Increasing Confidence After Bad Therapist

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

For 2yrs. I worked very diligently with a therapist to address post traumatic stress disorder issues, severe anxiety, and an eating disorder (anorexia)(all the result of childhood sexual abuse, an alcoholic and untreated mentally ill mother, and controlling/abusive and then absent father). During the first yr. the therapist provided positive support and guidance. However, during the second year the therapist routinely nodded off during sessions, forgot important life and family details, joked about sensitive topics, and criticized my choices (such my decision to have more family support to help prevent unhealthy isolation and lack of eating. The therapist wanted me to avoid my family, even those member who support me and care about me, as a way to “maintain boundaries”). After several months of clearly stating what the therapist was doing that was causing upset, asking specifically for more positive encouragement and respect, and trying to discuss the problems between us (but with no resolve because the therapist wouldn’t acknowledge or discuss anything “It (the upset) is no big deal”)I finally had to stop our work. In our last session I told the therapist all of the reasons why things weren’t working but the therapist stated that I was the one “misinterpreting things” and “running away” from therapy.

Now I’m devastated. I KNOW I’ve worked hard to address and change unhealthy choices, ask for help, process very tough emotions, and despite all the pain from my history, I’ve maintained an open mind and hopeful spirit towards healing and building happiness in my life. However, this therapist said many things that hurt me, reduced my self-confidence, and has caused a lot of self-doubt. Any further communication or interaction with this counselor wouldn’t be helpful (I definitely tried that route). I’m wondering how do I stop feeling like a complete failure, rebuild my self-confidence, and move forward?

A. Nobody can “make” you feel anything. Feelings emanate from us and are produced by us. People can say things that uncover feelings that you might already hold about certain personal issues but no one can “make” you feel anything. The therapist may have purposely brought up issues that he or she knows that you struggle with as a way to hurt you. The therapist may have done this because you confronted him or her and he or she felt threatened or offended. If that is what the therapist did then his or her actions would have been wrong and unethical. It is difficult to know for certain what happened in the relationship since I have very little information.

You saw the therapist for two years and felt that you were helped. You worked very diligently during this process and things improved for you. Then you believed that you were receiving bad advice and you told your therapist what you thought. The therapist disagreed with your perception of the situation and you made the choice to end therapy. Who was right? Consulting other therapists would resolve that question.

Keep in mind that when you begin to explore deep and difficult issues in therapy, it is not uncommon for the client to become resistant and want to avoid the topic. It is possible that the therapist exposed a very sensitive issue and you became defensive and felt the therapist was attacking you. Because it is difficult to know who was correct in this situation, it might be helpful to consult multiple therapists and gain their opinion.

Your main question is related to how you can stop feeling like a failure and how can you rebuild your life and move on. It would be helpful if you knew if you made the correct choice when you ended therapy and that starts with getting objective opinions from other therapists. If you learn that you were wrong when you ended therapy then knowing that information would be helpful if you chose to begin therapy with a new therapist. If you learned that you were right then you’d know that you had the self-confidence, strength and the courage to end the therapy when you thought it was harmful for you to continue. Learning the truth about this situation may help you move forward.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Dec 2008

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2008). Increasing Confidence After Bad Therapist. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/12/08/increasing-confidence-after-bad-therapist/

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