Am I deeply traumatized without realizing it?
June 23, 2006 9:28 AM   Subscribe

I recently went to a therapist for the first time ever, for a screening for ADD. She told me that I had a severely traumatic childhood because of things like "My father wasn't around much." I don't feel severely traumatized... Is she crazy?

I feel like this lady must be exaggerating the situation, and possibly misinterpreting things. She also said that I'm not really passionate about anything, and I strongly disagree with that statement. But then I think, "Wait, what if I really am severely traumatized? What if I'm so traumatized that I can't even tell I lack passion?"

So... How common is it for a therapist to exaggerate a patient's problems on the first visit? Is she trying to get me hooked on therapy or something?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I suggest you find another therapist asap.

Any therapist that you feel exaggerates your problems, or tries to pathologize you, on the first visit is not a therapist you want to have, barring serious exceptions.

Even if you are so traumatized that you can't even tell you lack passion, this therapist sounds pretty kooky to me.

Try to find a therapist that you aren't suspicious of in the first visit.
posted by milarepa at 9:35 AM on June 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Try someone else.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:40 AM on June 23, 2006


not to cast therapy in a bad light - it's very useful for many people, and i think there are plenty of folks who need it who don't have access to it - but all professionals, in almost every field, define their profession. that is, consciously or subconsciously, we define what problems are and what they aren't. sounds like she's doing this a lot more actively than she needs to, and is definining a pathology where there may or may not be one. you know the phrase - when the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems look like nails.

i'd follow the other advice i see here in the comments and quickly find another therapist, one with a bigger toolbox.
posted by luriete at 9:50 AM on June 23, 2006

If all you have is a hammer everything looks like nails, to paraphrase luriete's comment.

It's a bit whack to give such a strong diagnosis on the basis of one visit. Good therapy is like a relationship, it takes a bit of time to get things right.
posted by edgeways at 9:57 AM on June 23, 2006

Yes, she's crazy.
posted by ewkpates at 10:00 AM on June 23, 2006

Dude, find another therapist. If you're not comfortable, you're not comfortable.

If you're looking to be screened for ADD, you might look specifically for a psychologist who does such things. I did so and then got a referral to a therapist. (If you're in the Chicago area, feel free to email me for a referral to a psych -- my team was great.)
posted by sugarfish at 10:05 AM on June 23, 2006

You've come to us for a second opinion, now, as others are saying, it's time to get a professional one. (Not that I'm a therapist, mind you.) That said, what's the possibility that you've misread the clues you think you gave her (that is, that you actually gave her other clues that you didn't realize)? Hopefully you won't obsess over that, but I figured I'd bring it up in case it causes a lightbulb to go off and it all starts making sense....
posted by kimota at 10:11 AM on June 23, 2006

Some therapists seem to define everything in terms of childhood trauma of one sort or another. In one sense, I can see how that works -- our personalities are largely shaped during childhood, so whatever issues we have now will probably have at least some connection to what happened back then -- but I think a lot of them overdo it with the "childhood trauma" thing.

Also, some people (of any profession) are bad at their jobs. Shop around.

If one therapist is saying things that just don't seem to fit, they probably don't. If three therapists all say the same thing that doesn't seem to fit, then you can start second-guessing your gut reaction.
posted by ook at 10:26 AM on June 23, 2006


I had the same experience my first time at a therapist. He came highly reccomended, but I didn't feel comfortable at all and I don't think he really listened to much I said.

It was really goofy stuff, too. Within 5 minutes of meeting me, he, put a pillow at my feet and said, "this is your mother..." then pushed it towards me, "do you feel her invading your boundries?"

I blinked a few times and gave him a strange look.

He also charged me $200 at the end of the 1 hour session...!

In retrospect, I think a different person would have been more 'compatible' with me, but I have a strong suspicion that therapy can be in many ways just not for everybody.

Incidentally, the depression I came in for cleared up when I changed my diet.
posted by milinar at 10:45 AM on June 23, 2006

Is she crazy?

No, but the payments on her Suburban sure are!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:52 AM on June 23, 2006

There are some people who need a focal point for why they're behaving the way they are in order for them to look beyond this. Consequently, there are some therapists who don't really look for the root of the problem, lump it into childhood trauma, and attempt to fix the symptoms.

IANAT, but I've seen some therapists work magic, and other make situations worse. The bad part about therapy is that it doesn't really matter how right or wrong the therapist is, 90% of feeling better is how comfortable you are with the entire process (including the therapist, causes, and solutions)
posted by hatsix at 11:12 AM on June 23, 2006

posted by docpops at 11:29 AM on June 23, 2006

Find another therapst. Even taking the fact that she's making you uncomfortable out of the equation, what's wrong with a second option? If the next one says the same thing, maybe you've got problems.
posted by o2b at 11:30 AM on June 23, 2006

see also..
posted by docpops at 11:34 AM on June 23, 2006

Plenty of theories about the importance of having your Dad around got spoiled when someone thought to check Navy kids whose fathers were at sea...

It seems that it's not having a parent absent that matters as much as having a parent dissed by those around you. So you are not automatically an emotional wreck if your father wasn't around much.

In any case, some great people emerge happily from genuinely awful childhoods. And lots of those around you will be suvivors of a parental divorce, which clearly isn't that disabling.

Certainly I would second the advice to look for an ADD specialist instead of this therapist.
posted by Idcoytco at 11:58 AM on June 23, 2006

She told me that I had a severely traumatic childhood because of things like "My father wasn't around much." I don't feel severely traumatized... Is she crazy?

Kind of, certain kinds of therapists look for causes and effects that fit their particular way of thinking, not realizing that their way of thinking might not be real. So, for her an absent father means a trauma.

This is a bad sign, a therapist that tries to find things that are wrong which you don't think are there is a problem seeker. They could either be problem seeking with the intention of "fixing", or much worse, they could be problem seeking with the intent (conscious or not) of making you a chronic client.

Look for another therapist that tries to work with you on what you want rather than telling you what you need.
posted by blueyellow at 11:59 AM on June 23, 2006

leave this person immediately. they cannot make that kind of assumption after one visit, and any therapist worth their salt would hesitate to make that claim within the first year.
posted by lester at 12:00 PM on June 23, 2006

There are a lot of bad therapists. A lot. You should take for granted that the first one, probably the first 8, you see will not be useful for you and expect to have to screen more until you find one.
posted by birdie birdington at 12:05 PM on June 23, 2006

I'm going to go against the tide of this discussion just enough to point out that the typical patient seeking therapy is often nearly devoid of insight into what his or her true problems are.

Even if your therapist was correct, though, which no one in this thread has any way of knowing one way or the other, it's pretty clear that communicating this fact to you in the way that she did wasn't useful to you.

It may have been that she intended to startle you into a close self-examination, and that instead you presented a distorted version of the interaction to an anonymous peer group in order to receive external confirmation of your wish to continue along in denial. Therefore, her tactic failed utterly.

Just sayin'.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:09 PM on June 23, 2006

You should think about not going to a therapist at all and read a book on evolutionary psychology instead.
posted by Falconetti at 1:11 PM on June 23, 2006

Sometimes therapists try to be too clever by tying everything up in some kind of neat package. This is especially true of novice therapists and true believers in some all-encompassing theory. In other words, this is probably an insecure therapist.

Even if what she said was true, it's too much information for a first session. It's obnoxious and assaultive. Therapists are not only supposed to listen and make comments, they're supposed to help people integrate the new ideas, not shove them down a client's throat.

I hate it when therapists do that.

Just consider this a bit of consumer education. You are shopping around for a therapist and you now know what it would be like to work with this person. Good information to find this out early enough - you haven't invested a lot of time and money in the relationship.

I'd suggest you move on and interview another therapist. Remember, you're interviewing to hire a therapist - that makes YOU the therapist's employer! Would you hire this person?
posted by jasper411 at 1:53 PM on June 23, 2006

I had very similar issues in that I've suffered from anxiety problems, depression and ADD-like symptoms for as long as I can remember. I saw a lot of people who made snap diagnoses and others who suggested to 'practice not thinking negative thoughts.'

I concur with what everyone else has said, if you're not comfortable get rid of her. I have a therapist right now who I find extremely effective and I once grilled her about why she was so good and everyone else sucked so much. Basically the answer is that the type of therapy insurance companies like is that which gives quick diagnoses and is (of course) cheap. Also, the more training the person has the better they will tend to be. Find a psychologist with at least a PhD. I found through digging down to root causes that my attention problems were not clinical ADD but were related to trauma (and I'm talking for-real trauma).

You may want to find a good psychiatrist who can work with the therapist if the therapist does feel you may have ADD. It's way overdiagnosed and you need to have someone who will make the true clinical diagnosis for ADD rather than (again) making a snap diagnosis and throwing some drugs at you. I believe there is actually a brain scan of some sort that can accurately confirm ADD.

Side note, my favorite horrible experience with a bad therapist was a person who immediately diagnosed ADD and then said that the cure was Tahitian Noni Juice which she just happened to be a pyramid-scheme type distributor for. I'm sad to say she actually had a medical degree, too.
posted by mattholomew at 2:29 PM on June 23, 2006

You know, you can say to her exactly what you're saying to us. Say, specifically, that you think she has gotten the wrong idea. You are in the driver's seat and can direct therapy the way you want to. If she won't relent on that point, you can say you'd like to focus on something else. If she says "don't avoid it!" and you're still convinced, then move on.

One thing about therapy is that often you need to have your views challenged in order to see them from a different perspective. When my therapist tells me something I don't think is accurate or applicable, because I feel I just haven't quite communicated something clearly, I file it away and chew on it for a while. Sometimes, it turns out she was right. Or what she said was in some way useful after I mulled on it for a while. Other times, I think she's just wrong. Sometimes I tell her that and other times don't, depending on how I want to steer things. There's plenty to talk about so she's fine with it.

I'm just saying, be open. These people are trained to dig out things we're suppressing. Could you be suppressing something? Sure. It's hard to tell, because that's what suppression is. Let her dig and just see what comes up. But be aware that therapy is two people stumbling in the dark. You'll bump into a lot of walls and take a lot of wrong turns. You're feeling your way around. You will be responsible for many course corrections.

But like everyone else is saying, if you're uncomfortable with her style, assertions, or the direction of things, either let her know or try someone else.
posted by kookoobirdz at 3:18 PM on June 23, 2006

Side note, my favorite horrible experience with a bad therapist was a person who immediately diagnosed ADD and then said that the cure was Tahitian Noni Juice which she just happened to be a pyramid-scheme type distributor for. I'm sad to say she actually had a medical degree, too.

God that's fucking sad.
posted by docpops at 3:23 PM on June 23, 2006

Side note, my favorite horrible experience with a bad therapist was a person who immediately diagnosed ADD and then said that the cure was Tahitian Noni Juice which she just happened to be a pyramid-scheme type distributor for. I'm sad to say she actually had a medical degree, too.

Damn, you totally beat my therapist fell asleep while I was talking story.
posted by birdie birdington at 3:31 PM on June 23, 2006

Slight derail, but what qualifications are required to set yourself up as a "therapist"?

Could I just describe myself as a therapist and put an ad in the paper tomorrow and start raking in the money? Is that term broad enough that it has no professional/medical/legal meaning?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:46 PM on June 23, 2006

Ambrose: Yes. It has no professional meaning. Neither does "psychotherapist."

You could not claim to be a psychologist or a psychiatrist, though.
posted by nev at 5:57 PM on June 23, 2006

Sounds very much like the "everything looks like a nail when all you have is a hammer" problem. My first therapist suggested that I needed assertiveness training. I laughed and told her that no, I certainly did not. She insisted. I changed therapists (twice actually). Both of my susequent therapists thought it quite funny that anyone would suggest I need assertiveness training. It turned out that the first therapist was fresh to doing personal therapy, and had previously been an assertiveness training instructor for large groups in corporate settings.

Get a new therapist.
posted by Marla Singer at 6:34 PM on June 23, 2006

Wow, that Tahitian Noni Juice story takes the cake.
posted by Marla Singer at 6:42 PM on June 23, 2006

I'm going to go against the tide of this discussion just enough to point out that the typical patient seeking therapy is often nearly devoid of insight into what his or her true problems are.

I beg to differ on this point. People who have enough where with all to seek out therapy usually have more insight into their true problems than people who never seek counseling or help. I understand offering a different point of view for arguments sake though.

I have to agree with most of the post here. If you are not comfortable with your therapist then they will not be effective. Do not feel bad in shopping around
posted by lannanh at 8:27 PM on June 23, 2006

AmbroseChapel and nev: "Psychotherapist" is a protected word in California, at least. The Business & Professional codes definition section (2902), section 3 spells it out. You are also assumed to be a psychologist if you say you're doing "psychotherapy."
posted by jasper411 at 10:43 PM on June 23, 2006

I really did not like the first therapist I saw, but the second one was great. The difference in the efficacy of the therapy is really huge. You need to feel comfortable and trusting with your therapist -- ditch this one if the next meeting goes no better. And by all means, discuss with her this very question. It doesn't matter if she's right (which she quite possible could be): if she can't make you understand things, she's no good for you.

Also, your best diagnosis for ADD is going to come from a child psychiatrist (even if you're not a child -- they see adults, too). After that, psychologists generally have training in ADD now, but I'd ask. General psychiatrists don't always have training in ADD, so I'd certainly ask in that case.

In any event, ADD is nuerochemical, and the best treatment is medication (big, solid study recently confirmed this. Behavioral therapy is useful, but nothing is more effective than medication; that doesn't mean ADD people have to take medication, but it's their best bet if it works for them. It works for around 80% of the people that that try it, too. Brain scans now even show, on average, how the ADD brain functions differently. Hallowell [see below] thinks there will be a genetic test within the decade. He also mentions a certain kind of brain scan that has a very high likelihood of pointing out ADD; but it is expensive and not many doctors know of it or have access to it). So you need to see a psychiatrist at some point, if you do have ADD, so if it is possible for you it's best to start there, although some insurance people, like Kaiser, send you to a psychologist first; you won't get to see a psychiatrist unless the psychologist first screens you to make sure they think you have a reason to see the doctor.

Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction are excellent resources on ADD, by Hallowell. Highly recommended (the first is more focused on diagnosis, the second is more focused on treatment). They tell you what the condition is, in great detail, and how to be an intelligent consumer of the mental health diagnosis and treatment for said condition.
posted by teece at 8:57 AM on June 24, 2006

jasper411: Thanks for the correction; I didn't realize it was a state-level thing. I am more familiar with the regulation in New Jersey, where "the title of psychotherapist is not regulated, so anyone, with or without training or a professional license, can call themselves a psychotherapist."
posted by nev at 6:57 PM on June 24, 2006

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