Therapist Gives Others the Benefit of the Doubt

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Hello, I’m 33 and I’ve been with my psychotherapist for almost 10 years. She’s caring and insightful. When I talk about my own issues related to problems such as self-esteem and impulsiveness I often gain a great deal of understanding about myself. My issue occurs when I talk about problems involving others, in those cases she almost always gives the other person the benefit of the doubt. Here are some examples: a coworker and I had plans but she never answered the phone. I noticed that at 3am she posted, “having a great time” on facebook. A friend responded with a wink. She had been dating a coworker who also posted on his own page about having fun while out at the same time. When I confronted my coworker about standing me up she said she said she had awoken at that hour and posted that but had not been out. Clearly she was lying, but my therapist said it was possible she was being honest. Another example, a guy I dated texted me on a Wednesday about doing something over the weekend. I asked him what day but he never responded till Sunday telling me he had been sick. My therapist again posited he could have been honest. Another example: my sister was attracted to a guy I dated and commented that he must be really into me since he never checked her out. My sister and I have had lifelong issues about her demeaning me about my looks. My therapist saw nothing wrong with her catty comments. I felt so frustrated with my therapist doing this, not always but often, I’ve threatened to quit. First she responded that I negatives situations and she had been trying to help me with that approach. She’s big on my having “evidence” about situations before I make an assumption. This issue has nagged me so long, she finally said she would be mindful and try not to do it. I feel rage and resentment towards her at not being there for me when I’ve been legitimately upset with others. Also, I feel she’s being manipulative when she says if I quit to go to another therapist, the same issue will persist and so we need to work out our differences together. It’s true that I have tendencies to drop people instead of working out differences, but I’ve been with her for a long time, so I’m not certain the same issue applies here. I don’t trust her judgment and wonder if she’s super naïve or contrarian as a matter of course. I have anxiety when mentioning issues with others assuming she will automatically side with them. Do you think it’s time to get a new therapist or is it possible to move past this? I feel very attached to her but I’m not sure if it’s because we’ve been together so long, or because of her good traits.

A: Thank you for allowing me to respond to your concerns. What I find so interesting about your letter is that it seems to me you are feeling towards the therapist what you have been feeling toward others. Therapy, particularly in long-term therapy, it is common for some of the feelings that you are wrestling with outside to come into the therapy room. Your sentence: ‘I feel rage and resentment towards her at not being there for me when I’ve been legitimately upset,’ seems to merit exactly what you experienced in each of your vignettes. The coworker, your sister, and the guy you dated are all people you had a legitimate gripe with, and you have resentment toward them when they weren’t there for you when you were legitimately upset. In other words I think it’s time for you to talk to your therapist about the commonality of these feelings. The therapeutic environment can allow you to encounter this issue with your therapist with the hope of working it through.

My experience is that when there is such a powerful pull to leave, it is probably time to see how the issue in therapy reflects issues in your life.

Of course, if you do this and don’t feel it is resolvable or workable with your therapist then you may want to move on. But my strong suggestion is to bring all this forward first.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 Mar 2014

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2014). Therapist Gives Others the Benefit of the Doubt. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/03/17/therapist-gives-others-the-benefit-of-the-doubt/

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