You and Your Therapist: Part III. On Hating and Loving Your Therapist

This week’s therapy challenge, thanks to all you questioning patients* and potential patients out there: What happens when you not only love your therapist, but you hate her, too? Or when you not only can’t stand her, but you unfortunately find yourself actually listening to her, hearing her voice in your head when you’re not in the therapy session?

Remember your parents? Remember how you thought they were stupid, told them they were stupid, rolled your eyes and didn’t listen to the stupid things they said? And then you found yourself telling your friend, “My father says…” or asking yourself what your mother would think before you made a big decision, or – the worst – acting just like them?

It’s tempting to either love someone or hate them. If you’ve got kids, you know that’s what they do: don’t do or give something they want, and its “I hate you!” Bring home a toy and you get, “Daddy! I love you!” But the truth is that mature relationships are always more complex and contradictory than simply good or bad.

It can hurt, and we really hate, hearing the very things we most need to hear for our own good. And it can be particularly tough hearing it from an authority, or someone whose opinion of you matters to you (even if you wish it didn’t). Kind of like hearing you ought to stop eating junk food or have that colonoscopy or something. But worse. The good, healthy, in our best interest stuff is sometimes the most difficult to face. Because its often about confronting a part of ourselves we don’t much care for, or wish weren’t there at all. Because we don’t want someone whose opinion we care about to see our “bad stuff”. It’s embarassing, shameful maybe. It hurts. And since no one wants to hurt, we tend to protect ourselves automatically: we disagree, we back away, we accuse the other person of not getting us or of ill intent, we get angry.

And so we feel hateful, sometimes even act hateful. We want to “kill the messenger,” lash back, leave treatment. But then we feel guilty: because we really do know – and feel – our therapist’s concern (if you’ve made a connection, she’s trying hard, and she’s any good at all at listening to and understanding you. If you don’t feel that, for the most part, she really is on your side, you ought to seek treatment elsewhere). And sometimes facing the guilt we feel about our own hateful feelings seems too much to bear. So we don’t; we convince ourselves it’s her fault. Or we bolt.

Tempting. Don’t want to hate yourself. Don’t want to face your resentment or anger toward her. Don’t want to accept that love comes packaged with bits of loathing, if you’re honest about it. Tempting, but a huge mistake. This is not the time to put up a wall, retreat, or leave! This is the time when the real work starts: when you tiptoe out onto that trust you’re building together, take a risk, and say what you’re feeling and thinking as if she were really listening and trying to “get it.” This is the time you remember she’s working for you, caring about you, trying to help you. You try to listen as if she were giving you a gift: understanding and accepting the “not so good” parts, a chance to go through the scary stuff with someone else, learn about and accept yourself, come out alive and still be in it together.

She can take it. And she’s not going to punish you for it. The therapist in her will appreciate your courage and honesty and the gift of your trust. Oh, truth be told she’ll hate it a little, too (the human being part of her, that is. No one likes to feel on the wrong side of someone else’s fury). But she’ll get over it. So will you. If you’ve chosen a therapist you feel comfortable enough to be honest with, and uncomfortable enough you know you’re getting to the real issues. If you stick it out together and remember you’re in it for a shared purpose: to help you learn about yourself and become the best version of you possible, out loud and with someone else hanging in, even when they’ve seen the worst (and the best) of you.

Love and hate. Hate and love. What a combo!

* All of whom gave me permission to use their anecdotes – slightly disguised.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

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13 responses to “You and Your Therapist: Part III. On Hating and Loving Your Therapist

  1. What about a therapist who, at the end of a session, says “why don’t you just quit [therapy]? you’re being obnoxious,” then turns her back and waves her hands dismissively when I ask if quit then and there. This happened to me in March. After a 7 year relationship with her I have not gone back. I admit I’m stunned; I’m furious; and I never want to see her again. I’ve seen a consulting psychiatrist, who has talked to my former therapist and conveyed the message that I feel terribly hurt by what happened. The former therapist then said she is willing to see me again. I think the consulting therapist would like me to go back and deal with my anger with her. I can’t imagine going back and paying her one nickel when such treatment is possible. I am an intelligent, self-aware person; I did not deserve the disrespectful treatment I received. What should I do?

  2. What a horrible way to end a 7 year relationship! What a horrible way to end a 7 year therapeutic relationship! I’d agree with your consulting psychiatrist about it’s being a good idea to speak with your former therapist about the termination, and your anger with her. Maybe even to hear what she has to say about what happened. But I agree with you, you certainly shouldn’t have to pay for this conversation. Given her “willingness” to see you again, I’m surprised and none too happy she did not call you to set up a follow-up appointment, whether to continue treatment (and talk about this event) or to end the treatment in a more appropriate and useful fashion. Perhaps you might call her, ask if she’d be willing to give you half and hour (on the house) to try to make sense of what happened, how you felt, and what makes the most sense for you (and her) going forward. If not, it seems you may well have to deal with your anger towards her in your new therapy, a more likely place for you to get closure. All the best…Keep me posted…

  3. Thank you very very much. I don’t normally comment like this on a blog. But a search on “anger at your psychotherapist” brought me to your site. Your response gives me much to consider. I will keep you posted.

    One thing… a few days after my last appointment, the therapist–a psychiatrist who does both pharma and psychotherapy–sent me a letter. She did offer to meet with me to plan the next steps or transition in therapy. She said that if she didn’t hear from me, she would discharge me as her patient. I left a message on her machine to please feel free to discharge me.

  4. Perhaps you’ll find yourself getting past the “anger at your psychotherapist” faster than you thought you would. Read the latest post about letting go… This is not to suggest you don’t have good reason to be angry. But you might find that having vented, thought about and talked about it, you’re getting closer to making sense of it, integrating what you’ve learned from this experience, and marching forward, armed with insight and ready for the future! All best.

  5. I could see her and say “OF COURSE, I’m obnoxious. But what was it that gave me away?”

  6. I’ve never posted a comment online but, I’m in such an awful place right now with analysis that I’ll try even this. About 6 weeks ago my therapist pushed me too hard and too fast. She made a mistake and I have made it very clear to her about how I feel and what I think. She reluctantly admitted that I”m right. However, the quick sand that she has pushed me into (figuratively, of course) is unbearable. The pain I feel is terrible and what is the current issue is this: I am so angry that I can’t organize myself enough to get my point across. Every time I try she makes a comment that sends me to pieces by either jumping in too fast, finishing a thought for me or following her intellectual agenda instead of staying with me. I have told her she needs to get better and she has even written herself a note. Unfortunately it’s still happening. I know this is the “real work” and I want to do it but I don’t know how to get through this pain and anger without her on my side. I feel like she’s intentionally not helping with the pain I feel. Is it too much to expect a therapist to be comforting? I’m not kidding, I really want to know. When I ask for help she comes up with the same dry, boring, canned lines that feel hollow and uncaring. I had a
    terrible mom, I know. Anyway, she’a good therapist but I feel like her issues are in the way just as much as mine are.

  7. Therapist style: it matters. Temporary impasse worth slugging your way through, or unnecessarily tough going, I don’t know. But now might well be the time to get a consultation with another therapist to find out. Tell your therapist you’d like very much to get past this, to use this in your work together, but that your frustration’s getting in the way and you’d like to get another opinion. Ask if she’s got a colleague she trusts and thinks might help, and/or find someone on your own through your physician, the local hospital or graduate school, a friend… And then get another point of view, talk it through with another therapist who’s experienced. And let me know how you do… all best…

  8. Well, I feel better for now. I did a lot of yelling at her over the phone and she listened. It felt good to get my anger out but, I’m not sure she gets what I need. She is getting me three names on Monday. Thank you for your speedy and thoughtful response, it validated me and gave me the courage to make the call.

  9. Glad to have been of help. Venting’s sometimes good; problem solving and closure often better. In any event, make sure to learn something from this event and it will have been a useful experience. And keep me posted…

  10. Apparently this consultation idea is common practice. I Googled all three on her list and the one I chose gave me a brief overview on the phone…and he says this happens all the time. The remedy can be anything from nothing, to the third therapist having the original become a patient. I wish I had known this was possible from the start. It would have saved me a lot of anguish. Go figure.

  11. This is to follow up with my progress, which is long coming but very good. (First, you should know your blog came right up when I searched “What makes a good therapist.” You must know your way around search engines!)
    Like EAM, I’ve been working through a lot of anger and hurt. With support from a consulting psychiatrist, an alcohol counselor, and our family therapist I wrote to my original therapist and asked for a “courtesy visit.” She wrote back and said that she was sorry I was distressed and would meet with me, but I’d have to pay her fee and she would have to discuss it beforehand with the consulting psychiatrist to ensure it would be therapeutic and that I would not engage in blaming.
    The trusted people in my support system have urged to meet with her and pay her fee, if she insists. (One person suggested that for legal reasons, she probably needs to meet with me under the standard terms.) The concern is that if I l don’t see her, I will never get the resolution I need.
    So I’m getting my thoughts together for a meeting. While I still feel that calling me “obnoxious” at the end of an appointment and asking me “why don’t you just quit” and turning her back on me was shocking and completely reprehensible, I have to say that much of the sting is gone. Recently, I remembered how stunned and hurt I felt when my older sister (6 years older) used to turn on me for absolutely no reason other than I was a convenient outlet for her frustrations or aggressions or whatever. Any effort I made at fighting back just made her hurt me even more. I felt terrible and bitter that I could never get the better of her.
    Decades later, my sister and I are on great terms, but I haven’t put those intense feelings to rest.
    The recognition of transferring my old feelings of being set upon by my sister onto my therapist is a huge relief. It means that I can meet with the therapist without turning over any power to her.
    I appreciate your role in helping me work through this painful issue.

  12. My problem with this blog is a therapy client is NOT a child. Yet it seems to instruct consumer to dismiss their reaction to what their therapist does “for their own good.” (Please see Alice Miller.)

    Nothing occurs in therapy that immunizes the therapist and consumer from first being two human beings. And nothing happens in therapy school that confers purifies the therapist from selfishness or insecurity.

    We can view our counselors the same way we view our co-workers, our friends, our neighbors. If our “healer” is rude, arrogant, or verbally or non-verbally hostile, it’s equivalent to any other person acting that way.

    The therapist is not an “authority figure.” They know no more about life than their clients, and client know far more about their own lives. If therapy is a lesson in living, why should a client be instructed that she must subordinate her own judgment to the therapist?
    http://disequilibrium1.wordpress.com/

  13. I have never written on a blog before. But I hate my psychiatrist so much I cannot even tell you.I’ve Been with him over 2 years. The intensity of hatred varies from visit to visit. One time I even thought we had “got past it” but then the next time I saw him BAAM! It all came back. I rationalize that it is “transference” or some other messed up reason that really doesn’t have anything to do with him but it still feels like it is HIM i hate. I feel like I am his least favorite patient and that he doesn’t like me because I’m still not “happy” I think he just wishes I would go away but he will deny that he feels this way. I told him that I was not falling for any of his psychotherapeutic voo-doo and I think he got mad about that but it is hard to tell.If I left I feel like in his mind he would go “thank fucking god”

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