When I started as working a therapist after my training, I had this understanding that therapists are very caring and well-centred humans who always strive to understand their own issues and improve their understanding of themselves. Of course, this is very true for many, but in my experience, over the years, I have concluded that there are more than I initially thought who do not.
I was always told, or I have seen a constant affirmation from therapists that most therapists are good, or a constant voice of you was just unlucky if you found a bad one. Now I am not so sure. There have been too many people coming to my therapy practice over the last ten years, having suffered from incompetent therapists or who have been damaged by bad therapy to say it’s extremely unusual.
In my experience, people who a bad therapist has harmed usually do not complain or report the therapist. However, the fear around doing so can be difficult to overcome, so many just move on coping best they can, stop therapy altogether, or wait years before trying again.
This saddens me. If I am honest, it angers me, and as such, I am aware that I have to be mindful not to push clients to complain about their experiences. To do what I want, to the right the perceived injustice, that would be very wrong and even seen as controlling by getting the client to do what I want. It has to be what the client wants to do, in their time frame, with the freedom to do nothing if they choose.
I understand that it is possible that a client who tries to dissolve themselves from taking responsibility for making progress. Instead, they can superimpose that responsibility onto the therapist, hoping the therapist will tell them what to do or expect them to find the answers for them.
When it becomes apparent that they will have to take on that responsibility for themselves, it can lead to dissatisfaction with the therapist. When combined with the fear of having to face what they fear facing, it is expressed as outright anger against the therapist. This can lead to them looking to find fault or blame the therapist unfairly. This can end in accusing the therapist of being incompetent or uncaring to distract from their uncomfortable truth.
Now taking into account that there is always a chance that a disgruntled client will bad mouth a past therapist, so far, I have not had any concern or doubt about what I have been told. On the contrary, as far as I remember, the information imparted to me from many clients has been generally believable. Often backed up by their attitudes to their own responsibility and commitment when in therapy. But, to me, the numbers are very concerning.
Even good therapists can change over time. What I call good therapists gone bad would be where a therapist who was once good has become disillusioned, burnout from overwork, or their personal life stresses and problems pushed them past caring for their clients. As a result, they can start treating their clients with cynicism and come across as uncaring or even openly critical of their clients.
All therapists are human, and life impacts therapists just like everyone else. Yes, therapists can become depressed and anxious when life-changing events happen. Yes, therapists can get divorced or have affairs and get angry and frustrated. However, the responsibility is for the therapist to understand when they are unable to help clients when they themselves are emotionally compromised and struggling to cope.
No therapist should practice if they are compromised because they are themselves depressed or grieving or have any major issues like a drug or alcohol addiction. But some do continue to practice forgetting that their issues can become the client’s issue.
Abusive therapists do exist. These are the people who like to control and manipulate others, who like to feel superior to their clients and can take pleasure from punishing them.
Just because the therapist is licenced or as qualification does not mean they cannot abuse their clients. There is no guarantee that the training will weed out abusive, controlling people.
Just like some kinds of work will attract abusers, such as a position working with vulnerable children or the elderly, there are people who will navigate the therapy training obstacles to get into a position of power over others. It’s what abusers do. They seek out their prey.
Actively manipulating a client to take advantage of them sexually or financially does happen. For example, supposedly falling in love to get what they want, then dismissing clients when they get bored is one way to do untold emotional harm. And it is not just male therapists but also females.
Creating emotional problems to gain financially by actively attacking the client’s self-esteem to prolong therapy or insist on more sessions in the short term to increase the cash flow. Not unheard of.
Ethics are there for a very good reason. Ethics help keep a separation between the role of the therapist and any other kind of relationship. For example, a therapist is not your friend, and there will not be any need to communicate or meet up outside of the therapy session. That is also why therapists do not enter into communications outside of the therapeutic space.
Any communication outside of that space will probably contaminate the relationship, changing the dynamics and possibly disrupting progress. Constant emailing, chatting, or phone calls are discouraged for a good reason as it can also, in some cases, promote dependency, and other complex issues can arise over time.
When a therapist is abusive or comes across as being bored or uncaring, maybe even short-tempered and dismissive, the client can feel all kinds of painful emotions. These can range from feeling rejected and disrespected, frightened, and traumatised to feeling small and insignificant, or it can, on the face of it, confirm they’re worthless to themselves.
This can create a situation that that can severely harm a client. Or even end up pushing the client into feeling depressed or suicidal. This can be extremely dangerous, especially when you consider that the client may not be able to express how they feel to the therapist or anyone else and just leave the session and go into a very dark place emotionally.
Bad experiences can happen to good people. Unfortunately, if your therapist has mistreated you, it can be very upsetting and disrupt your recovery. But it is worth trying to find a new one, do not let that bad therapy stop you from having therapy and recovering.
Brush yourself down and keep on trying. By doing so, you win; they lose. I know that is easy for me to say, but I know people who have done just that.
How do you protect yourself from a bad therapist? By taking the time to pick the one you feel is beneficial to you is a good start. Insisting on having a free session to find out if you are compatible can be of great help.
Understanding that you are in control, and if you feel the therapist is no listening to you or their attitude made you feel very uncomfortable, you can just walk away or find a new therapist any time you want, with no need to apologise or feel guilty.