Not all Therapists are Created Equal

“Next Victim”

While sitting upon a comfortable chair in the waiting room before meeting my new therapist, I pondered what vulnerabilities I would share with him.  I had not been in therapy for several years, and I was entering this meeting with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.  Eventually, the door to the waiting room swung open and my new therapist said, “next victim.”  

“like REALLY crazy”

Feeling a bit stunned, I made my way to his office where he motioned for me to sit on the sofa.  After some initial banter, he mentioned that one of his patients from earlier in the day had been sitting right where I was currently sitting.  He added, “and she was crazy.”  I responded with a quizzical expression, suggesting that I was unsure of the comment’s intent.  Seeing my confusion, he sought to clarify by reiterating and emphasizing, “like REALLY crazy.” 

Needless to say, the clarification didn’t make me feel any better.  My new therapist had just openly commented on the sanity of another patient within five minutes of meeting me.  Perhaps one could argue that his sense of humor diverged from mine, and this was simply just an example of a bad fit between patient and therapist.

However, I think this interpretation is a tad generous.  At best, the comment was odd; and at worse, extremely offensive, insensitive, and borderline unethical.  Perhaps that’s an over-reaction.  However, there did seem to be a lack of empathy emanating from my therapist; a trait that I had always presumed to be essential for effective therapy.  At this point and probably even earlier, I knew that today wouldn’t be the best time to share my inner vulnerabilities. 

This is a No Feelings Zone

Still, during the early stages of our session, I asked him about his philosophy and therapeutic techniques.  After recounting a few, he added, “but if I ever ask you about your feelings, you have my permission to shoot me.”  Placing the explicit call to violence aside, this bit was interesting because as it turns out; one of the main reasons for my visit, of course, was to express and acknowledge some difficult truths and feelings. 

Honestly, I was baffled at this point.  I had no idea that it was even possible for a therapist not to deal in feelings.  Perhaps I’m completely wrong, but don’t emotions come with the job.  It seemed like I had accidentally entered a satirical sketch from a show like Saturday Night Live or entered a session with comedian Dennis Leary who famously imagined himself as a therapist who would tell his patients to “SHUT THE F UP!”  Of course, this wasn’t a comedy sketch.  This was real.   

Paying for Free YouTube

Needless to say, I was feeling a bit uncomfortable by these early interactions.  I shut down almost completely.  I didn’t want to speak at all.  I just wanted to get though the session and be done with it.  He eventually showed me a ten-minute video on YouTube that he thought would be very helpful.  I paid him $60 for an hour of therapy, and for 10 minutes I sat at his desk to watch a video on his laptop while he tidied up around the office. Now I’m not a math wizard, but I do believe that free YouTube video cost me $10.  While it certainly struck me as odd that he was essentially saying that I should pay him to listen to this other guy, I was more than happy to watch the video, as I was beyond uncomfortable and more than happy not to talk. 

If there is one thing you probably want to do as a therapist, it’s to create an environment conducive to speaking and sharing.  In retrospect, I could have thanked him for his time and politely excused myself, but I continued through the session perhaps out of some misguided duty to appear nice and polite.  More likely, however, I continued in order to avert a potentially awkward moment, even though the reality probably wouldn’t have been nearly as uncomfortable as my imaginings; as my tendency usually is to amplify and presume a tense moment where none may actually occur. 

Shop Around for a Therapist

I am sharing this story to underscore the importance of shopping for a therapist.  You are starting a relationship and some therapists might be a better fit for you than others.  In addition, not all therapists are created equal.  Just like anything else, some are better than others.

Also, if you are like me, perhaps you have been waiting for your most desperate moment before seeking help.  I hope you don’t t reject therapy if your first experience is poor. Finding a therapist might take some time.  However, don’t give up if your first experience isn’t a positive one; try another therapist and most likely you will find someone who works well with you and provides an environment where you feel safe and secure.