Me and my therapist see the world differently. What to do?
January 15, 2013 3:21 PM   Subscribe

I've realised that I have serious philosophical disagreements with my therapist, as in extremely conflicting world views. I've been seeing her for a year and I'm not in the best place right now, how should I respond to this realisation?

Just to put this into context, I started therapy about a year ago because I'd been wanting to for a while and because I'd always felt 'off', like I was getting in the way of myself. I'd also had a pretty chaotic childhood and my parents have a very mutually dependent and conflictual relationship which I knew would leave some scars even if, before therapy, I couldn't say where.

I've been seeing my current therapist for nearly a year and she was referred to me by an extremely reputable psychiatric centre and she is herself a member of three reputable psychotherapist groups. I'm adding this in to say that she's not a quack.

Today's session put things into perspective. I came in, talking about how my boiler had just been fixed by removing all the gunk in it. She said that this was an interesting metaphor that I had created or something similar. At first I thought she meant that this was an image sticking with me because of my mental state, but talking things through with her, it turned out she meant that I had created the boiler being cleaned in my mind to express my own mental state. I strongly disagreed. I can't remember all of the details but it basically came down to her saying that the exterior world does not exist independently of our perception of it and that we artificially create such separation between ourselves and the world, and that if we realise that such separateness is incorrect, then we can become part of the Mind, a kind of spiritual essence of which we are the expression. Nirvana in a word.

I think this is horse shit. I told her that no, I do think that things exist independently of us, and she advised me to check out Bruce Lipton and Rupert Scheldrick as two scientists that show that our understanding of physical reality is flawed. I've watched one video by Bruce Lipton and his main idea, as I get it, is that our thoughts can change our genes and our environment.

I'm really really not against the idea that our mindset shapes our perception of the world in ways that are not conscious to us. I'm also not against the idea of having a more spiritual connection with the world although I have to admit I haven't found mine yet. What worries me is that because my therapist and I have such different world views, this will impinge on the therapeutic process. I also admit that I do think less of her for holding these beliefs, however unfair that is, and that I will be more suspicious of her judgments.

My concern is that part of my reaction is most likely to be tied up with a self-hating rejection of healing and that that I am in a self-destructive phase right now. Plus, this is someone that I have been in an intimate relationship with for the past year and a strong connection has been formed, although I'm also not sure how much I've progressed since starting. I am the kind of person who is wary of intimacy and this may be a reflection of that.

Basically, is this a deal breaker? She's otherwise been very helpful and I feel like there are some things I can learn from her, but today's session has made me take more than a few steps back. I know from her credentials that she's not a quack and a lot of what's she's said has been on target, but she seems aligned with a belief system that I would call crap and that is espoused by quacks. One of the things I'd been hoping to achieve with therapy was a better connection with the reality within which I am in, and this doesn't seem to help that.

I hope this doesn't come across as me wanting to rehash a philosophical argument between me and my therapist here in metafilter as that's really not my intention. I just want to know how to respond to this situation.
posted by litleozy to Human Relations (42 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
No, that's definitely not self-hating rejection of healing on your part you're describing. She's telling you screwy things. It's not a big deal to get a new therapist - happens all the time.
posted by facetious at 3:26 PM on January 15, 2013 [11 favorites]

Talk to your therapist about your reactions to the conversation you two had. Working this out with her (even if it ends up with your leaving her practice) is the way to increase your ability to be intimate in relationships. Making a decision on your own without talking to her, at this point in your relationship with her, is a way of self-destructively avoiding intimacy.
posted by jaguar at 3:26 PM on January 15, 2013 [9 favorites]

If she's helpful, then you don't need her to believe the same kinds of things that you believe. If her spiritual beliefs make you uncomfortable, hinder your progress, mess with your connection to reality, or seem inappropriate to your sessions and you need her to aproach your sessions from the perspective that there's an independant objective reality, say so. If she's no longer helping you or unable to comply with this request, find a new therapist.
posted by windykites at 3:34 PM on January 15, 2013

This would be totally unacceptable to me as well, to the point where I think I just wouldn't trust any recommendations the therapist gave to me, thus negating the whole point of going. I also noticed this bit:

I'm also not sure how much I've progressed since starting

If you've been going for a year and really don't see yourself in much of a different place, I think it may be a good plan to try a different therapist regardless of the other issues you mention. Not saying that a year of therapy will in any way solve all your problems and make your life perfect! But it's a long time to feel like you're literally in the same place you started.
posted by rainbowbrite at 3:36 PM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I ran into the same kind of situation. I was having a pretty good relationship with a newish therapist (maybe six months in?) when she made a pronouncement that, I felt, put me in the position of agreeing with something that was fundamentally at odds with my conditions for moving forward in life.

Specifically, she said that I needed to completely disengage with (stop me if you've heard this one) my mom and her crazy. Completely. And I said, "I'm sorry, but that is absolutely not possible. We live in the same town and share some of the same acquaintances and do some of the same activities once or twice a year. Moreover, our relationship has been crappy but usually not ultra-toxic, and our relationship is very, very important to me. I am willing to set firm boundaries, but there's no way I can do what you're asking me."

What the therapist said felt like a complete break from the understanding that I thought we had created. Up until that point, she'd been supportive of my efforts to understand my own behavior and disengage in a way that felt right to me. This felt like my therapist was ignoring what we had said -- specifically, ignoring ME and MY NEEDS, about which I had been VERY, VERY SPECIFIC -- in favor of making a blanket pronouncement. This was a huge breach of comfort, particularly because I was working on building trust in people I respected and looked to for advice.

That broke my head.

So I said (at this point, in tears), "I'm sorry, but I won't be able to continue this appointment. I don't agree with that assessment at all, and I feel like it's contrary to everything we've discussed. And I think I may need to think about whether or not I can trust our relationship enough to come back here for future appointments."

She let me leave, and after thinking about this for a couple of weeks I called her office and said, "I've decided to end this relationship. Please transfer my records and your notes, if applicable, to Dr. G at the other clinic." And that was that. I don't feel one whit of dismay for doing so.

Yes, you're in therapy because you need some guidance to grow and change. But part of growing and changing is understanding yourself and what feels right for you. You won't be able to stretch if worrying about breaking stops you from doing ANYTHING.

Listen to your gut, and don't look back. Being assertive and standing up for yourself and your needs is an important part of growth, too.
posted by Madamina at 3:38 PM on January 15, 2013 [16 favorites]

it turned out she meant that I had created the boiler being cleaned in my mind to express my own mental state. I strongly disagreed.

Wait, so your therapist said something small-talky like "how's your week been going?" and you said

"I finally cleaned out my boiler, and now the water temperature in my shower is so much better", or the like?

And your therapist said that none of this happened at all, but that you invented it in your mind? That you don't have a boiler, never cleaned it out, it had no concrete effects in your life at all? That you just sort of... invented the entire thing?

If that's accurate, and you've not been diagnosed with schizophrenia or anything, yeah, I would get a new therapist, stat. I mean, I agree that we probably see patterns and meaning and significance in mundane events in a way that is reflective of our emotional state, so investing a lot of meaning in something like boiler maintenance probably is a metaphor on some level.

But that doesn't mean, like, boilers aren't real or yours didn't get cleaned out or whatever your therapist was trying to say...?

(If none of this is accurate and I'm misreading your question, I'll also add that it's perfectly OK to change therapists for any reason, if you don't feel comfortable with them or your styles are compatible.)
posted by Sara C. at 3:47 PM on January 15, 2013 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: It was more, the whole world does not exist of our perception of it SO your boiler needed fixing because of your mental state. It's not a personal judgment of my ability to know what's there, more a certain view of the world where all objects we perceive aren't real but only exist within our mind. I am in need of warmth SO what I see is an extension of that, rather than plumbing.

I may not be doing her view justice, but this is how I understood what she was saying. She definitely did say that what we see does not exist independently of us seeing it.
posted by litleozy at 3:54 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: And seriously, thank you everyone so far from replying. I don't want to thread sit, but all the replies so far have been very helpful.
posted by litleozy at 3:55 PM on January 15, 2013

Response by poster: And, dammit sorry for adding on three comments in one go, though I am messed up in many ways, never been diagnosed with any mental disorder.
posted by litleozy at 3:57 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

It was more, the whole world does not exist of our perception of it SO your boiler needed fixing because of your mental state.

Yeah, find a new therapist because this one cray.
posted by elizardbits at 3:59 PM on January 15, 2013 [26 favorites]

Yeah, I could not see a therapist who thought that I created gunk in my boiler by sympathetic vibrations to having gunk in my mind. That's cool, and I know people who have worldviews like that, and it works for them, but it absolutely doesn't work for me and I find it a toxic worldview, it would be like me seeing a therapist who thought women were inferior and my problem was that I didn't stay home and have babies.
posted by jeather at 4:00 PM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

To expand on that needlessly dismissive comment, it is perfectly reasonable to discuss these kinds of philosophical beliefs with your peers and at the coffeehouse and when you are a freshman in college. It is really not okay for that kind of bullshit to find its way into your therapy session. It's like your dentist trying to sell you Amway while they've got you on the nitrous.
posted by elizardbits at 4:01 PM on January 15, 2013 [12 favorites]

Could it be that she meant the way you described your boiler being repaired - "cleaning the gunk out of it" - was somehow reflective of your mental state? Reaching here, but given that she seems to be a reputable mental health professional, it may be best to give her the benefit of the doubt.
posted by downing street memo at 4:01 PM on January 15, 2013

Best answer: What she seems to be describing is a fairly basic Buddhist belief, as far as I can tell. Quacks might also espouse such ideas, but I don't think it's fair to dismiss 400 million people quite so cavalierly. I think you're basically in a position of having a different religion from your therapist. That may or may not be a conflict, depending on the nature of the work you have to do, but you might want to think about whether you really require a therapist with the same spiritual beliefs as you.
posted by jaguar at 4:07 PM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thing is that while I do want to give her that benefit of the doubt for the boiler, she didn't seem to be approaching it in terms of how I was expressing it, more simply the fact that it happened.

I may have misunderstood for sure, but one of the difficulties I've had is that she seems to assume at times (and god I know that this may well be me projecting here given the circumstances but oh well) she seems to assume that all difficulties are reducible to an unhealthy perception of the world. Change your mind, change the world is pithy and true to an extent but fuck shit happens out there.

I've got one session booked for this Friday and I'll bring this up with her. If I can't iron this out, I'll have to move on.
posted by litleozy at 4:08 PM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You are under no obligation to agree with your therapist, particularly on big metaphysical and philosophical stuff.

This isn't about you choosing to behave in a way that's counterproductive, or being blinded by fundamental cognitive errors, or suffering from the effects of a major psychotic episode, or whatever.

Being in therapy doesn't mean you are wrong. Having a diagnosed neuropsychiatric disorder doesn't mean you are wrong. Being in a locked ward on an involuntary 72-hour hold doesn't mean you're wrong. You can be right about lots of things and be under the care of a psychological professional.

And professionals can and are routinely wrong. Not all of them all of the time, or even most of them most of the time. But saying "I'm in therapy and my therapist is wrong about this" isn't fundamentally irrational.

Also, you're paying for this time.


If this keeps coming up and it bothers you and it comes up after you ask them to drop it, I vote "get a new therapist."

If it really bothers you that she thinks about the world this way and that's making it harder for you to communicate with her, I vote "get a new therapist."

If in general your therapy relationship isn't going well, in your opinion, and you can't seem to make it go well after expressing that to her, I vote "get a new therapist."

There are lots of things on this list here that all make me say "get a new therapist."

And if you feel really strongly, for any reason or no reason at all, that you should get a new therapist? You have my permission to get a new one just because of that feeling.

(I disagree with my therapist about religion. Sometimes that bothers me, particularly in the realm of "I think that you can legitimately feel guilty for having done a wrong thing and she thinks that all guilt is dysfunctional" stuff. But most of the time, quite sensibly, it doesn't come up. Consider looking for someone with more of a CBT/ACT/etc. focus next time.)
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 4:10 PM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

I don't think it's fair to dismiss 400 million people quite so cavalierly.

If the overall purpose of these therapy sessions was religious indoctrination then perhaps the therapist should have clearly stated so when the sessions began a year ago.
posted by elizardbits at 4:11 PM on January 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

You are entitled to 'leave' a therapist at any time for any reason. You definitely *should* 'leave' a therapist if they are not therapeutic for you.

However, you can also (as I see in your update you're planning to do) say, "You said X and that doesn't make sense to me. Can you clarify?" Given that you say you've had an otherwise good/useful relationship, I'd suggest checking it out before checking out.
posted by PMdixon at 4:12 PM on January 15, 2013

It sounds like a dealbreaker to me. I try not to stay with therapists who espouse any philosophy that I find to be completely nonsensical. And that's what you think of your therapist's philosophy (to be clear, I agree with your interpretation). It invariably works its way into their therapeutic approach. Unless you signed up for religious/spiritual therapy, she shouldn't be providing it.

Last year, I ditched a psychiatrist -- probably quite abruptly, from her perspective. I did it because her assistant suggested I try homeopathic remedies for my PMDD, and my psychiatrist was supportive of that suggestion. Before I could think of a way to deflect, I found myself blurting, "Noooo, I prefer my medication to be science-based." The situation made me call into question everything she had been telling me, and the prescriptions she had been pushing my way. Any trust in her thinking skills was G-O-N-E. Once I didn't trust her anymore, she couldn't possibly help me anymore.

It may be the same way for you. It could be even more pressing, because people tend to have more intimate relationships with their therapists than their psychiatrists. If you want to stay with her, you're going to have to talk this over. If she's okay with not pressing this philosophy any more, then it's probably okay to keep going with her. If you're otherwise satisfied with your progress. But I wouldn't have been able to sit through that boiler shit.
posted by Coatlicue at 4:17 PM on January 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I've had a Zen practice for a number of years, and although I'm anything but an expert on Buddhism, the idea that "the whole world does not exist of our perception of it SO your boiler needed fixing because of your mental state" (emphasis added) seems like an unhelpful misinterpretation of the dharma. Because the obvious counterpoint would be "so if your mental state were different/better, your boiler wouldn't need to be fixed" which is… not helpful, not useful, not accurate. Magical thinking.

As Zen teacher Cheri Huber has said (misquoted from memory), "Just because it's true that everything is projection, that doesn't mean that somebody isn't out to get you! You may be projecting 'back-stabber' because they're stabbing you in the back."

I did about seven years with a therapist (and consider it time well spent). I've had a Zen practice for about five years now. Even so, what your therapist said would have set off my "whackadoodle alert!" and "not in touch with consensus reality!" alarms.
posted by Lexica at 4:25 PM on January 15, 2013 [21 favorites]

I don't think it's fair to dismiss 400 million people quite so cavalierly.

I think there's a huge difference between "my therapist and I have different worldviews" and "my therapist is so deeply pushing her worldview -- which is at odds with my own -- that it's impossible for me to progress."

My last therapist was Orthodox Jewish, while I am an agnostic with new agey/pagan tendencies and a Protestant background. I don't recall her ever trying to push Jewish mysticism on me or insisting that something about me was/was not relevant based on Jewish ways of seeing the world.

Frankly, in OP's situation, what sticks out to me is the insistence, not the particular wacky belief or its origin.
posted by Sara C. at 4:25 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just a couple of thoughts.
1. CBT (Cognitive Behavioral therapy) is based on the idea that changing our thoughts will change how we see the world and approach the world.
2. I wonder if this is a good opportunity to actually work on intimacy. Part of being in an intimate relationship is learning how to be close to people who see the world differently. It would be hard to find someone who agrees with you on everything, so learning how to get past this hurdle might be a valuable process. You can help this by going back and talking about it and seeing how it goes. Not talking about the content so much, but talking about how it feels to be in this situation.
3. I read somewhere that people make alot of progress in the first couple months of therapy, then the rate of progress slows down because the more intractable problems come into play. If you didn't even make progress at the beginning, then perhaps a new therapist is in order. But not without talking it over with the one you already have. Practicing honesty in every relationship if fundamental to intimacy. (IMHO)
posted by SyraCarol at 4:37 PM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Another Buddhist here to say that the problem is not her religion, it's her self-centeredness. I'd rate that a professional problem.

When my friend J. was a therapist-in-training, she once told her therapist she'd had a dream about a baby or something, and the therapist refused to believe that the dream was not based on J's subconsciously having intuited that the therapist was pregnant. This incident became a touchstone for J. in exemplifying Bad Therapy.

Common motif: in the baby dream, in the boiler case, and in reducing all problems to psychology, the therapist is reducing everything about the patient's life to, in effect, their relationship with her.

My friend J. did continue to work with her therapist, for whatever that's worth. But she was doing it as a kind of rung on a professional ladder. I would worry about the extent to which your therapist is invested in seeing you as her patient, rather than being invested in your eventually getting better and not needing her anymore.

(Not to mention whether she even believes in your independent existence. I mean, sure all things are interconnected, but if she thinks your boiler is merely symptomatic of your mind, does that mean she thinks her patients' symptoms are merely symptomatic of HER mind?)
posted by feral_goldfish at 4:58 PM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's interesting that jaguar says this is a religion thing, because I was coming in to say that I think you are justified in leaving, and my personal analogy would be that I could not see a therapist who justified anything based in Christian belief, no matter how sensible the conclusion (for instance, I imagine a therapist saying that suicide is bad because it's a sin - I'd drop them like a fucking snake).
posted by jacalata at 5:33 PM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm not convinced that DTMFA is the right response here. This hasn't been an issue for an entire year of therapy but you're convinced this will continue to come up again? Conflict with your therapist is part of the process. Everyone you talk to for an hour at a time frequently for one or more years will eventually expose a potentially dealbreaking quirk to you. This could be good practice in overcoming that kind of hurdle. If you have a metadiscussion about what happened and you can't come to a resolution then it may be time to move on, but making a snap, gut decision about moving on isn't very productive.
posted by Skwirl at 5:49 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised that people here are seeing their therapist as someone to whom they owe something; particularly on a board where people frequently tell those in relationships that they don't even owe their life partner anything... wow. Anyway, I truly do not believe that a relationship with a therapist is an "intimate relationship" or that you owe it to them to "work through it" like a bad marriage. In my opinion a therapist is someone whom you pay to provide a service. If they aren't doing a good job of that, or you are in any way unsatisfied, it is absolutely your prerogative to weigh the pros and cons and stop paying for services you don't want. And any therapist who attempted to attribute my disagreement with their methods to something wrong with my mental state (or "aversion to intimacy"?!) would be dropped like a hot potato. That feels beyond scummy and manipulative.

I think that a person's basic worldview (or religion, if they are devout) affects their approach to just about everything. It is not necessary to me that my therapist agree with me on everything, but it is essential that we agree on certain very basic things pertinent to the subjects of discussion in order for our interaction to be useful in any legitimate way. I am open to rational debate and discussion, and to having my ideas challenged, but not by a person I am paying money to help me with XYZ.

Finally, I don't buy the assertion that if you fail to work through this deal-breaker with your therapist then you will obviously not be able to deal with any sort of intimate relationship because everyone will have deal-breaking qualities. I mean, what? No. Everyone has imperfections, but not everyone has dealbreaking qualities, whatever that means to any given person. Knowing what is truly a deal-breaker to you in various contexts is a healthy part of boundary setting. Of course these boundaries may evolve and change with time and growth (mine certainly have, in both directions - widening on some issues, narrowing on others) but I find it seriously disturbing to imply that any sort of boundary is equivalent to intimacy rejection.
posted by celtalitha at 6:22 PM on January 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

Can you talk to her about the ways in which she has helped and ask to focus on those in session, instead of her spiritual beliefs? She should not be pushing those on you; it's almost like she's evangelizing New Age concepts. I don't think it's appropriate unless it's something you've asked her to explain.
posted by xenophile at 6:40 PM on January 15, 2013

Working through the issue is not something a client owes a therapist, but something a client owes him- or herself. The experience of bringing up difficult issues and confronting people directly, rather than just disengaging, is a huge benefit of the therapeutic process.
posted by jaguar at 7:17 PM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd like to give equal weight to "I'm...not sure how much I've progressed." If your therapy were going very well I'd say that it would be worth agreeing to disagree regarding the Lipton and Scheldrick interpretations.

If you can tell her that you're not seeing how those theories could help you and they don't resonate at all for you, she should set those theories aside in favor of aproaches that have actual therapeutic value for you. Another client might actually benefit from the philosophy that you (and I) consider to be extreme and goofy. That doesn't matter
-- it's your therapy and should be tailored to you.

The issues and tendencies that we go into therapy to deal with -- those naturally are still present for you in every session. If you don't easily embrace intimacy in life, you're not going to just "get over it" in therapy. Anyone who blames your fear of intimacy for your not being helped is way out of line -- whether it's you or her. It would be like my shrink saying to me that I wasn't benefiting from his suggestions because I'm too anxious to trust him. Gee, doc... yeah, anxiety is what I'm here to deal with. You're a genius!

If you do continue with the therapist, you might want to use your next sessions to evaluate (with her) how well you've benefited from workng with her. Has your trust in her grown; do you deal with relationships differently, do you feel better when you leave than when you walked in?

You don't need to persuade a therapist to agree with your reasons for leaving, if that's what you decide to do. A way to answer the objections: paraphrase what she's saying, and then restate that you're leaving. "Uh huh, you're saying that you do see progress and that you think things are moving at a good rate. (Nod, pause.) I believe that this is a good time for me to stop coming."
posted by wryly at 7:26 PM on January 15, 2013

Working through the issue is not something a client owes a therapist, but something a client owes him- or herself. The experience of bringing up difficult issues and confronting people directly, rather than just disengaging, is a huge benefit of the therapeutic process.

Only the OP can decide if this is a benefit in their case. The experience of coming to a decision about what sort of person you want to share your intimate thoughts with, and acting on that decision, can be a huge benefit of the therapeutic process in some cases.
posted by yohko at 7:51 PM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have often thought my mother deeply needs therapy because she shares your therapists beliefs -- that you literally cause things to happen with your brain/mindset and NOT because being optimistic gives you confidence or whatever, but literally your brain changes physical reality -- and this thinking has really fucked up her life, to be blunt. She ruined her credit and my credit by thinking if she was positive about money, it would come from somewher eventually. She stayed in an abusive relationship with my father because optimism is good and will change his behavior. It obviously never did because reality flat out does NOT work that way. The entire ten years my dad slowly died she constantly told him his illnes was his fault for not thinking the right things. My mom suffers numerous delusions about things I want/like/whatever from life because she literally believes that if she ~knows~ I want to talk to her or move back near her then that must be true, and it has made me nearly cease talking to her altogether. And this problem is evident with other people in her life as well. People think she is crazy, and pushy, and cannot respect boundaries, and all of this came to be after she thought her mind could literally change physical reality. She also gets incredibly sad and cannot handle it when reality isn't what she thinks it's supposed to be, and she blames herself for it not being what she wants.

That is a VERY harmful belief for people to have, much less in a therapist. If my therapist said that to me, I would have zero respect for their thinking abilities and would never trust their advice on anything. I worry that your therapist blames you when bad things happen to you, or when people are awful to you, instead of actually analyzing when something is and isn't your doing. Getting mind fucked to think you're responsible in situations where other people have a personality disorder, for example, is going to make your life worse, not better. It would ensure you keep toxic people around you, because if you don't or can't, it means you've failed. I'm also suspicious that the therapist relies on people staying in therapy with her through that mechanism, because she can attribute her failings to you and make you feel like a failure if you don't stay.

I wouldn't even go to the next appointment honestly, but either way I would get a new therapist immediately.
posted by Nattie at 8:51 PM on January 15, 2013 [9 favorites]

It's important to have a therapist that challenges you. When I chose my therapist, part of the reason that I picked her is that she had a definite "no-bullshit" approach. I can be very persuasive in one-to-one conversation and I wanted to make sure that I would have somebody who would call me out on it if I started rationalizing illogical behavior. So disagreement with your therapist is not always a bad thing.

On the other hand, you have to balance that against the fact that it's your therapist's job to realign both your behavior and your world view. If she's not persuasive enough to convince you in a rational way of how your approach to life needs to change, then she's a lousy therapist, since this is an important part of her job description.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:41 PM on January 15, 2013

Your boiler needed cleaning because sediment from the municipal water system precipitated into it over time. It was not dharma (except in the very broadest sense, a sense so broad as to be meaningless*) any more than it was because of a sin you had committed against the Christian god. It was not a message from the Universe that you needed to clear your mind. It was not angels. It was not a product of your negative self thoughts. It was fucking calcium carbonate from the hard water in your municipal water system.

Not only would I terminate therapy with this person immediately, I would read the riot act (not ommitting "God save the Queen") to the person who recommended them to me.

Holy fuck, this person is a bad and irresponsible therapist. I weep for her patients who break their legs or get t-boned by another car or, God forbid, get cancer and who have to listen to her half-baked garbage talk about how none of this is real. Therapists are supposed to help clients deal with the challenges of life, not engage in self-indulgent bongwater speculations about how we make the world with our minds, isn't that heavy, dude?

*I can assure you that when the Dalai Lama's boiler gets clogged, he gets someone to clean the sediment out of the system, rather than simply meditating on his dharma. I mean, sure, he might be inspired to consider his dharma in the larger picture of things, as every event is part of the dharma, and I suppose if you step far enough back, the inconvenience of a clogged boiler touches on both suffering and impermanence, and maybe you could even look hard enough to take away some message about the non-self, but it's a stretch.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:17 PM on January 15, 2013 [10 favorites]

To me, the greatest of all Zen sayings is "Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water". In an urban context, cleaning the boiler is both chopping wood and carrying water.

So if your therapist was trying to be a Zen teacher, she was crappy at it. And worse at being a therapist.

A therapist should challenge you about your limitations and fears, not about basic facts of the physical universe like whether boilers exist and whether calcium carbonate can precipitate in them and clog them up. That's not challenging, that's wasting the session time you paid for with nonsense.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:22 PM on January 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

I don't think that you and the therapist need to believe the same stuff in order to do good work together. But if you hate that idea (that you're creating physical reality with your thoughts) I think you should tell her, and she should STFU with her ideas on the topic.

If you tell her and she still keeps up with it, then I'd sever the relationship.
posted by feets at 1:11 AM on January 16, 2013

Get out now. You do not have to pay someone to be this crazy at you, and this view seems particularly unhelpful (and potentially victim-blamey).
posted by corb at 2:35 AM on January 16, 2013

Response by poster: Hi everyone and again thank you for all your advice so far.

I want to step in and stay this has not been my therapist preaching at me or 'being crazy at me'. This was a side conversation we had together provoked by her comments about the boiler, not a core part of the session. Immediately after we went back to a more typical session. Her beliefs have not come up for a year.

I agree with jaguar that this is something difficult that I owe to myself to bring up and thank you for putting her statements into context. While I don't think I need to share the same beliefs as my therapist, I do think that we need to share some understandings of the world around us. And I need to not be second-guessing my therapist, or to feel able to discount what she says.

As a side note, I do think it's unfair for anyone to question her ability as a therapist in this thread. She's not here to defend herself and you're getting your understanding of her through me who is not going to be the best advocate.
posted by litleozy at 3:01 AM on January 16, 2013

"she seems to assume that all difficulties are reducible to an unhealthy perception of the world"

If you want to question this, I'd put it out there that boldly, "Are you saying that all difficulties are reducible to an unhealthy perception of the world?" That would be very different from saying that our experiences are inevitably filtered through, and affected by, our perception of the world.

If she really believed that your thoughts about the boiler were the cause of gunk forming in your boiler, that would be such obvious solipsism and magical thinking (to me) that her credibility would be in question. Just as, if a (fellow) Christian therapist told me that "suicide is bad because it's a sin" I'd wonder why they thought that talking in tautologies was the slightest bit useful.

But maybe that's just your perception of what she said (see what I did there?) and she's not nearly as irrational as you described her to be. I mean, there's a reason why you came into therapy mentioning your boiler and even a reason why you had it cleaned, maybe it was broken or it was its annual service? But some people just ignore stuff like that, there was human intervention on your part because it didn't get fixed without your deciding to fix it and it didn't get talked about without your deciding to talk about it. And now this question of whether your therapist was also filling your mind with gunk that you might want to clean out (by removing the source).

Or heck, maybe your boiler was just gunky and maybe your therapist is just irrational. I will say this, you didn't go into therapy expecting to think exactly the same way about everything for the rest of your life did you? OTOH some therapists just are crap. Tl;dr it's hard to tell from here.
posted by tel3path at 5:11 AM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sounds like the boiler cleaning had the potential to be a great metaphor. But therapists generally test out a metaphor with the client, and dump it if it doesn't ring true.

I have a suggestion. At your next session, ask the therapist if she's given any thought to what happened last time, ask her how she would describe it.

She may be self- reflective enough to apologize, or share that it felt like a misstep.

That's the kind of relationship step that connotes a good relationship. It isn't just telling someone how you feel about something between you. It's also about giving the other person the opportunity to gracefully apologize or adjust.

She might throw it back to you and ask you to speak first. Go ahead then.

I think "disappointment" is a good feeling to leave her with. "I'm disappointed, because I've gotten a lot out of this, but this issue is too big, and I'm not going to make a follow up appt."
posted by vitabellosi at 5:16 AM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If, as you say, you have problems with intimacy, this is a great opportunity to work on them. First, let me tell you how NOT to work on them--by impulsively terminating a year long relationship over a disagreement.

What exactly is the threat here? That your therapist is stupid? That she believes in woo-woo? That her woo-woo is informing her treatment of you? That, if she believes as she does, she clearly can't understand who you are? That you feel alone being in the room with someone whose epistemology differs from yours?

You need to figure out what seems to be the problem and do your best to express it in the session. You're not there to debate empiricism but to improve the nature of your relationships and all relationships need to be able to navigate through conflict. If, as you say, she is likely competent, it should be possible to discuss such issues without anything actually dangerous occurring. That is, the worst that will happen is that you will feel some uncomfortable things in the relationship. Intimacy is, in part, the ability to recover from breaches such as this without needing to run away. Intimacy includes the ability to accept differences.

Is it possible that she really is some kind of quack? All sorts of things are possible but most of them aren't probable. She should be able to hear you worry that she's a quack without getting defensive. She should be able to respect your differing points of view without emotionally abandoning you. And, ultimately, you should be able to accept that you can have an intimate relationship with someone who isn't perfect.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:29 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I want to step in and stay this has not been my therapist preaching at me or 'being crazy at me'. This was a side conversation we had together provoked by her comments about the boiler, not a core part of the session. Immediately after we went back to a more typical session. Her beliefs have not come up for a year.

Well, that's a little different then. If this belief of hers is not actually coming into play during your therapy sessions, then I'd say it's not really a problem. Just as an example, I once had a therapist who was a serious, believing Christian - one who had studied to be a minister. I am very much not a Christian. We had a brief conversation about my beliefs in our first session, just so he knew what I was comfortable with and what I wasn't, and then nothing even remotely Christian ever came up in our sessions. He was a great therapist, and I recommend him to people all the time. We see the world in totally different ways, but that was ok because he conducted the official therapy session within the boundaries of my sense of the world. If your therapist is doing the same thing, and she's otherwise helpful, then I would consider keeping her.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:43 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another Zen Practitioner here. It sounds like she is attempting to be a (very unskillful) dharma teacher. As someone who practices Zen, what she said is completely unnecessary.

I don't think you need to commit to this relationship with her. The only reason to stay with her in my view (and this is my only view) is to establish clear boundaries in an emotionally intimate relationship. Often, there are fundamental disagreements in intimate relationships and having a chance to practice establishing those boundaries is actually quite healthy.

If you are interested in what your therapist are trying to get at, feel free to memail. However, getting into a deep discussion on how to interpret buddhist concepts is probably irrelevant. What is relevant is that you can pratice telling her that she is not being helpful with these concepts and tell her you need to focus on "chop wood, carry water". From here you can refocus her and practice managing chaotic relationship by managing her :) If it doesn't work you can always fire her (establishing the ultimate boundary).
posted by zia at 12:59 AM on January 21, 2013

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