Whenever one begins to challenge the established, mainstream ideas and practices in any area of life, one will always encounter fierce criticism, which often turns into personal attacks, from those who are invested, either emotionally or financially or both, in maintaining the status quo.
I have been a target of such criticism, which included personal attacks, quite often and, I think, it is time for me to address the major arguments that my opponents present to delegitimize my views. There are three of them, three major oppositional points I keep hearing over and over again.
Here they are:
1. “She’s had a bad experience in therapy and now she judges the entire profession based on her experience. This is generalization. Just because she has encountered some bad therapists doesn’t mean all therapists are bad.”
2. “She is one of those who haven’t worked through their own issues in therapy and who are now blaming their therapists for their failures.”
3. “She has not taken responsibility for her own choices and puts the entire responsibility for her harmful experience on her therapists.”
I’ll take on each “talking point” one by one starting with the first accusation of “generalizing”.
This is a “straw man” argument because it argues the point I have never made.
I have never made a conclusion based on my bad experience that “all therapists are bad”. What I have been criticizing is the current system of professional training and practice, which uses a lot of outdated theories unsubstantiated by scientific research.
Any system embraced by the majority of people it contains will cultivate certain attitudes based on the beliefs the system propagates and teaches. As such, the traditional system of psychotherapy training and psychotherapy practice has cultivated certain attitudes among professionals that are not only not helpful but can and often do hurt many people. Does that mean that all professionals who subscribe to the tenets of their professional theories are bad people? Not at all. All it means is that they operate with ineffective, inadequate and, sometimes, harmful tools because those are the only tools they were given during their training years.
The second argument about me and other people, who dare to criticize the system, suggests that we haven’t done our personal work and that we blame therapists in order to avoid taking responsibility for our own issues. This kind of argument is a pure ad hominem personal attack, plain and simple. It is the most popular manipulative tactic designed to divert the attention from the substance of the matter to the personalities of the opponents. The intention behind ad hominem attacks, just as behind other attempts to manipulate the conversation, is to appeal to emotions instead of reason. Emotions are powerful and easily manipulated, unfortunately, that’s why ad hominem attacks and other manipulations commonly known as logical fallacies come up in discussions over and over again.
In my experience and in my opinion, a lot of people, who were harmed in therapy, myself included, have done more of their personal work than those who accuse them of not having done any. They kept giving therapy a chance over and over again and continued to work on themselves DESPITE the fact that their therapists weren’t helpful. If they hadn’t been motivated to do the work from the beginning, they wouldn’t have stuck with therapy for as long as they did despite all the harmful effects they were getting. They have given therapy more than its fair shot, and if the process didn’t work for them, it is certainly not for the lack of trying on their part.
Those, who continue to accuse dissatisfied consumers of not being motivated to do the healing work, intentionally dismiss all the findings of neuroscience and other research done in the past several decades that suggest that traditional psychotherapy methods are, at best, ineffective for working with many people with trauma history. (Read more here “The Difference Between Psychology and Psychotherapy” ).
Lastly on this subject, the type of accusations discussed above are not an acceptable argument, as they have no factual basis. There is no way for anyone to know whether I or anyone else have done our personal work or not or to estimate how much work we have done. Baseless personal accusations are not only unacceptable as a legitimate argument in a debate but also insulting. I do not engage with people who make them, as I consider their tactic a personal attack that has no other purpose but a) to distract from the substance of the discussion and b) to insult.
The third argument suggests that I and other people, who hold their therapists and the entire profession responsible for harming them, haven’t taken responsibility for the choice to stay in harmful situations.
There is a number of reasons why people get stuck in situations that are destructive and that do not help them in any way or why they get into those situations in the first place. This subject is huge. It deserves not only a separate article, but a whole educational campaign, because it involves not only victims of bad therapy, but victims of domestic violence, rape and all kinds of abuse and mistreatment. I am not going to expand into all those areas in this article because this goes outside of the message I want to convey here.
What I am trying to explain here is that, in terms of assigning responsibilities, the reasons why people don’t leave unhealthy relationships and situations don’t matter and it also doesn’t matter whether they take responsibility for the choice to stay or to to leave. Just because the person chose to stay with the abusive therapist doesn’t make the therapist’s behavior any less reprehensible and doesn’t make the therapist any less responsible for their actions. Similarly, just because a woman chooses a wrong type of men to date doesn’t make a man who rapes her any less responsible for the rape, or just because people choose to stay with abusive partners doesn’t make their partners any less responsible for their abusive behavior. The list of analogies can go on and on, but you got the point.
Everyone’s actions need to be judged on their own merit, and minimizing or dismissing the wrongdoing of one person on the basis that the other person could have or should have made a better choice is unacceptable and ignorant.
And, in cases when therapists don’t do anything unprofessional or unethical but still harm clients by using ineffective or harmful methods, the full responsibility for all emotional damage caused as a result falls squarely on the system of professional training and education, as well as the entire mental health community, who, by ignoring the systemic flaws, becomes complicit in perpetuating harm. In those cases, no part of responsibility can be put on a consumer, because they have no choice but to use the existing system.
I have mentioned in other posts that it is not my intention to condemn the system. I understand very well that, as flawed as it might be, it is still better to have it than not to have it until we build something better to replace it. I understand that many people are still better off receiving mental health services, even under the current system, than not getting any help at all. I also understand that the system is a complex and diverse entity that contains a big variety of types of services and practitioners, and that such diversity makes it possible for many people to have good experiences with the system without any harmful side effects.
My criticism of the system is not that it doesn’t have any capacity to help. From my own experience I know it does. My criticism is that its capacity to harm and the existing evidence of harm it is doing to many people is significant enough to be taken seriously, but it is not being taken seriously. Those who don’t accept the fact that many people get harmed by the system are stuck in the dualistic a.k.a “black-and-white” type of thinking when they believe that pointing out what doesn’t work is akin to saying that nothing works. This is yet another logical fallacy that fails to grasp the reality that positive and negative qualities and occurrences can and do co-exist within the same system.
At this time, it is impossible to accurately estimate a ratio of positive vs. negative therapy experiences. This is not the reason to dismiss the overwhelming anecdotal evidence of negative therapy outcomes by attributing those to people “not doing the work” and “not taking responsibility for their choices.” After all, if we want to insist on legitimacy of the existing therapy methods, then we should welcome critical inquiries and scientific scrutiny instead of suppressing them. We should encourage the broad public conversation that would discuss the current mental health research and the current state of affairs in the mental health field, and, most importantly, consumers of mental health services should occupy a big space in that discussion, because, after all, the system was created for THEIR benefits, which makes THEM the best judges of its efficacy.