A Letter to The Cautious Survivors of Bad Therapy
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably experienced a situation in counseling that was uncomfortable or distressing to say the least. You listened to yourself, knew that therapy could and should help, took the leap of faith to open up to a professional, and ended up getting burned. So, you’re still coping with the situation that brought you to therapy in the first place, PLUS now having to make sense of what happened with your last therapist, AND also having to worry about leaning in and trusting again with someone brand new.
Just like everything else in life, therapy sometimes doesn’t go as planned.
It doesn’t have to be a major ethics violation to have impacted you like this. Assumptions, lack of communication, crossing boundaries, not being believed, etc. – it all still hurts the same. And if it was a situation serious enough for an agency, board, or court to take action, you might be navigating another layer of added trauma from enduring that process too. And if you were brave enough to report but were then ignored, trivialized, humiliated, or disbelieved, that added trauma is real and painful as well!
Bad therapy can bring about shame and self-criticism, make you question of your own perceptions, increase hopelessness, cause backsliding from hard-won gains, and foster fear and avoidance of trust and relationships.
You realize you still need help, and on top of that, you may be worried that the tentativeness you’ve been left with from last time will be read as a clinical issue – when it’s not. Hesitation after injury is normal and your caution makes sense.
You’re wondering if another therapist will even be able to help you make sense of a traumatic or confusing experience. That’s is totally logical after your last try ended the way it did.
Trusting a therapist is brave decision – and it should be a safe one!
Please, hear me when I say this… your instinct to seek support the first time was a good one. That said, when your sense of safety gets injured in this very personal way it’s hard not to generalize that all therapy is traumatizing. If you’re feeling this way, don’t judge yourself – that’s just your mind working to protect you as you test the waters again.
It’s important to be able to have confidence in yourself again. After a big trauma, it could feel like you’re on high alert even just thinking about therapy. As a new relationship forms, you’ll be able to see the signs of safe and supportive counseling.
We each have our personal green lights and red flags, but these are the hallmarks of a safe therapeutic relationship:
- Open, honest, direct and transparent. You have a right to know what your therapist perceives your challenges to be and what their plan is to support you.
- Resilient to ruptures. It is healthy to sometimes experience conflicts in therapy. What matters is that space is made to move through and mend them together.
- Respectful of your culture and identity. You have a right to be you without needing to explain who you are or have important pieces of yourself questioned or pathologized.
- Never manipulate, exploit, or gaslight. This one should go without saying, but unfortunately this happens and shouldn’t.
- Consistent and clear boundaries so you’re not left guessing. Therapy can be deeply caring, warm, authentic, and transformative without blurring lines.
Not all growth has to be uncomfortable.
I’m not going to assume that something is wrong with you because of what you’ve been through and its impact on you. In fact, I have a personal and professional passion for supporting clients who are navigating the aftermath of distressing therapy.
In our work together, I won’t make assumptions about your apprehensions with therapy because I know I have to earn your trust. Together, we’ll honor your story, mend what got hurt within you, and foster your self-reliance and voice going forward. I want you to feel safe in therapy/healthcare relationships as well as within friendships, in family, and at work.
There are no demands on you to bust down walls for the sake of my comfort or expectations – you’re the one with the wisdom on how that process unfolds in our work together. I will expect you to speak and participate, of course, but you get to listen to your inner wisdom and choose what you share and at what pace.
You don’t always have to share something super deep for discoveries and change to happen. Surprise! – we can gain just as much insight by encouraging conversation about a positive experience as by forcing you to delve into all the negative stories.
Take some time, be gentle, and check in with yourself. When you feel ready, please reach out. This round can be different.