I hear it all the time.
Story after story from folks who contact me because they need therapy help but are super hesitant to move forward and schedule a first session – let alone several sessions after that (assuming we “gel”) because they’ve been burned by a past therapist.
With nearly 15 years under my belt of helping individuals, couples, and families through therapy (dating all the way back to my trainee newbie days) I’ve got quite a collection of these stories at this point.
Some sound like innocent misunderstandings while others sound downright unethical and despicable.
The one thing each of these stories share in common is their end result:
People who are struggling with their life and relationships – many in absolute desperate need of help – but who are afraid to walk back through another therapist’s door and get burned YET AGAIN.
This commonality truly breaks my heart because as someone whose dedicated their career to helping others, in my case in the form of talk therapy, it’s so disappointing (and frankly, a bit shameful and embarrassing) to know that there are thousands of people out there who have sought this help only to be let down and have their pain made even worse by my own colleagues.
Sure, therapists are humans too.
And like all other humans we are imperfect, messy, irrational at times, and even struggle with our own mental health and relationship issues at some point in our lives.
To be blunt, I’ve heard of therapists (other ones, not me of course! LOL) doing some down right stupid things.
And of course, because we work in a field with many people who have severe mental health challenges and sometimes poor impulse control, we’re very vulnerable to working with folks who may view our time with them in very negative and nonsensical ways.
This is a part of the territory and we accept this reality every day, even though it may mean our safety is challenged at times.
Or we may get a nasty review from a client who acted out of retaliation against us for not having a wand that could magically fix their lives… or setting professional boundaries when they needed to be set.
Certainly, on both our sides there are bad behaviors all around and mistakes will inevitably be made.
However, I share this article for those of you on the client (or potential client) side who’ve been burned by therapy before and feel stuck as to what to do about it now, now that you want and need this kind of help again in your life.
If you’ve been burned before and you’re reading this, for whatever it’s worth:
I. HAVE. MAD. RESPECT. FOR. YOU.
In ANY relationship, it takes true courage, strength, and vulnerability to get burned and consider going back into the kitchen at all!
It’s deeply wired in each and every one of our brains to never put our hand near a hot stove again once we’ve been burned by it.
If this is how you feel about seeing another therapist, please know that this is normal and your brain doing exactly it’s job:
Trying to protect you from getting burned again.
However, as a human you have the beautiful gift of having the most complex brain on the planet!
And your brain – with all of its wonderful higher-order thinking skills and all-around awesomeness – can weigh many factors at once and tell you that this time may very well be different.
This time, you have more wisdom and experience to be able to navigate “the kitchen” as it were and take the proper steps to work with that oven and harness its power WITHOUT getting burned or injured in the process.
If you’ve been burned by therapy before but want to try it again, hopefully this helps you consider the past in a different light and use this insight to move forward again with the RIGHT therapist for you… even if it’s not me.
Based on my experience as a therapist, I’ll list some common scenarios that I’ve heard from clients over the years about being burned by therapy and what may have went wrong.
Read Part II (Upcoming!) for the list…
Have you been burned by therapy before? If so, would you be open to trying it again? Why or why not?