Shrinks: The good, the bad, and the alligator fetishes

Have you ever had a crappy therapist?

You’re not alone.

I recently read (ok, skimmed) this article thingy on firing your shrink if ve sucks.

First of all, there are a lot of crappy therapists out there.  Unfortunately.  I am flabbergasted as to why and how these people 1) pick this profession and 2) get through the master’s or PhD programs and then get through the intern process and then get through the licensing process (and then should be read with Dude Where’s My Car? drive through window lady voice: and deeeeeeeeen).  I have met many, and indeed some have even been my clinical supervisors.  When you come across therapists who are just plain mean, clueless, and/or unethical, please fire them.   Do it now.  Seriously, why haven’t you done it yet?

Having said that, there’s an important difference between a downright bad therapist versus a therapist who is otherwise great, but simply isn’t a great fit for you.   Sometimes therapists will say or do things you don’t like and make you uncomfortable/mad/sad etc., but does that necessarily make ve a bad therapist?  Not at all.  Change is hard and uncomfortable.  What’s most important is that you and your therapist find a space where you can trust each other and feel safe sharing all the messy details so real work can get done.  Without that trust, not much will happen.

This reminds me when I was in my master’s program and shopping for my own personal therapist.  The first lady I went to seemed nice enough, and in the first session she asked me what kinds of things I wanted to work on.  One of the things on my list included talking about my relationship with my mom, and I gave her an example of what I meant.  The 50-something therapist then launched into a short story about her relationship with her adult daughter who was about my age, and what I took from this story was that this therapist identified with the mom point of view and not with mine.  I didn’t feel heard, I didn’t feel understood, and I didn’t think I’d be able to trust this therapist.  I never went back to see her.  Was she a bad therapist?  Probably not.  Was she a good fit for me?  Absolutely not.

The next therapist I went to I ended up keeping for over a year.  In our first session, I asked her if she was married and if she had kids.  She said she had no problem answering my questions, but first wanted to know why I was asking.  In response, I told her about my experience with the previous therapist lady and how I felt she had essentially taken sides with my mom.  What I realized later during the course of my training was that, by asking her the marriage/kid question, I actually asked my therapist can you understand me?  Can you please walk with me, see things from my point of view?  Can you help me?

Being young, looking even younger than my age, and being in training, I get these questions a lot.  But, I’d probably get these questions no matter how old or young I look, no matter what color my skin, if I had kids or no kids.  One of my professors told my class that before she had kids, when she was asked the kid question, she’d answer: “No, I don’t have kids.  But if I did have kids, my kids wouldn’t be your kids, and my job is to understand and help your kids.”  I use this response a lot, and I find that it works rather well with clients – just replace the word kids with almost anything – a husband, a drug addiction, an abusive past, an alligator fetish, you name it.  Everyone just wants to know that they will be heard and understood, and I totally get that since I was there once, too.


To respond to some things in that opinion piece I linked to above – I resent the implication that therapists are just trying to “reel you in.”  I imagine that therapists who are in the profession for the wrong reasons are the ones who think that way.  A genuine, ethical, dedicated therapist will be focused on building a trusting relationship; I would hardly call that reeling in.

If you leave your therapy session more upset than when you come in, that’s a pretty good sign that your doctor is a douche.

It can be a sign, but not always.  Therapy gets hard before it gets easy (although, I’m not sure if it ever gets easy…maybe just easier), and often times, therapy actually begins when the client feels safe enough to get upset and let tough feelings out.  As a client, I’ve often felt shitty and depressed for days after a hard session, and for me this indicated that my therapist and I were doing a really tough piece of work.

Perhaps the author’s use of the word “upset” is too vague here.  If the client feels offended, personally attacked or ignored, etc., then I can see that as a possible indication that the therapist is a crappy one.

I liked and agreed with the author’s closing message – that ultimately, the client is the one employing the therapist (same way with a hairdresser), and that if the professional services aren’t working for any reason, the client has the right and should feel empowered enough to end that relationship in order to find and establish one that will help.  And you know what?  A good therapist will understand this 100%.

12 responses

  1. Oh dear, if clients aren’t allowed to leave feeling upset, then I must be a pretty lousy therapist. This is an interesting topic to think about, I work within a health service where therapists aren’t employed by the client, so the dynamic works quite differently, if you don’t want to see your therapist you’re back on the waiting list and risk seeing no one at all. I’ve recently started seeing my own private therapist and I found the ‘choosing’ process very strange, the idea that I can pick my therapist and judge their abilities is new to me and feels quite uncomfortable, I’m never quite sure how good my judgement is!

    • “Oh dear, if clients aren’t allowed to leave feeling upset, then I must be a pretty lousy therapist.” Saaaame here. And feeling great after each and every session is not usually the goal (and not probable, necessarily) for therapy. So thanks for saying that!
      You bring up an important point that managed care puts a huge wrench into the whole empowerment piece on being able to hire and fire your own therapist. So many clients do not have that privilege these days and it sucks (for both therapists and clients).

  2. “If you leave your therapy session more upset than when you come in, that’s a pretty good sign that your doctor is a douche.”

    Exactly why I stopped seeing my therapist. Not to say that she was a douche, but I definitely felt worse leaving her office than I did going in each week. Not because we were working on anything tough but because I guess we just didn’t fit.

    It was very confusing for me. Coming from a lifetime of abusive and dysfunctional relationships, I didn’t really know that the therapy relationship was ever supposed to be anything different. So I forced myself to continue with her for over a year, pay a shitload of money for nothing but exasperation, and somehow convince myself that it was what I wanted/needed/deserved.

    It think it’s also a bit shitty for a therapist to know that it’s not working and allow therapy to go on anyway. What does that do for the client except destroy them more (and exhaust their finances). It’s really concerning that it happens so much.

    • Thanks for the comment. Professional therapy relationships are supposed to model a healthy relationship, for sure. I am so sorry if yours didn’t. Did you bring up your continued yucky feelings with your therapist? If you didn’t, then it’s an assumption that your therapist automatically knew that it wasn’t working. No therapist is a mind reader. I hope you were able to find resources that helped you better with what you were going through at the time. :)

      • yeah I used to bring it up and try to resolve things but we just always ran into that same wall. it just wasn’t working but i don’t think she was really accepting it herself.

      • yeah I used to bring it up and try to resolve things but we just always ran into that same wall. it just wasn’t working but i don’t think she was really accepting it herself.

        all good though.. it happens.

  3. Luckily I did not have a crap experience for the brief time I needed therapy. I had the best therapist for my postpartum depression, and for him, I’m eternally grateful. I was crazed and all I wanted to do was leave my baby, and he made me feel that my feelings were normal. That’s all I needed was for someone to recognize that my feelings did not make me a bad person.

Babble at me:

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