Have you ever had a crappy therapist?
You’re not alone.
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%.