What are you looking for in a therapist? Is that something that you’ve even thought about or considered? I’ve had several experiences with therapists that have helped me identify what I DON’T want and need from a therapist and counselor. While this has been a hard and sad experience, it’s also been a blessing to really think about who I need sitting in front of me.
I want to be in a room with a person who is willing to step into my world with me for that hour, and really hear and experience what’s in my heart and in my mind. My desire is for someone to have immense empathy for me, while also being a solid person who can gently call me on my crap. We all have internal crap that needs to be addressed. So I’ll share my top 4 negative experiences in therapy, to illustrate to all of you what therapy is NOT.
Therapy Isn’t Harsh, Especially in the Initial Appointment
Following not passing an important exam, I tried out a new therapist to talk about my sadness of it and figuring out my next steps. Internally what was going on was a sense of feeling lost, feeling inadequate in my profession, and feeling as though I disappointed my loved one. There were so many layers to this, and as I explained this to this therapist I met for the first time, her response to me was “You didn’t try hard enough.” … Can I just say, wow. That was one of the most insensitive and untrue responses I have ever experienced. (It was untrue because I studied my ass off for 5 months). And here’s my point with this.
The first session in therapy is really about creating a sense of safety for clients, rapport building, and beginning to develop that trusting professional relationship with one another. It’s also about the therapist really going into the person’s world with them as they are sharing their problems, experiences, and needs. I’m not saying that there aren’t moments where your therapist will be more blunt with you, but that usually happens well after the initial appointment when the trust has been built. And let’s also talk about compassion. As I was sharing my experience about not passing my exam, I was in tears. Clearly, I was feeling sad, vulnerable, and emotional. The appropriate response would have been to share compassion and empathy. “You didn’t try hard enough” was basically kicking me while I was already figuratively down.
Therapy Isn’t Traumatizing
I was exploring some relational patterns that had been keeping me feeling stuck. I thought this therapist was a good fit for me as I had about 3 or 4 sessions with her, until she said this: “You’re just too sensitive Janet.” This was a huge blow to me too. This was unfortunately the narrative of my childhood and adolescence. Challenging feelings and sensitivity was not allowed when I was growing up. And this comment, basically took me back to feeling alone with my emotions as a child, because what seemingly happened was this therapist also could not handle my emotions and sensitivity. And unfortunately it was re-traumatizing. For my fellow highly sensitive people out there, you are not “too sensitive” you are beautiful and we need people like you who truly feel. Sensitivity is a strength.
Therapy Isn’t Friendship
I tried yet another therapist who I found to be very unprofessional. She treated me as though I was a friend networking with her once I disclosed that I am a therapist. She essentially started telling me about different agencies in the area and told me where I should work. This is not why I came to meet with her. I was there to explore my emotions. I should also mention that she was incredibly unprepared because she didn’t have paperwork ready at the start of the appointment and it took her 10 minutes out of the start of my time to get that together. This is a major red flag for me. I respect your time by arriving to the session on time, and in turn, you should respect mine and be prepared for my arrival. Your therapist should not treat you like a friend. While it is an intimate relationship, it’s still a professional relationship. If in any way you feel like your therapist is your friend, please bring it up to your therapist and discuss appropriate boundaries to set up.
Therapy Isn’t Gaslighting
With another therapist, I discussed transitions in life I was dealing with. It included a recent move and living together for the first time with my partner. And the feeling I described included feeling discontent about where I was at in my life in that moment. The therapist described me as feeling sadness. And I politely corrected the therapist, reporting to her that it wasn’t necessarily sadness but just a feeling if dissatisfaction in some areas of my life. The therapist then proceeded to continue to say, “but you’re sad.” And I yet again explained that I was not necessarily sad, I was feeling unsure and discontent. She repeated that I was sad for a third time, and finally I reiterated what was going on for me and I left. This was in the initial appointment. I didn’t feel a sense of safety, and felt that this therapist was not attuned to me and my experience. I was also bothered by the fact that she was pushy inappropriately and placed an emotion into my frame of thought that wasn’t true three times without backing down. When I said no, she didn’t hear it, and pushed it again. This is incredibly inappropriate and a boundary violation. No is a complete sentence. And she clearly didn’t have good active listening skills or understanding. Gaslighting is a term that means: instilling a sense of doubt and manipulating a person into questioning their own sanity, perception, or memory. Therapy is not manipulative. If you have a therapist who is forcing ideas and perceptions upon you, it’s important to question if this is the right fit for you. And I’m not saying that there isn’t a possibility of sadness within me. But it’s not appropriate to push this upon someone if they do not see it yet or are not ready.
I share my experiences to let all of you know that therapy should feel safe, supportive, compassionate, and respectful. If it feels uncomfortable, inappropriate, and just plain sucky, you have the right to express this to the therapist and to terminate the relationship if you feel like it’s not working. I want you all to feel empowered enough to explore what you want and to find and work with the right person. If you’ve had any experiences that sucked, or similar to what I went through, I really want you to know that I have compassion for how uncomfortable it must have been for you. Please do not give up on therapy. There are some amazing folks out there who have incredible experience, that can support you in your healing, growth, and in your goals.
If you’d like some assistance and guidance on finding the right fit for you, feel free to reach out to me. I offer a free 10 minute consultation over the phone. We can explore what you need and what to look for in a therapist.