best, but rather than going with ‘her process’ and exploring her feelings he further manipulates the situation by suggesting a fairly extreme response – one that would in all probability cause the student more stress. In general, telling your course tutor to ‘fuck off’ is not a good career move. Telling authority figures in general to ‘fuck off’ can be a dangerous move and of course Zinker was playing with all this. It would have been so much more instructive if he had allowed the students a full discussion around all these issues (maybe he did later….).

    This is all highly relevant to the counselling relationship as the counsellor is the ‘authority figure’ and the client will have his or her own thoughts and behaviours around authority that will be very much part of the process.

    That is why I believe it is so important for the counsellor to be someone who is fundamentally a ‘caring’ person and geniunely wants to help people (eg: Carl Rogers). I do believe there must be many counsellors who are like that. However, unfortunately, the ‘caring’ industries will also attract the type of person who, while purporting to ‘care’ are actually pursuing their other, somewhat darker, agendas.

    The Roche article explains this quite well – he acknowledges that a lot of cults (and I do think psychotherapy is a bit of a cult, in its own way) are not essentially malevolent but they are often to do with money, power, ego and sex, as are many things! When it gets a bit darker is when you have someone with a personality disorder like a sociopath or narcissist or psychopath or whatever running the show. There are quite a few around – in medicine, the law, education, running corporations. There must be a few in psychotherapy too. Anywhere where people may be slightly vulnerable and looking for help and support. That is what I find worrying. Good people do not want to believe that someone might be so malevolent so they tend to go undetected for a surprisingly long time. Plus, as posters on here have found, it is incredibly difficult to go through the complaints systems when you are in a vulnerable place and the systems are often heavily rigged in favour of the ‘institution’.

    • Just my two cents: therapists can do horrible things (like Mr. Zinker) in an effort to take care of their own unfulfilled childhood needs. And patients can do the same by believing in the illusion of the healer parent therapist.It is an ultimately destructive relationship where both parties collude unconsciously to take care of needs whose end date has expired.

      I’ve found that the person that can help me most is me. I know my history, my childhood, and I’m still making connections between what happened to me and how it has affected me as an adult. These are very real things. What isn’t real is this supposed concern and help that therapists profess to give. Mr Zinker is simply a power hungry man who gets his jollies by “changing” others. There is no regard whatsoever for the individual’s truth and history. I don’t call this therapy. I call it discipleship and subjugation of the individual cloaked in the disguise of “liberation”.

      • 1234nyc, I see the situation that way as well and certainly fell into the trap. So much of therapy theory seems like grandiose speculation without the benefit of a breathing being on the receiving end. It’s all just theory. Zinker shows great evidence of this by knowing what’s best for every and all unseen clients, as he’s instructing his students.

        Other videos are more disturbing. Here he compares his results –in just a few minutes–to Rodin:

        Here –later in the video–he talks about his own session with a therapist where, as a highly “mature” “accomplished,” “plenty of esteem.” being, he asks his therapist for what he wants–to curl up in his lap and have the therapist read him “The Little Prince.”

  256. Take a look at bullyonline to see how common it is for people with sociopathic tendendies to wreak havoc in organisations. It’s a huge problem.

  257. jorobs, I’ve taken many workshops and classes as an adult learner and observe the political obstacles of students not in line with what authorities are preaching. I’ve yet to be in a class, or maybe a group, where the members are invited to disagree with the leader. And when someone does, the larger body often sides with the leader, particularly a bully. We’re human, but we’re sheep.

    I’ve drawn boundaries with teachers–mind you, these are non-credit courses–and even at my most tactful, I often received a resistant or antagonistic response. A few younger teachers eventually did get around to appreciating my feedback, which I tried to deliver VERY carefully.

    You have an astute point, that Zinker crossed a boundary in telling the student how to defend her boundary. Though eff!# off is the normal vernacular in some groups of aspiring thugs, it violates the protocol of professional instruction. The teacher wasn’t at all observant of the student’s response–as you were.

    Had this been a real situation, a man in a woman’s space, she’d probably be better off simply excusing herself and walking away. And her response might vary: is the guy was making an advance, oblivious to social cues etc? The “witnesses” likely would have a variety of opinions. And if she were describing the dilemma to a therapist who WASN’T there, he would have no way of knowing all the variables, egos and the politics at stake. I venture “eff!# off” is the worst alternative response.

    I doubt anyone dare criticize Zinker OUTSIDE the confines of that exercise. In another video, he compares his outcomes with that of sculptor Rodin!

    Yes bullies can throw any group into chaos. It takes an extraordinary leader too to be fair-minded and respectful, yet strong enough to “control” group members who might want to domineer.

    I’ll throw out more to ponder here. Even when a counselor can be kind, self-aware and low agenda, I see huge challenges in helping clients enter and use therapy realistically and dismantling the whole “authoritarian” construct of it. To borrow a phrase in the film “An American President,” the therapist has a huge “home court advantage” in the very set-up of therapy, which conveys authority if not oracle magic.

    I’ve enjoyed some writings from the UK questioning the authoritarian model, Yvonne Bates and Richard House, and the client book by Anna Sands, Falling for Therapy.

  258. And this video, where ZInker talks about the wondrous transformation of almost choking Perls.

      • And he was training a younger generation of students—how to facilitate emotional health.

      • Ludicrous! – in response to “how to facilitate emotional health”. This ability to “change” others is equally ridiculous. I know from Gestalt and any change one experiences is short-lived and superficial. What Zinger is doing is not profound or effective. The only thing it does is confuse people and take them farther away from themselves, creating followers of a psychological movement based on manipulation and abuse.

      • I experienced psychotherapy exactly that way–as an exercise in self-deception both of my part and the therapist’s. Zinker’s video about near choking his teacher as mental health could be an absurd comedy except for the fact I think the guy is serious.

  259. Oh gosh! Thank you for that last Zinker clip – I would argue that he became far less of a man. I find the attitude of my course tutors just – horrible. They have had 20/30 years at the coal-face of human mystery and they are just – completely immune to it all. Probably just thinking about their pensions/dinner etc. In a way, I don’t have a problem with that (although they are incredibly boring) but it is the total disrespect they have for other people – I find that curious. They must have ‘checked out’ somewhere along the line in terms of ethics/morality/creativity whatever. I think that the problem is, they are still in some sort of 1970s or 1980s paradigm, whereas, the caravan has passed – ages ago.

    • I remember the 60s….(old joke). I entered college in 1969 when the free-wheeling, do-your-own-thing culture and rebellion felt like a new invention–though certainly it wasn’t. I even attended an encounter group. But as I look at the Zinker clips, that stuff seems like formula schtick, leftovers sold long past its prime. By the time I get to Zinker’s choking story, the do-your-own-thing culture appears its own descent into madness.

    • jorobs, I’m curious, in what ways are your course tutors disrespectful of others? How does this disrespect manifest?

  260. I will answer that one more fully when I have a bit more time, 123. One thing that has struck me is that, as the course is recognised by professional bodies, they are supposed to be upholding principles and codes of professional conduct. These apply to a counsellor who is a member of those bodies, it also applies to the training providers. Training in counselling is supposed to model standards and practice consistent with those expected of practitioners in the role for which the training is being provided.

    I do not see that happening on the course that I am doing.

    “I’ve yet to be in a class, or maybe a group, where the members are invited to disagree with the leader. And when someone does, the larger body often sides with the leader, particularly a bully. We’re human, but we’re sheep.”

    Yes, indeed, it’s almost like a type of Stockholm Syndrome. I see this happenening on the course all the time. It would be so much more interesting if students were encouraged to really challenge – not in a nasty way but just ‘think outside the box’.

    “I doubt anyone dare criticize Zinker OUTSIDE the confines of that exercise. In another video, he compares his outcomes with that of sculptor Rodin!”

    Haha, yes, hilarious – how grandiose! But in a way, that analogy speaks volumes – chipping away at a person’s self identity until he gets an image of that person as he wants them to be, rather than allowing them to develop into whatever THEY want to be. Hmmmm.

    This links in with some of the criticisms made of gestalt/cults in the links I gave above – Schaler and Roche both puncture the sadistic grandiosity of the ‘cult leader’.

    “Just my two cents: therapists can do horrible things (like Mr. Zinker) in an effort to take care of their own unfulfilled childhood needs. And patients can do the same by believing in the illusion of the healer parent therapist.It is an ultimately destructive relationship where both parties collude unconsciously to take care of needs whose end date has expired.

    I’ve found that the person that can help me most is me. I know my history, my childhood, and I’m still making connections between what happened to me and how it has affected me as an adult. These are very real things. What isn’t real is this supposed concern and help that therapists profess to give. Mr Zinker is simply a power hungry man who gets his jollies by “changing” others. There is no regard whatsoever for the individual’s truth and history. I don’t call this therapy. I call it discipleship and subjugation of the individual cloaked in the disguise of “liberation”.”

    Yes – I would agree with all of that. What you are saying links in quite closely with some of Carl Rogers beliefs that unconditional positive regard for a client is the key to a healing relationship.

    As for therapists taking care of unfulfilled childhood needs – I could not agree more. They are not SUPPOSED to be doing this, however I see evidence of it on the course I am doing and I have found evidence of it from my own experiences as a client.

    Perhaps what I am seeing in terms of the attitude of the course leaders is evidence of what Roche observed in the ‘tibet-oholics’ that tried to enlist him in their bogus ‘meditation’ scam – their own self-hatred is manifested in their attitude towards the students.

    • In my real-life experiences with therapists, as well as conversations around the internet, it is the rare one that welcomes his methodology, interpretations or his dominance questioned, and most typically get quite nasty when confronted with challenge. This is identical to the dysfunctional parent from which they purport to deliver us.

      1234nyc writes: “I’ve found that the person that can help me most is me. I know my history, my childhood, and I’m still making connections between what happened to me and how it has affected me as an adult. ”

      I find that true is well. And one would think that the goal of therapy. But instead much of it replaces the fairytale illusion of the happy childhood and with a new fairytale–the therapist as rescuer, sage and savior.

      Like many I suspect, I entered therapy hoping my therapist to be a parent substitute. Rather than setting me straight, their contributions only were to reinforce that myth.

      I found that childhood exploration, beyond the discovery that my parents weren’t omniscient and omnipotent, only led me to self-absorption and self-pity. Yes, it certainly helps to “catch myself” thinking or living based on irrational fears. But revisting the source of those fears never provided “healing.” That was achieved by moving forward, succeeding sometimes, and living. I did find Karen Horney’s writing, particularly Our Inner Conflicts and Neurosis and Human Growth, good explanations of sources and manifestations of irrational thought.

      Considering that psychotherapy was built on a speculative foundation, and that outrageous inhumanity has been committed in guise of healing, the absolutism you describe in your institution is disappointing.

      I’ve run across a few that are questioning the theories. I’m uncertain of the replacements.

      • Hi disequilibrium1, just to clarify, that was me you were quoting (not jorobs), when you wrote “I’ve found that the person that can help me most is me…” 😉 Cheers.

  261. Whoops, I’ll edit it. 🙂 Good quote.

  262. I am pretty shocked by what I am seeing on the course. I will post more when I have more information and have decided on my involvement (or not) witht the course provider.

  263. Thankfully, my investment so far financially is not too much – although I do think the course is expensive compared to some others, especially considering the calibre of the tutors. As for my time investment – again, so far not too much. Emotionalolly/psychologically the investment has been too much which is why it is the right time to leave. I have learnt a lot but, as Roche wrote in that piece on sadistic teachers, it is important to recognise when to leave a cult.

    I know of one person who made a huge investment in psychotherapy training – worked incredibly hard, borrowed thousands and thousands of pounds, spent many hours in counselling herself, only to find herself failed at the end of the training by a sadistic course leader. I listened to her story and it resonated with me for a number of reasons.

    I think this course leader had it in for her from the very beginning. And of course, when she tried to complain, the complaints system was all ‘in house’ so pretty much rigged from the beginning. And, guess what, the course leader was not only a fully paid up member of the therapy cult but also a member of a religious cult (a priest no less). I think misogyny had a lot to do with it, in her particular case, plus he probably likes to have one or two people on the course who had can ‘victimise’.

    • on May 24, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Reply disequilibrium1

      I’m 61 and still find it difficult to weigh the pluses and minuses of less-than-ideal groups, jobs, etc. and decide if the compromises and diminishment can ever be worth it. It’s so difficult feeling when a minority when others are silent. When I have choices, I do opt for finding respectful teachers and groups. While no place is perfect, I have found some talented teachers and leaders, who nourish and teach me on many levels.

      jorobs, you sound clear-eyed about your situation–not easy being in the middle of it.

  264. Yes – it is very difficult to weigh up the pros and cons of any situation but in essence I am not an unhappy person – I went throught a very difficult situation at work which, somewhat ironically, seems to be repeating itself during therapy training. I have quite a low tolerance for psychological game-playing – which can happen in all sorts of situations – at work, study, leisure, realtionships, group situations and so on. I guess the challenge is not to get caught up in it al, take what you can from it, l and just be faintly amused rather than infuriated – easier said than done.

    Having said that, I do think that gut instincts are very under-rated and my gut instincts are speaking loud and clear at the moment. I will post again soon.

  265. Respectful, talented, nourishing – yes those are all things to be cherished…

  266. on May 25, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Reply disequilibrium1

    I can see “jousting for rank” in many situations, and it’s taken me quite a while to find that “amusement” you’re talking about. Sometimes I try to speak up about a bully. That works better in a small temporary group, but has bought me grief when a culture is a large and entrenched. Sometimes I stay if I need something from the situation and the torment is brief.

    Jorobs, I’m glad you’ve found clarity and wish you well in exploring options.

  267. Kristi’s blog specifically covers filing a complaint in the case of sexual abuse. In the process, I think she does an outstanding job of explaining the distortions often planted in the therapeutic relationship and the many layers of ambiguity in recovering from them.

  268. Article (in pdf form) on how practitioner beliefs discard research:

  269. Thought I would update on my training journey which has now come to an end, at least with that particular training institute. There were several major factors involved in my decision making.

    The most important one was that I did not have confidence in the course leaders who I felt lacked compassion, integrity or empathy. On top of that, I found them inauthentic and seriously lacking in any capacity to reflect on their own behaviour and how it might impact students. There was a curious attitude that anything untoward that happened would always be the ‘fault’ of the student. So, if their administration was sloppy (which it often was) leading to confusion about dates and times, that would not be anything to do with them (??). They simply could not, ever, take responsibility for anything which ended up being infuriating as well as making them look incredibly immature. It really was extraordinary. However, conversely, they were more than happy to approtion ‘blame’ onto a student even when it was not warranted. Worse, they would wrongly apportion blame onto students for something petty, and then encourage other students to join in the ‘witch-hunt’. I found the whole thing utterly infantile – I’ve worked as a teacher and I have seen more mature behaviour in seven year olds!

    The other factor was that one of the conditions of the training was that you were in weekly therapy for the entire duration of the course – that means 2+ years depending on the level of qualification. Two/three/four years of weekly therapy is a hell of a long time and is also very expensive. Add on to that the cost of supervision plus, of course, the training costs which are high, and you find yourself quite heavily in debt (although not everyone on the course was paying for themselves – in one of two cases the costs were funded by work/a charitable organsation for instance). I was happy to undergo some therapy but 2+ years just seemed to be too much! I was interesting in probably working in shorter-term counselling (hence I was doing a counselling as opposed to psychotherapy course) with a clear focus on specific issues and results.

    The other factor for me was the terrible experience I had with the second counsellor that I saw. I was determined to give it a reasonable shot but – yikes! She was just awful. Again, infantile behaviour I presume in an attempt to ‘rile’ me and bring out my ‘inner child’ or something. In the event it just irritated me. Talking to me as though as was a child, using a patronising tone of voice, provoking me with irrelevant questions and other ‘crazy-making’ techniques. A horrible experience. I DID learn from it – because it was so awful I decided to trust me own intuition more and not look to other people for validation or answers.

    This has turned into a bit of a rant – but I hope I had provided a perspective from someone who has been on both sides of the field and has now chosen to get out of the field altogether. To me, it just seemed like a self-serving ‘industry’ – hooking prople into long term therapy. The course leaders become your supervisiors (for a fee) the institute rents out rooms when you qualify (for a fee). It’s all a bit of a gravy-train, which is fine if it works for people but…..

  270. And I am left wondering if my experience of the behaviour and attitude of the training providers (who are, or at least were, therapists themselves) in some way reflects the attitude and behaviour of (some) therapists towards their clients? Certainly, from my own experience as a client, I would say that it does and from what I have read on here, others have had experiences of feeling patronised, belittled and so on.

  271. jorobs, I hope it brings you satisfaction making this decision and emerging from the other side clear-headed. I have reactions in two directions. Where can those like you, who ask questions, go from here? On the other hand are all those you left behind in your training who aren’t asking those questions. What you describe seems an entire culture which eventually will be delivered as mental health services.

    (Pardon me if I don’t respond in the next few days when I’m mostly off-line. ),

  272. “I have reactions in two directions. Where can those like you, who ask questions, go from here? On the other hand are all those you left behind in your training who aren’t asking those questions. What you describe seems an entire culture which eventually will be delivered as mental health services. ”

    Thank you for your response and also once again thank you for starting this blog which has turned out to be an amazing resource!

    I am asking those two questions myself! The main reason I became interested in counselling in the first place was because of a work-place bullying situation. I was subjected to an unprovoked and unforseen barrage of verbal/psychologicaal abuse which (I now realise having researched this whole subject) left me in a state of ‘dissociation’. I suppose you could call it a form of nervous breakdown. As someone who had never experienced anything like this before, I wanted to know what had happened and why. I was certainly left in a very vulnerable and confused state, doubting my sense of self. What made the whole incident so shocking was that the abuse came from someone who was supposed to be mentoring me, yet it was clearly planned and deliberate. I couldn’t get my head around why anyone would behave so vindictively.

    Anyway, the reason I mention this is that I think I went into counselling and counselling training with a different background to many of the students who have come from abusive family backgrounds. Many are familiar with the process of ‘dissociation’ but in their cases it has been due to verbal/physical or sexual abuse from family members. Not all come from such traumatic backgrounds but I would say around two thirds of the students have had at least one parent who was abusive/had a serious personality disorder or mental illness. As I think I may have posted up-thread somewhere, I think many are still very much working through all the issues that this type of childhood abuse brings. My personal view is that (some) of the students put too much trust in the hands of authority figures without carefully evaluating whether it is appropriate to do so. If you lay your soul open to someone you want to be pretty sure that you are in safe hands. I had got to the stage where I was not comfortable placing any more trust in the training provider. I was not confident that the trust was warranted and I felt a lack of discernment by (some) of the other students. To be fair, they have already invested quite a bit or time and money in the course so in many ways it is easier for them to ignore the red flags and plough on, rather than admit defeat, and I do understand that.

    I am sure that many do have concerns and doubts about the training, but are probably taking the view that they will get the qualification and then practice in the way that they see fit – which may indeed be very different to the ethos that pervades at the training establishment. You can learn a lot about how NOT to be and I imagine that some of the students will be taking that view, especially once they have qualified and have got some experience

    For me – I am not sure what my path will be. IF I was to consider some more counselling training, it would be integrative and probably more focused on short-term counselling or specific issues, for instance. I think it can be helpful if you are going throught a difficult period – bereavement, redundancy etc.

    Not sure I have really answered your question, though. I think what is standing out for me is that it is vital that someone working in the mental health sector has worked through their own issues and is doing the job because they have a genuine desire to help people, rather than other, less altruistic, motives. The counsellor I saw was not such a person and it is disturbing that, despite impressive-sounding qualifications, she seems to be peddling her own agenda. Once again, I find myself referring back to that article that I linked up-thread that the two most important qualities for a counsellor are good character and emotional stablity. Difficult to assess, admittedly.

    • I so appreciate you and others like you who ask these basic questions about the counseling process. I’m more comfortable with the general concept of short-term or situational counseling.Perhaps it’s not quite the same, but I’ve hired caseworkers to help long-distance disabled family members, and they were extremely helpful.

      I’m less comfortable with the idea that anyone puts himself in anyone else’s “hands.” Even if there could be such a thing as the completely aware, altruistic counseling, I wouldn’t and didn’t find this kind of surrender beneficial, for a variety of reasons. When I was in counseling, I really needed to grow up more, as opposed to finding an imaginary parent. Now that I’m far away from counseling, I’m enjoy that a privilege of adulthood are my choices to whom I’m accountable and what I disclose.

      I’m very sorry about your workplace bullying. I believe people act destructively out of their own fears, pains and imbalances. Two Karen Horney books, Our Inner Conflicts and Neurosis and Human Growth are an interesting explanations of human conflicts, compensations and self-deceptions. She believed that everyone has an “idealized” self, a self-definition if you will, which often is not in synch with reality.

  273. Thanks for your reponse which has lead me to a further insight – that many of the students are doing what you are describing – idealising the tutors as ‘imaginary parents’. What is ironic is how unlike a caring parent they are (or at least my idea of a caring parent!) I will look at that book – it sounds fascinating. A further insight for me is that perhaps I was so affected by the workplace bullying because I had been, unconsciously, placing my mentor (who was much older than me) in a parent-style role (the word ‘mentor’ has some parenting associations I think) and that it was such a slap in the face to be so humiliated and degraded when I had worked so hard. Guess I had been placing too much emphasis on her role as an authority figure and cared too much about what she said rather than trusting my gut instincts which were telling me (if I had chosen to follow them) that she was trouble. She must have been close to retirement age and I imagine had been causing trouble for a long time – perhaps I was her swan-song? Who knows. (I did speak to other people who had encountered her and their stories were similar which was reassuring in terms of my own perceptions being reasonably accurate…)

    What I do know is that this incident got thrown back into my face not only during the counselling course (I swear the tutors knew how to press everyone’s buttons) but also during the counselling session. It was at that point that I thought: enough!

  274. As I understand Karen Horney, she believed that our relationships to authorities and our conflicts between being protected and parented and our autonomy is pivotal in how our personalities are formed. And the trouble starts when those authorities fail to provide what we want our need. So we want independence from them-yet we don’t, and so invent all sorts of cover stories for ourselves–an “idealized self” is her phrase. (Any Horney readers feel free to correct my pocket summary.)

    I find her books valuable, because finding this autonomy, or to use therapyspeak, “interdepedence,” has been a lifelong struggle. As I’m more successful, I find that compliance with others becomes a choice rather than an enslavement. The more can see my allegiances as voluntary, the less beholden, the more powerful I feel.

    That’s why therapy left me feeling ultimately exploited. It manipulated that part of me who needed the strong parent/elder to guide me and make decisions, but returned no benefits.

    Jorobs, I’ve long withered under the rage of bullies, and I notice many/most people equally intimidated. I could find them quite overwhelming and debilitating. Then my creative work, which is collaborative, forced me seeking new ways to minimize and withstand them. Slowly I’ve started to view them as tantrum-throwing children, full of their own pain and vulnerability. If I can’t get away from them, or the situation mandates I deal with them, I find that a calming presence and some assertiveness, some “turn the other cheek” sometimes works. Note that is a different strategy than the “defending our boundaries” that therapists often instruct. Sometimes the internal boundaries have to be different than the actual interaction.

  275. Yes that is interesting. For me what is now helpful is disengaging slightly in situations where before I would have been 110% engaged and commited. It gives you a bit more breathing space. I gained some insight by reading ‘A New Earth’ by Eckhart Tolle. I like his concept of ‘pain bodies’. My understanding is that the ‘pain body’ is a bit like the ego – it gets in the way of just being and enjoying the now. By becoming aware of what triggers the ‘pain body’ you can become more aware of what has been triggered and why and you can chose how to respond, or not. It’s about accepting what is happening without judging or ‘shoulds’ which is how many of us respond to any kind of challening encounter.

    For instance, one of the reasons I felt reluctant to leave the course early, was because I felt that in some ways this would repeat the previous pattern (where I had dropped out of the work-place training due to the bullying). I suppose by embarking on another training course, I was on some level testing myself to see whether I would stick the course this time, or again ‘drop out’ (and so confirm my worst suspicions about myself!).

    It took me some time to feel comfortable with the idea that, even if I was ‘dropping out’ again, that was okay! As far as I was concerned, I was exiting another toxic environment.

    I think in our very ‘performance driven’ culture, it is so easy to become self-critical – constantly trying to obtain yet another qualification, the very higest marks, be the cleverest, fittest or whatever it is. In a way, contemporary western society is founded upon this kind of competitive model. Yet, ultimately, despite all the trappings of success – money, power, straight As or whatever – some people are still not satisfied or happy. And I think this might tie in with what you were saying about doing things that are creative. It also ties in with what Eckhart Tolle writes about – letting go of the eternal quest for more. Easier said than done of course!

  276. I’ve struggled a number of times with whether to try to right a difficult situation, leave, or in some cases, take a vacation. Over the years I’ve gotten studier –through experience and reading, not therapy! I assume we all encounter dilemmas and choices along the way and can continue to explore our responses. It also shows me the limits of how someone else in a remote room can help us–because it’s impossible to predict many outcomes as we change our strategies. The labels of therapy or thinking we owe an undeserving person an accounting–can get in our way.

    I can sense your relief. I also get from your posts, you’re a probing, thinking person and I hope you find a place where your perception and talents are appreciated.

  277. Have just read a link that someone posted further upthread and another lightbulb has gone one for me.


    “Gaining acceptance into graduate school or medical school and achieving a PhD or MD and becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist means jumping through many hoops, all of which require much behavioral and attentional compliance to authorities, even to those authorities that one lacks respect for. The selection and socialization of mental health professionals tends to breed out many anti-authoritarians. Having steered the higher-education terrain for a decade of my life, I know that degrees and credentials are primarily badges of compliance. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where one routinely conforms to the demands of authorities.”

    This is sooooooo true. And this is where I have come unstuck in the past few years. I have refused to jump through the hoops of authority figures that I have had no respect for. I refused to jump though the hoops of the work-place sociopathic ‘mentor’ who was playing all sorts of sadistic games with me.
    Then I refused to jump through the hoops of the counselling training provider. I know for a fact that the training provider I was with specifically targetted people who who were compliant towards authority figures, or who were in a position where they now really needed validation from authority figures in order to get their lives back on track. In my opinion, they abused their position of trust that’s why I had to get out. And in fact I think that is their strategy – anyone who is too independent-minded is not welcome there so they find a way to make sure they leave.

    • I think independent thinking is lifeblood of our culture. It is the pioneers who who move knowledge forward, who innovate. Yet so many valuable spirits are stilled in the service of institutions and systems. Maybe this is the gist of life.

      I too tend to be an independent minded person, and paid the price more than once. I began my adulthood with no “political” skills. I’ve left places because I was bullied–or regarded as the forever underling. I left an important and yet-to-be-replaced opportunity because of how I was treated.

      I’m now in a field when many projects are short-term and sometimes withstand a certain amount of punishment to serve a goal, or I continue to look for ways to tell another person, gracefully, to treat me better. Sometimes it’s a matter of shifting the focus off the power struggle and on to the subject at hand.
      I try to visit the other person’s viewpoint and can see them in some cases. In the workplace, my boss had a task to accomplish or in school, lessons to be taught. The teacher might not have questioned enough himself and be threatened. Sometimes people act as they do because they’re over their heads. When I’m presenting an opposing view, sometimes I’m able to frame it as the advantage to the other person.

      Maybe I’m saying, that was time passes, I see these difficulties less about who I am, my personality weakness, and more in terms of strategies. I’m not a domineering overwhelming person. That probably won’t change, and even if I could it would bring other liabilities.

      Sometimes I’ll need to leave. And need to ruminate on it for a while. I’m now returning to a place where I needed to take a “vacation,” learning that I didn’t burn those bridges irreparably.

      Nonconformity, seems the tougher (maybe more rewarding) road. My favorite reading is biography. I think the most successful people all once faced these uncertain crossroads.

  278. “I hope you find a place where your perception and talents are appreciated.”

    Yes – that would be really good!

    I think my future plan will be to have less of a plan and just go with the flow a bit more. I am definitely not interested in jumping through hoops for authority figures! Thank you for your responses – I have found them very thoughtful and thought-provoking.

    It’s interesting what you are writing about personality styles. I would say I am pretty easy-going and tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. What tends to happen is that (some) people interpret this as me being a pushover and they start pushing. In the past, I have tended to ignore the early red flags, which again I think has been construed as me giving the green light for that particular person to continue with the behaviour. Eventually, I will erupt and most probably terminate the relationship/job whatever so it is so I can avoid all contact with that person (or possibly organisation if the leadership is toxic).

    What I had hoped to gain from counselling and from counselling training was the capacity to ‘nip things in the bud’ in terms of expectations for behaviour. Some people seem quite skilled at keeping other people’s bad behaviour in check – they seem to know how to adopt a tone of voice, or an attitude or SOMETHING that is effectively like a warning shot to the other person: ‘hey, you are starting to take the piss here, back down now and we can make this work’. In other words, rather than getting to the stage of being furiously angry and erupting, having strategies for managing the situation at a much earlier stage and avoiding the complete volcanic eruption!

    That Zinker video clip with him encroaching into the student’s personal space could have been an exploration of this type of situation but he just ended up manipulating the situation to suit his own agenda.

    Unfortunately, the counsellors I saw seemed more interested in delving into other areas and so completely de-railed me. I just ended up confused. It can’t be a coincidence that other posters on this blog have also had bad experiences with gestalt counselling.

    • Jorobs, you describe a life-long struggle for me, I definitely could have been described as a “cat without claws,” probably picked at the teacher’s scapegoat more than average. Over the decades! I’ve developed strategies to help me be cooler when these bad dynamics develop. Of course it’s more difficult when the offender holds some fate in his/her hands.

      Therapy has taught me the wrong things. I was given mechanical responses: “I feel hurt when you…” I picture a husband and wife in fierce battle. “Darling, I feel anger when you pour soup over my head.” It also taught me to magnify wounds to the point of victim hood, and a mandate to “defend our boundaries,” which doesn’t help me in real-life situations.

      When I look at conflict as a clash of the “idealized selves” (Horney framework) it helps.

      I have an arsenal of ready responses–everything from the “I beg your pardon” proposed by Miss Manners, to “I hope you weren’t trying to make me look foolish,” “I hope you didn’t mean that as a dig.” “it’s almost as if you wanted to treat me like a child.” “I can listen to you more closely if you don’t raise your voice” (I try to point out the offense without being directly accusatory.)

      But as you probably know, it’s not easy to respond with the right response at the right time.

      It’s become easier since I don’t look at the “authority figure,” for validation–again counter to what I learned in therapy. I’ve also stopped seeing slights as mortal wounds, and can withstand some punishment in service a larger goal. (Hope I’m not starting political wars here, but I think our President Obama is particularly skilled at remaining cool under attack.) With more internal calm, I can do better explaining to the other person why raising her voice, whatever, doesn’t serve the situation. I try to make clear that civil behavior is to their benefit. It gives me more distance if I can see an attacking person as someone in distress.

      I’ve no experience with Gestalt Therapy personally, but what I’ve seen in those clips and the confrontations people have described here–sound leftover from the 1970s theory of “letting it all hang out.”

      Over time, I’ve developed a better antenna and more capacity for generosity and calm with my tormenters. It will be a life-long project.

  279. To clarify, whittling down the need for an authority figure’s validation, has been a long, long project. After all, our entire schooling was built around working for that validation. And relationships with therapists only reinforced it.

    Someone in my ego-driven field advised me that the best way to deal with other people’s egos is to get mine out of the way. Took that as meaning, to rely less on other people’s validation.

  280. So true – as you say, the first 20 or so years of life (and probably much more for most people – if not a whole life time) is all about fitting into society’s expectations for behaviour and that has a lot to do with validation from authority figures. In the first instance that is parents and other adult family members. Then it is school and any outside school clubs and sports, then college. Then authority figures at work etc unless you are fortunate enough to work for yourself I suppose. Not forgetting the authority figures like the police, lawyers, medical consultants, politicians and so on.

    Oh yes, and therapists!

    The big problem I have is authority figures who abuse their position of authority. To my mind, hand in hand with the privilege of authority comes reponsibility for using that privilege responsibly. In the past few years I have unfortunately encountered more than a few people in positions of power who have abused their position of authority. Under the guise of ‘helping’ they have, in reality, been pursuing other somewhat darker agendas. Unfortunately, I think that there is most definitely some truth in that old expression ‘power corrupts’ (seems to with politicians!). And I suppose people will sometimes be attracted to positions of power for non-altruistic motives, such as to control, manipulate, dominate, frustrate and other power games.

    Interestingly, I have had some feedback from the training provider. Let’s just say that I am so glad I am out of there. It’s what might be called a mind-f***.
    I am pretty sure that I have been reasonable accurate in my perceptions of what is going on – they target anyone who has an ounce of spirit or self-esteem and do their best to destroy it, rather like the sadistic parent. It’s a bit like a few posters have described their experiences in therapy – you get built up and then knocked down.

    Yawn. I just can’t be bothered with their sadistic little games any more – especially not when it costs so much money. I’d rather join the army or SAS or something – at least then you know exactly what is going on – it’s a boot camp and that’s what you signed up for.

    But all the psychological mind games – no thanks!

  281. I can’t imagine being involved in something as intimate as therapy when it is a “mandated,” particularly when the process becomes destructive. Seems like you’re either trapped there, or forced, like you did, to make a very high-stakes choice. Jeffrey Masson discussed his nutty training process in Final Analysis, and Raubolt in his “Power Games” above.

    Not only are we taught to obey authority figures, but it feels that we’re often reinforced to see or idealize them unrealistically. So when they do make errors, or are abusive, we have a huge dissonance in expectations vs. reality. It’s quite a dilemma.

    What’s particularly sad is that many consumers feel captive in abusive therapy, in the service of “getting well,” when indeed they are perfectly free to walk out the door with no consequence. It’s the mind scramble of therapy.

    Jorobs, sending wishes this detour reveals its silver lining, if you’ll pardon my mixed metaphor. 🙂 (Ever the optimist, I’ve had “set-backs” turn out for the best more than once.)

  282. “So when they do make errors, or are abusive, we have a huge dissonance in expectations vs. reality. It’s quite a dilemma.”

    Yes – it is psychologically disturbing. I can understand how people do feel captive in abusive therapy – it’s probably a bit like an abusive relationship (which, ironically, will presumably be one of the primary reasons people go into therapy in the first place).

    Reading through one of the assignments that I did, there are over 35 critical comments, many of them framed in terms that (if there wasn’t the therapy psychobabble excuse) are remarkably like personal insults. I just can’t imagine giving feedback like that to anyone – it was so negative, so judgemental, full of assumptions and some extraordinarily inflammatory assertions.

    I can only presume that it was designed to disarm me and make me question my perceptions. It was certainly wildly confusing. I cannot even begin to follow some of the assertions, not because there might not be something in them but just because they have taken such quantum leaps from the material at hand.

    • That program certainly sounds like a nightmare. I think there are two aspects to teaching–transmitting the skills/knowledge, and instructing in the learning/growth process itself. I’ve seen how wrong fear-based learning ultimately can be, because it draws focus away from learning, self-acceptance, risk-taking, process etc. I ran across a study how fear-based learning shuts down creativity.

      From what I saw on the videos and what you describe, this sounds like an twisted, inverted interpretation of growth and therapy. I hope once the sludge is washed away, this crazy-house experience offers some paradoxical gift.

      I know too how holding a minority view within a cruel culture can be quite painful. Time and years sometimes has a way of revealing the truth.

  283. I think it is all a bit of a scam – all the more so in that anyone can call themselves a counsellor, in the UK, at least, without a single qualification, so it’s not as though the training is mandatory. Perhaps therein lies the problem – the training providers are not as scrutinised as they might be if they had to be ‘government approved’. I’m not saying ‘government approval’ is some kind of universal panacea (far from it in fact!) but at least the training providers would have to demonstrate to an independent body that they were doing what they are supposed to be doing.

    Under the current system, in the UK at least, some of the counselling training programmes which have the most legitimacy are ‘accredited’ by professional bodies which counsellors themselves will then aspire to belong to once qualified (BCAP, UKPC for instance). In the initial instance, I imagine this means that the course provider has to demonstrate that a number of criteria are being followed. However, once the course is up and running, I doubt there is much safeguarding in place to ensure that the professional guidelines for good practice are being followed. They certainly weren’t being followed on the course I did. Theoretically, a student on one of the courses can complain to the professional body but I imagine that would pretty much spell an end to the training there and, given the costs involved, there are huge disincentives to following that route. Also, a lot of the students, particularly the younger ones, will be heavily reliant on the tutors for references so won’t want to rock the boat.

    Another part of the scam I have observed is this. The course provider gets its hands on your money way up front – months before the course begins and so you are financially tied in at a very early stage. I imagine that if you elect not to start the course, they make it very difficult indeed for you to get your money back. The very moment you DO start the course, you are clobbered financially for the whole year. That is made very clear. Towards the end of the first year the training provider decides whether they will pass you and allow you to continue on to the second year. However, before you know whether or not you have passed on to the second year, you are obliged to commit financially for the second year. So, in other words, if, say, you don’t pass you still have to go through the process of reclaiming money for the second year.

    And I imagine that if you DO pass (having jumped through the sadistically high hoops that the tutors have set such as re-submitting hideously difficult assignments even if they were perfectly okay first time around) and decide you can’t hack going onto the second year (and who could blame you having sweated so hard for so little return) then I imagine they make it very difficult indeed to get your money back.

    There was an incident for me at the start of the course, where I had some interaction with the course provider over times and dates, and their response to me was so heavy-handed and laden with threats that, had I not paid so much money upfront, I would not have started the course at all and would have gone elsewhere. However, as I had paid all upfront I couldn’t face a protracted battle to get my money back and so, against my better jugement, I started. Still, the writing was on the wall from the very beginning.

    So the financial structure is such that the students are heavily indebted and have very few options if the training turns out to be not what they had hoped or just plain substandard. The training provider is holding all the power and they are quite happy to wield it – they seem to be either unwilling or unable to accept that, in reality, they are providing a service to paying consumers.

    So – once again – as with choosing a therapist – the message is BUYER BEWARE!

    The whole thing is a con and I am so glad to be out of it.

    • It sounds like such an sad infuriating situation, and most students would be sorting this out at such a young age. I know there are what seem to be thoughtful practitioners in the UK who oppose regulation entirely, making the “buyer beware” credo transparent. (This group has written quite a bit about this.) You paint a grim picture about whom this field self-selects.

      My understanding of the US system is slim, so someone please chime in and correct me. There are various credentials, such as psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, psychiatric nurse, and one must go through a prescribed education to earn these credentials. The programs are offered through respected colleges and universities. Yet there still are hundreds of branches of psychotherapy–so there is no uniformity in training. And a counselor can earn their credentials through “diploma mill” type schools.

      But a degree from a “good school” doesn’t necessarily translate to a good counselor. But as we know, grad school does not teach life wisdom, which I think the most important characteristic of someone helping someone else. We don’t really know how our counselor was trained or sees the process of therapy, nor would we probably understand it until emerging, sadder but wiser, at the other end. I saw a psychologist with a degree from one of our nation’s most prestigious Ivy League schools. She was still quite deluded.

      Many (some?) states also allow unaccredited counselors to practice. I think it’s difficult to an inexperienced client to evaluate the quality of counseling she receives.

      The problem is really magnified when things go awry. Regulation is left to the state licensing boards and regulators, often comprised of the therapists’ peers. Resources are stretched thin. Only a tiny fraction of complaints are decided in favor of the consumer. It’s only when something goes wrong does a consumer realize what a thin safety net existed to protect her.

  284. “I saw a psychologist with a degree from one of our nation’s most prestigious Ivy League schools. She was still quite deluded.”

    🙂 Yes, I am not necessarily suggesting that accreditation would solve the problem. For instance in the UK educational institutions are regulated by the government body Ofsted. This is a mixed bag of tricks but I do think it has led to a little bit more accountability within the teaching profession in terms of recognising that schools are providing a service – as opposed to providing an establishment where teachers can get their own agendas met (as I seem to remember was the case when I was at school!)

    I completely agree that the problem is magnified when things go awry – and this is can often be the case within services provided by a ‘profession’ which are often self-regulating – such as medicine and law. I suppose therapy falls under the banner of medicine in terms of mental health care, although not all branches of therapy are strictly speaking ‘professions’. And again, I think there is this idea that authority figures are somehow beyond reproach – which can be quite convenient if you are an authority figure who wishes to abuse the privileges that go with the authority status.

    Anyway – the bottom line is that there are huge variations in standards and the consumer is very much at the mercy of the system. This is also the case in training establishments which, in my experience, weed out those who will not conform to their own agenda (which may, or may not be, perverted).

    In any event, I agree that the safety nets that one might have hoped to be fully in place are flimsy, at best.

    • I corrected a major typo above–grad school does NOT teach life wisdom.

      There are so many problems in the system, the fix it seems almost circular. But for me, maybe the first problem might be a culture that puts the therapist on an undeserved pedestal.

      A few years back I saw an older dermatologist for eczema, an annoying, but not life threatening condition. The doctor, perhaps suffering from early stages of dementia, said a few things rude, inappropriate things, an instance of what geriatricians might call disinhibition. I found it weird, but saw it for what it was and left this doctor’s practice. His retirement was announced several months later.

      This would have been much more difficult had I been vulnerable, gone to this doctor for emotional guidance, and he presented himself as some sort of do-no-wrong shaman. The qualities attributed to counselors seem far out of proportion, and I believe they collude in this.

    • you said “can often be the case within services provided by a ‘profession’ which are often self-regulating – such as medicine and law” This is not at all true in the U.S. I used to work for the Illinois licensing board. PLENTY of lawyers and doctors had their licenses disciplined – for cheating clients, not providing services they promised, etc. BUT psychologists, therapists are ONLY disciplined for “poor services” if they sleep with their patients. THis is so unfair. – A lawyer promises to draft a will for a client. If he never does draft it, he can be reported. BUT if a therapist treats a patient like dirt, screams, and calls her names, etc. – forget about any discipline. YET THERE SHOULD BE. In what school of therapy, does it advocate yelling,at a patient? telling the patient the THERAPIST’s problems? telling her that her problems are ALL her fault?? This is such a double standard, that ruins so many patients’ lives.And there is NOWHERE they can go with it.

  285. Yes and I would say that the training establishments collude in this too. The arrogance of the tutors on the course is quite breathtaking. They have the kind of petty mentality that you quite often find with people who have spent years working in institutions like the health service/education/the prison service. Nit-picking over trivia while being completely oblivious to the ‘bigger picture’. And I think as I mentioned upthread, they have a distinct lack of self-awareness. I have a reasonably thick skin but the barrage of personal negative comments that have come from them in the form of criticisms over assignments and other petty insults eventually wears you down to the extent that you lose any motivation. Also, who wants to be in that kind of environment if you don’t have to be?

    As I said, I am not a masochist – if I had wanted a boot-camp, I would have joined the army. Yet they clearly have very little awareness of how their behaviour impacts on the students as one of the tutors has professed to be shocked by my leaving the course. Once again – it is all about him. If I was a tutor on such a course and someone left unexpectedly my first reaction would be to check that they were ok. But unfortunately they have demonstrated again and again that they don’t give a sh#t about the students. That to my mind signifies a toxic working environment. It also sends out a completely toxic message to the students about human relationships – whether at work or personal relationships. Quite dysfunctional really.

  286. To clarify: when I wrote ‘it’s all about him’ I meant that his reponses to me demonstrate that he was never really considering me at all, but merely thinking about himself.

  287. From what I saw of those Gestalt videos, sounds like an extension of that culture. Considering behavioral science really isn’t a science, and that any school of therapy is one technique among hundreds, one would think that teachers would have less certitude and more humility.

    Well, my Ivy League educated therapist strongly believed that regression and infantilization was a good thing.

    I consider insults poor teaching in any subject, in any circumstance. It’s particularly outrageous in the mental health field.

  288. Thanks for that link – very helpful. I am now considering what action I will take as I think that the behaviour of the tutors is harmful. It has certainly left me in a tail-spin. Although, paradoxically, once my mind-fog has clearly a bit more, I think I have come out of the experience with more confidence in myself.

    However, I think I was a *reasonably* emotionally robust person in the first place (although so difficult to quantify something like that) so perhaps the effect on me has not been as harmful as it might be on someone with a more fragile psychological/emotional constitution.

    I don’t know. All I do know is that there is not a bat in hell’s chance that I would behave in the way that the course leaders have done. I think it is irresponsible as they cannot possibly know for sure how students will respond to challenge. I would always err on the side of caution when dealing with something as important as emotional health.

    “one would think that teachers would have less certitude and more humility”

    This is what puzzles me enormously. What type of mind-set must they have? Or have they spent so long working as authority figures in instutions that they are not even really aware of what they are doing? One of them I consider has a personality disorder and the other colludes with this. Perhaps they are acting out dynamics from their own backgrounds? They are they dysfunctional parents (which they presumably had) and the students are their hapless children?

  289. Perhaps someone can help me here. What would be the best way to lodge a complaint? I have check with the training institute and complaints process looks like a nice little ‘in-house’ number. Sadly, I would have no confidence whatsoever in the process as I cannot imagine that members of the faculty on the complaints panel are going to agree that they are running a toxic environment! I know from bitter experience how difficult it is to lodge a complaint about a professional body, especially when it is self-regulating. A bit like putting the fox in charge of the hen-coop, really.

  290. Hmmm – a further thought as I muse upon the complaints system and how much energy I can be bothered to summon up for the process.

    Counselling = a unregulated industry (in the UK at any rate). Counselling training providers = unregulated educational establishments.

    How dangerous to allow training in the field of mental health to be carried out by any old body. But that is precisely the situation that is happening right now.

  291. Filing a complaint does present a great deal to consider when you’ve been a student—best and worst outcomes, any need for references etc. From the little I’ve seen and what you’ve described, the abuse doesn’t seem out of line with the culture of that school of therapy, unfortunately.

    I ran across this UK organization-I know nothing about them.

    I believe “Witness” produced this book:
    http://www.lulu.com/shop/sarah-richardson-and-melanie-cunningham-et-al/broken-boundaries-stories-of-betrayal-in-relationships-of-care/paperback/product-3214324.html;jsessionid=7206E641EA58FCE864172AE1A4182AB2 (Don’t know if this is the best price. I notice there is an ebook.)

    I’ve discussed US-based organization TELL more than once. I don’t know whether its network extends to the UK. Here in the states, it put me in touch with like-minded “survivors” of bad therapy.

    I understand what you mean by tailspin. I’ve found myself in crazy cultures more than once my head feels like a its playing ping-pong between I know and what many others tell me.

    I do wonder if there are more “subversive” students with whom you might compare notes. Did anyone else drop out?

    Many times, I’ve seen perspectives change as time goes by. Over the years, truths come out. Integrity, holding ones own within a culture, can be painful and difficult. I hope eventually this experience reveals itself as a gift.

  292. Thanks for those links. What I want to avoid is a protracted complaints procedure – I can see that their ‘in-house’ complaint procedure is a bureauocratic nightmare. From what I know of the organisation, I imgaine it would involve a bullied and terrified student being dragged in front of half a dozen rottweilers in the form of the complaints committee (or some equally pretentiously named body) who will then use all the tricks of the trade that they have refined over the past 30 years or so to belittle, demean and generally punish the student for having the temerity to ‘complain’. (In my mind’s eye, I have that scene from Oliver when he asks for a second bowl of gruel…..but perhaps I am getting carried away here…:) )

    There are other students who have left the course early and there were last year too. I have a slight suspicion that there were complaints last year (and maybe in earlier years too) which would also account for the attitude of the tutors which is extraordinarily defensive. Because the training provider is not really an educational body, it lacks the infrastructure that would be available for student support that you would get in a university – for instance student representatives and a counselling service (which would be free!)

    What I would have liked to see happen would be for all the students on the course to have made a collective complaint and demanded different course leaders – decent ones that actually do the job that they are being paid to do. Students have paid a lot of money for the course and they have a right to really good training from responsible lecturers. But of course the tutors are skilled at ‘divide and rule’ so they have refined the technique of picking on one or two students who can be scapegoated, while also having their clear ‘favourites’ who manage to get away with anything (there you go – the dysfunctional family dynamics again!)

    The more I think about it the more I just want to walk away from such a dysfunctional organisation before it wears me down even further. I’m not sure I want to give them the pleasure of a good old fight which is what I think they would like. However, at the very least, I think I should complain to the professional body that accredits the course. I won’t hold my breath.

  293. Dysfunction in training organisations!

    Good grief – isn’t the internet amazing. An article that covers the problem:


  294. That Rick Ross article certainly covers so many things that happened to me in therapy. It was all the coverage of the Jonestown cult anniversary that prompted me revisit my therapy,

    Complaints: facing one rottweiler was difficult enough. I wouldn’t want a whole committee. I hope you might unearth a kindred spirit or two among the roster of defectors. Who knows what people really think.

    Oliver! : Song and dance makes everything better.

  295. Jorobs, I think you should try to get in touch with the other ex-students, if you can. If you’ve all had similar experiences with the course, a joint complaint could carry more weight. Plus, you could all support each other in processing the whole experience. Group therapy to recover from therapy training!

  296. Yes, thank you for the responses. Group therapy to recover from group therapy training – how crazy is that? I have wanted to put some distance between myself and the training provider in order to be in a slightly less fragile place. I have been in contact with one ex-student who also found the experience damaging. I agree that a group complaint would carry more weight. As I wrote upthread, I would be amazed if they have not had (possibly even group) complaints before.

    As for more therapy, I just don’t feel at this stage that it would be helpful. I am finding that getting on with my life and mixing with positive people is a good healing experience. Also, trying not to take things tooooo seriously – easier said than done though.

  297. I found the best “therapy,” simply living life. It’s been quite a struggle to slip out of the therapy framework like the second guessing myself–am I doing this or that for this or that reason. Another habit it instilled was been feeling victimized. Therapy literally trained me how to be depressed.

  298. This is a review of Richard House’s thoughtful book, Therapy Beyond Modernity, which is available as an ebook online. The review tells you a bit about its contents. I was glad, and somewhat surprised that an APA reviewer looked on this book favorably, unlike the reception the profession usually gives its critics.

  299. Thanks for that link – couldn’t agree more with what he is saying. My experiences with therapy have been dreadful so I know for a fact that at least one training organisation is dysfunctional and will be churning out therapists with a warped view of their role.

  300. What you describe is so disturbing. I do hope the experiences of the “contrarians” in that training program ultimately becomes a catalyst for deconstruction and change. The story isn’t over yet….

  301. There is a part of me that wants to turn up at one of the next lecturers and announce to the tutors, in front of all the students, what I think of the organisation and why I left. I would be amazed if they haven’t had complaints before – I strongly suspect they have as one of the lecturers was absent for a long period of time. Ostensibly ‘off sick’ but if there had been a formal complaint, I imagine that there would have had to be a formal investigation and that might have involved that person being suspended pending the outcome of the investigation. These types of ‘in house’ investigations are invariably a complete whitewash, with the person who has complained being further victimed by the complaints process as the organisation works its hardest to cover-up the wrongdoing.

    Once the organisation knew I was leaving, I received the most unpleasant ‘assessment’ of a piece of work that I had done. It was designed to be as negative as possible, downplaying any positives and making assertions that simply weren’t true and were designed to demean my character.

    Still, I suppose the oldest trick in the book is to project one’s own shortcomings onto someone else – which is essentially exactly what he was doing. The feedback was designed to undermine my sense of self.

    God, what a creep! Makes me quite angry actually.

    • When I meet creeps now, I assume they’re acting that way because they’re 1) know deep inside they’re living a lie, and/or 2) in something beyond their abilities.

      Several times I’ve found myself the outlier in a group. I understand the upset and destabilization. I have a huge need for confirmation and outlet for my anger and it’s difficult to find just who my allies might be.

      The older I get, (smile, eye roll) the more I found the wisdom of weighing risks and benefits of followup. Sometimes it takes years, but truths, and rewards for my integrity, do appear.

  302. Well – you have provided an amazing resource here with this blog. I, for one, am very grateful and have learned a HUGE amount. So thank you!

  303. on July 21, 2012 at 3:02 am | Reply disequilibrium1

    Sorry about the circumstances that brought you here, but appreciate your thoughts and participation. Apologies for getting new agey on you (I’m not one) but I’ve truly seen setbacks eventually reveal an advantage. One never knows….

  304. I don’t mind new agey – as it happens something quite interesting is happening in my life at the moment. In the past it is something that I would probably have walked away from as I tend to be someone who shies away from potentially tricky situations. But, probably thanks to the therapy stuff, I am going to face it head on. I also think I have decided what direction I am going to take my career in. So, good things have come from the setbacks.

    I am also finding that I am less influenced by other people’s reactions and opinions. I realise that I tended to ‘introject’ a lot so I am actively working on not taking on board other people’s stuff. This links in with the boundary issues I suppose. One of my parents was quite narcissistic and that, along with a naturally quite sensitive nature, has been responsible, I think, for the ‘issues’ that took me up the therapy route in the first place. I’ve decided that being my own therapist is the best course of action!

    What I think has shocked me the most about the training provider is that I swear that the lecturers tapped into students vulnerabilities. Of course they were in the unique position of being privy to very personal information as well as being responsible for training. They did not use their position of responsibility wisely, in my opinion. I feel sorry for the other students.

  305. Jorobs, so great you’re deciding on a new direction and interesting things are happening. I find it so difficult to be immersed in what I ultimately decided was a destructive culture. It takes a large paradigm shift.

  306. It’s good to see a bit of a fightback against theraspist’s untouchability.

    It still does worry me though that there is no balanced view on the internet – people tend to have a negativity bias which can mean people don’t recognise that good therapy sometimes doesn’t feel good, which gives a grey area within which many bad therapists lie undetected. Bad therapists in my experience have come in 2 forms – those that are too soft and achieve nothing and those that bully.

    The general approach I would have is to stick it out and let your instincts tell you when it is not working. Saying something like “It’s been 6 months and I see no imrovements” is not enough – I think a second opinion is a good idea, as results are more subtle. As good therapy involves hard work it’s not necessarily about instant results – the good consequences of my most successful period of therapy took 1-2 years to fully materialise and I did put more effort in than other therapies. Understanding the phrase “it must be you” is an exploration within itself and that some people just won’t do regardless of therapist. Anyway, your instincts will let you know when the therapy or therapist is just wrong for you and there are checklists on the web which are great at giving you food for thought and figuring out what is what.

    Hearing things you don’t want to hear is a sensitive issue and it takes hard work to break your internal resistance and bite certain bullets, so it is imperative that the therapist a) does tell you everything you need to hear (not just what you want to hear) and b) pay attention to sensitivities. Unfortunately this is where therapists are untouchable, especially if they haven’t beem unprofessional like trying to have sex with you, as they will always have a way to duck and dive. Best thing is to move on and find another one.

    • Alan, as you see from the two years of comments above, you’re counseling a gathering who had bad experiences in therapy. I don’t know if you’re a therapist or simply staunchly identify, but I’ll respond assuming you’re a therapist trying to admonish the stray doggies back into the herd.

      My issue with therapy extends far beyond the therapist’s untouchability and to the entire paradigm. Its authoritarian-supplicant foundation can be damaging to the consumer whose emotional need is for more competence and autonomy, not another parent surrogate or oracle.

      I gather you presume an important role of the therapist is to tell people “what they don’t want to hear.” Really? Then that role is not to lead clients to their own conclusions?

      In the therapist assuming his role is “telling people what they don’t want to hear,” he also assumes the consulting room provides him immunity from our normal human responses. I disagree. A therapist telling me “you have no backbone” is the same condescension it would be if I heard that on the street. And it’s obviously feedback I would have received many times from “life.” So this “truth telling” from a therapist is not wisdom, but merely salt on a wound. Even if the therapist said–more neutrally–“you didn’t stand up to your boss,” the therapist is never privy to the entire scenario–the boss’s personality and the risks I’d have to calculate in trying to change a power dynamic.

      Please don’t assume the public’s instincts will protect them from bad therapy. Glance above, you’ll see testimonies of many thoughtful people who were led toward quite destructive relationships. You remember all that “trust” stuff? Therapy’s paternalistic paradigm encourages us to be more gullible than in outside life and “trust” whatever gruel the therapist dishes. As Marilyn Peterson points out, we’ve been conditioned all our lives to respect and obey authority figures. The results of this mesmerism and submission again, can be wildly destructive. At its most benign ,it’s certainly an excursion AWAY from autonomy.

      You’re not the first person to chide to us doubters, “therapy involves hard work.” I hope you weren’t trying admonishment that all of us shirked at this “hard work” and now find ourselves outside the victory circle as therapy failures. The problem is the most or all of us had too much obedience. (The other patronizing rebuke therapists give us is …you have to WANT to change.)

      If you are a therapist, let me offer you an admonition. I hope you check your own paternalism because it can be doing great harm. You entered this discussion with a lesson to teach us. You might have noted your audience, consumers who have done a large amount of reading and research to explore why therapy didn’t work for us. This is one of the few spots on the internet you’re able to talk with consumers who found therapy harmful. Your reaction seemed to be incuriosity. And that, many of us find, is the first problem with the entire profession. Therapists don’t want to hear consumer feedback.

      • I would like to ask you, and everyone else: In the courses one takes to become a therapist, do the students learn that THEY SHOULD NOT INSULT THEIR CLIENTS; CALL THEM NAMES; SCREAM AT THEM; ETC.???? to me – THAT is what is important. It is the personality of the therapist. Also, as students are they taught to be EMPATHIC? SENSITIVE AND KIND TO THEIR CLIENTS??? this may be common sense, but you know what they say about that!

  307. Just started to explore this blogger, but enjoyed this series:

  308. Thanks for the blog & replies. I went to a dozen or so therapists, and ‘they’ made ME crazy! Some of them spent the time alluding to, or even directly telling me, about THEIR problems. Examples: One told me about HER childhood. Another indicated to me, from the get-go, that she hated men; turns out her husband had cheated on her; when I disagreed with her, she told me that if a woman’s a victim of sex abuse she cannot trust men- I reminded her that I WAS NOT a victim of sex abuse; Her retort: THAt’s just how men are. oh gosh. Two other therapists would not speak during the sessions. I confronted one, (a marital counselor) who told me it was because ‘you and your partner” have so many things on your plate now’. I told her he & I could fight at home for free. Another male therapist was anti-Semitic (& he knew we were Jewish), complaining to us “My wife is nothing but a JAP!” I reminded him we were JEWISH, and he said “Oh, so am I, but it doesn’t mean anything to me. I converted for her parents”. The last thing he heard me say: ‘Its obvious it doesn’t mean anything to you. And that’s a shame”. My first therapist had borderline personality disorder – everything was dramatic; she wanted to be single, like me, so she could ‘seduce’ men; And when I cried in a session because my boyfriend treated me very badly, her screaming response: “You fucked up another relationship, didn’t you”!!! When I later told her, via telephone, that I wasn’t returning, she cried crocodile tears, moaning that “everyone leaves me. and now you are too”. When I saw another therapist, & told her I was depressed about how some relatives treated me, she said “And THAT bothers you??”! Yet another female therapist, when I told her about I guy I loved who broke off with me, by complaining he couldn’t “stand” being with me for even an hour, because I “interrupted him when he spoke” (yes, he DID say that). Her response: “How can anyone be with you, the WAY you are”! Oh, btw, she never bothered explaining what ‘way’ that was. What a bitch. Believe it or not, there are even more wierd therapist stories! Now, I read self-help books; they have helped me solve my problems MUCH more than therapists have. Plus they don’t tell me their problems, don’t degrade/insult me, are not prejudiced, and I have yet to find one who has a personality disorder.

    • As Jorobs reports, there can be huge flaws in the training itself. If that weren’t enough, there’s another large issue: what reality checks exist as the therapist’s practice progresses through the years?

      We all evolve as people, and along the way can accumulate groundless notions. So if say, a therapist watches a television celebrity who peddles scolding and ahem, “tough love,” there’s little preventing the therapist from adopting this ill-conceived technique himself. Well yes, there’s client feedback or complaints. But we’ve seen how negating client feedback–attributing it to transference or resistance–is in the very foundation of the therapeutic theory.

  309. Reharpen – hehe! Indeed, why are there so many therapists out there with personality disorders? Best thing I ever did was quit therapy and therapy training. I am now mixing with people who are NORMALwhatever that means!) which is so refreshing. My experiences of therapy were not dissimilar to yours – they were so patronising/belittling etc. No-one would want to spend any time in their company, let alone pay for it! It’s strange, but the last therapy session I had (she was a complete bitch too) when I paid her, she stared at me as I wrote out the cheque and I kind of felt humiliated – as though I had paid for a prostitute or something. I actually felt abused. I think she had deliberately set up a kind of authority figure/victim set up designed to keep me firmly in my place. A bit like the kind of dysfunctional set-up you get in a dysfunctional family, which is presumably the family system that quite a few therapists grew up in (hence they are attracted to therapy).

    I was doing a counselling course at one stage and the experience was not much better – the course tutors were HORRIBLE. Scary, really, how unregulated the whole field is – even the teaching providers have personality disorders so imagine they are training a generation of dysfunctional therapists!

    • thank you guys so much! I feel so much better, knowing my experiences were more common than I thought. Jorobs, thanks for telling us the experiences in your counseling course. After I’ve told a few therapists re; my horrible experiences, they all tell me “well, you must be sure to choose a therapist who has gone through therapy herself”. HA! I always told them:
      what if the therapist has, but HER therapist was screwed up too?! Never got a reply.
      I really do think these problems are SYSTEMIC in the practice of therapy, especially 1) In choosing among the applicants whom the therapy schools decide to admit; 2) the fact that the actual individual therapy is done with ‘only’ the therapist and the client in attendance. I will address the latter when I have more time.
      But as for deciding whom the schools choose to admit as students, seems that they follow the type of requirements of other professional schools: 1) Did they take the required prereqisites? 2) and notifiying the students that they must pay their tuition, etc.
      I am a lawyer, but SORRY, being a good therapist should include much more than just this. Maybe set up a situation with the applicant and another person, the person tells them some problems they are having, and SEE how the student reacts. (Then secretly videotape this). It shouldn’t matter exactly what advice the applicant told them; they should watch HOW the applicant interacted with the other person. Did the applicant scream at her? Tell her her problems were insignificant? Start telling the other person the applicant’s OWN problems? Inform the other person that she should just “forget” the problems and watch television instead? (which one therapist actually did tell me, btw).
      I know this isn’t the best or only way to choose who should undergo that program. But it is a START.

  310. I think the first problem is the profession and individual therapists see themselves as experts, authorities, and most of them expect us to put ourselves in “their hands” in unconditional surrender.

    This is utterly unhealthy for an adult, even if it were supernaturally possible for any therapist to hold some sort of transcended source of enlightenment.

    Of course, no human being does, and authority/supplicant is an utterly harmful metaphor. It’s absurd and delusion the therapist presents himself this way.

    I’ve found no evidence that therapists are more emotionally integrated nor have any more intelligence about Living Life than anyone else. In fact, they’re trained, they’re taught to remove themselves, codify and pathologize everything and everyone, I’m convinced they’re less in touch, as a group.

    I further find this so-called medical model harmful as apply to therapy. Doctors can give us medicines to cure infections, for this is an objective thing. But no one can “heal” someone else’s soul.

  311. Yes, agree! At best, a therapist could be a facilitator or ‘sounding board’. That’s it. I suppose a relationship with an enligtened therapist could end up being more than this…but then perhaps you could argue that it has moved beyond the therapy role into something else.

  312. Very good point. So VERY ironic, that for an institution that emphasizes that their clients look at THEMSELVES, their own role in their problems, & seek to change to better their lives, that therapists DO NOT do this themselves. Instead, they blame ‘the other’ their clients, if a therapeutic relationship does not ‘work out’. If a client repeatedly blamed another person – whether it was their ex-spouse, parent, etc., – the therapist would ultimately NOT accept this.

  313. I think the problem is with mental health practitioners is systemic. Professional literature convinces me they’re trained in a Crazyland–personality traits are illnesses they magically heal, non-compliance can indicate narcissism or some such nonsense, resistance is fear or even wanting to undermine the therapist, interpersonal conflicts are transference.

    It’s like the distorted mirror room at the funhouse. But it’s no fun.

  314. New blog site for Multiple Personalities Don’t Exist.

  315. Very insightful all of this. When the course tutor on the counselling course discovered that I was quitting the course prematurely he HAD to get his own back and have the last word. So he sent an assignment that I had done back to me by post (I hadn’t asked to have it sent to me and didn’t particularly care what grade I got/what comments he made as by then I had decided he was a total nutjob and nasty to boot). Anyway, he managed to be as vindictive as possible with lots of nasty little personal comments. Completely unprofessional. He didn’t focus on the work I had done from a professional point of view but simply used it as an excuse to personally attack me.

    I can only assume that he took my leaving the course as a personal affront (well he was right from the point of view that I left because I didn’t like him as a tutor). But he lacked the stability, integrity and emotional intelligence to act like an adult. Instead, he behaved like a bully in a school playground who can’t get his own way and threw a nasty little temper tantrum at me.

    How pathetic! I can only assume that he uses (and abuses) his role as an authority figure to try to meet his own distorted emotional needs. He probably has huge anger issues or something (certainly issues with women).

    So glad I am out of it before my perceptions became even more distorted.

  316. Yes – I am now totally non–compliant! How good that feels! Leave the lunatics in charge of the asylum…..

  317. I notice that theory debates between therapists online quickly become quite vile. Maybe on some level they realize what they’re defending is fundamentally baseless. Jorobs, I glad freedom is exhilarating.

    I’ve found for myself, how therapy, with its emphasis on unfairness, wounding and self-pity, left me less joyful and generous in my friendships. I’m focusing on undoing those poisonous lessons.

  318. Link to the article–Is Psychotherapy Superstition? Another Gestalt victim. “Successful woo always aims at making itself impervious to criticism.”

  319. An interesting article. When a society gives authority to a group of people who lack social skills, suffer from serious mental illness or grandiose notions of superiority and shamanic powers, and intend to exploit and/or control their patients under the guise of providing help, damage will result. Psychiatrists in particular are given god-like status and are offended, and vindictive, if a patient dares to challenge their (mis)treatment, beliefs, interpretation and mystical projections or introjections, or say NO to their abuse, lies or sexual overtures… What is not supportive is destructive. If your life begins to unravel after beginning a new relationship then you need to trust your gut and get out. A good therapist will guide you into greater insight and better health and personal growth as opposed to medicate you into compliance, reduce you to an infantile position of dependence and strip you of the ability to function or trust your better judgement. The term “difficult” or “non-compliant” can be a manipulative way of trying to control someone who refuses to believe that black means white, or that abuse and manipulative coercion constitute the road to better health. Unfortunately an interaction with an unethical, incompetent, negligent, abusive, self-serving or exploitative therapist will leave a client with a lot of anger and mistrust that may impede them seeking the help that they deserve. A simple tip may be to ask whether you would care to form a relationship with this person if you chanced to meet them at a bus-stop. If not, trust your reservations and exit without any need for explanation. Just because a person presents as a therapist does not mean that they relate in an honest, open or healthy manner. Accept that in life there co-exists bad teachers, bad clergy and bad cops among the good, and therefore do not assume that all therapists will be good. As a client you reserve the right to shop for what suits and fits you best.

    • Thanks Chris. Some of us learned too late that we were blinded by the therapist’s mantle of authority. I agree the best strategy is to trust one’s gut. Therapy isn’t the answer for everyone.

  320. Yes thanks for the additional comments and the link. Gut instincts are so important and I like the ‘person at a bus-stop’ tip. When I think back to the interview I had for the course, I remember my initial impressions of the course tutor were not good. In the very first instance I did not form a positive impression of him as a person. I remember my thought-process which was pretty much: ‘I don’t take to this person at all.’ I am not someone who necessarily makes quick impressions of people – I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and get to know them before forming an impression of the type of person they are. But in his case, I had a gut instinct which I should have listened to.

    My gut instincts were proved correct from before the course even begun – the course administration had been unclear about various times and dates leading to my missing a few days early on. Rather than owning their part in the confusion (course admin was sloppy and continued to be so) the course leaders rounded on me with accusations of ‘lack of commitment’ using highly charged negative language and personal accusations.

    I was pretty shocked, to be honest. I had imagined that part of the process of training for counselling would be that both tutors and students would explore and ‘own’ their part in any breakdown in communication. But apparently not. The fact that they had my money up front gave them considerable leverage which they were happy to exploit to the full. Were it not for that, I would not have started the course.

    In fact, they took things even further by making some veiled threats that it would be difficult for me to integrate with the students because I had missed a couple of days. I was gob-smacked – not only had they twisted things around so that their disorganistion was somehow all my fault (which was bad enough) but they had then very clearly threatened that this would lead to the other students not accepting me.

    So, they had effectively managed to create a ‘scapegoat’ – right from the very beginning. Nice! I trained as a school teacher and this is the type of bullying and scapegoating behaviour that even three or four year olds are taught is wrong and counter-productive to learning. Yet here we had adults encouraging this behaviour. I presume it was the only way they knew of gaining control of the group (though fear, distortion, threats of not being accepted by the group, divide and rule tactics).

    So, effectively, what the course tutors were doing was acting out the role of the authoritarian (and dysfunctional) parents to keep the students in line. When another student was off sick for some time, the course tutors would encourage students to speak negatively about that person. When I remonstrated, saying that the person was not there to defend themselves and in any case we didn’t know what was going on, the course tutors were defensive and hostile.

    I know for a fact that one of the course tutors was verbally abusive to her behind closed doors. What a crazy situation. Still, the link relating to training establishments in Scandinavia would appear to confirm my suspicions that what I experienced is not necessarily an isolated example. And I know that upthread I posted a link that was an article on this very problem – ‘dysfuntion in counselling training organisations’. Yes indeed – they churn out the dysfunctional counsellors of the future.

    Very worrying indeed.

    • My instinct would have steered me away from the worst of my counselors was authoritative, but vacuous, at our first meeting.

      The entire set-up feels calculated to remove the client’s judgment. I read counselors on the net who want their clients to suspend judgment, idealize them (to feel “safe”) and put our humbled, trusting selves in their masterful hands.

      That’s the first problem. I don’t believe wizard/devotee is any road to health. As Jorobs insider view testifies, professionals are just as petty and nasty than (or maybe more so) than any other profession.

  321. I just love these comments! Thanks so much for “if you met this person at a bus stop” would you have a relationship with him/her – that is it!
    I want to explain that recently I have been attending a group (free, I might add) run by 2 life couches. I have gotten a lot out of it; they are very positive, upbeat people, who actually CARE about us as individuals. Also, I appreciate it being in a group setting – if I would ever feel that something is ‘amiss’ with one of the leaders – I can ask the others in the group for their thoughts.
    Recently, I told someone about this group, and he chuckled “WHAT are their credentials, their training???” He explained that his Mom is a psychologist. I’ve decided to “come out of the closet” & told him that their training hasn’t done them much good, in my opinion. I told him 2 things: that if I broke my leg, & a doctor had to set it, there is a ‘standard’ way to do so; but if you go to a therapist, there are 50 ‘schools’ they can come from re: how to treat you. I also said that I & others have had a terrible time with therapists, and that is a huge problem in their field, training or no training. He just laughed at what I said, – but I am SO proud of myself. From now on, I will NOT hold back re: my experiences with this ‘profession’. Have any of you confronted people, as well??

    • Resharpen, “confronting” my therapist started the real trouble because often they are trained to filter what we say as an interpretation. So my objections weren’t viewed as real, they were resistance, or transference or distortion or some other diagnosis. We are “set up” to idealize them, and when we do, it indicates our narcissism. The conversation become a rigged game we can’t win because therapist are well- trained to invalidate complaints.

      It’s great you had a good group experience. My worse experience was in a group where other members were too intimidated to challenge the stern therapist’s “authority.” Unfortunately, silence is a frequent response to a bully.

      Chris’ “meet them at the bus stop” yardstick is useful in many instances. Thanks Chris. 🙂

    • resharpen, the “broken leg” analogy is spot on, in my opinion. You’re the only other person I know who has used this analogy. I appreciate how simple, yet accurate it is. Psychic wounds need to be taken care of in much the same way. When you have a broken leg, you don’t walk on it, but avoid situations that would make it worse and prevent its healing. And yet, many therapist encourage their patients to go into situations where the wounds become reactivated with the erroneous idea that it would be healing. Whenever my wounds were touched on in therapy, my therapist suddenly become silent and did not bring up the real cause of my suffering. I was left to hang out to dry, ironically much like my parents did. I’ve come to realize that my therapist was afraid of some of his own emotional reactions to me. A therapist, like a medical doctor, should be able to look at the gore, the bloody mess, and not shy away or become silent. They must be able to tell you how you ‘broke your leg’ and how to help you avoid breaking it again and definitely not lead you into situations that will hurt you more.

  322. Hi 1234nyc/nyclucky, hope you’re doing well.

    I found revisiting, dwelling in old hurts to be nothing but a lesson in how-to-be-a-depressive. It was like living inertly in a pot to stew and cook, with no relief from the heat. My therapy-taught habit of demanding wound salve from the world would sabotage me. (To mix metaphors.)

    I didn’t benefit from examining the hurts and deficiencies of childhood once I learned it wasn’t the fantasy I once imagined. I’m challenged how to go forward. My life skills, such as they are, are a constant work in progress.

    My “healing” psychic wounds doesn’t come from therapy. It comes from the times I’m able to handle a difficult situation successfully.

  323. I’m just thinking back to the start of the course with the creepy tutor. There was one session where he was responding to another student on the course, appearing to condone some pretty antisocial behaviour. I just couldn’t contain my anger – in any other setting his comments would have been unacceptable and it made me seriously question (yet again!) his integrity and personal characteristics.

    I was also still angry about negative comments he had made about me missing some of the course, so I guess I wanted to have it out with him. When I pointed out that he appeared to be condoning bad behaviour, he started backing down and denying what he had said. He also tried to deflect the comments on to the student.

    This was more evidence (as if I needed it) that he seriously lacked integrity and would lie in order to wriggle out of a difficult situation. It was stupid of him – I would have respected him so much more if he had opened up the discussion and explored what was going on and why. If he had ‘owned’ what he had said and explained the thought-process and invited a discussion, it could have been a really interesting session.

    Anyway, I locked eyes with him and wouldn’t let him wriggle off the hook. I told him (bearing in mind there were 10 other people as witnesses) that he had said what he had said and that my gripe was with HIM not with the student. I could have taken the coward’s way out, pretended that I had heard wrongly and pinned it all on the other student but I wasn’t prepared to let him off the hook.

    Boy – did he get his knickers in a twist. He didn’t make eye contact with me or any other student for the rest of the session. Rather like a rat caught in a sewer.

    • Sounds like an extremely fraught, political situation. Glad you’ve escaped and sorting it out. I know the confusion of realizing how everything was mislabeled.

      Since I realized the “corruption” of therapy, I’ve tried to spend more time on pragmatic problem-solving. I think therapy taught me to churn and churn rather than to find the calmest way to deal with realities.

      I hope I didn’t sound too challenging in my post above. But for me, therapy only encouraged me to cultivate my bad feelings and conflicts rather than find my way to the other side.

  324. Congrats Jorobs, and the rest of you who have ‘confronted’ bizarre things therapists say, and/or who have found things, people, methods, etc., to help you instead of wasting time on nutty therapists.
    ANother situation along these lines I faced was when I was in a women’s support (LOL) group, run by a psychologist who was doing this to get her required ‘hours’ of internship so she could be licensed. Most of us in the group were wanting to leave our husbands/boyfriends (mostly mentally abusive relationships), and many of the women in the group had married their high school sweethearts, etc., and were scared to go out in the ‘big scary world of dating.’. A few kept saying negative stereotypes of ALL men, & I argued with them about that, but with compassion for them. Altho I did not have their histories – I had dated a lot prior to marriage – I tried to put myself in their shoes.
    Well, at the end of each session, the psychologist always said the same thing: to us, in a very serious voice: “You know, for women in our age group, for each available woman, there are so many fewer men who are available.” (She cited the actual numerical stats). btw – she would say this, even tho it had NO connection to whatever we had discussed in any session.
    After about 3 sessions, I spoke to her privately, and told her that what she was always tellling us ‘didn’t help any of us in that group.’ Well, if LOOKS COULD KILL . . .i’D be one dead woman, that’s for sure. I think I also told her that all it took is for ONE man to like us, etc.
    At the end of the next session, she turned to me and said in a mean voice: “I know you DON’T like statistics, BUT. . .” and began rattling off some other horrible ‘scary’ stat about dating, or something. I responded that it wasn’t that I didn’t like statistics, but that we need to use ones that could ” help us get into healthy relationships.” . You can imagine how much she loved me at that moment. Oh, btw, I never saw her again. She had two sessions left with us, & I told her I had to miss the last one. SO – when I came the next week, no one showed up! I called her & asked what had happened – she claimed that I had told her that I wouldn’t be at the second-to-last session, and that ‘few people would be able to show up”, so she had cancelled it. I told her it was the LAST session I had told her that I couldn’t come to, and all she said was ‘Oh’. No apology, nothing. Isn’t that interesting?? She probably hated me confronting her – I am sorry that I never told her supervisor about what she had said; but am proud I did tell HER. how I had felt. Obviously, the stats were HER expressing HER OWN FEARS. ONce again, so many therapists DO NOT look at themselves. For me it brings up yet other issues – is it MY ROLE to always confront these therapists when THEY act ‘bizarrely’?? ANd then is it my role to report what they said/did to their supervisors?? That idea just exhausts me! I was in that group to get help and support myself, period. I didn’t have the wherewithall to confront her, and then report her; and NEITHER SHOULD I HAVE HAD TO. I just don’t see why that profession doesn’t ‘heal itself’, and be the “Lookouts” for their own profession’s bizarre behavior. Why didn’t the supervisor ever attend any session, or even part of one?? WHY is it up to US, the patients, to have to ‘clean up’ therapists’ crazy behavior?? I don’t know about you guys, but I am damn tired of this; one therapist after another doing/saying/acting awful to their patients. We want help! We shouldn’t have to be the ‘helper’!!!

  325. Its like you read my mind! You appear to understand a lot approximately this, such as you wrote the guide in it or something. I feel that you simply can do with some percent to pressure the message home a bit, however other than that, this is fantastic blog. A great read. I will certainly be back.

    • Sim Karte, thanks for your words. I’m a lay person, so have no access to percentages affected. I can only offer my personal viewpoint and argue that the benefit of my so-called treatment was quite opposite of my therapists’ perception. Many thread contributors have posted information and links, so there’s a lot here.

      Resharpen, I’m sorry for what you went through, which has elements of my experiences. I learned the hard way that therapists are no more enlightened, aware of noble than the rest of the population. However, they seem to create this expectation, and I for one, was ambushed when my “guru” revealed his irrationality and anger.

      There’s no magic training that grants therapists Life Wisdom. I think the next best thing is to question all the phony baloney and myths in the therapy relationship, so that two people meet on more realistic footing.

  326. Resharpen – yes indeed, the psychologist leading the ‘support’ group appears to have had a massive agenda of her own, which she was determined to push onto members of the group. Whatever happened to approaching a situation with an open mind, putting aside one’s own baggage? Not exactly rocket science. I also agree about the massive difficulty faced in confronting the therapist’s strange/unethical behaviour. In my experience, the therapist is not open to any level of criticism, even if it is constructive. When I have tried to point things out (diplomatically) the response has been defensiveness, anger, denial and so on. As you say, the thought of going through a formal complaints procedure is exhausting. If the individual therapist is going to react so strongly to any kind of feedback, imagine what kind of response one would get from a collective body of therapists? The mind boggles.

    My experience of confronting a dysfunctional authority figure and blowing the whistle on her behaviour to the professional governing body (while undertaking a professional training course some years back) is that the institute will close ranks. The individual is in an excessively weak position. The supervisors/superiors are often aware of the problem (they certainly were in my particular case – the woman left a trail of destruction in her wake) but the reality is that it is quite difficult to get rid of rogue employees. (Not making an excuse here but simply pointing out the practicalities of the situation).

    The strategy that the dysfunctional authority figure adopted (she was supposed to be my mentor – what a joke!) was that she would ensure that she had ‘meetings’ with her trainees in a private room, with a closed door. She would then proceed to verbally undermine/intimidate/threaten etc. I imagine that an abusive relationship would be a bit like that.

    I was so shocked that I allowed her to undermine and humiliate me for probably an hour or more. The woman knew exactly what she was doing. She specifically trawled the building looking for a ‘private room’ so that there would be no witnesses to her behaviour. I remember at the time thinking: ‘I don’t want to be in a room on my own with you’. I found her behaviour very bizarre. Then she verbally assaulted me (can’t think of another way of putting it). I was shocked into silence. She only stopped her tirade when another person entered the room at which point I uttered the first words of the hour which were: ‘I’m not enjoying this meeting’. She deliberately misrepresented what I had said (for the benefit of the witness in the room) by stating: ‘Oh, I am very concerned that you are not enjoying working here’. To which I replied: ‘No – I am not enjoying this meeting.’ She then said: ‘Constructive critcism is part of the process’. I couldn’t think of anything to say – I was still in a state of shock (disassociation – I realised afterwards). Of course she knew that her criticism was far from constructive, this was a well-rehearsed ‘game’ (see the article that I posted upthread about ‘sadistic teachers’ – it explains the process quite well). She was someone who ‘got off’ on sadistic mind-games. I suppose you could write her off as a nutter, except she caused a huge amount of harm, not just to me but many others. But her ‘professional’ status gave her a cloak of respectability. I think this happens quite a lot with authority figures who abuse their position of power – in all sorts of fields.

    For me, the result of her psychological manipulation was that I had what I suppose would be termed some kind of nervous breakdown. If only I had taped the meeting I would have had some hard evidence. But of course when I tried to explain what had happened to the governing body, they were hostile and defensive and blamed me telling me I should ‘change my perceptions’. What a crock of sh##. Interestingly, one of the first things they asked was whether there were any witnesses in the room. They knew exactly what her strategy was. Afterwards, I found out that this woman had a long string of similar incidents behind her and boasted that she always reduced her mentees to tears. Stupid cow.

    Anyway, the purpose of this rather long story is that the complaints procedures are often rigged so that the individual – already in a weak position – is further undermined so that the dysfunctional authority figures (and quite often I imagine dysfunctional organisation) can protect itself against those who dare to blow the whistle.

    I cannot imagine that the counselling industry/psychology profession would be any different and in actual fact I would imagine that it is probably even worse as those in it will be ‘expert’ at psychological tricks of the trade. Many will have gone in to the field because of their own issues, which may or may not be resolved. So there will be rogue practitioners, just like everywhere else, and whistle blowers are seldom welcome as they expose those dark secrets that many would prefer to remain hidden.

    If you subscribe to the view that there is something inherently dysfunctional about the whole therapy industry, then a whistle-blower is likely to be even less welcome as they are not just exposing a rogue practitioner but a whole industry that needs a good shake-up.

    This is the reason that I ended up leaving the counselling training course and not lodging a formal complaint. I was not prepared to further weaken myself with a protracted battle which I would never have been able to win. It would have been a kangaroo court, rigged from the start and I know that the course tutors were vindictive and nasty enough to enjoy the process so I decided to deny them that pleasure. There was no way they would have put their hands up and said: ‘yes, we are nasty and vicious and we haven’t resolved our own issues’. Rather than exploring their own ‘stuff’ they found it more congenial to pull apart the students – especially those with an ounce of independence or spirit.

    Thanks for that link, disequilibrium, I can certainly recognise some of those characters!

  327. Jorobs –
    that is just horrible! You are right re: taping sessions with horrific, screwed up people like that so-called ‘counselor/trainer’. Look at what has changed, for example, in that ordinary people are using their cell phones to videotape police beating up people (remember the Rodney King case, etc.). If I EVER go into indivdual therapy again, or some nutty leader of “group therapy” says crazy things, I will DEFINITELY have a tiny, hidden tape recorder with me TURNED ON. Of course, even playing this for that person’s supervisor, etc., may NOT help, but at minimum, they will know that they are being ‘watched’/taped/videotaped, and that could change their behavior.
    Also, I have an idea. The American Psychological Association’s annual convention is in Tampa, FL this year, in NOvember. I don’t live anywhere near there, BUT it would be wonderful if a group like ours picketed their convention & voiced our complaints, generally. I’ll bet the media would love to interview us.
    I got this idea thinking back re: how other movements have been started – and often by only ONE person or a few people. I used to live in Chicago, and I remember over 20 years ago reading a newspaper interview of a Mom whose son had been abused by a priest. She started the first group to publicize this problem. At the time, many Catholics doubted her son’s experience, and the public thought, at best, that it had only happened to her son & no one else. She wouldn’t relent, her group grew, & we all know the rest of the story – it was shocking, but people begin to accept this as a problem. Along with our situations, there were no ‘witnesses’ to the abuse, but after victim after victim came out of the woodworks, no one could deny that the problem existed – in droves. (btw, I am not just ‘picking’ on Catholics! It happens in all religious groups).
    Also, I still remember people picketing the conventions of the American Psychiatric Association – people who had had serious mental problems, & felt they had been badly victimized by the psychiatric industry. Their voices were finally heard (although I will admit, don’t know how much they ever affected that industry).
    Anyway, any thoughts this way? After all, our problems are only the tip of the iceberg – so many ‘former clients’ have had rotten experiences with therapists. I guess I tend to be an activist, & think we should voice our problems more publicly. Perhaps we can picket state conventions of therapists, etc.?

    • Resharpen, it’s tough to raise awareness of therapy’s problems because therapists have such a well-honed arsenal and the public perception of authority. Critics are quickly “diagnosed” with some affliction and discredited. Even well-articulated and supported criticism by thinking professionals like David Smail and Tana Dineen are met with rage and discrediting by many of their peers. A UK therapist wrote a furious take-down of Anna Sands’ very insightful book, Falling for Therapy.

      I know of a few professionals who deal directly with therapy victims and serve as a bridge to their profession. I can only plea with any professional reading blogs like this about the urgent need for client voices.

  328. Thanks for your quick response – I am in the UK but the problem appears to be just as bad in this country, if my experiences are anything to go by. I would welcome collective action taken against practitioners who have abused their position of trust. So difficult to prove though. But, as you say, recording things at least provides evidence. If I had asked to record the feed-back session with my ‘mentor’ I imagine she would have been obliged to respond quite differently. She would not have been able to risk having hard evidence of her verbal abuse. But of course it would never have occured to me that I would need to do that in order to protect myself! The whole concept of a ‘mentor’ is someone who is in a guiding role so she took me completely unawares – I guess that is one of the hallmarks of this type of predator – they manage to completely disarm their victim. If I had been swimming in a lake full of piranhas at least I would have had my guard up!

    Unfortunately, I have come across quite a few authority figures and professionals who have abused their positions of trust. It happens in all walks of life and, unfortunately, there will be those rogue pracitioners who hide under the cloak of professional respectability (the priests is a good example) in order to pursue their own, dark, agendas. It happens in medicine, law, the police, the church, politics and so on.

    In the Uk at the moment, a good example of this type of situation is now being uncovered with allegations relating to the conduct of charity campaigner in the 70s and 80s, Jimmy Saville. Because he was a ‘do-gooder’ who raised lots of money for charity, he was considered beyond reproach (always a dangerous concept). It is alleged that he abused his position of trust to sexually assault young and vulnerable girls. People knew what was going on but chose to ‘turn a blind eye’ and, in a way, who can blame them? As I wrote above, the whistle blower is seldom welcomed – not by the establishment at any rate – and it is quite often a case of ‘shoot the messanger’.

    That has certainly been my experience. I have attempted to fight a few battles with various establishments over the years and the result has always been the same. Ranks close and the ‘victim’ is further punished and victimised for having the audacity to have spoken up.

    One would like to have thought that counselling/therapy might provide a final refuge for those, like myself and no doubt thousands of others, who have found themselves at the mercy of other people’s cruelty and abuse of power. But, as this blog has rather powerfully illustrated, it seems that, even when compassion is most desperately needed, there are still those who will stoop low enough to be predatory to those who are at their most vulnerable.

  329. Correction: I was wrong re: the APA National Convention; It was already held last August, 2012, in Orlando FL. and:


    1) Ethics and Law for the Practicing Psychologist

    This vignette-based INTERMEDIATE workshop addresses ethical decision making, the relationship between ethical and clinical decision making, and ways to minimize exposure to ethical liability. The workshop views the APA Ethics Code as a tool to aid in resolving complex ethical dilemmas, rather than as a laundry list of ethical requirements and prohibitions. Focus is on ethical standards relevant to clinical practice, including standards especially likely to relate to a jurisdiction’s law and regulations. The program emphasizes how psychologists can use ethics codes.
    Learning Objectives
    1. Identify a process for resolving legal and ethical dilemmas,
    2. Describe the relationship between a psychologist’s legal and ethical obligations,
    3. Identify areas that present special legal and ethical concerns to practicing psychologists,
    4. Identify concrete steps for psychologists to minimize their exposure to legal and ethical liability,
    5. Describe the relationship between clinical practice and legal and ethical risk management, and
    6. Identify a process for applying clinical principles to emerging or novel professional practice situations.

    2) Malpractice — A Practical Guide for Psychologists

    Many practitioners find themselves RUNNING SCARED when confronted with this litigation. There is however, an important distinction between a suit and a successful suit. The elements of protecting oneself against a successful malpractice action are in fact fairly straightforward: careful clinical work, informed consent, adherence to the standard of care, careful documentation, and consultation. This INTERMEDIATE workshop clarifies these concepts and shows how to implement them.
    Learning Objectives
    1. Apply the concept of informed consent to your practice,
    2. Apply the standard of care to your practice,
    3. Utilize assessment and treatment techniques that demonstrate adherence to the standard of care,
    4. Document records that demonstrate adherence to the standard of care,
    5. Compare alleged damages to various treatment approaches,
    6. Evaluate contacts against the concept of professional relationship, and
    7. Evaluate diversity issues as they relate to malpractice.

  330. The American Psychological Association is lying about psychotherapy, as it in two cartoon films claims that psychotherapy does not have (bad) side effects.


  331. Sigrum – thanks – I will definitely look at these.
    you are so right! When I went on the American Psychological Association;’s website, on their home page, they cited some ‘study’ claiming that people who get therapy get ‘better’ than those who don’t, and cite stats. What cracked me up is that their best stats were those FROM CLIENTS WHO HAD STAYED IN THERAPY FOR AT LEAST SIX MONTHS! Well, that makes sense – in my case, if a therapist was an ignoramus/meanie/kinow-nothing, etc., I LEFT BEFORE SIX MONTHS!!! This group just won’t look at themselves. They also keep quoting the ‘standard of care’, and altho I know it is hard to pin down, they really don’t explain at all what that means in any narrow way. I mean, they could define it as ‘not screaming at your client’, but don’t even do that. They live in a really la-la land of their own choosing.

    • There are so many problems proving the effectiveness of therapy because how do you measure the quality of a human life? I was convinced therapy was working until I years later I realized it was a shared folly.

      • So true. What we, the victims, can make public is the BASIC things that therapists did to us which were destructive. Like: screaming at their clients; telling the clients the therapists’ own problems; sitting in silence throughout (or during most of) the sessions; repeatedly “accusing” the clients of being ‘horrible and/or being the sole cause of why their relationships, or aspects of their lives, can’t work out, etc.
        These are basic, common-sense things that a therapist should NOT do.
        I do think we should become activists, and get the destructive therapists OUT of the closet!
        One thing is making a state law that before a person begins therapy, they MUST be given an info sheet very similar to the one in California (called ‘consumer guide’ or something). It must be signed by BOTH the therapist and the client, and the client must be given a copy.
        If you guys haven’t seen it, let me know, and I’ll post a copy of that sheet. It explains basic rights which a client has, including the right to make a complaint (and the tel. no.), etc.

  332. I found therapy a dangerous trap by leading me to believe it magically was a refuge from the destructive forces of human nature. I learned a hard lesson that therapists are just as subject to arrogance, pride and the need to control as the general population, if not more so.Professionals should stop presenting themselves as the unselfish, evolved beings and admit they’re playing a purchased role. Then consumers can employ them on an honest, realistic basis.

    Resharpen, those professional ethical discussions convey the therapist’s interest to protect his own hide and avoid “the appearance” of impropriety. Years ago the APA had a professional hotline to call “at the first sign of trouble.” The blaring omission is the damage done to client in a therapeutic rift. No matter which party is at fault, no matter who is distorting reality –which can be the therapist as readily as the client–the therapy experience was a failure if the client is distressed enough to turn to litigation.

    I suggest therapists worry less about avoiding the APPEARANCE of impropriety and worry more how to avoid provoking their clients’ feelings of powerlessness.

    Sigrun, I find those APA-sanctioned cartoons unethical on so many levels. It’s unconscionable they state therapy has “no side effects”after the January 2010 issue of their own journal had several articles exploring harmful therapy. Then they state their treatment is “proven effective” for depression and stress. Just as bad are the implied promises covered with dodgy phrases like “may help.” They’re implying the moon here, relief from depression, stress, improved relationships and health, living your best life.

    These ads hold the danger of setting the client up to expect miracles and depicting the therapist in a guru image he can’t possibly fill.

    • On Twitter I sent them tweets and posted links to the cartoons and to articles in their journal about harmful therapy.
      Will they reply to me?.

      • That will be interesting to see. The cartoons satirize the idea of a panacea to life’s problems, then, paradoxically, present therapy as a (slightly qualified) panacea to life’s problems. Their manipulative appeal exploits human frailty. There’s barely a difference between these and those cheesy ads for some lifestyle improvement on late-night TV.

  333. Here it is: (I would add more info citing examples of specific boundary issues, and sexploitation).:

    Patient Bill of Rights

    Patients have the right to:

    Request and receive information about the therapist’s professional capabilities, including licensure, education, training, experience, professional association membership, specialization and limitations.
    Have written information about fees, payment methods, insurance reimbursement, number of sessions, substitutions (in cases of vacation and emergencies), and cancellation policies before beginning therapy.
    Receive respectful treatment that will be helpful to you.
    A safe environment, free from sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
    Ask questions about your therapy.
    Refuse to answer any question or disclose any information you choose not to reveal.
    Request and receive information from the therapist about your progress.
    Know the limits of confidentiality and the circumstances in which a therapist is legally required to disclose information to others.
    Know if there are supervisors, consultants, students, or others with whom your therapist will discuss your case.
    Refuse a particular type of treatment, or end treatment without obligation or harassment.
    Refuse electronic recording (but you may request it if you wish).
    Request and (in most cases) receive a summary of your file, including the diagnosis, your progress, and the type of treatment.
    Report unethical and illegal behavior by a therapist (see “Your Reporting Options,”).
    Receive a second opinion at any time about your therapy or therapist’s methods.
    Have a copy of your file transferred to any therapist or agency you choose.

    • I definitely think a therapy consumer guide is a great idea, I’d add that consumers should receive realistic information about what to expect and warning signs (side effects) of bad therapy. When we receive a prescription it’s always accompanied with that information.

  334. It looks like the @APAHelpCenter on Twitter has decided not to answer me.
    Yesterday I also commented on a blog, but they haven’t published my comment (yet). http://www.yourmindyourbody.org/talking-to-your-physician-about-psychotherapy-therapyworks/

    • I view the APA’s publicity as perpetuating an unrealistic mythology around therapy. This mythology encourages a dependency and uncritical awe which is ripe for abuse.

      I occasionally have commented on or questioned therapists on the web. With a few exceptions, they take into the authoritarian tone, interacting as if I were their “patient.” It’s interesting to see their strategies to maintain power.

      • Sigrun – unfortunately, dis. is correct. They won’t deal with you – they take the ‘macho’/power stand.
        Again, the best way is for us to become activists. Picket the APA, etc.,conventions, write to the ‘general media’, and try to get laws passed, as I suggessted, which requires that each therapy consumer is given a list of his/her ‘rights’ before the first therapy session.

      • The APA never published my blog comment, nor gave me any Twitter-reply. Are these people therapists?

    • It seems a rare when official bodies, like the APA , even acknowledge the hazards of therapy. The paradox of this spot is that it makes therapy sound like the Fixitall they parody. All happy talk and promotion, just like an cheesy TV commercial.

      Feel free to share what you wanted to post here, if you’ve saved them and are so inclined.

  335. disequilibrium1–Thank you for describing the bad experiences you’ve had with prior therapists. I myself am a Licensed Professional Counselor and I’ve sat on both sides of the therapy office.

    My experiences…

    One therapist–an LCSW–told me I should leave my wife (we’ve been faithfully married 18 years and going strong–no way!)

    Another–a psychologist–spent the first 1/4 of our session talking to me from the kitchenette in his office, while he made himself an espresso, then spent the other 3/4 of the session talking about himself…I hardly got a word in.

    When he did the same thing in the second session I decided that was enough.

    He called me several weeks later to ask what happened. I told him…

    “Doc, after two sessions I know more about you than you do about me!”

    His only response was to chuckle and say, “Yeah, I do tend to talk a lot, don’t I?”

    All I can say is, I don’t roll that way. I do a lot of listening, but it’s empathetic listening. Which means I take careful note of what my client is saying and reflect back to him/her so they know I’m listening and that I get it.

    I collaborate with each client to set goals and formulate a treatment plan, which is my accountability to them for results.

    I also eschew the diagnostic labels as much as managed care lets me. Let’s face it, the same person can go to three different “experts” and end up with three different diagnoses!

    In my world, clients are whole persons and I never let them forget it. Our goal is to help them fully embrace their whole selves so that they might purge the demons that hold them back and move on with their personal growth.

    I attribute my approach to the counselor education I received. I think counselors on the whole are more holistic and person-centered than are psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers, whose trainings are more grounded in the traditional medical model.

    I wish you well in your journey of personal growth, despite your unfortunate sojourn through “therapy hell.”

    • James, the lousy therapists I encountered had ALL kinds of training – including ‘counselor education’. I think whether a therapist is good or bad depends on the individual person – listen, you can teach someone to be ‘more holistic and person-centered’, etc. BUT, in the end, if a person needs to just hear him/herself talk, wants the client to solve the therapist’s problems, is a racist and/or anti-Semite (happened to me), or has a personality disorder of some sort and uses clients for their own ‘needs’ (happened to me too) THEIR TRAINING DOESN’T MATTER. I know – I’ve been there. btw – when I;’ve told psychologists of my bad experiences with therapists, they tell me that ‘they have the best training’, and MSWs DO NOT have good training. Then when I tell MSWs of the same experiences they have told me that ‘psychologists spend too much time in school and can’t be as good a therapist as we are’. And I’ve heard this sort of thing from EVERY type of therapist there is. Instead, they should all be aware that no matter the specific training, jerk therapists are jerk therapists, and all these fields need to take the same long look at themselves. Teach their students common sense & politeness – for starters.

      • James, I appreciate you considering the issues. I agree with Resharpen that common sense and politeness (and authentic person-to-person) respect should be at a relationship’s foundation. Guiding another human being is an artful skill, because mentoring easily becomes a double-edged sword. It turns harmful if it fosters dependency or idolization, or the counselor needs to prevail. I fear that so much theory, as well as the medical model, can train therapists to distort and invalidate client communication.

      • Resharpen–Well said! It really does boil down to how grounded the therepist is in their own psyche.

        One of my struggles.was finding a therapist who wasn’t “cuckoo for Coco Puffs” so I could do my own work. Fortunately I finally found one.

        What I hope to gain from this blog is to keep focus on the client side of therapy, so that I can be of assistance in helping people help themselves.

        Again, thanks for the great feedback!

    • James beyond the echo chamber of unreal theory can be the issue of what’s authentically best for the client. There are therapy client forums on the web that express crazy-obsessive hero worship of therapists. Their therapy seems to have taken over their lives. I wasn’t that extreme in my early 30s, but I was child-like far past my expiration date, despite having a responsible job and life. I expected the process to be mystical, and the therapist to be a wise wizard. Unfortunately my therapists encouraged and fed on my adulation.In other words, the very set-up of therapy was detrimental and dangerous and the eventually nasty therapists were the icing on top. Even the “kind” therapists were harmful, because the relationships were not real.

      Mentoring is a balancing act.

      • disequilibrium1 — I think you’re spot-on. The therapeutic relationship should NEVER be subordinate but rather collaborative. Carl Rogers advanced this idea with the so-called “client-centered approach.”

        Oddly, the one video I saw of him in session with an actual client, he made her pretty uncomfortable by interpreting every slight body movement. It was creepy. And I’d hardly call it collaborative.

        The good news is that current research strongly suggests that the most important component of counseling or therapy is not so much technique as it is the quality of the therapeutic relationship.

        I do hope your blog draws in therapists/counselors who desire to be competent. Although I’ve only been subscribed for a couple of days now, I find the posts to be a great reality check for me as a helping professional.

      • James, I’m so glad you find useful content here. And I once again thank everyone who has made this such a thoughtful discussion.

        I appreciate the balancing act, because the signals of social dominance are subtle. A therapist can offer feel-good encouragement non-stop, but if this is in between indications that the therapist owns the wisdom –holding the “reality” for instance– the overall take-home message is client inferiority. Therapist talk about power inequality, that it can be used for good or bad. But the inequality itself can a harmful overarching message.

        The first thing I wish my therapist had told me is that there’s are only certain things therapy can do. If I had started with realistic expectations my experience might have been very different.

    • James Genovese. Thank you for your heartfelt comment and for sharing your experiences on both sides of the couch. I am very critical of psychotherapists who tear down their patients and make them dependent upon them. You help restore some hope for your/our profession. I appreciate knowing people like you are out there putting the patient’s needs first. Best Jeanette Bartha

      • Jeanette–Thanks for your kind words. Truth be told this is a unique field in that it’s a delicate blend of art and science.

        Being an effective therapist, IMHO, is a daily…maybe hourly…walk. You have to constantly ask yourself, what is my client needing at this moment? How do I respond in a way that is supportive and encouraging? That hopefully elicits change talk **from the client** as opposed to my spoon feeding it to them.

        This is particularly important with so-called “mandated clients”–people who were forced to come to me either by a legal entity or a spouse or loved one. Usually the salient issue is substance abuse (I say “salient” because more often than not people who abuse substances have other issues they’re wrestling with as well).

        One approach that I like–and which I think is rather congruent with what is advocated in this forum–is called Motivational Interviewing. You discuss with the client what he/she sees are the pros as well as the cons of their using substances and then figure out together how they can reducing their use. This is as opposed to the traditional approach of telling them they absolutely must quit.

        I also tell the client that while their substance use might have brought them to me, any other issues or concerns they might have can be grist for our mill…as they so choose.

        The other thing I ALWAYS do is remind them that to me they’re not an addict…they’re a human being. Why? Because I want them to start perceiving themselves as whole persons who are much more than their addictions. I could talk more about this rationale, but perhaps that’s better left for another post.

        Again, thanks for your feedback.

      • James, I’d think one of the delicate parts of helping someone is the “easy” thing he might appear to want is not always best in the long run. When I went to therapy, welcomed the mother figure cooing sympathy. While I don’t subscribe to the drill-sergeant, a$$-kicking thing (seems some therapists use Dr. Phil’s scolding playbook) I would have done better reinforcing problem-solving strategies and competence. I think I expected that reviewing my past would result in some miraculous cleansing and transformation into a different woman with fabulous wavy hair.

        I can see what you mean by separating the addiction from the person. He must feel bad enough to have fallen in mandated treatment.

  336. Hi, I commented very early in this post: I was wondering if I could now get some feedback on this article I wrote about what works in thereapy? http://stevetaylorcounsellor.com/2010/07/10/counsellor-guidelines-for-best-practice-when-working-with-counselling-clients/

    • Hi Steven–I read your article and certainly agree with the conclusions of the researchers you cite, concerning the importance of the therapeutic relationship trumping any theoretical model in determining successful client outcomes.

      Along those lines, let me offer this…there are instances when employing a specific technique is also critical. For example, helping a client reduce or eliminate PTSD symptoms through eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), systematic desensitization, or other trauma-specific interventions.

      But there as well, you must first establish a client-centered, collaborative and supportive relationship with your client in order for those techniques to be effective.

      I’m happy to report that in my counselor education program here in the States, much attention was given to the trans-theoretical approach to counseling…with an emphasis on providing–in Rogers’ words–unconditional positive regard and on self-examination of our own issues, biases, etc.

      Thanks for sharing this erudite and relevant article!

    • Steve – I did read your article, and I do want to thank you for it. I liked when you wrote: ” . . . “Negative Counsellor Behaviours” had the strongest hindrance factor for clients, recording the highest average cluster rating of 3.66 for client hindrance for the study (1 = not at all hindering; 5 = extremely hindering).
      The top 10% n= 8 of the total aspects recorded (n = 80) related directly to this cluster. “Insufficient counsellor direction” ranked 9th, and “Lack of counsellor responsiveness” ranks 10th – 12th in terms of hindrance for clients to the counselling process;” You also noted that “Therapist factors” being up to nine times as potent as model or technique factors “.
      I am really glad that your research echoed what has been my experience with therapists. Often, after I had yet again, ANOTHER bad therapist, my friends who are therapists would ask me “What theory did they adhere to?” Often the therapist said she was ‘eclectic’ . PLUS I told my friends what I posted here the other day – which is borne out by your study, actually, that the RELATIONSHIP with the therapist was far more important that the type of therapy being practiced. I mean, what particular theory of therapy tells you to scream at your clients, or be mean to them? With one of my screwy therapists, who ALWAYS put down men (as a group), I strongly challenged her ‘viewpoint; and her very forthright reply was “That’s just how they are, and that is that!”. I guess that was the ‘hate men they are all schmucks’ type of therapy they must teach in therapy programs.
      Also, once again, what your article states so well, is that in the research you found, what is most important to clients, is that therapists be ‘kind’ & ’empathic’, listen, and not judge. etc. To me, these are just commonsensical ways you must relate to people whom you are serving in the ‘helping professions’. But, as many say, ‘common sense is not too common’, so I guess we must actually TEACH these ways of relating, to therapists,in their training. Gee Whiz.

  337. Steve, thanks for your revisit. Anyone, particularly those with professional training?

    As an individual who processed a crazy home, but not abuse, I found damage into dwelling in past/present connections beyond understanding that childhood was not the perceived fairy-tale. Stagnating in the past taught me to be more depressed. My personal evolution has come from mastery, problem-solving, goal-setting and time’s passage. It’s much happier to live in the present with a gaze toward the future.

  338. disequilibrium1. Your thoughts about how therapy can take over a persons life are well expressed. That is the key to the work I do – exposing potentially harmful therapies and showing how destructive and idol worshiping they become. Quite a damaging scenario & a most wasteful use of ones precious time on this earth.

  339. p.s. I am compelled to make a correction. I have no right imposing my values onto someone else’s therapeutic choices. If people want to spend their lives in therapy believing, for example, that they have multiple personalities – they have that right. I just think educating the public about psychotherapy issues from both sides of the couch are crucial to us all.

  340. I’ve been unable to find reading about how therapy offers clients a new cognitive framework and its effects. I believe this framework even teaches clients to pathologize THEMSELVES.

    This paradigm is striking when I read blogs and forums by therapy clients. I wonder if these forum posters actually feel normal emotions which they were taught to see as terrible symptoms of something.

    I also read accounts of ex-clients fleeing harmful therapy, yet simultaneously defining themselves like a harmful therapist would. I explore this from my own responses as I struggle sometimes to extract myself from the nautilus shell of therapy-think.

  341. Thank you, Disequilibrium1, for your eloquent initial article and your helpful blog. You put into words so many subtle things that I felt too but found hard to express: “mystique of the psychotherapist”, “disdain”, “bruising dismissals”, “sarcasm, intimidation and berating are labeled as treatment”, “no means yes because the therapist sees me as the helpless child”.

    Although it’s going back about 30 years, I would like to share my negative experience. My situation before therapy was similar to yours in some respects in that, like you, I was getting on O.K. in many aspects of life and was reasonably cheerful. I had moved from England to the French-speaking part of Switzerland about 3 years earlier, and there married a medical student from Eastern Europe. A visit from my parents triggered some problems in our marriage, which were mostly related to our cultural differences, and I thought it would be helpful to talk things over with somebody. I was not seeking psychotherapy, and actually wanted to avoid it because I had a background in cognitive science and knew that there were serious differences between British and Continental approaches tp psychotherapy. I therefore went to a person we had been told was a marriage counsellor. My wife was wary but decided to come too, so we went together, like animals into a trap.

    We only discovered much later that the “therapist” was not a standard marriage counsellor but a half-trained “systems therapist” whose only formal qualification was in engineering. Systems therapy was at that time (1980) a kind of sect within clinical psychology and psychiatry that drew its inspiration from the totally wrong view that schizophrenia was a disease of the family. Their idea was that families create a “scapegoat” who is subtly pushed into disease by the other members of the family who are unconsciously motivated to make the scapegoat ill. So the therapy focused on blaming the healthy members of the family who were, according to the theory, the true cause of the problem. If they refused to accept that they were causing the disease, they were further criticised for resisting the therapy. Even in the heyday of systems therapy (around 1960) this view of schizophrenia was controversial, and it is now abandoned by mainstream psychiatry. But in the 1970s and 1980s systems enthusiasts were extending their approach to other areas such as marriage relationships. Couples’ therapy based on systems theory became fashionable among private therapists, although academic psychologists complained that the results were dismal and failed to confirm the underlying theory. Today, systems therapists still exist but their views tend to be less dogmatic and less extreme than in the 1960-1980 period.

    Partly because of linguistic misunderstanding (we communicated in French, which I spoke badly), the therapist got the mistaken idea that my wife was the scapegoat, which caused him to be very aggressive to me. He blamed all our problems on me to break the supposed scapegoat situation. His main criticism of me was that I thought my wife was the problem-person (I didn’t, but I did emphasize her problems to counteract his unilateral blaming of me). After 8 sessions he finally toned down his aggressivity towards me when I threatened to leave, and he brought in his wife (who had no knowledge of counselling) to change the dynamics of the sessions.

    He was less aggressive from then on, but still criticized me repeatedly for being too logical and too self-controlled. He himself had a very quick temper, and in fits of anger made spiteful remarks, which he said was good because it was real communication of true emotions, unlike my cold self-control. He maintained that uncontrolled communication of all emotions is the secret of a successful marriage, and said that I should become more like him in this respect. Another thing that annoyed me was his way of imposing himself as the ultimate expert in all areas of life, even where he had no specialized knowledge at all). On any subject (social history, psychiatry… anything) he would close the discussion by saying “I can assure you that…”. My wife and I became more and more reluctant to continue because our marriage seemed to be getting worse, not better, as a result of the so-called therapy, but he was very persuasive. After about 18 sessions he declared that my ignorance showed up only too clearly by the fact that I thought he was a marriage counsellor. “I’m, not”, he said, “You should have realized that I’m far more than a counsellor. I’m your psychotherapist, and I’m glad to say that despite your resistance I am in the process of transforming your personality.” I realized to my horror that by his constant pressure he had indeed to some extent succeeded in changing me, but in ways that seemed to me negative (I later learned that my wife agreed with my evaluation. She told me privately that the therapy had changed me from being a good but reserved Englishman to a neurotic Frenchman; she said she preferred the French to the English, but thought the change in me was for the worse). I immediately said that I hadn’t requested psychotherapy and didn’t want it, but this was condemned as yet another sad manifestation of my resistance. I then requested that the sessions be brought to a close as quickly as possible (I feared that an immediate departure might be too disruptive). He said we would need three more sessions, but at the start of the next one my wife said she was worried that three might be too much as the therapy was doing more harm than good. After further disagreements, I announced angrily that I was leaving. It was at that moment that the therapist became really furious and switched to deliberate vengeance.

    Just as I was walking out, he called me back and asked me to stay for some final words. I obeyed. He then used all the weapons in his armoury to humiliate and crush me. For example, he said it was a pity I wasn’t staying for a few more sessions, because he could have revealed to me numerous bad things about my relationship with my father. “What a pity!” he said gloatingly, “Now you’ll never know.” These and many similar statements showed me that he relished being in a position of power and domination. Afterwards, I wrote a letter complaining that the therapy had done more harm than good, and he retaliated by telephoning me to make more vengeful remarks.

    By now, I was truly traumatized, and for the first time in my life I felt I needed psychotherapy. But I was too frightened to renew the experience, and for a year or so I just suffered mental pain. Then, I finally dared to consult a psychotherapist, and fortunately found one who was helpful. He was a university psychology professor, who understood the differences between British and Continental psychology, and, unlike the systems therapist, was able to understand my views and discuss with me constructively. We analysed together the damaging therapy I had undergone, and he explained the numerous errors that had been committed. He said that so many errors could not have been committed by a fully trained psychotherapist, and it was only after this that I discovered the systems therapist was indeed only partly trained (at a non-university institution), and had never passed an exam or obtained any formal qualification in psychology or counselling or marriage therapy.

    My wife correctly pointed out that I was partly responsible for the disastrous consequences of the therapy. I was the one who had contacted the therapist. She came along, but said from the start that it would do no good, and she was right. I sometimes wonder why I did not leave earlier. Part of the reason was probably that, isolated from my family and friends in a foreign country, I felt a desperate need for someone to talk to. My friends in Switzerland were all friends of my wife, and I didn’t feel I could speak to them about our difficulties, so I became dependent on the therapist. Also, the sessions were not all destructive; some may even have helped us. It was only at the very end, when I dared to leave against his will, that the therapist became really vengeful.

    The wounds have taken a very long time to heal. On the other hand, my wife and I have managed to sort out many of our difficulties, and we have had the joy of bringing up two daughters who have been a source of immense joy. Our marriage has survived the ravages of therapy.

    • Swiss Brit: So sorry that you went through that horrible experience. Be assured – that even tho you went thru it 30 yrs ago, to your mind, it might have been yesterday. Many of My experiences with therapists have shown me that if one of them wants Power & wants to ‘command’ others, they will do ANYTHING to try to achieve that. Its like oxygen to them – as if they can’t breath without being ‘Powerful’ over others. To my mind, being a therapist brings a unique opportunity for those who ‘feel weak’ to, in their minds, momentarily ‘overcome’ that by trying to ‘force’ their clients to ‘listen & follow’ their powerful commands, In many cases, the therapists are true narcissists, and in your case, sounds like your therapist really fit the bill.
      To look at this in more depth, people in other fields who have this ‘problem’, and try to be powerful over others often meet roadblocks. They usually work with others – whether it is at a corporation, or even if they work with only others they consider subservient to them – like at a medical practice where they have nurses or assistants, or in law, where you have a secretary or paralegal. In other words, there are ‘witnesses’ to their behavior. Whether there are supervisors who can ‘discipline’ them, or colleagues who can tell them their behavior is terribly wrong (or who let their supervisors know of this crazy behavior). I used to work at a state agency which disciplined the licenses of doctors, nurses, etc, All the time, I saw complaints against these professionals brought by their nurses, former patients, colleagues, etc.
      BUT how does a therapist work? ALONE. There are NO witnesses to what he or she says to the patient. And – if someone does try to take some kind of action against a therapist – the therapist can just deny it. And I saw this at my old job too – former patients can complain to a licensing board, and the therapist denies it; there are no witnesses, so no discipline.
      In your case, it is telling to me that the so-called ‘therapist’ eventually brought his wife into your sessions. I have found that when a therapist absolutely ‘needs’ to be powerful, that he or she ALSO must have people ‘agree’ that the therapist’s life is ‘perfect’, because then the therapist can show the patient ‘completely’ WHY the patient must obey the therapist’s ‘powerful commands’. Also, the fact there was a serious ‘linguistic problem’ YET the therapist ignored it, rather than refer you to an English-speaking doctor, shows just HOW MUCH he Needed to feel powerful – he couldn’t lose you, Plus, how powerful he must have felt to have a patient who couldn’t understand everything he was saying – he REALLY held the keys to the kingdom then. And then, when you announced you were leaving, of course, ALL HELL broke loose – for him. These therapists (desperately) rely on ‘commanding’ their patients in order that the therapist feel powerful – so if a patient says: 1) what you are doing is not working; 2) I am leaving, The therapist feels incredibly threatened – as their psyche is so ‘weak’ – they feel like they are coming close to death psychologically. So – at all costs – they must reassert their ‘Power’ – of course, he screamed at you, and later had to get ‘the last word’ – in their mind, reassuring themselves as to how ‘right’ they were & how ‘wrong’ you were – and that it is purely due to ‘your issues’ that the therapy ended; They, of course, are perfect.
      I give you & your wife so much credit for picking up the pieces, and having the great relationship you were always meant to have. If that crazy therapist could see you two now, sure he would ignore the truth, & decree that your relationship could be ‘so much better’ if they would have stayed in therapy with him.
      I was married to a narcissist (tho he wasn’t a therapist). It is Impossible to have a relationship where they truly listen to your concerns, or any criticism of anything they have done. to have a therapist who was a narcissist – you aptly showed how horrible that could be.

      • Resharpen: Many thanks for these comments. Yes, my therapist’s narcissism and desire for power were clearly important elements. I also wonder whether his behaviour was affected by a feeling of insecurity due to his being unqualified.

      • I agree with resharpen’s observation that the therapists I’ve met, underneath the forced empathy performance, often seem on a huge power trip. Analyst Karen Horney writes about the “idealized self,” the self-image we desperately fight to protect and preserve. It seems too many therapists hold themselves as magical healers and rescuers, yet with no abilities to earn this unrealistic self-definition.

        It’s horrifying to look at many therapists’ websites. They literally promise to deliver happiness, fulfilled relationships, to be more fully alive. I assume they do that because they believe their own publicity. But in truth, how can that be accomplished?

        With the benefit of hindsight I look at who I was when I entered therapy, what I expected and what the therapist led me to believe he would deliver.
        The therapist was so invested in his superiority over me, I don’t think he understood my most prominent deficiency–my deference. Meanwhile, I held out in therapy hoping it would transform me, magically, into another person. Neither of us understood what I could change and what I couldn’t, nor did we begin to sort out what and wasn’t even a problem.

  342. swissbrit, I’m glad your wife, your marriage and you emerged and thrived after such a destructive experience. I definitely feel the parallel –a therapist lashing out in wounded pride when his brilliant theory fails to hold. And going on all out attack at the rejection of his beneficent care.

    I fully understand why I stayed for eight months and let the therapist convince me to stay for six very punishing weeks at the end. (Like you, I was served threats and taunts during that period as the therapist pretended to hold some astounding secret I one day would receive.) Author Marilyn Peterson writes about our life-long conditioning to trust and obey authority figures, and most of us see therapists in this category. I also held a lifelong assumption that most accredited professionals, the lawyer, the orthopedist etc. follow their protocols for my benefit. Just as the endocrinologist reads the lab results and recommends more Vitamin D, I assume the psychologist listens, observes and applies appropriate treatment.

    Little did I understand that psychotherapy has no professional parallel to reading blood test results. I’m now convinced the foundation of therapy seems built on nothing but intuition and faith healing. How else could some of these kookie fads propagate.

    Like you, my most destructive therapy happened decades ago, leaving me in an quandary. Either I believe the therapist’s dismal assessment of me-the contemptible woman who alienated everyone and couldn’t perceive reality–or my sessions had been nothing but a professionally sanctioned scam. Both options left me bruised and vulnerable.

    By the way, my angry, vengeful therapist earned his PhD at one of America’s top universities. His methodology was sloshy and aimless, but by no means kookie. He remains his practice, his website boasting of the many clients he has guided on a path to happiness. ( An internet friend by chance crossed paths with him and found him to be the same arrogant jerk.)

    It’s taken me decades, but I’ve settled on the reality that I had been scammed, just as if someone on the New York streets had sold me a fake watch. And I’m much to savvy to purchase a cheap Rolex from a New York sidewalk vendor.

    I see the problem going far beyond the bad apples we discuss. I wish the profession would examine their system that encourages us to suspend our adult judgment, leaving us so vulnerable to abuse. Freud was a showman who never cured anybody. I don’t see how his paternalistic, arrogant legacy, the patient’s submission, is in any way healthy or healing.

    • Disequilibrium1: Many thanks for these helpful comments. One of the points you make is that psychotherapy has no parallel to reading blood test results. Indeed, everything depends on the therapist’s intuition, and there is no objective information that could challenge his/her view. If the client argues, his/her views are dismissed as resistance. Many therapists go to supervision sessions, but their supervisor or supervisor group will have the same presuppositions and so will only confirm the therapist’s intuitions. If the final result of the therapy is negative, the client is blamed, not the therapist.

    • The therapist’s “observations” often will be inaccurate because the star chamber of the therapy room is such an artificial one from the onset. The therapist usually is an authority figure, communication is artificial and distorted, the client is encouraged to lay his distress at the therapist’s feet. This is far removed from how we function at work, with friends, with family. So under such contrived conditions, the therapist sees a skewed view of how we otherwise operate.

      Even if the therapist were a genius and a saint, his tools to get a clear picture of a client’s life always will be highly deficient.

  343. An Amazon reviewer’s list of books that sound interesting on bad therapists:


  344. Swiss Brit & Disequil. – great comments! I have learned a lot from them. Interesting comment re: therapists who go to ‘supervisory sessions’ – these are probably a big joke. Right that tthat the ‘supervisor’ only hears what the therapist tells him or her; Also, the supervisor very probably has his or her OWN issues as well- maybe is there only to exert his or her own power over the therapist. In my mind, unless the supervisor sees an actual taped session between the therapist and client, there is no way that the supervisor has any real idea what is going on.
    I had another unfortunate experience with this – was in a ‘support group’ (what an oxymoron) at a community center/agency about 1 1/2 years ago. Leader was a young lady who was doing her required internship to be a marriage & family counselor – she was awful – from the beginning she didn’t like me (and she admitted it). I contacted her supervisor – another joke! I told her what was going on, and asked her to OBSERVE the group. Response, she laughed as she explained: “I don’t do that”. I even looked up the LAW/regulations re: this, and – guess what??? the definition did NOT include actually having to OBSERVE the person interning! All they have to do is hold ‘meetings’ to discuss the internee’s ‘experiences’ being the leader of the group! And WHO came up with these regulations? The therapists themselves. What a shock! I am a lawyer – and when I first began working – and this was NOT in any regulations – the lawyers who hired me reviewed all my work at first – AND my boss was ‘ present at my first trial, which ONLY makes sense. This therapy ‘profession’ continues its pattern of working in ‘secrecy’ – no matter what. I can’t stand it. I was planning to take my complaints of the group ‘leader’ to the head of the agency, where the group met. BUT I got busy, had my own problems, and in the end, simply had no time to do that. BUT I have a question – when I am trying to find help for myself, is it MY role to give up trying to help myself to gather ‘evidence’ to show the ‘supervisors’ (what a joke!) and higher-ups what is REALLY going on??? That makes me mad as well. Its the role of these ‘supervisors’ to actually OBSERVE the trainee internist; not mine!

    • I learned of a therapist hearing “horror stories” from another therapist’s former clients. Yet the horrific therapist continues practice–for decades–unfettered. And only an infinitesimal fraction of clients who file grievances win their cases. Infractions are rarely provable, and therapist have all sorts of strategies to invalidate their clients’ accounts. Therapists practice under cloak of darkness.

  345. Well, my experiences both as a client and as a student on a counselling course is that there are a number of people with serious unresolved issues/personality disorders in the profession. The counsellor that I saw had a highly confrontational approach which, if I had been less stable, I believe could have been psychologically highly damaging. In fact, after one session with her (thankfully I only had 8 sessions) I felt verging on a feeling of ‘what’s the point of everything?’. It was actually very scary as I am not a depressive person at all and the only reason I sought therapy was a terrible work situation where I was bullied/pyschologically manipulated by a sadistic mentor.

    The counsellor subtly (and not so subtly) further undermined by self-esteem by questioning my version of events and also introducing the sugggestion that somehow I was to ‘blame’. Having spent months analysing what had happened the only responsibility I accept for the situation with the sadistic mentor was that I could have responded differently. But I was so takenaback by her cruel manipulation that I was blindsided and effectively went into ‘dissociation’ and I suppose had some sort of nervous breakdown.

    The counsellor seemed to relish the opportunity of further undermining me, having established my achilles tendon. Again, I felt she was playing games with me and trying to manipulate me. Talk about out of the frying pan into the fire!

    The tutors on the counselling course that I did were also manipulative and used tactics to create dysfunction, distrust and a generally a spiteful, bichy atmosphere within the student group. There would usually be one or two students being scapegoated. However, conversely, neither tutor could accept any kind of criticism – even if it was constructive they became very defensive.

    Once they knew that I was leaving the course prematurely, I received the nastiest feedback on a piece of work I had done. I am convinced that it was done as vengeance for my leaving and it was designed to attack my self esteem and sense of self generally. Really very nasty, unprofessional behaviour. So childish – I can only assume that they came from highly dysfuntional backgrounds and had not fully resolved their own issues. In their position of control over a group of counselling students, they acted out the dysfunctional behaviour – as authority figuress – that no doubt characterised their own upbringings.

    I’m so glad I am out of the whole thing and have gained some perspective on the experience. I have no doubt there are some excellent counsellors out there but as I have repeatedly stated the most important qualities are emotional stability, integrity, kindness, intelligence, an altruistic side to one’s personality etc. Without the right personal characteristics, all the qualifications and experience in the world will not make someone an empathetic counsellor in my opinion.

    • I think so many aspects of the counseling process should be open for serious question. First, every human being has many quirks and deficiencies, so any time we lay open our lives for someone else’s scrutiny, we’ll probably come up short. It’s easy for the “judge” to exploit this examination.

      Furthermore, who decides what is normal or well? Some of us are solitary. Some of us are wall-flowers, while others are in constant need of admiration. Some always have to be in a crowd, or stimulated by something new. Some are bosses, some are followers. It’s easy to point to any human characteristic, drive, compulsion or inaction as something that needs to be fixed.

      As clients, we often subjugate ourselves to the “wise expert.” But isn’t it just as “neurotic” to for them to view themselves as the wise expert?

      Therapy aims for what I see as a moving target.

  346. Receiving psychotherapy has been one of the most damaging and traumatic things that has ever happened to me. Every therapist that I have ever been too has left me feeling powerless, misunderstood, and manipulated. It is really a form of psychological torture. All therapy and psychiatry really is, is a means of social control in order to maintain the power structure and the status quo. Everyone needs someone to talk too in life, especially when you are depressed, but not a therapist. Just the fact that someone would charge you money just to help you emotionally shows that they are exploiters. It has also been my experience in life that most therapist have very little emotional intelligence or intuition. After getting off of all my psych meds, talking with friends a lot about how I really felt, and studying meditation and spiritually, I truly started to heal from my depression, and started gaining real social abilities outside my small network of friends. The only way to really heal mental illness is by way loving relationships, getting healthy, and disciplining the mind by making it peaceful through mediation, and developing a warm heart through spirituality.

    This is what I suffered at hands of therapy. (I did no chose to go into therapy, I was pressured into it twice by psychiatrists.)

    I was told that I was never supposed to question authority (especially theirs) and if I did, that meant that I was paranoid and needed to be drugged even more.

    I was told that I was always supposed to blindly conform to everything. And that being different was a personality disorder.

    I was told that if I believed in self reliance, thinking for myself, and that I should be able to do what I felt was best for myself, as long as I wasn’t harming anyone. That that meant that I was narcissists. I didn’t seem to matter that I had tremendous amounts of empathy for people, and alway went out of my way to help people. This labeling left me feeling demoralized, and once it was wrote down in their notes, it continued to shadow me until I made my full escape from so called mental health professionals.

    Despite the fact that I suffer form aspergers and some other developmental problems which have affected my social abilities, I was told that all my social problems were my own fault, and that I was just refusing to take responsibility.

    When I told them about bullying that I went through, they said that it didn’t happen, and that I was just making it up.

    When I told them that I had suffered form severe learning problems as a child, like dyslexia for example, they did not believe me, and said that I was just making it up to get attention

    If I talked about feeling depressed, I was told that I was just feeling sorry for myself.

    I read a lot, and because of this I was told that I shouldn’t at all.

    If I talked about something that I was reading it was perceived to be bragging, and a sign of narcissism.

    They would insult me a lot. For example, once when I sent my therapist, and email, he went on to tell me that my writing was superficial.

    If I did not agree with what they wanted me to do, then that was perceived as a sign of narcissism. They would then try damage my self esteem so that they could break me down and control me.

    There is really a lot more, but you get the idea.

    (Everyone needs to see the movie on You Tube, “Psychiatry, and Industry of Death. Know before hand though, that it is a very upsetting movie and will leave you in tears. And like the guy who posted it said, “It cannot be unseen.”)

    • James, I have an Asperger’s family member, raised at a time when parents and teachers did EVERYTHING wrong and have observed the extra challenges of living it presents. I admire you for rejecting the medication and sadistic “guidance” to forge your own path. As I understand it, my family member can absorb information and emotions more intensely than someone without Asperger’s, so it’s easy for him to get on overload. So great that you found authentic ways to help yourself.

      My own real teacher has been yoga, which has taught me more about handling stress and keeping perspective than therapy ever did.

      • Thank you so much. 🙂 Just that little paragraph of compassion means the world to me. I just want people to love me, and I want to be able to fully love all other people. And most importantly, to fully love myself. I think that once I can fully love myself, that my heart chakra is going to just explode with love. I also think that as I continue to work on disciplining my mind that my extreme shifts in emotion and feeling rejected at the slightness thing will come to an end.

        And thank you so much for starting this blog. Even though I have been doing tremendously better, I have still been feeling powerless on a subtle level. But when I found your blog, and started reading it, I realized that I was not alone.

        Getting off the meds was the best thing. Also after getting off the meds I stared to become more aware as to why I had developed emotional problems in the first place when I was 18. It was all because I didn’t feel loved, I didn’t love myself. And I measured my self esteem based on external things, Instead of just realizing that I am a person worthy of love in all ways simply for being a person. After getting off the meds I was then able to start working through my issues and disordered thinking and self image, instead of just being numbed out.

        I knew that if I did not get away from psych doctors and therapist that I was going to kill myself as a result of being made to feel worthless, disempowered, and out of fear of having my freedom taken away. I barely escaped being institutionalized. Because being labeled as bipolar, OCD, narcissistic, paranoid, and because I was aware of things that most people were not aware of. (For example, how the banking elite in debt countries, and how my country America is really controlled by corporations and has set up an empire.) I was considered to be dangerous.

        I was on 5 meds in all. Paxil, Abilify, Tegertol, Lithium, and Xanax. After getting off the meds I experienced:

        Less depression, anger, intrusive thoughts, and anxiety. (I think that the Paxil was making my depression a thousand times worse. Just after two days of being off it I started feel significally better.)

        My IQ increased out the roof, and I also started to experience clearer and faster thought. My mind than began to make all these connections between things that I already knew that I had never made before. It was like all my life I had been collecting puzzle pieces, but that I am just now starting to put the puzzle together. I think that the reason that people with mental issues are labeled as dumb sometimes is because these drugs cause cognitive impairments. And people in their ignorance believe that it is the persons mental illness, (or what I now like to say mental affliction, instead of illness), and not the drugs which have caused them to experience problems with intelligence. While I don’t suffer for schizophrenia, I have discovered through research that before they started massively drugging schizophrenics, that the recovery rate from this affliction was much higher than it is today. In fact in the past people could make a full recovery, but now that is almost impossible.

        Increased energy

        A decreases in my intense appetite.

        And a decrease in my weight.

        Anyway again, thank you so much for your response and wonderful blog.