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Page Contents: How to identify a bad psychotherapist.                    


Recently I started seeing a psychotherapist and during our last session (5th?), I felt things got a little ugly. I got the sense that I was being attacked, having my words twisted, having my current state indirectly belittled (I’m not proud of it, and I don’t need to be told how harmful it is), being repeatedly told that my emotions and beliefs about myself are false, being told to what amounts to lying to myself, being cut off while I’m trying to express myself, suggesting I get medication when she previously told me she didn’t think it’s necessary and said I didn’t need to if I didn’t want to (I’m very anti-meds and she didn’t even suggest trying alternative therapies first), and generally being treated like I’m stupid, like I don’t know I’d be unhappy if the status quo continues. I could tell she was getting frustrated with me, and I don’t blame her for it given how I’ve been very unresponsive to some of her suggestions (which mostly consisted of telling me repeatedly to give power to my positive aspects). And yet...

When she said, “Look at how beautiful and sunny the weather is outside. Inside here (the therapist’s office) it’s all dark,” I felt really unwelcome in her office. I mean I know I’m not Mr. Sunshine, but the comment felt really out of line, unnecessary, and unhelpful.

This is very different from my previous therapeutic experience, which was overwhelmingly positive. Yet I also recognize that when when I was with my previous therapist, I was more receptive, open, and upbeat given I had some wonderful people in my life.

Is this all in my head? A problem with my therapist? Me? Both of us? Are the things I’m feeling and thinking a warning sign of sorts or should I give this one more shot? To be honest, after the last session I’m not sure I can trust her enough or anymore to confront her. . . .

Actually, you are lying to yourself. In fact, we all lie to ourselves because so much of our perceptions and motivations are outside of our conscious awareness. The task of competent psychotherapy is to help you get close to your unconscious so that you can understand when and why the lying occurs, and, consequently, to live more honestly than a person who has not been in psychotherapy.

Nevertheless, simply being told that you lie to yourself does nothing to help you; instead, it only makes you defensive and leaves you feeling like you have been attacked.

I’m reminded here of a poignant old story; I can remember only the core idea, so I will just make up the other details.

In the days before psychotherapy was practiced, a man went to his physician and complained of feeling depressed. The doctor, not really knowing what to do, said, “Look here. The circus is in town. Go see the clown Zambini, and he will make you laugh so much you will forget all your problems!” The man hung his head and replied, “But doctor, I am Zambini.”

So what good is a remedy if it cannot help itself?

Therefore, you can’t be cured just because someone tells you to be cured. Nor can you stop lying just by telling yourself to tell the truth, because telling yourself that you will tell the truth is in itself a lie.

In competent psychotherapy, by paying attention to how your unconscious is revealed in the things you say and do, you discover the reason for your lies. But to do this, it is important that everything be conducted in a positive, respectful manner. It is important that both you and your psychotherapist examine your thoughts, emotions, and behavior with compassionate curiosity. Then, once you can speak about your unconscious, you can learn from it.

So how can you identify incompetent psychotherapists? They’re the ones who try to tell you what to do, and, because you haven’t yet acquired the true motivation to do it, you’re left feeling stupid. “Bad” psychotherapists leave you feeling stupid because they are unwilling or unable to take the effort to teach you how to speak about your unconscious.


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
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A Guide to Psychology and its Practice



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