The power of what now?
January 10, 2011 11:20 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with a new therapist with an unexpected philosophical bent?

I had a great therapist in Northern Virginia (let's call her VA-Therapist or VAT). She was astute and supportive and our therapy was groundbreaking and productive and pretty much changed my life. I understand this was probably a fluke. VAT was trained in Imago therapy and was a LCSW and did mostly couples counseling. This worked out fine for me because I was mostly there at first because I was devastated about the end of a relationship. On paper I kind of wrote off Imago as some new-age BS, but she rarely mentioned it directly in therapy and didn't push any of it on me, for sure.

Flash forward to a few years later, when, with a great amount of credit to VA-Therapist, I have moved to Los Angeles. She tells me she knows someone out here who does therapy and gives me her name (CA-Therapist or CAT). I deduce that VAT knows CAT through some sort of Imago-related council/group. CAT is the only recommendation VAT has for the area. VAT didn't know much about CAT's therapeutic talents, but I figured that if Imago worked for me once it probably wouldn't hurt to try again.

I've had 4 sessions with CAT so far and they were going fine until last session. During session 4, I bring up my current romantic endeavors and CAT jumps into a long spiel about philosophy, The Power of Now and the teachings of Eckhart Tolle. Alarm bells start frantically ringing inside my head. I did some research on the guy and it all sounds quite lovely and poetic, but I'm 99% sure it's not for me. I have a couple of conflicting philosophies about life, and the idea of the guru kind of offends me on a personal level (I can't imagine having the ego to presume you've some vast insight on the nature of the universe and the human experience that applies to everyone). I'm an atheist or an agnostic at best. I'm content to let people believe what they want as long as they don't spill it on me. I've never been one for confrontation, so I told her I'd look into the book and that it sounded nice. I haven't spoken to her since. Honestly I feel a little bit like I encountered a crazy person.

When CAT brought it up, I kind of smiled and nodded because it did all sound very appealing but I would hate to think that having productive therapy with her necessitated me buying into the philosophies of these books.

So what do I do? Am I being too narrow-minded?

Cut and run, find another therapist (this is what my gut instincts are telling me to do)?
Attempt to challenge her beliefs and encourage her to justify her beliefs to me (goes against my nature)?
Ignore it and try to guide therapy towards something I can handle?
Open my mind and attempt to buy into the new philosophy?

Additional fun complication - I need a psychiatrist in the area, but my only recommendation has come from CAT. If I'm unsure about CAT, do I want to be treated by her recommendation?
posted by citywolf to Human Relations (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by jejune at 11:24 AM on January 10, 2011

I've had 4 sessions with CAT so far and they were going fine until last session.

Your therapy is your therapy, and none of the options where you sit and listen to this woman spout ideas that make no sense to you are ones you should consider. For me, that leaves two options. Either you tell her that you liked what you all were doing before she started talking about Tolle, or you tell her that you think that she might not be the best fit and ask her for a recommendation. Which you choose depends on whether you liked your first four sessions.
posted by OmieWise at 11:30 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: With therapy, always go with your gut instinct. Trying to be more "open minded" about someone with unfettered access to the nether regions of your mind is how you end up thinking L. Ron Hubbard is the messiah or whatever.
posted by griphus at 11:30 AM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

You can't throw a crystal in California without hitting a woo-woo therapist.

Unfortunately, it's all part of the California attitude. I had a friend who moved out there and within a few years was spouting the same New Age drivel that your therapist is.

I would not continue with this therapist if I were you. I have personally been damaged by this sort of thing. (And I'm not even in Cali!)

The best therapists I've had have been connected to a university. They were grad students in the marriage and family therapy program, and in one case, a recent grad who was a pre-licensed intern. I highly recommend that you look into this option.

The reasons student therapists are so good are many. They are observed by their mentor. Their heads are full of the latest research on therapy and the human psyche -- rigorous academic and medical research, not "spiritual" fluff. They are new at the job and not yet burned out. They are young and idealistic, therefore have an optimism about them.

Also, they're free to cheap depending on your income.

Good luck, and kudos to you for critical thinking!
posted by xenophile at 11:32 AM on January 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

I would find a new therapist, pronto.

My beloved therapist has some philosophical ideas that I don't share but she has never taken up my session time with them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:35 AM on January 10, 2011

Best answer: Why are you talking to random strangers about this? I think this conversation would be best suited with your therapist, I mean that is what they are there for.

Go talk to your therapist. If you aren't comfortable, find another therapist. You don't owe this person anything.

BTW, eckhart tolle may not be for everyone, but being mindful and open to the present is a great way to live your life.
posted by TheBones at 11:36 AM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

You might also ring up VAT, mention that your new therapy relationship isn't gelling (which is a regular, normal, thing), and ask if she knows of anyone else in your area in CA.

You can reveal as much or as little about why CAT isn't working for you as you want. A decent ethical therapist, as it sounds like VAT is, wouldn't "go behind your back" and tell CAT, but with more information, she might be able to better help you. I think what you've written here would be great, and not offensive to VAT at all - even therapists with similar philosophies have very different discourse styles.
posted by lesli212 at 11:41 AM on January 10, 2011

You need a therapist with whom you're comfortable. It doesn't sound like this is the one. Los Angeles is an enormous city and surely there must be a therapist there who's a better fit for you.

Can you contact VAT, explain that her recommendation wasn't a good fit for you, and see if she can recommend someone else?

As for the psychiatrist, if you're unsure about CAT, you probably wouldn't feel comfortable with her recommendation for a psychiatrist, either.

Maybe you can add "los angeles" as a tag to this question so it can get the attention of some L.A. Mefites and they can recommend a good therapist for you?
posted by Tin Man at 11:43 AM on January 10, 2011

Why not tell your new therapist that you don't "get" Eckhart Tolle and all that? That sort of thing resonates with a lot of people, but unless she's forcing it down your throat or judging you because your lack of interest in Tolle makes you a bad person, who cares? The point is what is useful for you.

That said, if she really is forcing this on you or acting as if this is True Fax and not just another path out of many, of if you feel uncomfortable with her for other reasons, find a new therapist. It's California. You can't swing a Scientologist without hitting a therapist of some kind.
posted by Sara C. at 11:43 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You haven't even READ the book. to me it sounds like you're doing a lot of jumping to conclusions.

is there a time in your life when you thought something was one way (spinach is DISGUSTING) and then you tried it and it actually offered you something you never considered? Of course, it's up to you if you want to read the book or not, but it's possible that it might have something to offer to you, and it's possible that CAT isn't as crazy as you imagine her to be.

if, without reading the book, you're convinced that the ideas possibly contained in the book are so outrageously unhelpful that even CAT's suggesting that you read it is enough for you to be uncomfortable with her, you might want to let her know about that before you write her off completely. it sounds like your first 4 sessions were helpful. just tell her that you aren't ever going to be interested in anything remotely spiritual, and she'll adjust.
posted by andreapandrea at 11:45 AM on January 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not only an atheist, but an ex-Orthodox Jew with some pretty anti-religious feelings. I'm also a skeptical person in general. My therapist is a practicing Episcopal Priest. He came to me recommended also, so I decided to give him a chance. In the first session I told him about my atheism and my past and tried to figure out if it would be a problem. He assured me it wouldn't be, and in fact it hasn't. I've brought it up a couple more times, whenever I started to have doubts about whether he was secretly hoping to turn me religious again or assuming I couldn't be healthy and happy without being religious. Every time, we've talked about it in as much depth as necessary until I was convinced it really wasn't a problem.

I think it's pretty important to talk about that sort of thing in therapy -- not just religious things, but any skepticism you have about any part of it. We've had many conversations about the purpose of therapy and whether it would really work and whether this particular modality is the best modality, etc. etc. etc. I've challenged him on multiple occasions to convince me to stay in therapy (as I said, I'm a skeptical person) and the amazing part is he's been able to convince me to stay, and it really has been helpful.

For what it's worth, I've also read some Eckhard Tolle and listened to him speak a couple of times, and it seems to be mostly a completely secular (and true, in my opinion) insight wrapped up in "spiritual" language. I have personally experienced moments and even days of great peace and awe by using mindfulness meditation and yoga. If you haven't looked into that stuff at all, I'd recommend it. A good place to start is Jon Kabat-Zinn. (He's a little annoying and long-winded as both a speaker and a writer, but he really gets to the secular heart of mindfulness meditation and how it can be applied to depression, anxiety, and a number of other issues.)
posted by callmejay at 11:54 AM on January 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

I think you're making more of the whole business about gurus and egos than it deserves in any intellectual sense. What matters is that you're not comfortable. You're on the defensive, which is going to keep you from making progress. Therapy demands trust, and it's clear that you aren't feeling it. This therapist may not be the best choice for you, but try to look at it as a matter of style rather than content. She's not speaking your language, but that doesn't mean she's babbling nonsense.
posted by jon1270 at 11:57 AM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

There's really never a reason to work with a therapist who you don't really respect or like working with, or who has a radically different belief system that they're trying to push on you (ugh, ok, I am a therapist [in L.A., even! where, as others have said, there is plenty of woo], and this situation is just not sitting well with me; in my opinion, there is no place for pop psych/pop spirituality in therapy, because people are more than capable of going out and reading that shit on their own time, and the therapy hour is certainly not a soapbox for a therapist's personal convictions). Now, I do know some therapists who are mostly very scientific, logical, smart people, and then they bust out the Eckhart Tolle or shamanism stuff and even though *I* get uncomfortable, it's tolerable or even pleasant to many other professionals and clients. This particular therapist may have had some success spreading the Tolle-ism because so many people are predisposed to latch onto ideas/belief systems in that way, so maybe she just offers it up by default nowadays because lots of people have found it helpful or resonant with them. Again--it's 100% for you to decide whether that's ok with you.

The good news is that L.A. has about a zillion therapists who are taking new clients, and you can find another one pretty easily, I would imagine. In fact, if you are interested in recommendations, I would invite you to MeMail me with a little more detail about the area of the city you're in, and I'd be happy to give you some names of people I know (who I would trust not to bring non-therapy into therapy).
posted by so_gracefully at 12:14 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is therapy. Therapy is not the same thing as the practice of medicine (including psychiatry) or the law, i.e. you go to your therapist for someone to help you work through things, not for them to essentially substitute their judgment for yours.

Because that's basically what doctors and lawyers do: they know medicine/the law, you don't, and even though they need your input to give you the best treatment/legal advice, all they're really learning from you are the facts of your case, and sometimes they really don't even need your help all that much in learning them.

This is why doctors and lawyers (and certain other professionals, mostly having to do with money) are considered to be fiduciaries but therapists are generally not. In therapy, you are the one doing the work, you are the one using your judgment, and you are the one directing "treatment," if that's what you want to call it. They are there to assist and facilitate. There are occasionally times where a therapist may say "I know this is hard, but you need to do X," which amounts to, basically, "Trust me," but they're way fewer and farther between than in your relationships with other professionals.

Tl;dr version: if you don't like your therapist, the threshold for saying "I don't like this guy, I'm going somewhere else" is way lower than it is for medical doctors or lawyers. If you don't like this therapist, get a new one.
posted by valkyryn at 12:37 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Since it seems you are conflicted about this therapist, I wouldn't just cut and run. It's important to confront these issues in therapy and either smooth them out, or decide then that it's not a good fit. You could say something like "I really was getting a lot out of our sessions, but I'm concerned about your comments about Echart Tolle and I want to figure out if this is the right place for me." Your therapist is used to dealing with this type of stuff all the time, and I think you may feel better for having explored your feelings about it.

It's hard to confront therapists, but I once had to confront and eventually terminate with a therapist who fell asleep on me. It was awkward, and very uncomfortable, but I ended up in a much better place with a much better therapist. Good luck!
posted by Sal and Richard at 1:22 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you don't feel comfortable with your therapist then you're unlikely to get a good result from the therapy. That being said, I'm an atheist and I'm currently reading The Power of Now and would recommend it to pretty much anyone. It contains really simple but powerful ideas (gussied up with language that is admittedly a bit too new-agey for me) and I am finding it helpful. Tolle isn't a guru as much as a guy who wrote a book to help people, and the philosophy in his book is nothing particularly out there or fuzzy/spiritual. Power of Now is a quick read, so it wouldn't hurt to check it out and see what you think.

But that aside, if the therapist were pushing *any* particular book or mindset on you every session and you specifically told her it wasn't for you, then that's not cool or therapeutic.
posted by tetralix at 1:35 PM on January 10, 2011

If you're in LA, there are certainly evidence-based therapists out here doing CBT, DBT, and other scientifically-backed therapeutic modalities. I've been poking around and haven't actually met with anyone yet, but CBT California's self-description was compelling, as was Dr. Judy Ho.

Again, I'm not making specific recs, just pointing out that yes, you can have an evidence-based therapist in Los Angeles even though everyone thinks you live in crunchy woo-woo land.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:47 PM on January 10, 2011

Going against (what you imagine is) your nature can be very therapeutic. Why would it be difficult to tell her how you feel about her beliefs? What do you imagine her reaction will be?
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:23 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

You had a few sessions that went well, and then Eckhart Tolle came up and alarm bells went off?

I'm familiar with Tolle. I'm pretty sure he's not at all in the "guru" category. I don't know of any crazy religion or organization associated with Tolle that your therapist may have been recruiting for, or whatever. Tolle is a guy with interesting ideas about awareness and consciousness. That's about it.

Did your therapist recommend "alternative" meetings to attend or an organization you should join? If not, then maybe CAT was attempting to expose you to Something New. Maybe it was being confronted with Something New that set off alarm bells, rather than that there is anything inherently weird, strange, or nefarious about CAT's attempt to discuss the concepts covered in the Power of Now with you??

I'm not defending CAT, Tolle, or discounting your agency to choose a different therapist if you wish!

I decided to write in thread with this observation because you might have missed an opportunity to examine how you process your perspective and perceptions in life.

As others have already suggested, go ahead and find a new therapist if you want.

I moved to LA about 8 years ago from the east coast. There are actual sects, cults, weird folks and organization all over LA (and the West Coast in general) that you will undoubtably be exposed to here. If you stay for any length of time, I bet you will look back on this particular introduction to "west coast woo woo" and smile to yourself. At least, I hope so!

posted by jbenben at 3:41 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Going against (what you imagine is) your nature can be very therapeutic.

I imagine the OP is going to therapy for a particular reason, not for recreational philosophizing.

I would have a hard time with a therapist who espoused any philosophy to the exclusion of others, even if I agreed with it. I would prefer to go to a priest or someone similar for that. It's a very different exercise.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:42 PM on January 10, 2011

I'm not sure where in LA you are, but I can personally recommend Biola University's therapy program in La Mirada. I saw an MA there for a couple months, and she really helped.
posted by luckynerd at 5:48 PM on January 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all for the thoughtful and helpful answers.

Just to clarify, I wasn't under the misconception that Tolle was a cult leader or that The Power of Now was some sort of recruiting material. This post in itself has caused me to examine my own beliefs more than I did before. I guess the simplest way I can explain my own beliefs is that I believe in a personal growth and Truth for each individual, which makes me quite wary of anyone who says they have The Answer that will work for me if I can just _go with it_ who then (surprise!) claim that if I reject it, it's only because I am "sick" in a way only their philosophy can cure. I don't particularly like Dr. Phil or the Pope either. I think it was an idea of a Book of Answers that set off aforementioned alarm bells.

I decided that to be fair I would pick up the book and make an attempt at it. According to my Kindle, I'm about 20% of the way through the book and the alarm bells are still going off. I plan to have another session to talk about this with CAT, and if I'm still feeling uncomfortable, think I will be okay looking elsewhere for my therapy needs.

I'm going to go ahead and mark this as resolved for now, but please please MeMail me if you have a recommendation for other therapists in Los Angeles -- I'd love to have options, even if I decide to keep seeing CAT.
posted by citywolf at 9:32 PM on January 10, 2011

I imagine the OP is going to therapy for a particular reason, not for recreational philosophizing.

OP was there because of relationships. The relationship you have with a therapist can tell you a lot about you deal with relationships in the outside world, and it offers you the opportunity to tweak it in an environment that is "safe." If it doesn't feel safe--say, because of an alien philosophy--that's the first thing to tweak.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:57 AM on January 11, 2011

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