Has Your Therapist Fallen Asleep during your session?
May 24, 2010 11:24 AM   Subscribe

Has your therapist fallen asleep during your therapy session?

I have had a few clients recently that told me their previous therapists would start to nod off during sessions. I had a hard time believing this until others started telling me identical stories. Similarly, I've had patients encourage me to go ahead and answer the phone during their sessions. "My old therapist would answer her calls all the time," they'd say. This seems to incredibly rude and unresponsive that it continues to be hard for me to believe. Has this happened to you?
posted by ChicagoTherapyConnection to Human Relations (40 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have been seeing the same therapist since 2005.

Sometimes, he forgets to turn the ringer off for his office phone. When it rings he always apologizes and turns the volume off and lets it go to his answering machine. I would say this has probably happened 10 times or so over the course of the last 5 years, and it takes a matter of seconds and I never thought it was a big deal. If he answered the phone, I would have a problem with that.

He has never fallen asleep. Or, rather, I have never caught him asleep.
posted by kbanas at 11:28 AM on May 24, 2010

I had a therapist who answered the phone and I hated it. I only saw him a few times. Now I have one who does what kbanas' does --apologizes, lets call go to VM.

Also heck no he doesn't fall asleep!

I can't remember where it was now, but I read a list on some therapy related site that was basically, "things your therapist shouldn't do." Along with the big alarm ones like inappropriate physical contact, etc, one of the items was that they shouldn't pick up the phone in session.
posted by sweetkid at 11:33 AM on May 24, 2010

OMG YES. Pissed me off. I also had one who said as soon as I sat down "you need to be on Wellbutrin". Mind you this is the first session, within 2 minutes beyond the word "hi". I've had those arrive late and wind up charging me the late fee.

I've honestly only had one good therapist out of 5. It's hard to find one that isn't a total sham, DSMIV addict, or someone who isn't pontificating Melody Beattie books. Ugh.
posted by stormpooper at 11:36 AM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mine is a yawner, but she tries to hide it. I bore myself, so I don't blame her. But falling asleep? That would be a deal breaker for me.
posted by cecic at 11:38 AM on May 24, 2010

Um, no. In 4 years of at least once a week therapy she has never even looked sleepy. Maybe twice her phone has rung and she apologized profusely and let it go to vm. Once she explained that she might get an urgent call and apologized in advance if it interrupted us (it didn't). Otherwise she has been the picture of professionality.
posted by ldthomps at 11:39 AM on May 24, 2010

During my first visit, my former psychiatrist interrupted me to answer his phone while I was explaining how I had been feeling. I was very offended and to make matters worse, the volume of his phone was loud enough that I could hear the other side of the conversation. It was another patient complaining about not being able to get a refill on their prescription.

It made me feel like he was little more than a drug dealer, and reinforced my doubts that drugs were the way to handle my depression.

My therapist, on the other hand, was great. I can't even describe how angry it would make me to have someone fall asleep during a therapy session.
posted by Jeeb at 11:39 AM on May 24, 2010

I did have a therapist nod off once, but a few weeks later she told me she had just reached her twelfth week of pregnancy. Early pregnancy can make you incredibly tired so I felt it was understandable.

Answering the phone never happened with any therapist and in my opinion, never should.
posted by kate blank at 11:42 AM on May 24, 2010

Yes, it's happened to me. And according to a friend who knows this guy professionally, I'm not the only one it's happened to. On the one hand, being a sleepy person myself, I can sort of sympathize, but it's horribly unprofessional and just not a good thing to do when you're trying to build rapport. I had to just sit there for a few minutes until he perked up. DO NOT WANT.
posted by greatgefilte at 11:45 AM on May 24, 2010

I had a psychiatrist answer the phone once when another patient was put through to him after being hospitalised for a suicide attempt (I forget the details, but it seemed perfectly appropriate at the time for him to be taking the call.)

The only other time it has happened was, funnily enough, last week, when due to a mix-up my appointment was scheduled at a time when the therapist was meant to be available to colleagues for her office hours. She apologised profusely for needing to answer the phone a few times to say that she would call the person back.

If anyone made a habit of this while in conversation with me, be they therapist, doctor, baker, shoe repair person or friend, that would be the end of the relationship.

I've never had the falling asleep experience and I wouldn't tolerate that either, without a decent explanation and/or apology.
posted by different at 11:50 AM on May 24, 2010

One psych was always rolling her eyes. Like constantly, throughout the entire session. I couldn't tell if it was some kind of tic or what. It really bothered me. I had a yawner once but didn't feel too bad about it since I'm also a yawner.
posted by mokeydraws at 11:51 AM on May 24, 2010

Never happened to me. My therapist did once warn me, very apologetically, that she might have to take a call during that particular session, because there was something urgent going on with one of her other patients.

I'd consider a therapist falling asleep or routinely answer the phone during a session to be roughly as unprofessional as a dentist, surgeon, or judge falling asleep or answering the phone on the job.
posted by ook at 11:52 AM on May 24, 2010

No. God no. They might be bored but they've never fallen asleep. I have had phones ring during sessions but therapists always kill the ringer and move on.
posted by chairface at 11:53 AM on May 24, 2010

I swear to Jeebus if my therapist/psychiatrist ever started to nod off on me, or anyone I was paying, I would probably throw something at them, and not necessarily in a nice way. I would then tell them how unprofessional they were for doing so, tell them I was not paying for that session, and find another one and never return.

My current psychiatrist spends 15 minutes with me and basically tries to push me out the door. He severely misdiagnosed me within 15 minutes of our first visit (luckily I was in a good enough place that I had a plan set up already, and am now only seeing him once every 6 months, soon to be never again).

I'd be pretty pissed if a call came through without the therapist/doctor warning me about it, but that should never happen if they have a receptionist. I'd cut and run.
posted by TheBones at 11:53 AM on May 24, 2010

I've had about 7 therapists. None have fallen asleep (though one of my friends reported that her couples therapist fall asleep; that was the last time they went to him). One did occasionally answer her cell phone during our sessions - I hated it, but wasn't assertive enough to say anything at the time.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:55 AM on May 24, 2010

Oh, and she was answering her cell phone to talk to her kids - not other patients - makes it even worse, I think.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:58 AM on May 24, 2010

Not to me, but a friend's therapist once fell asleep during a session. Once she woke up and realized what had happened, she was mortified, suggested they reschedule, and didn't charge the friend for the sleepy session.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:16 PM on May 24, 2010

I went to a non-therapist physician once. He answered his cell phone during my visit. Consequently that was my first and only visit.
posted by massysett at 12:21 PM on May 24, 2010

Never happened to me; my last therapist would kill the ringer on the phone and apologize. I finally quit going because her front desk couldn't manage to schedule appointments for when she was actually around, though-- I'd schedule, and they'd call back later all "oh, she's out of town, next opening is [months away]," or they'd schedule me for impossible times (10:30 when she did hour-long sessions starting at 9am) and then tell me I'd gotten it wrong.

I did have one guy tell me that lots of "girls" had "problems with their periods" and offer to give me Prozac, and then ask what my name was again. Right about then, I noticed that my chart was upside-down on his desk, facing me, and I calmly relieved him of it and walked out.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:23 PM on May 24, 2010

I had a therapist who used to take calls during sessions. It was obnoxious, every time. He's dead now, or else I would've stopped seeing him.
posted by nevercalm at 12:25 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The whole setup of the patient lying down and the analyst sitting behind, out of sight, was supposedly originated by Freud because he was a snoozer and didn't want his patients seem him nodding off.
posted by Doohickie at 12:31 PM on May 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's really hard to find a good therapist, and it is worth the time and effort to seek one out. I've had two terrible therapists, and the great one I have now.

Terrible therapist #1, a woman who knew less about mental health than I do.

Terrible therapist #2, a man who tried to have sex with me (yes, really). Couldn't get out of there fast enough.

I pay my therapist for a half hour of his time, during which I expect his attention. My current therapist would never answer the phone while we are in session, and I can't imagine him falling asleep.
posted by misha at 12:32 PM on May 24, 2010

Yes. Saw that woman just the one time. She nodded off. Mortifying.
posted by Lou Stuells at 12:39 PM on May 24, 2010

Wow. I've had two therapists in my life, both for relatively short periods of time, and both of them here alert and engaged throughout the entire session, and remember things from past sessions with alacrity. I cannot even comprehend the point of going to a therapist who is bored, sleepy, on the phone or otherwise inattentive -- if you need to talk that badly, so that you don't need the person on the other end to be conscious, you really need to save the money and get yourself a nice couch at home to chatter away on.

Note: both therapists had a couch that I sat on, rather than laid down on, and eye contact during the session is no more or less constant than in a normal conversation with another human being. Which is what therapy should be.

What a terrible red flag it would be, to take a phone call or fall asleep. How would you feel if they picked up a book and started reading, or watched TV, or listened to music with headphones on? Wow. I can't get my mind around it.

It's really hard to find a good therapist, and it is worth the time and effort to seek one out.

Indeed, and you should really consider your first session as a test for compatibility. You want, and need, someone engaged with you, your difficulties, and that you can trust. Having had the therapists I've had, if I now needed a new one and had to try twenty different ones before I clicked with one, I'd do it. If you've never had a good one, I can see how you might think the problem is you, but it likely isn't.
posted by davejay at 12:43 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not ever. And if they did, I would find a new one since I'm not allowed to sleep on the job either.
posted by heartquake at 1:09 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

No, but she once put lotion on her legs during the session. I no longer see her, but that wasn't the main reason.
posted by xo at 1:28 PM on May 24, 2010

I had two therapists that nodded off and one that answered a knocking door.

First therapist - I don't know what was going on with him. He was fine for about 6 months and then he started nodding off. I just assumed I was boring him and asked for a referral.

Second therapist - I was seeing her for a first time appt. just to check her out. Obviously didn't go back

Third therapist - She was a specialist and the head of the eating disorders group. She answered a knocking door a number of times during our time together. It was totally inappropriate but I saw her for 4 years. I just didn't really know it was inappropriate at the time.

I have seen, in my 10 years of therapy, about 25 therapists for 1st time appointments. If I could tell you all the horror stories, it would take too much bandwidth; so I'll just leave it at: there are some really shitty therapists out there.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:56 PM on May 24, 2010

Yes. I had a therapist fall asleep on me once and it totally hurt my feelings. I stopped seeing her shortly thereafter, but I'll be honest, it really sucked. The falling asleep bothered me less than the fact that she just did not acknowledge it. I know everybody has an off day, so I would have preferred to meet with her another time and not waste my money rather than sit there talking about something that was bothering me and wondering "Is she falling asleep?!?!" I never said anything because I was embarrassed, but in retrospect I really wish I had.
posted by pazazygeek at 2:23 PM on May 24, 2010

I once had a therapist who answered calls in the middle of our sessions, whenever the phone would ring. Somehow I guess I got used to it and stopped questioning it. But in retrospect--especially now that I have a therapist that I think wouldn't ever consider doing this--it seems rather bizarre, rude and perhaps even unethical.

But that assessment could also be related to other feelings I have about that therapist now!
posted by dubitable at 2:26 PM on May 24, 2010

Also, my current therapist does answer the door, but it's always towards the end of the session and it's sort of a necessary evil--he's got to let the next client in, even if that client sits and waits. It doesn't bug me and I've never thought it was weird (especially after answering-phone-guy).
posted by dubitable at 2:27 PM on May 24, 2010

Terrible therapist #2, a man who tried to have sex with me (yes, really). Couldn't get out of there fast enough.

That's, like, deeply unethical if not illegal. Assuming he was licensed, that would easily be enough to get his licensed removed...did you report him (I recognize that may not have been feasible at the time)?
posted by dubitable at 2:29 PM on May 24, 2010

Response by poster: Just a realty check-it is reasonable to expect 45-50 minutes of focused attention on you and the data you are bringing into the room. Obviously, there are times when there is an unexpected knock on the door or an emergency phone call. However this should be the exception and not the rule. And if your therapist falls asleep on you, it is totally appropriate to question their behavior.
posted by ChicagoTherapyConnection at 2:43 PM on May 24, 2010

Some of these are cracking me up a little. I have seen a few different therapists in my lifetime, and I also am a therapist.

I have gotten VERY sleepy during play therapy a few times (particularly when watching a kid doing sandtray, which is pretty passive on the part of the therapist), but have never fallen asleep. I have a yawn-stifling move, though, that I use with regularity (and if I do yawn really obviously, I ALWAYS acknowledge it and tell the client it's an "I didn't get enough sleep" yawn, not an "I'm bored" yawn).

Taking phone calls: I have a lot of clients who have crises/emergencies with some regularity, and I still have not once answered a call in session (similarly to you, OP, a lot of clients actually ask me, "aren't you going to pick that up?"). The clients who do call with crises know that I'll get back to them as soon as I can, but that it may take just a little bit of time if I'm in session. I can imagine how devaluing it would feel to a client if I completely diverted my attention to something/someone else, but I also know that most, if not all, of my clients would be really understanding if it were a personal emergency of some sort and I needed to take a call on my cellphone or something.

Door knocks: I have a "Do Not Disturb" sign for my door, but sometimes people disturb anyway. There's a security peephole in the door, though! So if I looked out there and it was another therapist in the office, I'd know it must be an emergency, and that I should probably open the door. I've opened the door during a session only once before, and it was because it was the police knocking. If this happens during a session, a therapist should NOT open the door such that you, the client, can be seen from the outside.

I don't know. I don't think I would be utterly horrified if a therapist got sleepy on me, as long as s/he addressed it verbally and acknowledged that it was happening. I don't expect that anyone has to be superhuman, but if you're going to have a very human moment while in session (yawning, needing to answer a call from your kid's daycare, burping, crying as one listens to a particularly emotionally difficult [or momentously happy, breakthrough-ish] thing a client has to say), you have to address it to determine its effect on the therapeutic relationship. Most of the time, if you can just talk about it and the client's experience of it, it's not the end of the world, is it?
posted by so_gracefully at 2:51 PM on May 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've been really lucky with therapists except for one, who told me that, because I was having panic attacks. and was confused as I un-knotted what happened when I was a kid (I staggered out of a really chaotic family, lots of love but plenty wacky), this woman insisted I'd been molested as a child. This was during that whole craze in the late eighties and early nineties when so many therapists rode that lame wagon. I listened, insisted I could not say for sure, as I didn't remember anything, said maybe, I guess, somehow I could have blacked it out or something. But she wouldn't have it, she was *certain* that I was blacking it out, and was in deep denial, blah blah blah. And she worked in psych hospitals, too -- imagine how many people came under her "care". What a wackjob.

But the rest of the therapists I've seen have been good, some great -- attentive, caring, intelligent, knowledgeable. I'll guarantee you not a one of them has ever slept when I darkened their door. By far the largest demonstration of unconditional love I've ever been shown was from a therapist who saw me without payment when I was broke and in deep manic-depressive crisis -- I'd given her plenty of money in the past but what's that matter, right, what she gave me was love. The real deal. She cared about people. She died earlier this year -- cancer -- I know that I owe it to life to give to others as she did to me, as best I can. A wonderful woman. What an amazing human being she was. Is, to me -- she lives on in my heart.

Shrinks? Another story. Probably 60-40, competent-incompetent. Sadly, there's no way -- at least at the first, when you first present to your first shrink -- to learn whether a shrink is worth a damn or not except by walking through it, placing yourself in their care. Oy. And some just flat do not care if you (ie me) live or die -- that's amazing to me. Butchers. Others care but are dopes, incompetent with their scrip pad -- whoops! Try again. Obviously my preference is a large heart AND good diagnostic skills and medical knowledge -- and I've come across some of those, my current shrink is an amazing guy, he so rocks -- but if I had the choice of good-hearted or knowledgeable but cold there's no choice at all -- I'd take the sharp doc every time...
posted by dancestoblue at 3:21 PM on May 24, 2010

That's, like, deeply unethical if not illegal. Assuming he was licensed, that would easily be enough to get his licensed removed...did you report him (I recognize that may not have been feasible at the time)?

dubitable, at the time I was really messed up and upset (as you can imagine).

I was going through therapy for my marriage at the time, years and years ago before my husband and I got back together and we had our kids, and I guess this guy saw a vulnerable woman and went for it.

Anyway, I ran out of the office after he physically assaulted me, and then, still in shock, tried to go back to work like nothing happened (the appointment was on my lunch hour). Naturally, I was in tears and shaky and I guess it was obvious something awful had happened. I confided in a female co-worker and, although I didn't know it until later, her boyfriend, another co-worker of ours, took it upon himself to go to the guy's office. I don't know exactly what happened with that, but the therapist* never bothered me again.

If something like that were to happen today, I would absolutely report the therapist, don't worry.

*Obviously, I use the term very loosely.
posted by misha at 4:24 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've seen a couple different therapists in different settings - in a school counseling center, in a community counseling center, and in private practice. All the counseling that I have gone to has been rather interactive - I guess cognitive/behavior therapy? I can't imagine going somewhere and having the stereotypical lying on a couch and babbling while the doctor nods and takes notes experience! It always feels like a conversation - they ask some questions, I answer, they ask more questions, I ask questions, etc. I can't imagine them nodding off - it would be like falling asleep having coffee with a friend. Also I have never been interrupted by a phone call. If the phone did ring, I would expect either "Oh I'm so sorry I forgot to turn off the ringer" or "I am so sorry, I have a family emergency and need to step out for a second."

If you want to know other irritating behaviors, I get a little frustrated sometimes that my psychiatrist doesn't really know who I am. Granted, I pretty much see him just for medication management. But I have given him the Cliffs Notes to my life story, and some detail about my parents. One time at the beginning of a session he said "Now your parents, they're still married right?" - yet one of the first things I told him is that my parents got divorced when I was 21. If he doesn't have a great memory for patient details, it would be nice if he would take a few minutes before our session to review my file!
posted by radioamy at 7:06 PM on May 24, 2010

Wow. just wow.

I have a friend who is a clinical psychologist. My mother is a trained counsellor (Jungian school), I have done teen volunteer counselling when I was barely out of my teens. I (as a home student) was a foreign student advisor and advocate whilst at university.

Never have I ever heard of a counsellor / professional listener being so disrespectful to someone as to fall asleep or just blatantly not pay attention - eg texting, answering phone, - if your counsellor and / or advisor exhibits any of these behaviours on a regular basis, then FIRE THEM / CHANGE THEM / JUST STOP SEEING THEM, because they are clearly not doing their JOB.

I would be LIVID if someone I was paying to interact with me behaved like this.
posted by Faintdreams at 3:10 AM on May 25, 2010

Response by poster: One of the dilemma's Ive heard about having a therapist nod off, answer calls, or otherwise respond to their own needs at the expense of your feelings, cost, and time is that the client/patient is left wondering "is it me?" And very often clients are reluctant to say anything to therapist, so it remains the elephant in the room. Moreover since it can be awkward and for some embarrassing to tell others about it, patients are often left alone with the secret.
posted by ChicagoTherapyConnection at 7:26 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I cannot imagine my therapist ever being so disrespectful and rude as to either FALL ASLEEP or answer the phone. (Barring a medical emergency wrt answering the phone. And obviously apologizing for yawning or nodding off is a lot different than actually falling asleep and not apologizing.)

I completely agree with Faintdreams, but understand ChicagoTherapyConnection's point--if it happened to me, despite thinking it was incredibly rude, I'd probably be so self-effacing as to pretend it didn't bother me.
posted by saveyoursanity at 9:23 AM on May 25, 2010

My therapist has never fallen asleep or taken or made a phone call during one of our sessions (the phone has never rung). If either happened, I'd expect her to address it, or I wouldn't go back. I'm not paying $$ out-of-pocket for her to fall asleep or be dealing with personal business or another client's business on my time.

Therapy is one situation where I think it's appropriate to have an attitude This is about me, my issues and my concerns. I am the top priority here during this time. Going through the rest of life like that would make one seem like an egotistical jerk. But during that 50 minutes, I'm focused on me and I expect my therapist to be focused on me.
posted by Lexica at 6:30 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: At it's core, a positive therapy relationship happens when there is a positive fit between the therapist and patient. In my experience, if that is in place, then just about anything in session can be talked about including; why the therapist fell asleep or answered a call. Moreover, what starts out as a disturbing and confusing interaction can often provide valuable insights into the client's relationship with others. For example, the client that doesn't say anything for fear of upsetting the therapist may discover through the work that they do this with family, lovers, and collages at work.
posted by ChicagoTherapyConnection at 7:19 AM on May 27, 2010

« Older Seeking least offensive light beer   |   "Nick Clegg" Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.