should this special snowflake break up with her therapist?
January 19, 2017 4:37 PM   Subscribe

I switched therapists about four months ago when I moved. I was with Pete for just under a year and *loved* him. New lady is very different, but I wanted to give her a fair chance. However I find now that I often leave therapy angrier than when I went in. Is this normal? Is there something up with me, that it might actually be beneficial for me to stick this out? If not- how do I leave?

Pete used strengths-based psychotherapy. I came in with ADHD, depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive symptoms. I had recently accepted that I'm bisexual, but I wasn't out to my family. I was a wreck.

Pete never told me what to do. He never suggested there might be some fucked up underlying cause behind my crazy relationships or my vices. I learned a lot from those experiences (polyamory, BDSM, soft drugs) It was Pete's guidance thru that, that helped me become the more integrated, emotionally mature person that I believe myself to be today.

Janice is... a hardass. She sees both aneurotypical high performers (yours truly) and severely personality-disordered low-income folks. She gives her patients life homework and checks up on them. She always demands to know, whenever I tell her a thought or a habit, "What function does that serve?"

When I came to her I was in an admittedly toxic relationship that was also the strongest chemistry I've ever had. She talked shit about him constantly and questioned my judgment for ever having started to date the guy, given red flags like being unemployed and living with parents (in my defense he had just repatriated.) She was totally right to tell me to get the fuck out of it--but I can't help thinking that Pete would have, well, trusted me enough to let me come to that on my own.

Recently I told her I'm identifying as a political lesbian, for several reasons: (1) feminist politics, (2) aforementioned previous relationship unearthed a really unhealthy tendency to use men in my life as a punching bag for all my frustrations about patriarchy, which isn't fair to them or healthy for me, (3) having only come out recently I want to spend more time dating women, and (4) most of the bi girls here seem to be opposite-sex partnered and looking for thirds or side-chicks, whereas I am looking for serious partners.

Well, instead of telling me she was proud of me, or even just saying "OK well we'll see how that goes," she had to take the opportunity to pry further into that decision, to speculate out loud "why I feel the need to limit myself," "surely you can't think all men are like that," (sorry gents but I PRETTY MUCH DO) "shouldn't you just try and be happy with whomever you find, whether that's a man or a woman?"

And it felt like she was trying to talk me out of calling myself a lesbian. Like I was only doing it because there's something deeply fucked inside of me that has nothing to do with my actual sexual/dating preferences (and then I guess it follows that if I sorted my shit out, I would start dating men again?? which trivializes even my bisexuality)

Then she kept pushing and pushing me about how this all relates to my need for control (which I KNOW is the primary problem in my life thankyouthatswhyimhere) and basically wouldn't stop til I broke down crying--then seemed surprised and sympathetic because "you're usually so aloof," like she had no idea that pushing on my weak spots would cause me to break.

I am just flummoxed because NONE of this EVER happened to be before. Pete let me work through my shit but he didn't feel the need to call me out on it. He never pushed me farther than I wanted to go. Sometimes I feel like Janice just wants me to follow HER advice, be who SHE thinks I ought to be.

So I guess querying the hivemind... based on the slivers of experience I've shared above, is this typical for other people's experience of therapy? is it possible my own psychiatric conditions have biased my sentiments against her? And if not... how do I break up with her?
posted by ista to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you aren't ok with your therapy you totally have the ok to leave. It's also okay to basically take this question to her and see if you can work it out.

For me personally, my hardass therapist was the best. But she was clearly on my side. I have lots of ways to get people to agree with me, it's one of my superpowers. Someone who stood up for me against me was good. But the trust was done qua non. Is this therapist on your side, do you think?
posted by warriorqueen at 4:47 PM on January 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

I would RUN from this therapist. It's not that this style doesn't work at all, but it doesn't work for me and I don't think it's working for you. I had a therapist who was a hardass and who would question me often and I really, really wish that I had left sooner because I have a lot of residual anger and confusion from my therapy sessions. There were things that I was glad I worked out with her but overall it harmed me to put up with her personality.

Your example of Janice trying to pushing you in ways that make you think that she just wants you to follow HER advice reminds me so strongly of conversations my therapist. She would bring up personal examples and try to apply them to my situation and in general was more like a pushy older sister than a therapist. The thing that kept me going back to therapy was actually something that I think might be happening to you. I snapped a few times and would break down crying in frustration because I couldn't figure out what my therapist wanted me to say or why she wouldn't drop a subject. After I did so, she would use my breaking point as a "teaching moment" for how I could have more a backbone with people in my life. I thought that might be helpful. I even thought that it would help me break up with her. But instead it caused me to question myself — she insisted I was defensive and didn't want to talk about a subject because of Deep Seated Reasons when in reality I was just frustrated that she wouldn't shut up about how I should do my taxes so I could talk about something I actually cared about. (Actual example.)

The thing that actually did cause me to leave was a change in her billing that meant she became out of network for a time. You can use a similar excuse, if you want! Blame it on insurance or your financial situation or a change in work schedule or whatever. Or ghost on her, seriously. Lying, maybe it's cowardly, but you don't need to end this relationship in a way that will be traumatic for you if it's going to keep you from actually leaving. Janice doesn't sound like she's going to be very gracious about you leaving and if you don't want to deal with that, you're not obligated to give her feedback.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 5:04 PM on January 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

I would leave, not because she gives homework and asks you to question why you do things, but because she doesn't talk to you in a kind and caring manner. It's possible to be a hard-ass without being critical.
posted by lafemma at 5:08 PM on January 19, 2017 [15 favorites]

Leave. There are more therapists and you can find someone easier to work with and more helpful for you.
posted by bunderful at 5:11 PM on January 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

You don't have to give a reason, and you don't need to burden yourself by lying. Just leave a message saying you won't be at your next appointment (s) and she should feel free to schedule someone else in that time slot.
posted by amtho at 5:24 PM on January 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

Life's too short to have a crappy therapist. Go find someone who's more in tune with the kind of things you need.

And while this approach can sometimes work, I as well as several of my friends have been burned by this kind of counsellor/therapist. I don't have time for therapists that think they can hold their authority over me.

Also, a therapist poking at weak points until you cry is borderline abusive. They're trained to know better than that, and if this lady can't respect boundaries about what you don't want to divulge, then she's the sick one.
posted by InkDrinker at 5:30 PM on January 19, 2017 [8 favorites]

Honestly, this kind of therapist is the only way I personally actually improve, so I wouldn't say she's bad exactly. But it sounds like you don't like it that much, so you should probably switch:
posted by corb at 5:37 PM on January 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Whatever her skills may be, she doesn't seem to have an approach that works for you. (Wouldn't work for me either. My therapist's approach was much more like Pete's; TBH, your description of how Janice speaks to you has me boggled and appalled.) Therapy is rough enough, you don't need to add to the difficulty by forcing yourself to see a therapist who leaves you feeling defensive, dismissed, and angry.
posted by Lexica at 6:00 PM on January 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Fire her. Simply based on the comments about your sexuality. Fire her now.
posted by FritoKAL at 6:04 PM on January 19, 2017 [10 favorites]

Bad fit. Just like lovers, doesn't have to be a bad person or a bad therapist, just a bad fit. Dump her and find a new one.
posted by metahawk at 6:53 PM on January 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

She might be a great therapist - but not a great therapist for you. My favorite and most helpful therapist ever was more like Janice and less like Pete, but I was also at a particular point in my life where that's what worked best for me. You're not (and may never be), and that's totally fine.

If you decide to have one last session with her (and it is not required when you are firing a therapist!), I want to suggest you say to her directly that "And it felt like she was trying to talk me out of calling myself a lesbian" and ask her if that is what she was doing. What was her goal in this interaction? My favorite therapist would sometimes push me pretty hard in order to get me to really think (rather than circle endlessly around) why I was doing the thing I was doing. But that's certainly not an approach that will work for all people in all circumstances, and if this kind of interaction with Janice has fractured your trust in her, then yes, go forth and find a new therapist who is a better fit.
posted by rtha at 7:13 PM on January 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Toss up. I like Pete's way. But Janice might have some points. But she might also be totally off and you're not gelling with her.

Therapists are usually apolitical, they see things through a very normative, individualistic lens (by necessity), and are aiming to support adjustment to an idea of what's "normal". Political lesbianism is not the statistical or moral norm (in most places). From the POV of a typical therapist, that commitment would probably be interpreted as having issues with men. (Which you suggest you might actually have... but, you can work through that a bunch of ways, many of which are valid from one perspective or another.)

You liked Pete for his approach, which makes sense in lots of ways - but could it also be, partly, because he's a Pete and not a Petra? And because he didn't challenge you? (And I guess - if Janice were a John, how do you think you might take the POV offered? I mean it's absolutely fair that you're annoyed that she's not taking your position at face value. I personally think her take is a little limited. But it's also her job to question things. But if you're too annoyed to question anything, or if you feel she's basically not on your side, then the whole project probably isn't constructive.)

I don't know, Janice isn't working for you, that's clear. I think gender viz a viz power is playing a role here that's important and worth bearing in mind when you choose the next therapist.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:03 PM on January 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Therapist here. You can 100% absolutely always stop seeing a therapist if their approach isn't working for you. There is great research that says that the best indicator of a successful outcome in therapy is the "fit," the relationship between the client and the therapist. If a strong and trusting relationship isn't there, it's going to be difficult to make real progress.

Another thing, just so you know, a good therapist knows that it is okay and expected that we aren't going to click with every single client. We hope that we'll be what you need, but it isn't realistic to think every relationship with a client will automatically be Transformative. People are people and we don't always match up. Most therapists genuinely don't take it personally if a client discontinues therapy. It is okay to look for a person that you're comfortable with. My personal therapist, who I saw for 7 years and changed my life, was an incredibly gentle and caring man, who also challenged me constantly, but with great respect for me as a person. He never made me feel like he was judging my choices, even when we talked about them not being healthy.

Memail me if you have any other questions. Be well.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 8:11 PM on January 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

DTHATA (dump the hard ass therapist already)
posted by overglow at 9:08 PM on January 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had a similar experience and it nearly killed me. Bad therapy fits can be dangerous, not just a bummer. This relationship is making your life worse, which is the opposite of the point. This person does not want to be making your life worse, and you don't want to be making your life worse (sorry, I'm super not caffeinated yet) - so it's best for both of you if you end it however you feel like ending it. I took the route of cancelling an appointment and never calling to reschedule.
posted by you must supply a verb at 4:41 AM on January 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

Also I'd like to be articulate on the subject of the issue not being that she's a hardass, but I'm not capable at the moment. But an attempt: the issue is not that she is a hardass. You are tough enough. You have nothing to prove. The issue is that this is a bad fit. Someone who made you feel safe, respected, and supported could be all over you with challenges that could be beneficial and growth-inducing, but if it feels like it's coming from a place of 'you're not good enough/you're doing it wrong' rather than 'I know you, care about you, support you and trust you, and you might want to try/consider/whatever Thing X' or even 'and I think you can do better' - it's just toxic and it doesn't matter that that isn't the therapist's intent if that is how the message feels as you receive it.

Sorry for not making sense.
posted by you must supply a verb at 4:50 AM on January 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

thanks folks, these responses have been incredibly validating and encouraging to read--i especially appreciate the critical framing of my own issues with gender and power possibly playing into this (in fact I am sure that they do)

I hadn't considered the long-term damage that this kind of relationship might do. The truth is I tend to be incredibly self-critical and cruel to myself, and it took most of my year with Pete to learn a more healthy internal monologue.... Janice's voice is MUCH more similar to the way I used to talk to myself, and I can't risk falling back into that.

I will do one last session with her to let her know the reasons I'm leaving; if only so she thinks twice before making similar comments towards future LGBT+ clients (this is really the straw that broke it for me this week.)
posted by ista at 6:10 AM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Am I too selfish? Help me be more altruistic.   |   I need to ditch WordPress, but for what? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.