Re: looking for 2nd opinions and comments
Date: February 06, 2010 12:40AM
Well, 30 views and no one has said anything. Which is OK, I just wanted to see what people had to say without my possibly leading them towards a certain opinion with my account of the total experience.
So here’s the backstory. I had two specific issues I wanted to work on: anticipatory grief re: the death of someone close to me, and some residual anger from a workplace bullying situation that occurred about a year and a half before.
I talked to my family doctor about getting a referral to a therapist. Through what would appear to be all the proper channels, I got a referral and made an appointment. Things seemed OK for the first 4 sessions (though looking back on it there were some tiny red flags). Then in between sessions 4 and 5, my new relationship with a man started to go off the rails.
I never intended for my relationship to become the focus of therapy, but I happened to be upset about it on the day of one of my sessions. I was planning to break off the relationship as my gut instinct was basically screaming at me to get out. But it was like my therapist swooped in for the kill. She persuaded me to stick with the relationship, give the guy another chance and so on. She was pretty dismissive of my concerns, and even at the time I was surprised at how willing she was to make excuses for a man she didn’t know at all and whom I’d only known a couple of months. But I was upset and vulnerable, and already trusted her a bit because the earlier sessions had been OK, so I went along.
So for sessions 6-10, which were two weeks apart, so a period of 2-3 months, this was the cycle: I’d get hurt in the relationship, talk to the therapist about it, she’d push me to stick with it, the guy would behave a little better for a bit so it would seem like the therapist had been “right”. Then I’d get hurt again. And while all this was happening, the therapist kept digging for more dirt on my family history, etc. And then – surprise (not) – at session 10, right before she left on three weeks’ vacation, she recommended that I get into long-term therapy (no indication of exactly how long) to “deal with all my sh!t” once and for all and (presumably) be happier. That’s when I started to get a clue, because I’d never intended to get into long-term therapy and I immediately recognized that she was hardly impartial as this recommendation meant thousands in potential income for her.
Also, I got hurt by the guy I was seeing AGAIN, which finally smacked me into reality. That relationship ended, painfully, and while she was on vacation I left her a voicemail message telling her that I was quitting. When she got back she left me the message I quoted above.
That account makes it sound simple but the experience of it was really quite nuts. I felt confused and mentally strained the entire time. I was living on my nerves, frequently on the edge of panic, and was uncharacteristically passive. I didn’t trust my own judgement and felt miserable and started to think I was more screwed up than I realized. Sound familiar?
Because I needed to understand what the hell had been happening in those sessions, I started reading up on psychology, psychotherapy, etc, and I started looking into the therapist’s background very carefully. The upshot is: She’s a proponent of Gestalt therapy and was totally doing it on me, with a few manipulation/mind control techniques thrown in. She took advantage of my vulnerability to push her agenda of doing her favourite type of therapy on my dime. She never disclosed that she uses a Gestalt approach – or any approach really – so I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Here’s a sample of what was going on:
"Here and Now" - This big in Gestalt, just focusing on whatever you are experiencing in the present moment. Which doesn't seem so unreasonable, IF both therapist and client are on the same page about it. But it manifested itself as the therapist not really attempting to remember what we'd talked about from one session to the next, or keeping the basic facts of my situation straight. And I naively assumed that she was at least trying to keep the facts straight. So it was a big mess because I was dealing with an ongoing situation and she was just responding to whatever I'd said a moment ago with no regard for context. It explains why so many of her comments and perspectives didn't really fit or were "off".
Reversal Exercise - To me this felt like every session was Opposite Day. No matter what was on my mind, she'd pressure me to consider the opposite. I sometimes joke that even if I'd told her I pay off my credit cards every month, she'd pressure me to go into debt.
Empty Chair – This is where you pretend that a person is sitting in the empty chair next to you and tell them whatever’s on your mind. I did pick up on this as some sort of technique but I never really bought into it. Every time she'd try to get me to do it, I'd just make a face like it was too stupid. That didn't stop her from trying again though.
Body Awareness - This might have another name. She'd interrupt me to ask randomly what sensations I was experiencing in my body at that moment. I never really had a lot to say, since I wasn't having any physical reactions, and I always wondered where she was coming from with that. It was never anything I brought up or was concerned about.
Not everything she did was Gestalt though. She was also just pushing her own agenda. E.g. When I told her I felt “mentally and emotionally exhausted” her response was “That’s because you’ve been doing a lot of work (i.e therapy work)”. Strictly speaking a Gestalt therapist, like any other therapist, isn’t supposed to decide for you why you are feeling anything at all. Of course I don’t think it’s a coincidence that her explanation also supported the idea that my therapy was going well, so more of it must be better!
What’s especially galling is that even Gestalt proponents acknowledge that there are no standards for Gestalt training or practice, not much hard evidence that it’s an effective therapy, and that Gestalt training alone is not enough to make someone a qualified therapist (additional, mainstream training in psychology, etc is recommended, which on paper this therapist has). So a Gestalt therapist could be really good, or a total whackjob, and there’s no good way to know in advance which one your therapist is.
This all happened a year ago. I’ve filed a complaint with her regulating agency but at this time the decision of the discipline committee is still pending. Fortunately I have some hard evidence that supports my claims but I don’t know how it’s all going to pan out. Next time I see my family doctor I will definitely tell him that the chain of referrals that started with him led me to disaster, just to give him a heads-up. I can’t really blame him for this outcome as there were a couple of intermediaries involved; he didn’t refer me directly to this therapist. I’ve also filed complaints with the intermediaries, who fully claim to have screened the therapists they recommend. They are funded by the government in my jurisdiction to do so, it’s all supposed to be on the up-and-up, so they do have a lot to answer for.
On the personal side, well, I’m still dealing with this. I have some of the after-effects that ex-cult members report having. I’m not in crisis, but I’m angry that this happened to me and angry that I’m still not recovered. It was bad enough sticking in a bad relationship with someone who didn’t treat me well and then kicked me to the curb, but to have a therapist manipulate you into doing so, and generally f*ck with your head for her own advantage – that’s messed up and it cost me. I have far less regret about the money I spent on this crap therapy – about $1000 – than I do about not trusting myself to make my own decisions and to act on all the red flags that were practically poking me in the eye.
I suppose I’m looking to this board for support. It’s not an easy thing to discuss as many people assume any therapy is good therapy, and if you were seeing a therapist in the first place that proves how screwed up you are so your judgement can’t be trusted anyway. (A bit blame-the-victim, if you ask me.) I did see another therapist briefly to discuss this, and while she was certainly better than the first, she couldn’t accept that I had had a BAD therapist. She kept seeing it as just a matter of the wrong ‘fit’. Since then I’ve been coping with it pretty much on my own.