Many times I’ve been contacted by people, who were currently in therapy and wanted to know if their therapists were doing the work competently and/or ethically. Such questions arose out of concerns about the specific actions or non-actions made by the therapists that didn’t seem consistent with what people believed the normal therapy process should entail.
Many of those, who contacted me, were confused about their therapists’ methods and had mixed feelings about their therapy. They felt they were helped in some way, that they gained some useful insights about themselves and their current life struggles. They also felt understood by their therapists in the way no one else could understand them. At the same time, they were puzzled and often upset by some of the therapists’ actions that were hurtful and didn’t make sense. Read more about what specific things that therapists do often are actually not helpful to clients.
The most frustrating thing of all, as they reported, was not being able to discuss their concerns with the therapists in a constructive manner, when the concerns would be heard and taken seriously and the solutions would be discussed. The therapists would get defensive every time their methods were questioned and the concerns about those methods were expressed and they would immediately shift the focus from discussing the concern itself to discussing where the client’s “perceptions” might come from thus implying that the problem wasn’t real and that it existed only in the client’s imagination. This manipulative tactic of “gaslighting” or crazy making used to avoid taking responsibility for one’s actions, this refusal to acknowledge that the therapist’s behavior might, in fact, have created obstacles to the client’s progress was the major cause of emotional distress for many people, who have told me their stories. Read more on “gaslighting” here.
The typical questions they asked me were: “Is my therapist ethical? Is s/he competent? Is s/he abusing me? Does s/he know what s/he is doing? Is s/he supposed to do A, B, C..(whatever the case was)? Is this or that normally done in therapy? How do I address my concerns with my therapist? Is it my fault that I am not getting better? Am I doing something wrong? Am I supposed to feel this way in therapy?”All those questions revealed great confusion about what therapy is or should be and what is and isn’t supposed to happen in that process.
The confusion is perfectly understandable. Why wouldn’t people be confused if there is virtually no available and easily accessible information about the realities of the therapy process, its nature, methods, ethics, laws and, most importantly, the rights of consumers? There are numerous websites, forums and other online sources, where all kinds of psychological problems, psychiatric diagnoses and various treatments are discussed at length, but all that info, as interesting it may be to muse over, has very little to do with the actual real experience of a consumer dealing with the mental health system, whether it’s a one-on-one work with an individual practitioner in private practice or with a group of professionals in the organizational settings.
Psychotherapy is a very unique service, but it is still a service and, therefore, the rights of its consumers should be protected, and the very first right of the consumers of any service is the right to be informed. If you are a psychotherapy client, demand information related to your specific problems and to the therapy process. Demand this information from your therapist, from the licensing boards and from the mental health professional organizations, because, unless you take an active role in your own care, nothing will change and you will remain in the dark, confused, “gaslighted” and feeling like the lack of progress in therapy is entirely your fault, which it isn’t.