Woo is me
April 22, 2015 9:10 AM   Subscribe

I met a counselor/life coach I really clicked with. But some of her old blog posts are full of woo. How to proceed?

I have been on the lookout for a therapist or counselor to deal with anxiety/low self-esteem/past childhood trauma. I have tried CBT and while I’m not opposed to it, I’m looking for other modalities to try at the moment.

The other day, I met with an LPC who has a holistic bent. I didn’t know that much about the holistic stuff going into it. From what I listened to in her podcast, it seems like she focuses more on checking in with your feelings, allowing yourself to feel them instead of reasoning them away and not letting your negative judgments or assumptions take over. All of which I need help with.

I enjoyed our session together. She was warm and engaging. Unlike one past therapist, she was understanding about how my mom’s cultural background affected how I grew up and caused some of the things I struggle with today. I thought she had good insight and some of the things she said really hit me hard. I teared up. This hasn’t happened with other therapists I’ve tried in the past few months. I see this as a good thing, since suppressing my emotions is one of my issues.

But there’s something that’s been bothering me. I dig some deeper digging on her website after our session. Some of her old blog posts (they’re from 4-5 years ago) seem really woo. In some, she talks about thoughts having vibrations and energy. In a few others, she also talks about the Law of Attraction.

For example, one of the earliest posts discusses how she had some time-consuming errands to run, and only a few hours to complete them. She did a bit of planning to make sure she approached them efficiently, though she also imagined the conditions for each one lining up so that she could get everything done on time. Each one went well.

A later post is about a family member’s cancer diagnosis. There’s a history of cancer in her family, and while she acknowledges the role that genetics play, she also said that this person’s fear of getting the cancer (as opposed to a more positive thought asserting their good health) may have, to some extent, played some kind of role.

In an even later post, she talks about how one of her clients complained that the Law of Attraction wasn’t working for her. Her response? She couldn’t just believe good things would happen; she had to take active steps to make them happen. (I bring this up because it seems like a much more reasonable application of the Law of Attraction than the previous two examples, and may be a sign that her thinking evolved on the matter?)

Had I read all this stuff before our session, I would have said “Hell no!” and continued looking elsewhere. But again, these posts are about five years old. Her current blog posts seem much more reasonable and focus more on emotional mindfulness, so I suspect she may have shifted from being rather Vision Board-y to something more relevant to what I’m looking for. The only overtly holistic thing I remember her saying during our meeting was that each person gives off a certain energy.

I will be interviewing a few other therapists. So my eggs are definitely not in one basket. But if she turns out to be the one I like the best, should I schedule another session? Does this seem like a dealbreaker? If it isn’t, how can I discuss this with her in a respectful way? I guess, even though I know I shouldn’t be afraid of bringing up my concerns in situations like these, I’m scared I’d offend her and it would hinder whatever work we’d do going forward.
posted by dean_deen to Human Relations (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am pretty woo-averse and I still wouldn't consider this a dealbreaker. People have different frameworks, and sometimes people move through not very good frameworks on the way to something better, so as long as you feel okay putting a hand up and saying "that's not a thing I'm interested in" if she goes down one of those alleys therapeutically, I think you can keep going.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:14 AM on April 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

She can blog about whatever she wants. Why did you peep years old posts of hers? If the sessions you have with her are effective and helpful, I dont see the issue.
posted by asockpuppet at 9:15 AM on April 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

If you connected with her and she offered insights that no previous therapists have, then I would give her a chance.

None of your examples offend my sensibilities, except for the cancer example, and I'm pretty much opposed to woo. As I grow wiser and older I know a lot of these things cannot hurt if taken lightly.

I agree with Lyn Never, let her know when something doesn't jive with your beliefs.
posted by Fairchild at 9:17 AM on April 22, 2015

These seem pretty woo-lite, if you feel a benefit just go with it.
posted by Cosine at 9:17 AM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

it seems like she focuses more on ... not letting your negative judgments or assumptions take over. All of which I need help with.

Had I read all this stuff before our session, I would have said “Hell no!” and continued looking elsewhere.

While I do definitely understand where you're coming from (I am very woo-averse) I gotta say that jumped right out at me. Also, you don't have to have perfectly aligned worldviews to have a productive relationship with another person. It sounds like her differences to you might be exactly the kind of differences that will challenge you best. Even expressing to her that you don't believe in some of the things she might bring up sounds like it would be good practice for you in communicating a disagreement with confidence.
posted by Mizu at 9:21 AM on April 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

I don't think this has to be a deal breaker. Unless you're concerned that you'll discount her out of hand if she challenges you in some way and that could impede your progress, I'd probably ignore it. If that is a concern, it might be worth discussing what your concerns are and how you suspect it could impact your sessions. If she doesn't handle it professionaly, that'd be a red flag anyways. If she's respectful but you can't come to an accord (on either side) maybe she could recommend some other options to explore that you don't find on your own. If you have a conversation that's productive, even better.
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:25 AM on April 22, 2015

Just make a note that these folks business, technique and skill is to "click" with folks.

I had one call me following up a thread tied to an organization I was involved in, we had just a great conversation, really liked the guy, seemed like he'd be a great friend, then when he realized I was not, ah, monitizable, the conversation wrapped up quickly and politely.
posted by sammyo at 9:25 AM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another way to look at it: you don't know what any therapist is talking about when she's not in session with you. For what you know, the person is talking about the benefits of coffee enemas to cure diabetes or what have you. So what? I don't see this as any different, except you put her name into Google and it came back with some information. If you're getting help from her during the sessions, what does it matter what she talks about when she's not with you?

It's also totally appropriate for you to ask about those things you found; after all, she blogged about them.

Data point: I hate woo, but I'd probably just put this aside; the things she said don't seem like a huge deal to me.
posted by holborne at 9:32 AM on April 22, 2015

You're not marrying her. If she tries to take you into the woods you can always bail. Work with her as long as you find it useful to you.
posted by edbles at 9:36 AM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just to clarify, these posts were part of the blog on her professional website. I was looking through them just to gain a better sense of how she operates/what kind of advice she gives, and she doesn't blog prolifically enough that I went through pages and pages of posts to find the ones in question here. I just kind of stumbled across them.
posted by dean_deen at 9:38 AM on April 22, 2015

I know a wonderful coach who now and then gets a little woo, but her advice for me has always been solid and productive. If it's working, you should see where it takes you.
posted by mochapickle at 9:40 AM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you can, bring up the subject with her, focusing on yourself and what feels right for you. Or you can wait and see if she veers in a woo direction with you, and then say how you feel about the particular woo she's talking about, and/or woo in general.

It can be hugely helpful to talk about any bad feelings you have about the therapy itself. It can be uncomfortable to bring up a concern, and that's especially understandable for people with anxiety. But if you do it, the therapist will have a chance to adjust and you'll have opened the opportunity for more trust.
posted by wryly at 9:45 AM on April 22, 2015

Some people who are very deeply compassionate and very good at talking about emotional difficulties also become attracted to and involved with woo philosophies at various times in their lives (or for their whole life). I have come across this in massage therapists, Pilates trainers, and various other caring professionals that I have used the services of (not counselors, though). As long as they are not trying to sell you crystal water to cure your ills, I figure this doesn't really have a detrimental effect on the therapeutic relationship you are contracting with them for. The worst I've had to do is basically make a comment to the effect of, "I don't really click with the philosophy behind [astrology/crystals/color therapy/whatever]" or "I generally tend to put more trust in science-based methodologies" to direct the conversation away from going down that path (or even just a non-commital "hmm, that's an interesting idea"), and the professionals have been perfectly happy to leave it alone. I even have a very sweet and compassionate friend who is a professional NLP coach and her spouse-equivalent is a professional astrologer. I just say, "that's really not my kind of thing" and everything goes just fine.
posted by matildaben at 10:10 AM on April 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

I've disagreed about something with every therapist I've had, and I've benefited from each of them. Take what works for you. You won't get woo-contaminated.

On the cancer bit, there is a lot of research going on right now about anxiety, depression, and negativity and links to chronic pain and inflammation and vulnerability to disease. We don't understand it yet, so some of it will end up being woo and some will end up being right. It's worth considering the effect of pessimism on your health, even if it's phrased in an unusual way.
posted by heatherann at 10:16 AM on April 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

We live in a world of woo. And by woo I mean pseudoscience. We have been progressively integrating pseudoscience with science for a very long time, but it seems to have accelerated lately. Things that have no scientific basis are not only embraced in this culture, but some of them are insurance covered treatments/therapies (e.g., acupuncture). I would suggest you get another "life coach" who is woo-free. You clearly are bothered by it enough to even post here; I think things will get worse before it gets better.
posted by teg4rvn at 10:21 AM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Good, ethical therapists should not be pushing their own spiritual agenda on clients, so to some extent it shouldn't matter what her spirituality is unless she's pushing it on you. (Writing general-audience blog posts doesn't count as "pushing," in my opinion.) Therapists are people, and other people are always going to have beliefs that differ from yours in some way, and part of building good relationships is learning how to respect other people who don't think exactly like you do, and part of good therapy is building a good relationship with the therapist as practice for building good relationships in your real life.

The Law of Attraction stuff can be toxically victim-blaming, so if you do see that creep into your work with her, that might be a reason to bail. But I've also seen a lot of people really come to realize that the Law of Attraction stuff is toxically victim-blaming and move away from it. If it does come up in sessions with her, or anything else that you're uncomfortable with, it's totally ok to say, "I'm not really comfortable with that kind of language. Can you find a different metaphor or way of saying that?"

Basically, I'd focus on her actions with you, not on her own belief system. It doesn't make sense to require that your therapist believe the exact same things you do; the whole point of a lot of therapy is to have someone help you examine your beliefs and help you find your blind spots, which is much harder if they have the same blind spots.
posted by jaguar at 10:26 AM on April 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

This seems really really light-woo.

Also 5-years old. A lot of studies come out every year linking this or that to cancer or heart-disease. It could be that she was on a kick about something that was very "of the moment" and has since been discredited.

Let's hope we are not all judged by our actions in 2010.
posted by French Fry at 10:29 AM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Take what works and discard what doesn't. If she's not bringing the woo into your therapy sessions, you don't have to worry about it. It's not a terrible idea to bring it up with her next session and say "I saw such-and-so on your blog, and it's not really my sort of thing." Nor is it a bad idea to wait and see if she brings these ideas into your sessions before telling her.

Sometimes woo is just a metaphor for more mundane things that actually do help. "Each person gives off a certain energy" sounds bogus, but if you phrase it as "each person has a certain attitude that affects how they see the world and interact with others," it's not controversial in the least. If you can translate statements like this into language that makes sense to you, you can get the benefit of the idea without feeling like you're getting all new-agey.

Having a therapist you click with is a wonderful thing. She may turn out to not be the one for you, but probably not on the basis of a few old blog posts.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:46 AM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

As a Life Coach, I tend to tailor my modus operandi to the client.
Some folks are more woo-friendly and some folks aren't.
I keep my personal beliefs out of it as much as possible, and focus only on being of service to the client and helping them move forward.
It may take a few sessions for you and your coach to really get to know each other, and that's okay, because the better you know each other and the more you know about each other's predilections and preferences, the more efficient you will be.
If it gets to be too much, mention it.
We Coaches can help you do some great things, but we aren't mind readers.

If, after a few sessions, things really don't seem to be moving forward, then you are best to just quit working with that coach and find someone that you really click with.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 10:54 AM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

The idea that anyone's mental state invites cancer is horrifying. If my goals for therapy included dealing with trauma, I would really want to know her current stance on this Law of Attraction business.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:15 AM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

In an even later post, she talks about how one of her clients complained that the Law of Attraction wasn’t working for her. Her response? She couldn’t just believe good things would happen; she had to take active steps to make them happen.

Also, I mean... this isn't better, imo. Yes, ok, good to want to support self-empowerment. Not good (or particularly empathetic) to blame her client for lack of results. She sounds fairly invested in a pretty skewed worldview to me, and I personally would not feel comfortable with someone who thought using her clients to publicly defend it was ok.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:26 AM on April 22, 2015

My father (a retired MD/PhD who is ALL ABOUT empirical evidence, he is seriously the hardest of hard scientists) has a bunch of back/hip/knee issues that over the years have really been a problem for his quality of life and mobility. He's seen dozens of orthopedists, PTs, OTs, has had a bunch of joint replacements, etc. Now he goes to a guy who does a combination of massage therapy/physical therapy/body work and has been amazingly helpful to him in terms of his pain and ability to get around. I went with him to a session once and the guy was sort of rubbing my dad's head and telling him that he was "reading" the dura mater to see where the muscles/fascia were out of alignment, which if you know anything about anatomy you know is just COMPLETE crap. My father asked some polite questions about the dura reading during the session, we both kept our lips zipped, and afterwards when I asked about it he said, "Well, I know it's ridiculous, but the guy's a genius at what he does and my back feels a lot better."

So I say that unless this coach promotes or endorses woo to the point where you feel like it's affecting your ability to get anything out of her services--which it doesn't seem like she does--don't worry about it and enjoy the benefits.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 12:06 PM on April 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

> As long as they are not trying to sell you crystal water to cure your ills, I figure this doesn't really have a detrimental effect on the therapeutic relationship you are contracting with them for.

Agreed. And I agree that she doesn't sound terribly woo-tastic in the extreme.

Also keep in mind that even though you are woo-averse, she likely has clients who are woo-motivated -- it may behoove her to know the jargon and even speak with a woo accent in order to get across concepts that are actually firmly rooted in psychology and traditional counseling techniques.
posted by desuetude at 12:10 PM on April 22, 2015

Be clear with her, and yourself, about your goals. Check in frequently to be certain you're on track, not sidetracked. Also keep in mind that she is not a therapist.
posted by theora55 at 12:39 PM on April 22, 2015

LPC is licensed professional counselor, which is a therapist. (Unless she's also marketing herself as a life coach, which is a different thing.)
posted by jaguar at 12:40 PM on April 22, 2015

The cancer thing is fucked up but it honestly sounds like her trying to process her own fears about a genetic illness that runs in her family. If that's the worst example of victim-blaming Law of Attraction stuff and it's five years old, I would proceed with caution but not dump her.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 12:45 PM on April 22, 2015

Sorry, missed that.
posted by theora55 at 12:46 PM on April 22, 2015

Whenever I've tried to overlook stuff like this it has come back to bite me in the ass, sorry. I think you already don't trust her, and I don't blame you. I've had nothing but bad experiences with therapy, however.

It is astonishingly hard to find a non-woo therapist. It's ridiculous. Part of the problem is that a lot of woo things have become really mainstream, but if therapists want to be taken seriously they need to cut that shit out. Next time read everything before you set up a meeting with the person. I can rule out 99% of therapists by what the write on their website. (My other pet peeve is therapists who don't have websites, also astonishingly common.)
posted by Violet Hour at 12:50 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

"Live by the foma* that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy." — The Books of Bokonon 1:5
*Harmless untruths
I'm pretty woo-averse but I wouldn't necessarily make what you wrote about a dealbreaker for a life coach. Pretty much everyone uses some form of harmless untruths to help themselves stay motivated and dealing with life.
posted by Candleman at 1:32 PM on April 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

even though I know I shouldn’t be afraid of bringing up my concerns in situations like these, I’m scared I’d offend her and it would hinder whatever work we’d do going forward.

Don't be. Find out what where she's at. She's put this stuff out there under a professional umbrella, and she should be willing and able to articulate her views. I think knowing what a therapist thinks about individual agency is important.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:08 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Erm, why don't you just try asking her directly about this?
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:06 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

The life coach I've been working with is deeper into the woo than I would prefer, but I've found it gives me new ways to think about things and see my situation—they're new tools to try out, but I can discard them if they don't work/jive for me. It stretches my comfort zone a bit, which also helps me learn new things about myself and my outlook.
posted by feistycakes at 8:09 AM on April 23, 2015

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