Recovering from a Bad Therapy Experience
Trust is important in any relationship, but it is especially critical in your relationship with your therapist, and it can be hard to recover from a bad therapy experience when that trust is broken. Therapy requires allowing someone we barely know to access our deepest fears and insecurities and trusting that they will treat this information with respect and sensitivity. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and receive empathy and understanding from our therapists, therapy can be healing and fulfilling. When we feel unseen, invalidated, or misunderstood after sharing deep parts of ourselves, it can open emotional wounds and make us feel even worse. A bad therapy experience might even turn us off to the whole idea of therapy, but if we never try again, we might miss out on a transformative relationship that allows us to achieve our goals and live happier lives.
Feeling Guarded After My Last Bad Therapy Experience
My experience with my last therapist wasn't a positive one. I went into my last therapy experience with an open mind. I wanted to allow myself to accept feedback even if it was hard to hear. I came in ready to trust my new therapist, so I brushed off the invalidating comments she made to me, deciding I must have been reacting out of defensiveness or not being clear with her. Still, I often left sessions feeling frustrated, invalidated, and misunderstood.
When I tried to address these feelings with her, she responded with statements that made me realize that she and I were not a good match, and I let her know the relationship wasn't working for me. I regretted opening up to her and replayed sessions in my head for months, feeling hurt and angry every time I thought about the way things went.
I haven't been seeing a therapist for a year now, and I regret waiting so long to try again. I have a degree and two years of experience myself in mental health counseling, but even I felt turned off to the idea of therapy after such profound disappointment. I know that sometimes it takes a few tries to find the right therapist, but I still was afraid to risk making myself vulnerable only to be let down again. After a year, I'm starting with someone new this week.
Finding the Right Therapist for You
Therapy is an intimate experience, so it is important to feel safe and understood by your therapist. Like any other relationship, some people just click better than others. If you start therapy and are feeling like your therapist isn't hearing you, you can and should speak up about it. Communicate your feelings and concerns.
Sometimes it's simply a matter of needing a different approach or style, or sometimes you just need to clarify what it is you hope to gain from therapy. If your therapist is a good fit for you, he or she will be receptive to your feelings about the relationship and work with you on fixing the problem. If you speak up and don't feel that your therapist understands your concerns, it may be a sign that you aren't a good match, and it is completely normal to say so. You have to feel safe and understood in therapy to make progress.
For more information about mental health counseling, visit these links:
- "Mental Health Counseling: How it Works, Benefits"
- "Types of Mental Health Counselors: Finding a Good One"
- "Free Mental Health Services and How to Find Them"
Have your experiences in mental health counseling/therapy been mostly positive or negative? What do you look for in a good therapist? Have you had a bad therapy experience? Let me know in the comments.
Sabatello, J. (2021, May 10). Recovering from a Bad Therapy Experience, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/relationshipsandmentalillness/2021/5/recovering-from-a-bad-therapy-experience
Author: Juliana Sabatello
I recently went back to therapy after a long period of time; I'd had poor experiences with therapists when I was younger. People in this country really don't want to deal with people who are experiencing suicidal ideation - the suicide hotline told me to go to therapy, and then my therapist told me to call the suicide hotline - it was like a never ending cycle where I felt like I was being passed from person to person who didn't want to deal with me.
My most recent therapist abruptly dumped me after I'd been seeing her for a year and a half. There had been some red flags that I wish would have caused me to end it before - she talked about her past traumas, her life and her problems a lot during sessions, told stories about her other patients (I know that's illegal and a HIPAA violation), would frequently interrupt me or dismiss things I said and subjected me to EMDR but I don't think she did it right (we never reprocessed the traumatic memories and the first EMDR session where I was so emotionally distraught at the end, the following session she said she "forgot" to help me compartmentalize it so I felt like garbage for days). She also told me that once she had done EMDR on herself, which seemed very dangerous and amateurish to me.
Our final session ended badly and was very abrupt. She told me, out of nowhere, that I was getting worse and she couldn't help me anymore (this after coming up with a list of goals the previous week and giving me worksheets to fill out, which I did). She forgot things I had repeatedly told her about my previous experiences with therapists, dismissed my traumatic experience I'd had being hospitalized and told me I was "overreacting" and "irrational" regarding my father's physical abuse. She also dismissed the financial issues I was having and implied that poor people are poor because it's their own fault and they're being lazy (as someone who grew up poor, this is absolutely not true and such a stereotype). She told me to either take antidepressants (which I'd had a horrible experience with and told her from the beginning I was not interested in taking) or she could no longer see me. I left feeling incredibly insulted and degraded. I doubt I will go back to therapy again.
I just left a therapist who yelled at me and told me on three separate occasions that "We (men) can hit you (women)." It escalated to "We can beat you up, and there is nothing you can do about it." He knew that I had experienced domestic violence, but he continued to say these. I confronted him, asking if perhaps he had an unconscious hostility toward me, but he never gave a reason why he continued to say these things. I feel heartbroken.
I called the state licensing board to see if any complaints had been filed against him, wondering if I was the only client he treated this way. At one point he said, "I think you have sexual feelings toward me." I let this go on for eight years, thinking that maybe it would get better. By the time I left, I was totally re-tramatized. This man is a training analyst and prominent therapist. I just couldn't believe he was doing anything wrong until I consulted with another therapist about the hitting remarks. The new therapist considered his behavior abusive.
It will take a long time for me to process everything that happened. After I wrote to him that I was leaving, his final bill was $75/hour less than before I told him he was unethical. Apparently, along with everything else, he was billing my insurance company for $300/hour. I feel completely violated.
Like you I tried to tell the therapist it wasn’t going to work. I didn’t want to do group therapy after spilling my guts out to her in one to one appointments. A year followed of me trying to quit but being overruled. When I did finally quit the therapist shook her head at me. I’ve spent five years trying to understand what happened and why it would be so hard to escape. My conclusion is that it’s pretty much built into analytic therapy that some will be harmed, they don’t advise of this upfront and the casualties are just the price of doing their business. After the fact they like to say “therapy isn’t for everyone.” Which is the added insult to injury. I look at the world very differently now. I trust people almost not at all. I can hardly bare to think about how I feel. It’s all messed up now.
I had a very difficult experience with a therapist. After working with her for a couple of months, she delayed booking a new session and then when I did go in, she started our time together by telling me that I do not seem to like her and why do I keep coming back? She told me I was dismissive of all her ideas, that she did not know how to build rapport with me, and that she did not know what else she had to offer me.
I was flabbergasted and felt two feet tall; that somehow, even though I had been honest and engaged with everything we had discussed in our time together, I had said all the wrong things. It ended up triggering deep fears of rejection and being judged and I had a panic attack right there while she watched.
I really relate to what you said about replaying sessions in your head. I absolutely feel unseen, misunderstood and invalidated. Experiencing her judgement and questioning in that vulnerable situation was extremely painful and, I think, traumatic.
I had a terrible experience with a therapist. I started seeing after being sexually assaulted. I had made a police report and they had charged the guy and so there was an ongoing criminal case. My therapist didn’t like a decision the judge had made on the case so she went to her own attorney (without my knowledge or consent) and got him to investigate the judge after telling him all about me (including many identifying details).
This therapist also ignored and invalidated suicidal ideation I was having. I told her in a session I wanted to die and had a plan. She responded with “I don’t want to talk about that.” She then flatly refused to discuss anything regarding suicidal ideation with me again, didn’t assess me for risk and later made fun of me for it, calling me “delusional” “crazy” etc.
She also was chronically late, sometimes up to 25mins late. She never arrived earlier than 10 minutes late. She also often had her daughter interrupt our sessions to bring her McDonald’s or coffee or whatever.
More than once she spent the entire session telling me about her problems. I know all about her various trauma’s, her political and religious beliefs, her negative religious experiences, her child’s bully etc. Once she even became “triggered” in a session and I had to become the therapist and take care of her.
The last session we had she didn’t approve of a decision I made about my life (that had nothing to do with therapy). She started yelling at me calling me “delusional,” “unfixable,” “selfish,” “damaged,” etc.
I’ve since found out I’m not the only one she’s done this to. I’ve heard about similar incidents from other clients of hers and I know quite a few therapists in the area are refusing to work with her because of behavior like this. I filed a complaint with the state licensing board (and tried to with the national accreditation board she claimed to be licensed by but in doing so found out that she wasn’t nationally accredited and was just saying that) but I’m not sure if anything will come of it. She is unbelievably dangerous and damaging and shouldn’t have a license. The terrifying thing is that she’s very well known in the city I live in and well known nationally within the eating disorder and trauma fields.
I am so sorry you had that experience. It sounds like she violated many ethical and legal practices of therapy in the way she worked with you and others. I hope something comes from the complaints against her to the state because she can do some serious damage to the people she sees with that type of behavior. I hope you were able to find someone better to help you with your trauma. Thank you for sharing your story.