My worst fear is to have somebody fall asleep on me -- hey, are you awake?
May 23, 2011 4:51 PM   Subscribe

What to do about my therapist falling asleep during our sessions.

I adore my therapist. Absolutely adore him. Unfortunately, he's also falling asleep during our sessions. I think ordinarily I would have no trouble saying to myself, "Self, you need another therapist." But I am finding unable to tell myself this. I think one aspect of it is that is in his late eighties and has a couple of ailments (that don't interfere with our work) that are probably related to his age.

So by saying, "Hey, you're falling asleep, see ya." I feel like I am saying, "You are ancient! You are failing! Soon you will be dead! I am taking my patienthood elsewhere because you are little more than a corpse!"

This guilt may be related in part to very strong feelings I have related to a close friend passing away two years ago -- a topic that he (the therapist) and I have explored frequently.

To bottom-line it, how can I talk to my therapist about this? What do I say? How do I get the courage to do it? Any mental tricks/suggestions?
posted by angrycat to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Imagine you were asking your therapist about something very similar you experienced with someone else. What do you think he would advise you to do?
posted by RustyBrooks at 4:52 PM on May 23, 2011

You're not there for him, you're there for you. Change therapists.
posted by mhoye at 4:53 PM on May 23, 2011 [10 favorites]

if you're comfortable with the idea that your business is a charity that you give him out of kindness, then at least find ANOTHER therapist who will actually do the work you're paying for and see both until you feel comfortable leaving sleepyhead behind.
posted by radiosilents at 4:56 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think you should drop him without talking to him first. Bring it up gently. I understand that you are paying him for a service, but what you are feeling (consideration for him as a human being) is also appropriate.
posted by DeltaForce at 4:56 PM on May 23, 2011

Come at it from a place of concern. Next time it happens, call him on it. Ask him if he's okay. Then use the opportunity to tell him that this has been noticed more than once.

Start making plans to see another therapist. Don't let age be the excuse. He's still working, so he should be able to fully function as a therapist if he's still hanging out his shingle.

Stand up for your mental health. You deserve a therapist who is awake. Imagine if he was your surgeon and doing the same thing...would you want to continue with him?
posted by inturnaround at 4:56 PM on May 23, 2011 [12 favorites]

The man is 80. You like him. Switch to an earlier appt in the day and see if it makes a difference.
posted by elle.jeezy at 4:57 PM on May 23, 2011 [19 favorites]

It's not really your job to not hurt your therapist's feelings - he is being paid to do the job of being your therapist - and he is falling asleep, which is kind of a big thing.

I think you need to discuss it through with him rather than up and leave, but think about it this way - if you went to an accountant and they fell asleep on you during your appointment, how would you feel?

You can nicely point out that he needs to be more professional and work out ways of negotiating that with him.
posted by mleigh at 4:59 PM on May 23, 2011

I would print out two copies of this amazing and touching New York magazine article; one to give to your therapist, and one to ponder yourself.
posted by rdc at 5:03 PM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Initially, as a quick responder (yes i do read the whole question!) I was going to say that there is a great New York magazine article all about this where the author revisits his therapists (3?) that all fell asleep while talking to him. It turned out more or less to be a transference issue where the therapists felt he was 'blocked' in a way to their suggestions. And it made them tired. But on closer reading...late 80's...that's tough. You will have to get a new therapist eventually. Definitely speak to him. Ask if it's a personal 'block' or whether or not he falls asleep with other people. I get offended when my therapist yawns!! But his age is a definite factor. Discuss it with him. But ...also ask him if he has a recommendation, either for you, him, or for another therapist. I would link article but ..will just send this first.
posted by bquarters at 5:06 PM on May 23, 2011

argh! the person above got there first! quick reader, slow typer!
posted by bquarters at 5:07 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

"So Carlos, before our appointment there's something I'd like to discuss with you. I've noticed that during our last few sessions you fell asleep briefly while I was talking. I'm not sure if you're aware of it but I wanted to let you know that this is happening so that you could take care of the problem. I really like working with you and I don't want to have to switch therapists but, you know, I hate to think I'm boring you, ha ha. That's all. Thanks for understanding."

If you don't think you can pull this script off face to face I think it would also work as an email.
posted by milk white peacock at 5:14 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is something you should bring up with your therapist.
posted by roger ackroyd at 5:18 PM on May 23, 2011

What? This "New Yorker" guy is paying somebody to listen to him and the shrink is falling asleep? And it's some "transference" issue?

He must know he is falling asleep, yet he has not mentioned it? He has not offered to give you a discount due to his dreadfully unprofessional performance? Not falling asleep during a session is job #1 for a therapist!

Approach this as a dissatisfied customer. When I'm dissatisfied I just go somewhere else. But maybe you want to talk to him about it. Maybe you don't think his sleepiness is a big deal. But do NOT be like this "New Yorker" guy who asks "Was it them—or me?" I hope he was joking! I know I can bore people to sleep WITHOUT paying THEM for the privilege!
posted by massysett at 5:35 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is something that happened to me, and like you, I also liked my therapist, but was deeply troubled that he fell asleep during my session. The first time he did it, I announced "you just fell asleep" because I felt that it couldn't be ignored. He apologized, and said that he had been having trouble sleeping at night due to a dislocated shoulder. Then it happened two more times, and I couldn't fathom paying for sessions in which my therapist fell asleep or did the droopy eye thing like he was about to fall asleep. I told him I would need to change therapists, we did a few weeks of wrapping up, and I went on to a therapist who I LOVE and is way more helpful to me than he ever was.

Do yourself a favor and move on. There are lots of therapists out there, sometimes starting over with a new one is not so bad.
posted by Sal and Richard at 5:39 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a therapist. When I read the first part of your question, I was just going to say that you should get a new therapist. After reading your expansion, I think you should just talk to your therapist about this just as you've laid it out here. Your very articulate and you've identified many things that might be contributing to your reluctance to do this thing that you sort of feel you should do. This does sound like a transference issue…your transference to your therapist. Those things should always be discussed.

Incidentally, I think that New York article is a bunch of shit. Sure, people present all kinds of challenges to their therapists. Blaming falling asleep on the patient is unprofessonal and sleazy.
posted by OmieWise at 6:11 PM on May 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Ha! The one time this happened to me was when I was seeing a new CBT therapist for insomnia. Oh, the irony. I was bitter. And found someone else pronto.

Also, I can't believe how common this seems to be!
posted by instamatic at 6:15 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I sleep on the job I get fired.
posted by Max Power at 6:45 PM on May 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Which doesn't answer your question directly but might help you as it shows it has happened to others.

Good therapists are sometimes hard to find but a sleepy therapist might make someone no longer a good therapist; I'd see if there was a way you could make it work (earlier appointment, different time) or talk to him about it before going elsewhere.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:06 PM on May 23, 2011

Just talk to him. Forget about all that corpse stuff. For all you know, the real problem is that recently he's been up late having hot sex.

This "I'm going to imagine the reason I'd most have sympathy for" thing is great as a way to calm yourself when stuck behind a slow driver or sitting next to someone rude on the bus. It's not good to use in a long-term relationship as a way to block yourself from bringing something up.
posted by salvia at 7:08 PM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Could you ask for shorter sessions at a discount? Or maybe something like instead of an hour every two weeks maybe you could see him every week for half an hour.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:44 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

A good theraputic relationship is not something I would personally throw out lightly.

The fact is that your therapist is in his late eighties. If he wants to continue working, and you want to continue working with him, he needs to make concessions to his age. In order to do that, he needs to know that it's an issue. He may well not be aware of it.

He may in fact need to retire because he is no longer able to provide the level of care you and his other patients deserve. But he may be able to adjust his schedule, or split sessions to shorter times, or see people earlier in the day, or whatever. You really do need to talk to him about it.

Basically, I would approach it the way you imagine he would suggest you approach it. Failing that, I would say something like "This is very hard for me to bring up because I really value our relationship and have enormous respect for you, but in more than one session recently, you've fallen asleep. Is the time we see each other difficult for you? Is there something we can change that will make this work better for you?" And then stop talking. Just wait. He's a grownup and he'll respond.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:14 PM on May 23, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody!
posted by angrycat at 5:27 AM on May 24, 2011

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