Crazy-making psychotherapy

Okay, this is going to be a rant, it won´t be a pretty one, and it will probably be pure gibberish. I am so fucking upset right now. It´s not like anything dramatic had happened, I´ve just read something that absolutely ticked me off. It was thread in a forum (I won´t post the link this time, if I´m going to rant about other Internet users I´m going to do so without making even their screen names public). The thread dealt with psychotherapy.

The OP described a devastating therapy session which she had left feeling miserable. She said that her therapist had already warned her therapy would be hard at times. She described how at first she wasn´t cooperating, was running away by answering “I don´t know”, and how she feared that she had disappointed her therapist. Her therapist had been so confrontational, and had not let up, and had pushed her until she finally talked about the difficult stuff.

I think one big reason why I made sure these statements cannot be traced back to the person who made them is that I can´t help talking with disgust about what she said, but actually she doesn´t  deserve that disgust. Actually, this whole thing is terribly sad. This submissive, subservient, helplessly dependent attitude. Because, like she also said, she had developed an emotional connection to her therapist and she feared that she would be abandoned or hurt emotionally.

This is so sick, this is so incredibly sick. In TFP (transference focused psychotherapy) you are actually supposed to develop that bond towards your therapist. Which leaves you completely at their mercy, particularly when you´ve already entered their office at a vulnerable point in your life (which is fairly likely, because otherwise you wouldn´t be seeing a therapist!). I´ve even read in some manual for treating Borderline patients (can´t be arsed to look it up now) that you can keep their self-harm under control by allowing the dependence (oh, sorry! “therapeutic relationship”) to develop, and then you tell them that if they self-harm to the point that they end up in hospital, leave alone attempt suicide, you will quit working with them. And this even though, or rather precisely because people with BPD commonly have abandonment issues! Just how poisonous does pedagogy get? This isn´t therapy, this is secondary victimization!

Okay. Okay, okay, okay, cut the gibberish for a moment and try to explain to the innocent reader what the hell is going on with you. Good. *deep breath*

This thread brought up my own personal inner therapist. Sounds like a good thing, but most definitely isn´t. Not if the therapist is Dr. Stoneface. Alright. So I read this thread. It upsets me a great deal because I had plenty of negative experiences in therapy as well as with people who acted like they were therapists. The person who opened the thread, however, blames herself for her negative experience. Or rather: She describes it as a painful but helpful, important, necessary and thus ultimately good experience.  I should mention that even though or maybe precisely because I have some masochistic traits myself, I can absolutely not bear real life masochism that takes itself for gospel and does not recognize itself for what it is. Okay, that sounds arrogant. Let me put it like this: When somebody explains with conviction that it is truly good for him to be put into an uncomfortable or painful situation, it makes me squirm. Particularly when the situation involves humiliation, such as being grilled by your therapist until you finally “admit” how you feel about stuff and he can think triumphantly: “See, I knew you were lying when you said you didn´t know how you felt. Now why weren´t you honest in the first place? When will you finally be mature enough to learn that you must admit things, even when they are uncomfortable?”  I feel overwhelming shame, rage and humiliation and just desperately try to push it away. And then Dr. Stoneface enters my mind. He encourages me to not push it away, sometimes even mocks me for pushing it away, but of course only to help me! Well, no. In my mind, Dr. Stoneface is absolutely getting off to this. At least on a mental level. He is defeating me.

So, what happens when my mental representation of Dr. Stoneface starts to comment on everything I think and feel? I cannot finish a single thought anymore. It´s like trying to talk to someone and constantly being interrupted in mid-sentence, with a comment that invalidates everything you were just going to say. You get caught up in desperate, impotent rage which you cannot articulate either, because as you try you are constantly interrupted. You see, other people enjoy flame wars and trolls. I cannot take them. I always get triggered as hell, not by the content, but by the fact that one person constantly sabotages the discussion and in the same breath denies doing so. And it is near impossible to ever prove it. It reminds me of Dr. Stoneface. And it reminds me of my father.

Dr. Stoneface did indeed interrupt me in order to ask me for definitions, explanations, elaborations until I lost the plot, and preferably when we were arguing. “You say that XYZ, but it just doesn´t seem right that…” – “Does it always have to be about right and wrong?”

*stunned silence*

I mean, why doesn´t he just go ahead and ask me about the meaning of life? Here and now it is very important to me who of us is right. Our argument is not about whether the Nile is longer than the Mississippi, after all. It is about something that is very relevant for the process of my therapy. He, however, will suggest that we investigate why it is so important for me to be right. Okay, if wanting to be right doesn´t make sense anymore, then apparently nothing does. Of course it matters to me if I am right or not. It would be slightly weird if it didn´t.

But this wasn´t even what I was getting at. The worst part is really when the voice is inside your head and interrupts every thought and argument. The result is racing thoughts and writing gibberish. It really fucks with your mind. You can´t think straight anymore.

You know, when you say something that seems perfectly self-evident to you, like that it is important whether or not you are right about something, and your therapist or any other emotionally important person acts like this is not self-evident at all, but highly unusual and possibly pathological – then you simply don´t know what to reply anymore. It´s like a slap in the face times ten. You just feel something inside of you go numb, giving way to crazy laughter. It is too outrageous. But he fully believes it. Everybody will believe it. Because he is the therapist. He has studied psychology, he has a medical degree, he is sane – and you are obviously insane. You have to be. Or else the entire world has gone crazy. It is less frightening to believe you´re insane than to believe that you are sane and still nobody will believe you or take your side.

Wanna hear Dr. Stoneface´s take on this paragraph? He thinks I´m playing the martyr. Pity-party. I´m trying to portray myself as a victim of drastic psychological torture, and if things go really wrong I might even attract some paranoid, mentally unstable lunatics from the Internet who will believe me and take my side. This is really dangerous, because it might lead to society becoming less acceptant of psychotherapy. But unfortunately we cannot do anything about it. Freedom of speech is even for confused individuals like me.  Now aren´t we being FUCKING generous here?

Okay, another little piece: The “I don´t know” thing. I don´t know how many times I replied to with “I don´t know” to a question regarding my feelings, thoughts, mood, whatever while I was in therapy. I do know, however, that therapists don´t take this for an answer. They assume you are holding out on them. They assume you are being a chicken. Too bad for you if you are truly unable to access your feelings. Even better when you went to therapy because of that. “Doctor, I cannot seem to feel anything.” – “Well, how does that make you feel?” *headdesk*

It´s not just that you don´t get help – you are also blamed for being uncooperative! They simply don´t believe you! The complete inability to make yourself understood makes you feel like you´re being suffocated. You want to scream and smash things, just to break that glass wall between you and your opponent, to wipe that blank, neutral mask off his face and access the human being below it.

You are ready to believe that somewhere deep down you have feelings. But you can´t feel them. It´s like you´re suddenly somewhere in the Ministry of Love. You are ready to accept that four fingers are actually five. You want to believe it. You want to see five fingers.  But you can´t help it, you only see four.

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6 Responses to “Crazy-making psychotherapy”

  1. pardon my ignorance but you seem very angry with and in disagreement with the whole psychotherapy process that i have to ask why do you bother reading about or following it? why are you not looking for a therapy process that you belief in? if there isn’t one you connect with, why not forget therapy all together and find another approach to dealing with your issues?

    i get that you’re adverse to ‘thinking about how you feel’ but maybe you need to think about it. thinking about it doesn’t mean you have to share. it could, and by the sounds of it, take a long time for you to figure out how you feel but reading about theories that piss-you-off really doesn’t seem to be helping.

    please don’t take this comment as a judgment against you, it’s not meant that way. i’m just trying to understand. i’m not a therapist or doctor, just a regular person whose going through their own self-discovery and find your rants rather interesting.

  2. Thanks for your comment, it´s really cool that you bother to wonder about the things I write. I´m a bit at a loss for an answer. I fully believe you that you don´t want to attack me, and yet my first reaction was feeling threatened/provoked. I´ll give it a try, though.

    My whole anger and my inability to walk away from things that make me angry is a part of me that I sometimes fully identify with, thinking that anyone who doesn´t understand the need to be angry about certain things is against me and cannot be trusted. At other times I have to admit that even though my complaints might be valid there is an irrational intensity and a very personal twist to my anger, a mixture of glowing vengefulness and desperate powerlessness. I indeed cannot let go of things that enrage me. I am in part a victim of my anger, and in part I am addicted to it.

    Even admitting that feels threatening. I feel a strong need to justify my anger. Apparently it is something I desperately cling to. I cannot imagine not being an angry person. I feel like the alternative to anger is complete submission, or not really being a person anymore at all. I don´t know why this is so.

    Anyway, thanks for commenting and good luck on your own journey to self-discovery! 🙂

  3. Thank you for this blog. I am glad to see that many painful therapy tales are coming out right now. I agree with a lot of what you say about therapy and that in many ways the existing therapy structure is sickening and harmful. That’s why I created my blog about it http://www.therapyconsumerguide.com Check it out. It might be an interesting read for you and others like myself who were harmed in therapy.

  4. Hi Marina, great thanks for your comment and the link, I really found some interesting stuff there. I´ll definitely keep on checking it out.

  5. Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if
    you knew of any widgets I could add to my blog that
    automatically tweet my newest twitter updates. I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience with something like this. Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates.

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