Should I consider a new therapist?
November 12, 2013 2:48 PM   Subscribe

My ongoing problems with my therapist have reached a head, but she is urging me not to leave. Having received humane and insightful responses from AskMeFi about another MH issue, I would really appreciate some perspective on this.

I’m really sorry – this is going to be horribly long, but I am trying to cover everything important. By all means, get snacks, take naps etc. Also apologies for all the I-said she-said. Thank you in advance.

Female. 35 years old. Living in the UK, working full-time and in a relationship. History of depression since childhood. Diagnosed at 17, when I had my first real breakdown and medicated ever since. First depression lasted four years without remission. Had another breakdown in 2003, then others in 2006, 2007 and 2008, then an intense suicidal depression from 2009 to 2011 which culminated in being hospitalised (September 2011) and taking three months off work. Had over a year of CBT in 1999-2000, then CAT 2005-06 (on the NHS). Feeling that my problems were accelerating and that I needed help to bring them under control, I started seeing a private therapist in July 2011.

At the time I started seeing my therapist, I was in a terrible state – not eating or sleeping much, suicidal and terribly anxious. I didn’t shop around or research methods in depth – I know I should have. This therapist contacted my depression support group offering low-cost appointments (while she was in training), and another member of the group (a very proactive, results-orientated person) saw and recommended her.

I don’t remember what my therapist told me about the way she worked – I don’t think there was a huge amount of detail, and we may have been misunderstanding each other. I don’t think I had many clear goals, other than “I want not to be like this anymore”. I cannot really say that I ever liked her – but part of my problem is difficulty liking or trusting people.

First it was one session a week, before work. She didn’t say anything about not being happy working like that. However, when I came back from hospital and sick leave, she suggested – then required – that I see her twice a week. I was not happy with this, as I was now also attending group therapy, and she could only seem me during work hours, so I had to use my holiday allocation to cover the time. She told me that if I was serious about getting better, I would do it – that once a week plus group would not be sufficient. When I said I needed time to process things between sessions, she said she did not think I was doing any processing at all. She wanted to see me experience emotions and process in the sessions, which I have not often felt able to do (not for want of trying).

Since then, she has moved appointment times on me several times, and I have worked my schedule around that. She has put her prices up 20% and I have paid them. Group therapy was cancelled (separate story). Earlier in the year, she told me that while I was on medication, I would not be able to access the emotions I needed to explore in therapy. It came across as another “if you’re really serious about getting better” conversation, but I was feeling very unstable at the time and she later said stopping meds was “only a suggestion”. I think I have tried to work with the problems she has identified in me; sometimes it has been painful and occasionally productive, but it has never been pleasant (not that I expected that). I have not felt much sense of direction and have not experienced much (if any) practical improvement in my life during this time, since the most intense crisis receded. I have tried to express my confusion and frustration with the process, but have been encouraged to persevere. However I find therapy always seems to be "very normal" or how it is supposed to be.

Recently, her schedule changed and she moved my evening session to an early Friday morning Skype session from home. I feel that the time of these sessions has not been working for me, and their tone has been distinctly different. The last four Fridays, in each session, things have got more intense, and my therapist has got more and more animated and said something quite hurtful just before the end of the session, then told me we were out of time. Last Friday, we were talking about bullying (I experienced repeated bullying at school between the ages of six and sixteen). My therapist’s main concern is for me to work out what I did subconsciously to invite (her word) this bullying. I have discussed bullying with all my therapists but this is the only one who has made me feel that she is actually bullying me when she brings it up and presses me to work out what I did to cause it; the same things she feels I am still doing in my adult relationships.

I felt that this feeling of being bullied was creating further barriers between us. I have felt recently that she has been unfair with me, unnecessarily hurtful in her language and that she was not hearing me. When I told her about feeling bullied, she said this was wonderful as we could work through in therapy what I was doing to cause bullying in my personal life. While the memory and fear of bullying still hugely affects me, I have rarely encountered it since school. She said that from what I had been telling her, I had been bullied my whole life. I disagreed and said I felt she wasn’t hearing me; she insisted that she was, but that I just didn’t like what she was telling me.

Since Friday, I have been going over her words, trying to relate them to my experience and my feelings. I still can’t make them fit. Yesterday, I had a face to face session with her (now working from her home – awkward). I told her I did not feel safe exploring my feeling of bullying with her and that I did not think we necessarily had the right relationship to do the kind of work I needed to do. She said that this feeling is normal and essentially that trust is not necessary, because inability to trust is what brings people to therapy. I tried to talk about personality clashes, and the issues I had with how she had pressured me in the past. Basically, her response boiled down to: “the only reason you would want to leave therapy is because you are not prepared to work on your issues. This is nothing to do with personalities or methods and only to do with resistance and transference.” She said if I left, I would keep doing the same thing over and over when I got close to my real issues.

I hate confrontation and I am generally very shy and scared, but I was very upset and incredibly frustrated. She said, “well, you know, if you want to walk out of here, walk away from dealing your problems, that’s fine by me” and I told her that I found that really passive-aggressive. She kept returning to “you want me to collude with you? I AM hearing you. I’m challenging you and you don’t like it” over and over again. When I said that I didn’t think it was a binary choice between “yes, you poor dear” and confronting me in the hurtful way she has been doing lately, and that I had found one of my other therapists challenging in content but gentle in manner, she wouldn’t have it. She asked who I would discuss this with if not her, and I started to say I would look for another therapist – she said, “No – who in your life NOW?”. She knows I don’t have many close relationships in my life, but she seemed to need to have me say this. I tried to talk about what I had read of the therapeutic process and relationship and she felt the need to ask, “Are YOU a psychotherapist?” and to say that however many books I had read about it, I didn’t know enough to argue about that.

On the issue of how her version of my life varies from my version of my life, she says that she is talking about my subconscious experience. She said, “You can work the conscious part out by yourself, I’m here for the subconscious part”. I really don’t remember agreeing to that. In the end, we massively overran on time, and she chucked me out, saying we would speak on Friday. However, I can’t see how I can really go back without accepting that I am the only one at fault. I was very, very shaken by this, and found it really hard to respond coherently – allowing her to dismiss my objections more easily. I feel patronised, infantilised and belittled – but from prior experience, these will only be discussed in terms of “Well, I’m sorry you thought that was what I said.” She said I was taking no responsibility for creating the situation (I don't think this is true) but she takes none either.

While I found CBT to be too much about changing behaviours, and found that my emotions and belief in positive cognitions never caught up with them, I never wanted to ignore making practical changes to my life. When I started with my therapist, she seemed prepared to help me with that. Now, her role appears to be to decode my subconscious problems and tell me the work I need to do in our sessions. I am not clear quite how this work will actually be done, how long it will take or what happens then, but she strongly implies that I cannot do it on my own or in any other kind of therapy, and that any disagreement on my part is resistance to dealing with my problems and fear of change. When I said did not feel I owned the process, that I did not feel empowered to know myself, she dismissed these ideas immediately.

Do I deny that resistance and transference occur? No and no. Do I think I am experiencing them? Probably and quite possibly. But I don’t see how this woman can help me through them. She knows I have problems with guilt and shame and it feels as if she is trying to guilt me to stay. She has been pushing and pushing to get to the real me, but it doesn’t feel like what is coming out in the sessions *is* me. And while I quite see that exploring the process of “inviting” bullying could be very interesting in time, when someone evokes one of the most viscerally horrible experiences of your life and their only reaction is that this is “wonderful”, it feels very wrong on a human level. I really think I am prepared to work – but I would like somebody to do therapy *with* me rather than *at* me.

So… if you have made it this far (thank you, thank you)… is she out of order or am I completely in denial and full of shit? My head is in bits and I am finding it hard to tell. I know she would tell our story vastly differently. In any case, I would value the opinion of the MeFi community on whether finding a new therapist would be a valid choice.
posted by beyondthepale to Health & Fitness (59 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Why would you continue to seek mental health help with someone you don't like, don't trust, and don't want to see? Dump her right away. There's absolutely no reason to keep going to this person.
posted by xingcat at 2:53 PM on November 12, 2013 [26 favorites]

This sounds horribly abusive. Not only should you find a new trustworthy therapist, you might consider reporting this woman's actions to her licensing board.

The only person who should be advising you on your meds is your MEDICAL doctor.

I'm so sorry this awful person happened. In the future you have the internets full permission to only pursue therapy with a professional that makes you feel 1000% safe and secure.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 2:57 PM on November 12, 2013 [31 favorites]

I read to the end of your story, and my heart is racing. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to be you and actually LIVE this. I am not a professional, and don't even know if you can say this about a therapeutic relationship, but my instinct reading what you wrote is that this is an abusive relationship. I would definitely leave, and if you feel it would be difficult to be firm with her face-to-face, I'd seek to extricate myself by any means possible and look for a more sympathetic therapist.

I know the "you got to face the ugly stuff and stick with it" is a go-to phrase in therapy, but with everything else piling on my feeling is you are groomed for indefinite abuse, undermined and virtually gaslighted.

Really sorry you have been/ are going through this, and good luck with your future therapist.
posted by miorita at 3:01 PM on November 12, 2013 [11 favorites]

Yes, there is a ton of merit in "you've got to face the ugly stuff and stick with it." But there is ZERO merit that when the ugly part is the therapist. DTMF.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:05 PM on November 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

holy crap, this woman sounds terrible. I mean, seriously, yikes. You are not overreacting at all. Absolutely find a new therapist that you're comfortable with.

I kind of suspect you might feel like you have to "be fair" and tell her directly that you're dropping her and why, but I would resist that impulse. If you talk to her, just say you've decided to look for another therapist, end of story. Don't get drawn into explaining why, because it'll just get into an argument. Honestly, if it were me I would just leave a voicemail when I knew she wasn't going to pick up (assuming she has an office number and not a constantly-with-her cell phone) or send an e-mail and then filter her address so I didn't see any reply. I would not waste any more of your time/emotional energy engaging with this person.

Good luck!
posted by insufficient data at 3:05 PM on November 12, 2013 [17 favorites]

I'm so sorry this has happened.

Like with any relationship, you don't need a reason to leave or to say goodbye. But you've got plenty of reasons to leave this one, in any case.

It's OK to leave.

Actually, I'd say that it's probably a very, very strong thing for you to do - it sounds like one of your issues might be not trusting yourself, and I'd say that leaving this therapist will probably be a very helpful thing in terms of working through that issue and healing a bit.

Find a new therapist. You are doing the right thing here. Trust yourself.
posted by k8lin at 3:05 PM on November 12, 2013 [14 favorites]

Also adding I've done years of therapy, and never ever ever was I treated the way you've described, especially the way you were bullied into continuing treatment with that emotional sadist.

What you described is not how therapy works IMHE.
posted by jbenben at 3:07 PM on November 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

This sounds awful. I have had good and bad mental heath care professionals and I totally understand how it's hard to determine when you're at the point to end your relationship with them. It took me a long time to realize that my shrink did not have my best interest at heart.

Or really, what darlingbri said.
posted by radioamy at 3:09 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

No no no! Totally break up with this therapist!

Transference is a two-way fucking street - the shrink's job is to manage that stuff, not berate you about it.

The best-case scenario is that your particular personality and situation bring out some really uncontrolled stuff in her - that she isn't really acting this way out of conviction but because her buttons are being pushed. As far as I can tell from reading stuff by therapists, this does happen. But it definitely means that you are not a good fit for her.

I have been bullied at various times - quite severely in childhood. I've talked about this with my therapist. I've identified some ways in which I "invited" bullying and ways in which I unconsciously seek out situations where I'll get bullied because this is what feels familiar to me. But this emerged organically in our sessions and it was never framed in a "you did stuff to cause your own bullying" way - only in a "how can I understand how to stay away from bullying situations" way. It never caused me to feel an instant of "oh this was my fault", only relief that I had a narrative for some things. It is perfectly possible to discuss patterns around our own behavior when we're being abused without framing it as complicity.

Also, yes, I have experienced resistance in therapy. I found that working through it was about being gentle with myself, taking tiny steps, etc - not about getting hectored by my therapist.

I mean, it's possible that resistance and transference are factors here, but if they are, then your shrink is handling them very badly indeed.
posted by Frowner at 3:11 PM on November 12, 2013 [23 favorites]

One of the most important things in effective therapy isn't the specific treatment method, it's that you like and trust your therapist. Seriously, there are studies that show this. So, not liking her is enough reason to leave, let alone all the other craziness. Your therapist sucks. DTMFA.
posted by nooneyouknow at 3:11 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Since then, she has moved appointment times on me several times ...

This alone would have made me dump her long ago.

You heal on YOUR timetable, not your therapist's. They can help push you gently when you need it, but it sounds as if this person missed that course during her training. You deserve better care than this. No need to confront. Just don't answer her calls and look for someone else.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 3:12 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yikes. I don't see that you are avoiding dealing with your issues by trying to leave as she states. I see it as standing up your yourself as a person who deserves to have their feelings validated and to feel respected in their interactions with their therapist. Your instincts are telling you this person is wrong for you. Listen to them!
posted by cecic at 3:15 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

he told me that while I was on medication, I would not be able to access the emotions I needed to explore in therapy.

AND DONE. OMG. This is not her job, that is not how meds work, you could have righteously left her then.
posted by KathrynT at 3:18 PM on November 12, 2013 [25 favorites]

This is much too complicated to be discussed in a metafilter thread, it needs face to face discussion, but I know you don't have that this will have to do.

While a lot of what your therapist says makes sense to me, I think there are some problems clearly shown here, enough to indicat this is not an ideal therapy situation and you should seek another.

e, she is clearly unable to see anything in other than black and white terms. Everything is all or nothing, and this shows closed mindedness, and the inability to be receptive, for example "This is nothing to do with personalities or methods and only to do with resistance and transference". She's probably right that there is some degree or transference and resistance going on here, she's may very well be wrong that this has nothing to do with personality or her methods. You don't want a therapist who is so self assured as to be unquestioning and dismissive of you. This leads to the potential for harm.

Also, this, “Are YOU a psychotherapist?” and to say that however many books I had read about it, I didn’t know enough to argue about that." clearly indicates that there is no way she is a good therapist. You don't want a therapist who thinks they are the "expert" and is the complete arbiter as to everything that goes on in therapy. You want a therapist with humility that acknowledges they don't know everything, that they are not an expert, that they can make mistakes, that you have intelligence and knowledge about yourself and your experience, and that you CAN read books and contribute your thoughts to the therapy process. Her reaction, again, is totally opening up the possibility that your "therapy" can in fact be a harmful experience. I am all for psychoanalysis, but the problem is when psychoanalytic therapist become too confidant and authoritarian about their theories and use this as a way to tell you they are the expert on you, and not you, like you're a rat in a lab cage. I would look for another therapist.
posted by Blitz at 3:20 PM on November 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

You're not dating her, you're not her friend. She is a professional you are paying for a service. If a plumber didn't solve your problem but hectored and guilted you into keeping them employed, would that make sense? Same deal here. She is not helping and probably actively hurting you. You owe her nothing. Email her "I have decided to seek care elsewhere. I will no longer be continuing with your services." If she responds, don't respond no matter how crazy it is (but keep the email just so you have the email in case she keeps being an abusive jerk).

I've been in therapy with a range of therapists for six years, including some via Skype, and this is unmitigated bullshit. Stop giving her money to make you feel bad. She's taking advantage of you and is being a corrupt and immoral practitioner. You don't have to do this, but it's not a bad idea for you to lodge a complaint with her licensing board or employer (if she has one).

I'm sorry you've been having to deal with this jerk's issues on top of everyone else's issues.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 3:34 PM on November 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

In your shoes, here's what I would do: I would call now and cancel my Friday appointment with her. I would not make another appointment. I would not speak to her on the phone or engage with her on the topic of quitting her. If you want to deal with the question of whether you are running away from ugly truths, you can do that with a therapist who is able to provide you with therapy, rather than abuse.

Therapists hate it when you leave them, and they think that you need to process it. You don't, always. Sometimes leaving therapy is the healthy thing to do and it would be unhealthy to pore over and over your thought process, second guessing your every thought. I'm a big believer in the benefits of therapy and in addition to that, I'm a big believer in finding a therapist with whom you connect. There's no value in staying with a therapist who makes you feel worse with no light at the end of the tunnel. I've felt worse in therapy from time to time -- you have to stir up a lot of muck in therapy and it's more pleasant to leave it alone -- but I've never stirred up muck in a situation where I didn't trust my therapist, and i honestly wouldn't know how to begin.

Leave and don't look back and PLEASE don't feel like you have to give her a reason or explain yourself.
posted by janey47 at 4:04 PM on November 12, 2013 [8 favorites]

She said that this feeling is normal and essentially that trust is not necessary

She must have missed Day 1 of Therapy School.

It sounds like she is working from a psychodynamic/psychoanalytic background, it's just she's not very good at it. There are rubbish people in all professions. An easy way to make this decision is to read your question back, and imagine it was a friend telling this story to you. What would you say? I'd imagine you'd say "get the hell out of that relationship, it makes you feel bullied and sad and you deserve to be happy".

If closure is important to you, you might want to schedule a final session with her (but be resolved not to change your mind), but loads of clients end by just never turning up again. A middle ground would be to send her a letter or email saying you are leaving and the reasons why. If she is in any way interested in becoming a better therapist hopefully she will take a look at her part in this.

For the future, if you still want therapy, I would consider a Person-Centred/Rogerian approach. MeMail me if you want more info, or contact the BACP. Take care.
posted by billiebee at 4:04 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Tells you to (or suggests) you quit your meds? No.

Asks you to consider how you "invited" bullying? No.

On-going schedule changes on her part? For me, another no.*

Bossy and confrontational? For me, again, no no no no.**

Fire her. Finding another therapist is a completely valid choice.

Can your doctor help with recommendations for a new group and/or one-on-one provider?

*I'm very anxious, and I work, and I needed a consistent schedule.
**When I hired my last therapist, I told her "I want someone to listen and help, not to tell me what to do. I won't work with you if you try to control my behavior." She agreed and we worked together for years.
posted by Squeak Attack at 4:08 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Therapists hate it when you leave them, and they think that you need to process it. You don't, always. Sometimes leaving therapy is the healthy thing to do and it would be unhealthy to pore over and over your thought process, second guessing your every thought.

Also, if it turns out you do need to process it, you can! With your *new* therapist.
posted by insufficient data at 4:11 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yeah, new therapist. I count several red flags of varying redness. Heck, the lack of schedule accommodation alone is bad. Find somebody more gentle, patient, and who listens better. Her style sounds Oldschool, and you will probably respond to someone who practices a more Rogerian way.
posted by Jacen at 4:24 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

yea, I seriously cannot believe the "inviting bullying" line. That is just so wrong. Here are 2 words which will make you feel better and more empowered than anything this therapist could do:
you're fired

Find a new therapist, you deserve better treatment than this.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:27 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

This therapist is terrible. But I'll skip over that, as other mefites have expressed it better than I will.

You have been with her since 2011, and you don't feel better? Dump her.

My experience was different, but I also felt stuck in therapy. My therapist is a lovely, kind woman, but I realised her approach was not right for me. I felt that I was not making efforts in the right direction, and I hated going to therapy.
I changed therapists, and I have progressed more in 6 months with the new one than I did in 3 years with her. I wish I'd done it sooner.
posted by clearlydemon at 4:30 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

New therapist time. Cancel your appointment, don't make another appointment. If you feel you need to, leave a message saying you are stopping therapy with her. Then divert her calls to voice mail and delete her messages because all she's going to do is make you feel worse.
posted by jeather at 4:33 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

I hereby give you permission to dump this woman. She sounds manipulative and abusive. This does not sound like a good therapeutic relationship and you deserve better.
posted by kathrynm at 4:43 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sounds like she does not know what she is doing. You have EVERY right to change therapists.
posted by ravioli at 4:43 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

DTMFT (dump this M F therapist) please. Please. Therapy should not be this hard. Two years and your overall takeaway is frustration.

Don't reason with, argue with, or explain yourself any further to this therapist. There's a better therapist out there for you. I am certain of it.
posted by sm1tten at 4:46 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Of course you're confused and shaken up. The person who is supposesd to be supporting you and helping you is basically yelling at you. It sounds like she's angry and taking it out on you.

Absolutely don't go back on Friday. Leave her closure to *her* therapist and be nice to yourself. I wonder how relieved you'll feel at the thought of never having to see her again?

And, by the way, you sound very thoughtful and committed to doing whatever work you need to do. I hope you're pleasantly surprised at how things go with the right therapist.
posted by orange (sherbet) rabbit at 4:49 PM on November 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

Nobody invites bullying. Nthing walk away with no more than a courtesy call to cancel Friday's appointment.

FWIW you articulate your issues and the interaction very well. Good luck w/your new therapist.
posted by headnsouth at 4:52 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

She doesn't think your trust is required?

Don't away from this woman. You have to trust your therapist for the relationship to work--how on earth would the therapist ever really get the true feelings or thoughts you want to share?
posted by stubbehtail at 4:54 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I second the comment that said you should consider reporting her to whatever board she belongs to.

I completely get that filing a complaint is probably the last thing on your mind right now, and that's totally understandable. I'm just incredibly angry on your behalf. From what you said, this goes beyond a therapist-patient relationship that's just "not a match"--this woman is objectively bad at her job (and doesn't sound like a very nice person, to boot).

So yes, find someone else. And if you feel like it, make a complaint.
posted by mingodingo at 5:18 PM on November 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

The things you quote her saying would sound manipulative and childish from a friend (I.e. "if you want to walk away from your problems, fine by me.") She is not supposed to be mad at you, and it kind of sounds like she is. "Who else are you going to talk with -- you have no friends" sounds abusive. And "are YOU a psychotherapist" is belittling.

Also, the insistence on twice a week, Skype, her time etc would be enough to be a deal breaker for me.

She sounds like a very emotionally and practically disorganized person who is taking her shit out on you. I would definitely sever the relationship. You can do a lot, lot better.
posted by feets at 5:36 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

p.s. I know psychodynamic folks think it is great to work out "transference" issues in the room, i.e. if you have bullying issues and she seems sometimes bullying to you because of transference, it's believed to be good if you work it out with her in real time. That said, if the quotes and behaviors you mention are true, she IS a bullying, manipulative, belittling therapist, and you know what? If you just want to hang out with a jerk, you can do that for free.
posted by feets at 5:42 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Leave. Leave leave leave leave leave. Leave.

Cancel whatever future sessions you have scheduled, and get out of there.

Good therapists help you find your way through your resistance. Bad therapists who think they're being deep bully and push and prod clients, and then claim that the clients' totally appropriate defensiveness is "resistance."

Completely incompetent therapists (who probably should be reported to authorities) tell suicidal clients to stop taking their medications so they can "feel more."

You've shown yourself extremely open to working on your problems. Please find someone who will support you in that process rather than make you feel worse.
posted by jaguar at 5:50 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

You need to feel fairly comfortable with your therapist, and you also need to have trust. Of course the trust develops over time, but even in the beginning you should have a feeling that the therapist is on your side. If you don't have that, nothing else matters.

You absolutely do not have to persuade her that what you're doing is a good idea. You don't have to talk to her again at all. She might try to say something foolish, like you're not ready to leave if you're not able to discuss it with her; this is false. You don't have to give reasons -- just cancel any appointments that are coming up and don't go back.

I'm sorry you're going through this, and I really wish you well.
posted by wryly at 6:00 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your therapist doesn't get to decide whether you switch therapists, you do
Leave this therapist if you're not happy.
posted by windykites at 6:24 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also ps that shit about raising her rates 20% and them trying to convince you that you can't leave her because you have no one else to talk to sounds a) super fucking unethical and b) like she's losing a lot of clients because she is a shitty therapist. Might also explain why she has started working out of her home.
posted by windykites at 6:29 PM on November 12, 2013 [8 favorites]

Nthing the call to report her, if possible. This is abuse, not therapy.
posted by Kibby at 6:38 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just to chime in with more reassurance — I spent seven years in therapy and am glad I did, and I am horrified at what you describe of your therapist's behavior. Once you've terminated the therapeutic relationship, please do consider reporting her to the appropriate agency or oversight body.

Reading your description sends a shudder down my spine. I wish I could buy you a cup of tea/coffee/beverage of your choice and spend a little while sitting beside you murmuring reassuring things like "Wow, she was completely out of line. That was really, really messed up of her to say that to you."
posted by Lexica at 6:45 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, you know, GOOD FOR YOU for advocating for yourself as much as you have with this therapist. The fact that you are able to bring up issues you're having with her is almost a guarantee that you're not being "resistant," that you're not experiencing "transference," but that you're directly addressing issues you're having in the moment (or shortly thereafter).

Because she's been twisting your very healthy communication patterns into weird passive-aggressive bullshit, I recommend not meeting with her again. No matter how clear you've been about your feelings and needs, she's ignored you. Talking in-depth any further is just likely to result in more frustration.
posted by jaguar at 6:48 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

she sounds like a total crap therapist. DTMFT.

i'm not sure it is even possible to invite bullying. sure there are times when we have to stand up for ourselves but this really sounds like blaming the victim. aggggrrrrhhh.

you might want to check out the psychotherapy forum at psych central. lots of people talk about their good & bad therapy experiences there. i've learned a ton from reading there. here is a recent article that was linked to about abusive therapists: is there something wrong or questionable in your treatment?
posted by wildflower at 7:02 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

What everybody said above, and good on you for standing your ground. You ARE strong!

I would also feel free to cackle in her face if I ever saw her in public, or if she called and berated me again. Reward her with a bitchy and incredulous "Are you kidding me?" Yes its petty; yes her passive-aggressive BS would go to town on you about it because it's not the Perfect Response but Fuck Her.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:04 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Being uncomfortable with the things you're talking about and the feelings you're having is part of therapy, I think. But when she sort of almost dares you to quit, that seems like she's either a terrible therapist or she hasn't figured out what's going to help you. I'm also ... I mean, the part about nudging you to go off your meds sounds very weird to me. Very weird. As does any implication that you need a therapist because you don't have people in your life who are close to you. Any person who thinks you don't need therapy if you have enough besties does not understand therapy. And is doing a weird thing by asking to get paid, frankly.

I agree with folks who have counseled caution in taking too seriously the advice we can give you from where we're sitting, but if you're looking for reactions to the story as you're telling it, I certainly don't blame you for wanting to see someone else.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:07 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another voice in the chorus saying do not go back, get away from this horrible person as fast as you can. She sounds as though she is trying to emotionally manipulate and abuse you. She's bullying you, treating you badly, isolating you (who would you talk to if not me?) and trying to make you feel completely dependent on her and as though you have no other options. You do have another option. Walk away.

I agree as well that trust is an essential part of therapy. My psychologist challenges me and pokes me gently sometimes and says things that result in me crying - but she is not the one hurting me, she's pointing out things or helping me realise things that already hurt. I trust her to be on my side and to support me and to tell me the truth, not to make my problems worse.

I think it sounds like you are doing really well to have this level of insight into what's going on. You are strong enough to walk away and find someone who can help you, cause this lady sure as hell isn't.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:08 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh yeah, and the going off meds thing. Way to make you even more dependent on her. Really seriously red flag territory there.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:09 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

also, i would not go back for a final session. i'd just call/email and let her know you won't be coming back before your cancellation fee goes into effect for friday's session. i would not waste another dime on this lady.
posted by wildflower at 7:15 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Recovery from a history of getting picked on is refusing to be in a relationship at all with the bully, knowing at last that you don't have to negotiate, explain or justify why you're upset that they mistreat you, liberating yourself from trying to get them to somehow (but not quite) explain away their own behavior until, again, they hurt you.
So work your issues with bullying out by totally dumping her.
posted by third rail at 7:23 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Whoa there. Trust your instincts on this one. It may be that the courageous thing to do here and the big step forward is standing up to someone who is manipulating you in a very vulnerable position, in this case your therapist.

"Inviting" bullying is not a thing that you do. You are not responsible for others' behavior. You can choose the way you respond to bullying (I suppose), but I find the implication that you were bullied because you are weak and/or defective to be seriously messed up. Also, it sounds like your therapist's ego is somewhat wrapped up in the therapy she is doing with you.

It doesn't sound like she treats you as a very active agent in your own progress. Including the pressure she's putting on you to schedule X number of appointments, etc. etc. Where's your agency in all this?

The thing about "walking out = not dealing with your problems" is completely off base.
posted by mermily at 7:27 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another vote for getting the hell away from this woman. Email or leave a voicemail when you know she will not answer, as insufficient data suggests, and find someone new.

Expect some odd feelings. I once quit a therapist over unethical behavior, and even though I was deeply angry over the behavior I still grieved the loss.

Good luck, and I hope you find a much better therapist right away!
posted by bunderful at 8:01 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm just repeating what others have said better, but not liking or trusting your therapist (or even wondering whether you trust your therapist) is enough to not see them again.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:02 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

She is a bully. And she is bullying you. She cannot help you process your feelings about being bullied because she is incompetent. If you do find the courage to leave her (I would just cancel and not explain) I think she is so bad that she merits a formal complaint with the professional group that she is licensed by.

If you do not trust your therapist your healthy self will not allow your guard to come down. This is just my opinion of course based on my own experience of being in therapy multiple times over the course of my life.
posted by cairnoflore at 9:26 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I stayed with an abusive therapist for 3 years of twice a week therapy in which I was bullied, yelled at, castigated, etc. I even posted an anon metafilter question about it. I have a long history of depression and alcoholism, and basically I was convinced that I was a bad person and deserved what I was getting-- and that the only way to get better was to put up with this. My shrink had a PhD and tons of accolades, and when I told her that my therapy with her wasn't working for me (which I did, dozens of times-- that was the main thing we fought about), she would make me feel extremely guilty for quitting.

Long story short, I finally quit when I moved away for a job, and I really wish I had done it sooner. I saw an extremely nice older lady for about six months after that, and then I decided I was done.

I think we put too much faith in therapy. I don't think it's a fix for many problems, and I certainly don't think it's the universal solution that it's often said to be. Please leave this woman and find someone kind and empathetic to work with. I am still angry about what I went through, and it was not necessary. You don't deserve this type of treatment.
posted by baronette at 11:07 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Nthing DTMFT.

Your therapist has trampled all over the therapeutic frame. Copied from that site, short summary, emphasis mine: "The frame has three elements: time, place, fee. Optimally these three elements remain the same throughout the duration of the therapy, changed only after careful consideration, because changing one element alters the whole container. Keeping these elements fixed makes it easier to identify when either patient or therapist is acting out and facilitates working through whatever the issue is that gives rise to the acting out."

Your therapist has outright said she does not want to create a safe therapeutic space for you, with her actions and words: "trust is not necessary, because inability to trust is what brings people to therapy."

I mean, that is an effed-up, blinkered thing to say. When you go to therapy, sure, you may recognize that you have an inability to trust. And yet, you have chosen to go to therapy, entrusting yourself to a professional in order to work on that. Furthermore, you've been in therapy with her for two and a half years now. If she places no value on trust after a two-year, intimate relationship (therapy is a professional relationship, yes, but also one that touches on our intimate selves), then... whoa. I'm with commenters who suspect that she's being triggered and overwhelmed by part of the transference. Which is for her to deal with. Not you. Does she have a therapist herself? Most psychoanalytical schools require one for practicing therapists, precisely for that reason. Transference isn't easy.

And yes, I too am someone who has read a lot of books and yet has no desire to become a professional therapist. When I bring up things I've read and relate them to my therapy, my therapist nods, takes me seriously, and addresses how those things relate to our work together. She has never berated my book understanding. I can't even imagine her doing so. She has been wonderful at protecting the therapeutic space (one rate change in 4 years, one move which was a big positive, time always the same), and we work as a team. It's not always easy, but it is always safe. She makes a point to challenge me in ways that are, you know, challenging, not triggering. That in and of itself is healing: you learn that you can handle that moderate space between everyday stuff and things that cross the line, such as bullying, because you learn what compassionate challenges are. It's been one of the most helpful things in my own therapy.
posted by fraula at 12:12 AM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm midway through my training to be a therapist. There are certain people I'm training with (not many! almost none! but one or two) whose motivations and attitudes towards the power a therapist wields worry me. Almost certainly this will not prevent them from fulfilling the requirements to graduate, qualify and practice. A good training is meant to change you, but even a good training can only do so much.

There are bad therapists out there, and your therapist sounds like one of them. You are the client. It's your money and your well-being. You have every right to dump her, for any reason or for no reason, and to move on to find a therapist who respects your wishes, limits and autonomy and works with you compassionately within those. Your purpose in life is to grow and flourish, not to financially subsidize mediocre professionals.
posted by stuck on an island at 2:35 AM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ask her to provide a reference for someone. Tell her such a reference would be the ethical thing to do for her.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:27 AM on November 13, 2013

I wouldn't bother dealing with this asshole anymore. Cancel your next appointment via email and never go back. Block her from contacting you. You owe her NOTHING. So no explanations or apologies or any of that bullshit.

This person is not helping. My Dad is a behaviorist and she is clearly...not. With all that confrontation, perhaps Adlerian, but whatever it is, it ain't working for you.

Stay on your meds and find someone who can be gentle with you.

This relationship is over, no sense in your having to deal with it for one more instant.

Hang in there, you will find a therapist whom you like and respect and vice-versa.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:14 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: First of all, thank you so much to everyone who took the time to read my monstrously long post, and thank you for being so kind about everything. It was hugely appreciated and has illuminated some things that I have been struggling with a long time now.

Mine is, inevitably, a very subjective account but I have tried to be as true to the situations and my therapist’s words as I can (except in one place where I paraphrased – where I say, “her response boiled down to”). Also, as many people pointed out, there are practical issues of times and places that make the situation far from ideal, even without bringing in the more complicated and conflicted stuff.

On Wednesday, I was thinking about Fraula who raised the idea of the elements of the therapeutic frame or “container” – which makes sense, and I think I have been too accepting of changes to this. Then I remembered that when I said I was having problems with the early morning Skypes, my therapist suggested doing them during the day. I work in a large open plan office with few places to be really private, and when I mentioned this, she asked if there wasn’t a Starbucks available I could go to? This now strikes me as even more laughably inappropriate but if I had done it, I suspect she would have thought I was being resistant, even if I was just trying not to get hysterical amongst the lattes or freaking out about other people listening. It would have completely exploded the frame.

My therapist describes her approach as psychodynamic, but also integrative (describing all the different therapeutic methods she uses). She sounds great - on paper. Initially, I hoped that if one approach wasn’t working, she would be open to reviewing this and trying others. Maybe that’s what she has been trying to do, but it has never felt very flexible to me. I also note that online she says that she is on the ethics committee of her professional body… Don’t know what to make of that. I'm concerned that if I tried to make a complaint, I would be painted as the hostile, resistant, fantasising patient.

Until fairly recently, I was afraid that if I didn’t do what my therapist asked, or accommodate any changes she needed to make, she would terminate me, and I was worried I would not be able to find affordable therapy elsewhere. Now, I feel that I would rather be without therapy than be with her. As especially awful as the past few weeks have been, I don’t know if I would have felt resolute enough to leave otherwise, and all the things that have been nagging at me for two and a half years would have just festered on. And all of you have helped me to clarify my decision and follow through with it.

However, this whole situation has shaken any belief that I know what’s going on between me and others. Whatever the rights and wrongs of what my therapist has done, I am concerned that we could come to such different interpretations about the situation. At one point in the conversation, she asked if I really believed what I was telling her. Then again, I often felt she was doubting me, even in relation to actual events. But I guess I need to be with someone I can trust to work this one out.

On top of everything, work has been hellishly stressful the past month, and I had a huge deadline to meet by Friday, with constantly moving goalposts and everything going wrong all at once. I have been physically shaking since Monday and my head has really not been where it should have been. This has contributed to mistakes being made (no excuses, the work still has to be done and done well no matter where my head is) which are making me beat myself up even more. I tried to explain to my therapist that I might be reluctant to get intense emotional stuff out in a session if I have to go straight from that into a very busy work day where I need to focus and be precise, but I think she felt that this was unavoidable and did not make much allowance.

ANYWAY. I have emailed and told her I will not require any future sessions. I will look for a new therapist in time but I think I might be too confused and scattered at the moment, and don’t want to rebound into another bad choice.

Further insights into how to do better in therapy next time still appreciated. Seriously, you guys rock. You rock like Stonehenge. You rock like… a really incredibly large rock. Thank you again. I wish I could buy you all drinks/muffins/puppies. Apologies for again failing spectacularly at concision.
posted by beyondthepale at 12:46 PM on November 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

Good for you!

And just to further back up your instincts, a therapist suggesting you conduct a session in Starbucks is so beyond the pale (no pun intended!) that that one act alone would be enough to make me almost automatically dismiss any interpretation she might give of your therapeutic relationship. Unless you are making that up whole cloth, this woman is completely off the rails and you don't actually need to worry about what she thinks of you.

You've been in an intense, abusive situation with this therapist for years. She completely abused the power differential between you two. It's absolutely normal that this bullying and abuse would leave you doubting your ability to make any decisions at all -- because your therapist just spent two years gaslighting you into doubting yourself.

Weird as it may sound, it might be helpful for you to read some resources for survivors of emotional abuse.

I'm so sorry your therapist treated you so badly. That's not your fault, and you didn't deserve it.
posted by jaguar at 12:59 PM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

And some help for evaluating therapists in the future:

50 Warning Signs of Questionable Therapy and Counseling

50 Signs of Good Therapy
posted by jaguar at 9:48 PM on November 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

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