For my own benefit, I am looking for stories of two types of therapy moments:

1. Things a therapist did right.

2. Things a therapist did wrong.

In both cases, I'm looking for things that weren't obvious.

For "wrong things," I'm not thinking of clearly, extremely terrible things that I would never do in a million years, like having sex with a client, telling a client their abuse was their own fault, telling a client not to be gay, etc. I'm looking for mistakes that were more subtle than that - things a well-meaning but inexperienced therapist might do. For example, it was not beneficial to me (as a client) to let me sit there and recount lengthy abuse stories, and then have the therapist immediately start delving deeper into the abuse. But that's not an obvious mistake on the level of "It was all your fault it happened."

For right things, also, I'm looking for moments that went beyond the obvious "She was very empathetic," "He told me it wasn't my fault," or "She helped me see the connections between my childhood and my adult relationships." I am particularly interested in any times in which a therapist managed to do a good job with identity issues (gender, culture, etc), whether or not the therapist had the same identity as the client.

I realize that everyone is different, and what's right for one person may be wrong for another. I'm not looking for a rule book, but rather for inspiration and food for thought.

Anonymous comments are enabled but screened. If you comment anonymously, please let me know whether or not you'd like me to unscreen.
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badgerbag: (Default)

From: [personal profile] badgerbag


When I left for college my therapist in high school gave me a really nice edition of Blake's Innocence and Experience with color plates. I was touched and felt that on some level he really got me. I felt sort of honored and that he took me seriously. I think it would have been an awkward present if we had been continuing therapy but as a "goodbye" it was oddly validating.
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)

From: [personal profile] mme_hardy


All of my bad experiences boil down to "the therapist's issues, not mine". One in particular was a college therapist who really wished he hadn't married so young and projected that on me. I know they teach about that in school, though.

A critical issue I wish people were taught in school is "when somebody has been wronged by a therapist, do not require a final visit." I have been asked multiple times to make one last visit, and I basically didn't need the confrontation all over again. (In two of the cases I am thinking about, the therapist knew s/he had done the wrong thing.) I think the involuntary final visit can again be more about the therapist's need for closure than about the patient.
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)

From: [personal profile] mme_hardy

Also


When a patient is in unusual deep distress (e.g. sobbing when this is not customary for him/her) try to provide aftercare. The hour is over and you have a patient coming in, but helping the patient find a place to decompress, and making some sort of contact possible other than "see you next week" would be good.

P.P.S. In my dream office space, the patient waiting rooms and the exit are *different spaces* so that a patient can walk out without meeting anybody's eyes in the intake area.
Edited Date: 2012-08-07 06:54 pm (UTC)

Re: Also

From: [personal profile] kore - Date: 2012-08-07 08:23 pm (UTC) - Expand

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From: [personal profile] kore - Date: 2012-08-07 08:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
princessofgeeks: (Default)

From: [personal profile] princessofgeeks


my therapist was extremely good at subtly helping me lower the ambient level of drama. I came from a family of crazy makers who ran around all the time as if things were on fire, using one crisis after another (manufactured or real) to take the focus off the real elephants in the room.

thus i had no idea how you sat around calmly talking about things.

she was really good at simply not reacting to things in an overly dramatic way and modeling for me the way a person really good talk about ANYTHING instead of being hooked into shame, judgment, denial, etc. By her calm behavior and how she took me seriously without ever being proscriptive, I learned how to think about things instead of assuming I was going to get judged and immediately stiffening up to resist that. It was a pattern of long standing in my family and she helped me break it. For example, I went in once talking about how I slept with my ex, and it was incredible when she didn't judge me for doing that, even though it clearly was a step back for me, but she didn't go into all that. She didn't tell me I shouldn't have. She let ME decide if that were true. That was a revelation for me. I was so astonished that she didn't have an opinion about whether I should or should not do that. of course she probably DID have an opinion, but the point was to help ME start making decisions instead of pingponging between people's judgments.

Another therapist an acquaintance briefly saw had no boundaries of her own. She bartered computer repair for therapy, socialized with patients, etc. That turned out to be bad.
sonia: Quilted wall-hanging (Default)

From: [personal profile] sonia


I had a therapist intern back in the 90's who told me at the end of our series of sessions that she was worried about being sued about "false memories". Only then did I realize that my sense of disconnection during the sessions had an external, real source. I wish she had acknowledged the problem when it first came up.

In a way it was validating of my perceptions, but I felt like I had been wasting the $30 I spent per session, and decided I'd rather pay more in the future and get actual presence for my money. (On the other hand, I have received fabulous work from bodywork interns. It's the luck of the draw, really.)

On the positive side, I had a single session from a therapist that was amazingly helpful. She helped me connect with something in me that already felt peaceful, rather than focusing on all the chaotic parts. Sadly she wasn't available for more sessions!

It's powerful to help clients connect with what they're already doing right. (I hope they tell you that in school?)

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From: [personal profile] staranise - Date: 2012-08-08 03:15 am (UTC) - Expand
vass: a man in a bat suit says "I am a model of mental health!" (Bats)

From: [personal profile] vass


That's a really good question.

Bad: My high school counsellor was really nice and reassuring. She told me "You're just too smart and mature. Things will get easier when the other students catch up to your level." *facepalm* I'm sure she meant well, but actually my social skills really needed some work (understatement) and hunkering down behind a hard shell of "it's not me, it's them, I'm smarter/better/more special and they're stupid and don't appreciate me" was really not the answer. Particularly not since I was struggling with the schoolwork (granted, for executive function reasons, not IQ, but that's the point, isn't it? IQ is not the only factor in intelligence.) I don't think she could have prevented me from doing that anyway, not at that stage, but she didn't need to reinforce it.

Good: actually, I have one from today's session. I won't give you the full tl;dr, but the gist was that he disagreed with me last session about a treatment issue, and today I came back with more arguments, and he listened, and decided that I was right. He changed his mind. Because he listened to me and thought about what I said and didn't have to be right every time. This is not the first time that's happened with this therapist, but he was the first therapist it happened with. And knowing that he will change his mind in response to reason makes me a hundred times more likely to listen to him when he tells me I'm wrong.
veejane: Pleiades (Default)

From: [personal profile] veejane


I agree, a shrink who can reassess is really a nice thing to have. I'm a hardheaded cuss, and don't respond well to the softer side of Sears, so to speak, and thus am pretty wary of potential crackpottery in therapists. I've had more than one therapist start in on a spiel -- one I'm thinking of wanted me to look at a rainbow wheel while listening to relaxing music -- and honestly, if I hadn't been so angry with him I would have laughed the house down. I say, I've had more than one therapist start in on a spiel and lose me completely, and be unable to gauge the ill effect they're having, or even respond appropriately to verbal signals that indicate my distaste.

And then I went to a woman I called Thrush (because she was small and plump and alert like a bird), and she was mushy and encouraging-of-emo in a way I strongly dislike and associate with crackpots, but I stopped her in I think the second session and said, "You should know, I'm not built that way. I'm sure that kind of stuff is important for some people but it really puts me off." And she was able to take that, and she never ran afoul of my wariness again. I went to her for a good 3-4 months and she thereafter always spoke in terms to which I could respond.

(Thrush was a very good assessor of detail overall, and I gave her the name after watching her alight on a piece of information, ask leading questions, and then let it drop when she realized it led nowhere. It's really pretty validating for somebody with my personality to watch others, not even admit to error, but to quietly drop wrong avenues without self-serving argument. It made it very clear that she wanted to help me, not some fantasy-person who wore my clothes; and part of helping me was getting as accurate a picture as she could. Even though, when I read her notes a few years later -- thanks, HIPAA -- I could see she didn't quite get me, she got a lot closer than any other shrink I've tried.)
the_rck: figure perched in a tree with barren branches (Default)

From: [personal profile] the_rck


For a negative experience-- I had therapists insisting to me that I was depressed while I was insisting that I wasn't depressed but was anxious instead. As it happens, I can get depressed when my anxiety is particularly bad, but the anxiety has always been primary. I wanted to address the anxiety. The psychotherapist persisted in calling it depression and then told me that it didn't matter because the treatment was identical.

The same therapist I'm thinking of refused to refer me to someone else in the clinic when I asked her to.

I had some seriously bad experiences with CBT, too, but I think that was me rather than the therapist. When I'm anxious, I very deliberately stop thinking beyond the minimum necessary for getting through the situation. Thinking makes the anxiety worse, so I don't do it. CBT, as presented to me, required that I analyze my thoughts while in the middle of anxious situations. That meant that I had to let myself have thoughts which led to not being able to function. It ran entirely counter to every coping mechanism I have, starting to dismantle them right when I needed them most. I couldn't do it, and I got a lot of negative feedback over my inability.

I suppose the negative feedback was a therapist problem. There wasn't any sense of trying to adapt to make the therapy fit my situation better or even a maybe this isn't for you response. I got a particular kind of CBT pushed on me because it *must* work for everyone.
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)

From: [personal profile] dorothean


I think I might have commented about this one before, but: when I was 17 and about to start college, I was seriously depressed, fantasizing about suicide, and self-harming with disordered eating (mostly binging at that time). I eventually told my mother about it and she helped me set up an appointment with a psychologist attached to the college. This was a really, really big deal for me because I had not grown up in an environment that favored therapy at all; I felt ashamed of what I was going through and only barely managed to ask for help.

It kind of hurts to think about how my life would have been different if that appointment had turned out differently. I could have been diagnosed with ADD before college, instead of years later when I was floundering in my first full-time job; I could have encountered therapy before various shitty things happened to me, some of which might have turned out differently if I'd had more self-confidence... anyway, I don't actually blame the psychologist for all of that. But I wish she had paid more attention to me at our appointment.

What happened was that having told my mother and succeeded in getting help (i.e. the appointment being set up), I felt relieved, and the problems I was experiencing went away. This was only temporary, but I didn't know that, and I think I sounded so cheerful and confident at the same time I was trying to tell the psychologist what was wrong that she concluded that I was fine. She sent me to see a nutritionist (!) about the binge-eating and that was it. When the depression dropped back onto me after the semester began, it didn't even occur to me to go back to student health.
Edited (edited the wrong comment!) Date: 2012-08-07 09:12 pm (UTC)
pauraque: bird flying (Default)

From: [personal profile] pauraque


I had a therapist who I believe was still in school (so this probably comes under the inexperienced category), who I had to stop seeing because she thought a good way to validate me was to tell me that she liked me.

This is very different from objective observations of positive traits like "You're intelligent" or "You consider other people's feelings", or challenging beliefs about unlikeability in a different way. Basically I was dealing with feeling rejected by everyone, and she would respond with "Well, I like you".

When I politely explained that this wasn't appropriate or helpful and it was making me uncomfortable, she took it very personally, as though I in turn had said I didn't like her (which I didn't and never would). I was sure then that stopping therapy was the right move.

Even good therapists can make little missteps. I had one who helped me quite a bit, but once I was saying something about my parents, and she commented, "Wow, that reminds me so much of my own mother". Nothing further than that, and it wasn't a big deal, but still not helpful or appropriate IMO.

It's harder to think of specific good moments that stand out. The best therapists I've had were very skilled at maintaining a pleasant rapport while staying firmly within boundaries. I like therapists that I can laugh and joke with, but trust that as friendly as our interaction may look, the therapist understands 100% that it isn't a friendship. It doesn't have to be super-serious to be professional, if that makes sense.
nextian: Yankumi from Gokusen runs down a street, her shadow behind her. (walk tall)

From: [personal profile] nextian


The therapist I was assigned to in Chicago was of the "how does that make you feel?"/"mhm" school. This probably works perfectly well on many people. On me, it made me feel like he didn't believe anything I was saying. It gradually became clear that his theory was that I'd talk myself out of my own paranoia and the nadir of depression I was in. I don't know why he thought that'd be effective, or what I needed then. What I needed was someone to tell me that I'd be okay, to give me help before I asked for it, which I'd basically exhausted my ability to do just by making the appointment. It was better than not having anyone to talk to--many of my problems were ephemeral and self-constructed and I did talk myself out of a few--but it didn't help me claw my way out of the hole. I stopped going and neither he nor the health center followed up.

On the good side, the therapist I had afterwards--actually a study skills specialist, but with therapy as a side bonus--explained to me that there's no value in saying that you "should" do something if every time you say "I should do this" you don't do it. The idea that "do or do not there is no try" was actually applicable to my daily life has helped me more than like, any other concept, ever.
nextian: From below, a woman and a flock of birds. (Default)

From: [personal profile] nextian


Oh, you know, one thing that dude really did right was identity based. He was a straight guy and I was eaten up with worry about how people were dealing with my bisexuality. It was the one time he actually engaged or did mirroring statements or anything; he leaned forward when I told him why I was paranoid about it, what had happened in my dorm, and said something like, "Wow. In some ways that can be worse than outright bigotry, because you're never going to be able to say for sure whether or not it's happening, so you get stuck in a 'you're just being paranoid' loop." I was floored to hear this from someone outside my brain.

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yatima: (Default)

From: [personal profile] yatima


My best moment in therapy and maybe one of my best moments, period: I was struggling with a relationship where I could. not. get the other person to love me back as I thought I needed them to, and this was, obviously, the story of my life, and I could see that I was stuck on this and I just could not get myself unstuck. Emergency session, me sobbing and heaving, and Naomi said: "Can you just accept this about yourself? That this is part of how you are?" and I said "NO. I CAN'T ACCEPT THIS."

And she said: "Can you accept that you are a person who can't accept this?"

I stared at her. And then I laughed. And then I said: "Yes."

I think about that moment a lot.
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)

From: [personal profile] dorothean


Here's something that's important to me that was handled well and poorly in different occasions:

I like to have a sense that the space in which I'm doing therapy (group or individual) is very safe and somehow set apart from the rest of the world. The more emotionally fragile I'm feeling, the more I'm sensitive to this and the less able I am to coherently and calmly ask for any change to be made!

The best example I have is from my first sessions of group therapy (DBT). I knew from the beginning that everyone participating was carefully interviewed first to make sure they would be a good fit for the therapy. New people could only join the group at the beginning of each eight-week session, and on the first day we discussed the rules and were able to suggest our own (mine, very well received, was "no unsolicited advice"). Each meeting had the same structure, and we always began with a five-minute meditation. One of the most important rules was to try to discuss our emotions and urges without lengthy narrative -- explaining the details of our own situations could be done in the required individual therapy, but in the group we were to focus on applying the DBT methods.

When I went to these meetings I could trust that the people and structure would be consistent and that the meditation would quiet everyone down and help us feel respectful of our time together. I soon realized that a couple of the group members were in situations that were triggering to me -- but when the "avoid narrative" rule was working, I could still feel safe because the rule protected me from hearing about it.

Things that occasionally disrupted the safe space for me: (1) the "avoid narrative" rule failing to protect me from some triggers, which was probably inevitable at that time; (2) a group member smelling so strongly of cigarettes that I got a headache (there was a rule against strong scents but it's harder to apply that to smokers, I think); (3) a stranger coming into the therapy room to fix a computer.

I have also (depending on how much emotional distress I was in) been discomfited by my individual therapist greeting me with small talk as we walked from the waiting room to her office: "How have you been?" I know the appropriate small-talk answer to that is "Fine, and you?" but when I'm talking to my therapist and the only reason I'm seeing her is that I'm not at all fine, small talk doesn't really fit... I think this was always made worse by the question being asked before we got to her office. If we'd been in there already with the door shut, I could have answered literally and honestly, and that would have felt so much better. But we weren't there yet and I didn't feel safe enough to be honest in the middle of the hallway.
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore


There was one receptionist at the university outpatient psychiatry clinic I went to (sliding-scale) who persisted on asking me "And how are you doing today?" every time I went there. Every. Single. Time. And it was one of those genuine questions, not some kind of formality; he was clearly expecting an answer and would stop what he was doing and look up if he didn't get one. Once I finally snapped at him, "Pretty shitty, or else why would I be coming here every week?" He looked startled and didn't ask it for a while, but a couple of weeks later he was back to doing it again. sigh.

I seriously think everyone -- therapists, staff members, whoever -- working in a clinic or hospital setting should be told NOT TO ASK PSYCH PATIENTS HOW THEY ARE in a non-serious manner. Maybe I'm too easily bruised a flower but it was already really triggering to constantly run into that question at the bus stop, at work, at the lunch counter, on the way home &c &c and have to lie and fake some kind of happy BS and a smile while severely depressed. To have to keep doing that in the place where I was trying to get help was really excruciating.

(I also personally think "How are you doing today?" is a useless question to start a session with because it's much too global. "What's happened since our last session" or "Have you been thinking about what we talked about last time, or do you have something new you want to bring up" would be better.)

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From: [personal profile] dorothean - Date: 2012-08-07 08:59 pm (UTC) - Expand

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twtd: (Default)

From: [personal profile] twtd


Really like both my psychologist and my therapist right now, and I think it's for the same reason (though expressed in different ways): honesty. They're both willing to talk through their thought processes with me. CBT tends not to work for me because I know what, I can evaluate those thoughts, know that they aren't rational, and know the steps to take in response to them, but the steps often just don't work. I need to know the why of things, which is never an easy question to answer, and my psychologist is really good at admitting that he just doesn't know why, but that he's curious too. Plus he's awesome at empathy, which yes, is obvious, but I empathy tends to just make me feel weird. Really, he's good at doing empathy in a way that works for me, and always willing to say, "that fucking sucks." I appreciate his bluntness because it cuts through all of the social niceties that I often just don't have the patience for or don't understand the point of. I don't ever think he's told me how sorry he is that my dad died, which I never know how to respond to and just makes me feel awkward. "That fucking sucks." Three best therapy words ever (for me).

My therapist is much more verbal, which is also great. She's willing to tell me what she's thinking and why she's thinking it as we talk. "Maybe it's this..." or "go with me here and tell me if this sounds right...." It's much more of a dialogue than any of my past therapy sessions have been, and some sessions she might actually talk more than me, because she's really interested in making sure that she's understanding what I'm saying. The constant checking and rephrasing give me confidence that she isn't misinterpreting me (which has happened before). And she's willing to admit when she doesn't know if something will work or not, and tell me roughly what should be happening if it is working. "Let me do some research." Second best set of therapy words ever.
kore: (Prozac nation)

From: [personal profile] kore


When I was a suicidal teenager (mostly for environmental reasons but I'd also been deeply depressed and highly anxious since I was about eight) my parents took me to a New Age therapist recommended by my mother's best friend who was a very bad fit for a whole host of reasons I won't go into here. (I don't think she was a psychiatrist or psychologist, or even had a M.S.W.) Our therapy didn't ever go really well, but she was the first therapist I'd ever had and I got pretty attached to her. For some reason, she had my mother come in (I think my mother might have demanded it after a while) and there was a truly disastrous joint session in which my mother and I had an out-of-control fight in front of her (this also happened when my mother and I went, very briefly, to family therapy). After that my mother started really disparaging the therapy ("I don't know why I'm paying someone forty dollars a week for you to tell them you hate me," &c &c) and shortly afterwards the therapist terminated the therapy with no warning or explanation: just, I think you don't need to come here anymore. To say I was shattered was an understatement. It was a looong time before I ever trusted another therapist again. (Much later I wondered if my mother had refused to keep paying for the therapy, but I knew if I asked her, she'd lie if she had, so that was out.)

Maybe this is too complicated a clusterfuck to be helpful, but I guess the takeaway might be something like "if you terminate treatment with a patient, be sure to give them a reason." Even a shitty made-up reason would have been better than nothing. I already had major trust issues to begin with, and having my first therapeutic experience basically confirm them was not good.

From: (Anonymous)


This can be unscreened; anyone who knows me will recognize it, but there's stuff in it I have a policy of not talking about in public zones with my name attached for various personal reasons.

. . .. uh. Unless its sheer LENGTH makes you think otherwise. Jaysus, self. -.-

First, things that various psych professionals have done wrong, because I've had more experience with them; some of them are super-personal, and I fully admit I am a hard patient/client/whatever to deal with. However:

- inform me that I cannot be $thing, because they have never seen me do $thing. I am unbelievably adept at behaving as if nothing is wrong and I am a totally normal and functional human being. The less comfortable I am, the more I will force myself to do this. I do not show, for example, autistic traits in front of people I don't feel safe around; I will flat and outright lie to people I don't feel comfortable around about how I am feeling and what's happened lately; and I will repress PTSD reactions to the point where four hours later I will quietly go be painfully and violently sick, because it comes out in my body. I am capable of doing all of this, but it's not healthy, it has a very limited timeplay before I have a screaming meltdown even I can't repress (although I will probably run away and hide/claim a physical illness/channel it through a physical illness before I show it to anyone). I feel exposed breaking down and crying in the living-room of my own house when there's nobody around: I will probably go hide in the shower with a locked bathroom door instead (again: the house is EMPTY, the door is already locked, etc, but I still need a smaller, more controlled environment).

This means that unless I have become super-comfortable in your presence, I will not SHOW YOU, willingly, any symptoms of my various Issues. I will happily tell you all about them at great length, but I will not display them. If I do get pushed to breaking down before I'm comfortable, you have just classed yourself as the enemy, and I will be even LESS comfortable around you than I was before I started crying in your office.

As a result of this, I went all the way to a suicide attempt without anyone noticing I was depressed, and then went another five years coping with depression, undiagnosed autism and burgeoning PTSD before anyone said anything about it. The tentative steps I made in that period to get these things identified were shut down by professionals informing me that since I was performing at high levels at uni, holding a job, had friend, etc, etc, etc, I was a totally functioning adult who had no problems and should stop self-sabotaging by thinking I did.

If it were not for the dedicated efforts and help of my totally untrained but rather more psychologically useful friends, I would be dead right now. And it sounds rather stupid insisting "but she couldn't've been depressed, she was so functional!" after someone's cut their own throat.


- push talk/cognitive therapy at me before medicating me. This is a very individual one, I know, but at the time it was being pushed at me "instead of" medication, talking/thinking things thru/etc ACTIVELY MADE THINGS WORSE. I would go away after having done the exercises/talk session/whatever feeling more self-loathing and suicidal than I had beforehand. I couldn't do it, it didn't work, and it became something else to fail at. What made the difference at that point was finding a med that worked so that I was physically capable of, you know, reading more than a paragraph through my brianfog, and being able to write coherently, and being able to even think about emotions without dissolving into a pile of wet tissue.


-ignore/challenge boundaries I had explicitly set. This is another personal quirk one, but it arises from the fact that I spent years of my life having my boundaries - especially emotional, but also physical ones, thank you interrupted attempted sexual assault and following helplessness - ignored, or told I was a selfish cow for having them, or that I was wrong about where they were/where they needed to be. The proper response to me saying "and if X happens, I will do X" is, in this case, at the most, "I hope you will someday feel comfortable enough to talk about X". It is not, in fact, "well this won't work if you're not willing to deal with X, because the entire point of this is dealing with X and if you won't deal with X you are just going to fail at this." This relates back to my first point about "I will not display these things to people I do not trust". My boundaries exist because beyond them I am harmed. I will enforce them. If how I enforce them is "fire you as my therapist", so be it. (If for some reason I was unable to, I . . . well, it would depend on how angry I was, but I have it on good authority I could be a nightmare patient if I set my mind to it.)


- probably THE most personal of the lot, but: present me with a blank, unreadable aspect. Firstly, I get super anxious if I cannot read people's reactions to me. Being unable to read people's intents or decipher their thoughts about me has invariably led to the most horrible and traumatic experiences of my life. I understand that for some people, this is actually a technique that works? this idea of not having a personal reaction of any kind to anything the patient says, and presenting this smooth mirror front of emotionless listening? I could even see how it might work, theoretically. For me IT'S A BIG SCREAMING TRIGGER.

Not only that, the culture/class/whatever you want to call it I grew up in? That's how women express disgust and anger for someone to whom, for some reason, they cannot say "you disgust and enrage me". You get very calm, polite, reserved and unreadable. It means "for professional/life reasons I must cooperate with you, and together we will agree not to make a big deal about this, but secretly I would be happier if I never had to look at you again."

Thus, when presented with it, I get a double trigger: firstly, I have no idea what someone is really thinking, and secondly, WHAT THEY'RE THINKING IS ALMOST CERTAINLY AWFUL. (I realize that logically, these two things sort of contradict each other. Believe me when I say that the part of my brain that's panicking doesn't care about logic other than its own special defensive brand.)

This was only reemphasized by the fact that the few times I threw her a serious curveball, I DID manage to see a very clear sense of " . . . . . . . " from the lady in question.


Then there are things various professionals have done right. MOST of these are my current psych, which is why she continues as my current psych, but others are spread around:

- be a human being. The professional boundaries are quite well-observed, but still, I have a sense that current!psych has a life outside her practice, and what kind of person she is in it, and how she relates to the world. This makes her a human being I can figure out how to communicate with. She was able to establish this with a tiny amount of small-talk on our first appointment which allowed me to relax and SHOW a number of the behaviours that actually demonstrate my issues, rather than having to present a pure public face. (This was also totally a test: I managed to relax enough, and then I was watching to see if she would pick things up/how she would interpret them. I am UNBELIEVABLY socially paranoid, and not easy to work with because of this, and I acknowledge that).


- assume that I am being as honest as I possibly can, that I have no intention of deceiving you, and that I am here because I want to get better. I realize this is not the case for all clients, and that some of them are better at self-deception than I am, but I am not them. I am here because I am fucked up. I would like to become less fucked up. I am, if anything, brutally honest - as long as I don't feel that honesty is going to be used as a tool to harm me. If I'm hiding something, it's not from me: it's from you, because I think you're going to hurt me with it.


- assume that I am a freaking grownup, and that I have lived in my head for quite a long time, and know more about my head than you do, even if you have the shiny degree and I don't. I might not know the WORDS, I might not know the REASONS, but if I say "when X happens, Y results" or "Q means V", it's because I have experiential reasons to say it, not because I'm making it up. I realize that there's stuff I don't know, and that I need help with, or I wouldn't be here, but I am not an empty-headed disciple for you to fix.


- listen to what I say, not what you want to hear/what you think would make more sense.


- interact with me as a complicated human individual, rather than a textbook case. I have a weird and twisted up conjunction of ASD, MDD, PTSD and Giftedness combined with a specific and rather unusual family background and all the lovely priming shit that was my childhood interaction with my peers. I won't look like what you learned in the classroom, or what you read about in this month's magazine. (I'd imagine few of your patients would - I don't think I'm that unusual in being Bloody Weird and Unexpected, so I think this one applies pretty broadly.)


- have spontaneous reactions to things I say. This one might be super-just-me, I don't know, but I genuinely feel more comfortable with my psych when she has a clearly-unscripted reaction to something I say. (the last best example was the expression of " . . . .wtfBWAH" and laughter at the point where I solemnly explained that I cannot use logic to talk MYSELF out of self-hatred spirals no matter HOW ridiculous and extreme and outright laughable, because I am always certain that I am lying to myself to make myself feel better.) It reassures my screaming paranoia that she is not carefully lying to/manipulating me to some unseen end.

(the thought "well maybe she's just THAT GOOD" has, in fact, arisen. It is countered by two things: one, I am really quite good at seeing that in people these days, and two, if she is that good, I'm fucked anyway, so I might as well just ignore that thought, it's not useful.)


- dealt with my weirdness. I tend, for example, to speak of the way that all my stuff interacts into a lump that can't readily be disentangled as "dragon-brain", because of . . . reasons. *waves hand* There is a way in which my brain interacts with the world that is totally internally consistent and predictable and does not match up with human norms. I explained this to current!psych and she took it in stride and it is now a useful bit of shorthand. Similarly, when I explained that I think in a combination of texture-colour-temperature-sound that amounts to an internal language that is only with DIFFICULTY translated into English, and thus sometimes I would flounder around with words or resort to "it's not sadness, it's a scratcy-electric-crazy-chaotic-blue-and-silver ball of STEEL WOOL in my HEAD", she took this in stride and moved on. (In contrast, last!psych kept insisting that I secretly meant "sadness" or "anger" or something that could be expressed in useful words, and I very nearly screamed at her.)


- accept and respect my boundaries when I declare them. Doing that is passing a test. If you're not willing to do that, no questions asked, then you are not a safe person and I cannot trust you. If you do, then I can start thinking about moving the boundaries around and opening myself up to things on the edge of "need to talk about this/this is going to hurt." My body, my brain, my rules.



. . . that incredible pile of word-spew is all I can think about right now. I have no idea if any of it is useful, but if it is, woo. :)
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)

From: [personal profile] oyceter


Bad: I think a lot of my not-great therapy experiences have been when it feels like the therapist is saying something that is more based on what they think than what I think. Or a kind of "hammer, therefore everything is nails" situation? Psych therapist did stints at a university, so she had a lot of stuff from the business school and was more into management and etc. than I was. CBT therapist had a very different view of the internet and internet interactions. Current couples therapist sometimes goes off on tangents re: breastfeeding or somatic therapy and etc. I don't think any of it is actually harmful, but it sometimes takes me a while to sort out the difference between "resisting the idea because it is scary" versus "resisting the idea because it doesn't work for me."

Also CBT therapist would often illustrate her points with stories from her own life, which kind of annoyed me because she was a generation older, more well off, and in types of social situations I might not be in.

I also always feel weird when my therapists praise me? I feel some of it is positive reflection, but I find it way more useful to me when it's something I come up with by myself. ("You're a very ethical caring person" vs. "That sounds very ethical and caring to me, what do you think?")

A really big therapy miss, though, was when social worker therapist diagnosed me with adjustment disorder due to breakup instead of listening to me say I'd been depressed for about two years by then. Psych therapist also took me at my word re: I didn't know if I had a genetic history of depression or anxiety. But then, she believed me re: depression and also poked around stuff with my mom a lot more, until we ended up armchair diagnosing my mom (I count this as a plus).

Good: CBT therapist was very good at pushing me. Sometimes it was at things I didn't necessarily want to do (i.e. the internet stuff), but some things, like setting more definitive boundaries with my parents and modeling what that would look like, or making me come up with statements about class to get over my own class anxiety, were INCREDIBLY HELPFUL. For class, I think therapist is the same class as my parents? I'm currently not sure where I am in terms of class shifting. I know it's CBT stuff, but having a script for certain things was really useful.

CBT therapist was good at pushing but was also good at hearing me talk about my therapy experiences, because a lot of times I would be feeling a lot of resistance. And she always made it clear that I had the option of seeing someone else if I felt this wasn't working out. This was esp. nice compared to grad school therapist, who I tried to break up with because I said I wanted more CBT, and she said, "I do CBT too! You don't feel like exercising? Tough, go exercise!" Me: "Thanks, but no thanks."

Not necessarily good or bad? It was weird seeing personal philosophy differences between me and CBT therapist and psych therapist, both of whom I think were more used to counseling people with more resources? I have a lot due to parents, but because it's due to parents, it's complicated, and sometimes I felt like they understood but didn't quite get the whole thing with "I am unemployed and have no insurance." That could be me projecting thought.
ambyr: a young girl with a creepy expression (Creepy)

From: [personal profile] ambyr


On a purely mechanical level, my last therapist (who did not have a receptionist to handle this sort of thing for him) would leave the bill set out on the side table for me to pick up when I entered the room. He never mentioned it was there or touched it in my presence. I found this weird and awkward--it felt like he was trying to minimize the role of money in our relationship. But, well, money is an important part of the therapist/client relationship. He's not my friend. He's someone I'm paying for services. It would have been much less awkward to me if he'd just started or ended the session by saying "By the way, here is your bill for last month" and handing it to me.

I dunno. Maybe other people liked it.

He was also reluctant to explicitly say "Our time is going to be up soon" or anything like that as we neared the end of the session. For the first several sessions, I ran things straight through the hour, so I was leaving just as his next patient arrived. Talking to other friends with therapists made me realize that the sessions were probably meant to be only fifty minutes long, so I asked him if that was the case. He said it was. I asked him why he hadn't told me I was running over, and he said he thought he had been sending cues that we needed to start wrapping things up. When...part of why I was there was because my reading of social cues is really, really bad.

It wasn't awful, because we got to talk about what those cues were and I got some new things to add to my lexicon of what other people's body language means, but it was awkward. In both cases, I think he thought he was being delicate; I felt like he was being deceptive. I really treasure bluntness. It would have made the space feel safer to me.
thistleingrey: (Default)

From: [personal profile] thistleingrey


A wrong thing: continuing to see someone (close friend--not me) despite doing zero work and seeming not to connect to the particular issues being "explored."
thingswithwings: dear teevee: I want to crawl inside you (a dude crawls inside a tv) (Default)

From: [personal profile] thingswithwings


A Right Thing: The very first thing my last therapist did, the first time we met, was talk to me about the form I'd filled out. She noticed that I'd written in that the form needed more gender and sexuality identity options (it was radio buttons, male/female, straight/gay/bisexual) and she asked me about it, and listened with a smile, and laughed when I made a sort of exaggerated joke, and promised to do something to get the form changed. As a queer person, even if you know or suspect that your therapist is queer-friendly, it's not always easy to break the ice on that topic or to know they'll be YOUR ally, and she really showed me that with just a little conversation in which she paid attention to what I'd said, took the opportunity to quietly show her queer ally flag, and promised to fix the problem. It immediately set me at my ease with her.
applewoman: (Default)

From: [personal profile] applewoman


I stopped seeing one therapist after she said about my husband, "I don't understand why a woman like you is with a man like him." This followed a brief discussion about my husband tending to be more politically conservative than I am. Now, I wasn't in therapy to discuss my relationship with my husband, which was (and remains) a very good relationship. I was in therapy to discuss the childhood abuse I'd survived, the aftereffects of which I was still sorting out. But when she made that comment about my husband, I realized several things: a) she didn't really understand me at all; b) she thought she understood me better than she actually did; and c) I was so mistrustful of her that I'd unconsciously been holding back from sharing anything really intimate. Luckily I was old enough and experienced enough with therapy to know that it was just a therapist mismatch, not something terribly wrong with my marriage. If I'd been younger and less sure of myself, I could've started thinking, wow, maybe I do have a bad relationship and I don't even know it!

But I've always hated someone telling me what they believe I'm thinking, so maybe I have a built-in defense against that sort of manipulation. That was one of the ways in which I was emotionally abused as a child: by the abuser telling me what I was thinking and then acting as if that was the truth, no matter what I said to the contrary. So therapists who assume they know what I believe or think without asking me first drive me UP THE WALL.
em_h: (Default)

From: [personal profile] em_h


This is a bit complicated and specific, but as someone with a deep and long-term engagement with a faith tradition, it really helps to have a therapist who is at least aware of what my faith teachings are, and can help me use them constructively. It REALLY DOES NOT HELP to have a therapist dismiss my faith or treat it as part of the problem, or to tell me that they refuse to discuss my faith in therapy.

Undoubtedly there are cases when a person's faith tradition is in fact almost wholly problematic, and they probably need to just get out. But there are certainly many, many more cases where it's all mixed up with pathology but not in itself a pathology, if you see what I mean, and in those cases knowing the tradition and being able to help the person see the lifegiving parts of it and disentangle the destructive parts can be really important. And there are also cases where it's one of the most livegiving things someone has, and it has to be respected as such.

Given that any therapist is bound to encounter people with deep faith engagements, this is worth thinking about. It may be too much to ask therapists to be familiar with the theological nuances of all the major religions, but it may be necessary to know at least something about all of them (and perhaps most of all, to know what's potentially *good* in all of them).
Edited Date: 2012-08-07 10:01 pm (UTC)
sara: Image of a round Celtic Cross (round cross)

From: [personal profile] sara


Heh. When having my intake interview with my current psychiatrist, she asked if I have ever experienced delusions, and one of the examples on her list was having the idea that God was talking to me.

I said well, I'm not sure; I have had experiences where I was convinced that God was directly interacting with me, but within the parameters of my subjective faith tradition, these sorts of things are, if not usual, certainly not unheard of. And I then described one of these experiences to her, and she concurred that no, I was probably not deluded, I was just religious. ;>
thefourthvine: Words. They're all we have to go on. (Words.)

From: [personal profile] thefourthvine


Okay, first, know this: I was, in my youth, the queen of gaming therapists. I spent an awful lot of time talking to all kinds of specialists and therapists, and I hated it. Starting somewhere around second grade, I started doing what I thought of as playing the therapy game; basically, I used techniques other therapists had used on me to draw my therapists out. This meant that by the time I was 12 I had listened to a therapist's hugely forbidden love for an 18 year old, I had heard about the marital issues of another therapist, I had nodded thoughtfully while a therapist processed her childhood experiences of bullying, I had a therapist talk through problems he was having with another patient; seriously, the list goes on. (In many cases, I barely understood what they were telling me. That is not an obstacle to mimicking active listening, fortunately.) My parents, when they finally learned this, were the exact opposite of thrilled to have paid so many people to tell me about their problems, let me just note.

I finally ended up with a therapist who generally called me on the games if I started them up. (Not always. But often. A lot of times I'd show up for a session to have her say, okay, what we did last session was inappropriate. She'd thought about it and realized I was playing her and fixed the problem! It was a lot harder to play a reflective therapist, at least long term.)

That therapist did a lot of good things. (And made mistakes. I'm not sure anyone can avoid that, in this job.) Here's a few off the top of my head:

The first time I started crying in front of her, I really, really cried. (I cry easily and don't stop well.) She handed me tissues. Then she said, "I feel like hugging you. Do you want a hug?" I said NO NO NO and she just went back to her chair and waited through the whole endless crying jag. I was a teenager. It was the first time anyone had asked me if I wanted a hug before hugging me, and it was so pivotal. Look, I don't even remember what I was crying about, but I still remember that she asked me first, because it taught me something really important: that I didn't have to let people comfort me the way they wanted if it wasn't what I wanted. (And given that I had also not yet learned that I didn't have to let everyone touch me however they wanted - key moment. For me. Doubt she thought twice about it.)

I saw a movie with a scene in it that really upset me. I came and said, "I'm upset about something minor. I can't stop thinking about it and it makes me cry for hours. But I can't tell you what it is because as soon as I start I'll cry and I won't be able to stop." I wasn't kidding, either. It took five sessions for her to find a way for me to tell her that didn't just devolve into hopeless, helpless, wordless crying. But she didn't give up because I didn't want to give up, and she tried endless weird shit in an attempt to find a way that I could tell her what was wrong. What impressed me about that was not her tenacity, but the fact that she kept trying new things, even things she didn't think would work. (The thing that finally worked was something neither of us thought had a chance in hell of helping.)

Later in our therapeutic relationship, when I was already with Best Beloved, my therapist came in one day and said, "I realized after last week's session that I've been undervaluing your relationship, acting as though it isn't as serious or important as it is. I'm sorry. That's my issue, clearly. I don't know why I've been doing that, and I'm working on it with my therapist. Do you want to talk about this with another therapist here? Or with me?" I was so impressed with that, and not the least because she figured that out before I did; I was only in the beginning stages of thinking there was something weird going on with that, and she'd already figured out what.

...Annnnnd I'm ending this here, although god knows I could go on. Good therapy! Bad therapy! I've had a lot of both.
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)

From: [personal profile] liv


I've only made one attempt at seeing a therapist, which was about trying to make sure that my mother's serious illness wasn't going to interfere with my ability to do my job. What she did right was to acknowledge that her style of communication and mine didn't mesh very well, and to make a serious attempt to match her way of working to something that suited me better than what came naturally to her. I was very much impressed by that. A small example was that when I asked her to turn off the soft, soothing music so that I could concentrate on the discussion, she acquiesced immediately and didn't make me feel as if I was insulting her by rejecting her ambience.

What she did wrong was to get upset by my giving a concise but direct account of the background of why I had decided to consult her. I would be surprised if a professional counsellor doesn't regularly hear things more shocking than "my mother has cancer and may die" but this therapist really gave the impression that I was horribly brutal for saying that outright rather than beating about the bush. She also tried to pressure me to cry during the session, which I found intrusive.
umbo: looking up at B-24 J engine (Default)

From: [personal profile] umbo


The worst was the therapist I met who, within five minutes of meeting me, told me I clearly had issues with intimacy and that if I chose to see her she'd be pushing me to get me to deal with them. Because she knew that about me after talking to me for five fucking minutes, and also, with the pushing, GAH. Just thinking about it pisses me off still, even though it was years ago.

I think the best was the way my (student) therapist in NH gave me a rock when she was graduating and therefor no longer going to be my therapist. It was apparently a tradition in that program, and she picked a specific rock (which I still have) and told me why she'd picked that one for me in particular. It was really cool. Also, she was honest with me about when she was having a hard time figuring out how to help me.

jelazakazone: man wearing tesla coil hat (tesla coil hat boy)

From: [personal profile] jelazakazone


Here via "network".

I probably have 20 billion thoughts about this that will all come out after I post this.

1. My most recent therapist was awesome. She did almost everything right. (She was very flaky and rescheduling with her would almost always result in her screwing that up, but she did actually recognize that it was a problem and worked to improve it.)

Perhaps M, my therapist, did narrative therapy, like you are talking about. She worked with themes and lots of metaphors. It worked brilliantly for me.

She established safety immediately. She was initially freaked out that a very good friend of mine had referred her, but we didn't talk about my friend J in sessions and it was fine.

She almost never revealed anything personal about herself. I sometimes felt a little unmoored by that, but in the end, I think it was very good. It was clear the focus was always on me.

She never let me weasel out of conversations that were necessary and she didn't let me whine. I am not sure how she managed the last.

She wanted to do an exit session (which has always made me nervous in the past), but when I told her that I was done, she was very open to it and I could see she wanted to be sure I felt secure and had systems in place to continue being healthy. That was incredibly reassuring. Sometimes I wonder if therapists want their patients to be ill so they have a continued source of revenue.

2. I only saw two other therapists. The first one was in college and it was so short, I'm not sure I could meaningfully comment. Also, I'm guessing that student health practitioners are so over-run, it's not even funny. I got put in a group for sex abuse survivors that was kind of inappropriate because while I'd been assaulted, I did not have horrible family stories and some of the stories being told were very traumatic for me to hear.

I saw an MSW a few years out of college and saw her for about six months. I don't feel like I got anything out of it. I am not even sure I got coping strategies from her. Also, I felt like, in the end, I was smarter than her and could evade the difficult topics that I should have been talking about.

Oh, I did see one other person for like three sessions. She was good for what I went for (strategies), but I think it's best if a therapist has more tools in their box.

M, the awesome therapist, could strategize with me if I really needed it, but that was not our primary focus.

As for identity issues, I am a twin and my therapist is not. Sometimes I felt like she would drag out that label a little too easily, but other times it was incredibly useful. I'd never had anyone understand that perspective before.

ETA: M, the awesome therapist, initially kept mentioning anti-depressants. I felt slightly badgered by that. It would have been one thing for her to ask once and then check in a month or six weeks later, but I seem to recall that she asked me the first three times I went. I feel like the first few sessions should be all about assessment and not trying to just throw drugs at problems, especially if someone comes in not wanting medication. (I tend to experience side effects to drugs, so I tend not to want to take them:))
Edited (adding more information) Date: 2012-08-08 12:53 pm (UTC)
jelazakazone: (beaded crane)

From: [personal profile] jelazakazone


ETA: Someone else mentioned a therapist being interest in their interests. This was enormously helpful with M. We would talk about my quilting and I would bring things in from time to time and she told me that it was helpful to her to see my creative work. It helped her understand me better. That was enormously validating.
sprat: an illustration of a girl posed in front of a cartoon alien  (Default)

From: [personal profile] sprat


I've only seen my current therapist a few times, but she's already done a couple of good things that might fit your criteria:

1) Her office has a rainbow flag sticker and a few small posters with feminist sayings on them (which might be bad news for some clients, but I really appreciated not having to spend any time or energy sussing out her views on those things).

2) I'm not comfortable with a lot of effusive praise or sympathy, and I associate this discomfort with social class -- I grew up in a poor neighbourhood, with people who were struggling, and so strength was prized above all else. Where I grew up, you don't praise people you respect because to do so makes remarkable a thing which should be taken for granted. You also don't sympathize because it's rude to point out you noticed how someone else is vulnerable.

I think my current therapist is coming from a really different background and I'm fairly certain her personally preferred mode of communicating is not much like mine, but within the first few minutes of our initial visit, she'd picked up on what's comfortable for me and had adjusted herself accordingly. Most therapists I've had have probably come from similarly different class backgrounds, but none has managed that particular adjustment as gracefully -- and some have tried to force me to adopt their norms, thinking my discomfort was related to low self-esteem and refusing to believe me when I explained it is not. (I know I've handled all the shit in my life pretty awesomely, considering! I do not need to pay someone to tell me that.)
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