Tag Archives: Picking a Therapist

The Nice and Not-So-Nice Therapist: Who is Really Nicer?

NICE ?

How nice should a therapist be?

Nice. Someone pleasant, agreeable.  “He’s such a nice guy,” we say, imagining someone good natured, kind-hearted.  Or  exacting, evidencing great skill:  “Nicely done!”  Or scrupulous, exacting, hard to please:  “Give me a nice piece of corned beef” – which really means “give me your best cut, extra lean!  Nice can mean trivial, easily dismissed: “that’s nice, but”  or treading carefully, behaving delicately: “be nice to your cousin!”  And then there’s making nice, acting as if one were feeling all those good things, somewhat hypocritally.  Oh, and the ironic nice, a nice that means not nice at all:that’s a nice way to say thank you!”

How can one word mean such different – even antithetical – things?  Its origin provides hints.  Originally Middle English, it meant stupid or foolish, deriving from the Latin nescius ignorant, by way of French.  It meant coy, reserved, and by the 16th century fastidious, later still  fine, subtle (considered by some the ‘correct’ sense, and on to the current pleasant, agreeable.

What happens when conflict and confrontation-avoidance masquerade as being nice?  When does acting nice not only not equal being or feeling nice, but actually serve as a cover for feelings that are anything but nice?  When is being nice a cop-out for not dealing with the difficult and messy – but important – stuff?

Which brings us to the question of the day:  Exactly how nice should your therapist be? How nice is therapeutic?

Therapy’s not about appearance, but substance.  And when it comes to the therapy experience,  there’s often a difference between nice and helpful.

If the therapist’s prime motivation is to be liked, well, then, she’s got to act nice to be seen as, thought of, as nice.  When being nice is crucial, gratifying the patient is crucial,  first and foremost, pretty much always.  Even if it means avoiding the tough stuff; especially if it means avoiding the tough stuff that doesn’t feel so, well, nice

But if the therapist’s prime motivation is to promote learning – to provide tools for a better life, to help her patient become all s/he can be, to heal – real trumps nice every day of the week.  It may not always feel nice.   But if your therapist  goes beyond skin-deep nice, if together you do more than scratch the surface – explore and understand and accept what’s real – you’ve got a shot at goodReal good.  Which has a whole lot more healing power than some ironic nice.

Copyright © 2012 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

Reasons to Leave your Therapist, Part III: Therapy Love? How about Therapy I’m starting to Hate?

September is back to school, back from summer vacation, and for many the beginning of a new year and a new beginning.  In our lives, some things are always beginning, and some ending, but it often takes contemplation to know which should be which…

How in the world do you know when to end therapy?  There are a number of scenarios, depending on you, your therapist, and your course of treatment. Leaving the good experience can be tough; ending a not-so-good, or a downright bad, therapy can be even more difficult.

Ending before you begin:  What’s a fair amount of time to decide if this is the (right) therapist for you?  What if you get a funny feeling early on?  What if you’ve been given a referral by someone you trust, and you have a terrific initial conversation, only to find something comes up early on that really bothers you?  Should you start with a therapist when you’re not so sure she’s the right one for you?

Yup.

Here’s a shortcut to what I think is the right balance:  you should feel comfortable enough to speak openly and honestly, but not so comfortable you feel as if you’re having coffee with a friend.  Go with your feelings.  If it feels right, dive in, if not, keep looking.

Ending in the middle:  You’ve hit a speed bump.  Maybe your therapist did something you didn’t like, or has turned out to have shortcomings you hadn’t seen before (I have certainly been guilty of both, and no doubt will again).  Maybe your therapy’s veered in a direction that doesn’t quite feel on the mark.  Maybe there’s something you just can’t bring up, maybe even bring yourself to face – about the problem that brought you in to therapy in the first place, about your feelings toward your therapist, about your thoughts or conclusions. 

Bring it up.  No matter what it is, whether you are “right” or “wrong” think you “should” feel this way or not, might “hurt feelings” or “make her angry.”  Bring it up.  Because that accomplishes two things:  you get it out and realize you’re still alive (hopefully with a tour guide who’s calm and compassionate), AND you get to see how your therapist reacts.  Does she minimize what you say, make you feel small or silly or just plain wrong or bad?  Or does she listen, take you seriously, consider her part in your discomfort and work with you to get over (not around) the bump?  Because that will tell you all you need to know.  Can’t avoid the bumps, I’m afraid; can avoid feeling afraid to talk about the bumps with the therapist who’s meant to help you do so.

Ending when it feels as if you’ve been going forever.  If therapy’s been uncomfortable and unproductive for a long time, if you find yourself leaving each session wondering why you bother,  if you keep trying to communicate something but your therapist really doesn’t seem to get it/you,  if you feel increasingly frustrated (maybe even angry), it’s time to reassess.

If, after months, maybe even years in therapy, you are feeling that you’ve hit a wall, chances are you have.  If, after months, maybe even years in therapy,  you are feeling unheard, you’ve got to wonder:  what will it take for this therapist to get me?  Actually, maybe you’ve got to stop wondering, and just start saying your goodbyes.  Because if you’ve invested months and years in treatment and your therapist still doesn’t get it, or you’ve stopped learning anything significant about yourself long ago, or if you’ve gotten stuck in the land of diminishing therapeutic returns: it is time to go.  Maybe time to end therapy, maybe just time to end therapy with this therapist.  Doesn’t mean it hasn’t been real, useful, important; just means it hasn’t been for a while.  A dry spell is one thing – every therapy relationship (geez, every relationship) goes through those – but a dry spell that lasts for weeks and months is more than a dry spell.  It’s a dessicated therapy experience.  And that is none too therapeutic.

Copyright © 2012 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

You and Your Therapist: Part IIa. Therapy Love, Revisited

Sometimes I feel like there’s a wall between me and my therapist.  And sometimes I wish there were some sort of wall between me and my therapist!  It doesn’t make any sense to me.  And I worry:  does it mean she can’t help me?

It’s making me so uncomfortable!  How do I stop falling in love with my therapist?  It’s making me so uncomfortable! How do I keep my therapist from falling in love with me? 

Sometimes I think I don’t even like my therapist.  Do I have to for therapy to work?  I don’t think my therapist even likes me.  Does she have to for therapy to work? 

I hate it when my therapist is mad at me.   Why does it bother me so much? What do I do?  I hate it when I am mad at my therapist.  Why does it bother me so much?  What do I do?

Questions like these just keep rollin’ in to us here at Feeling Up in Down Times.  In the initial installment of Therapy Love, we addressed those good  (sometimes confusingly so) feelings:  loving your therapist – or wondering if your therapist loves you.  But what about all the uncomfortable negative feelings:  worrying if your therapist secretly hates you – or if you secretly hate your therapist?  Worrying if your therapist is angry with you for not acting on what you’ve supposedly been learning in your therapy.  Worrying if you’re too angry with your therapist for therapy to be helpful.

When you come to trust someone as much as you can the therapist you share so much of yourself with, when you come to trust your therapist “gets” you, you’d think you’d feel comfortable, safe, free to be yourself.  And that is usuallythe case.  But in a cruel twist of fate, it can also mean that whatever negative feelings do come up seem particularly meaningful and important.  And that, in turn, makes it both more uncomfortable to share them with your therapist – and more important to do so.

Maybe those negative feelings are so uncomfortable because the relationship comes to matter so much.  Because therapy love just feels so real, almost like the real thing.  Therapy Love is a real thing, it’s just not the realthing.  Therapy love is a state of heightened emotions in a situation where your every emotion is under a microscope:  one you and your therapist share and look through together.  Or – often and –  a microscope you’re uncomfortable having anyone else look through, especially your therapist.  All in an intimate relationship that looks and feels just enough like a real life relationship to make you wonder:  what’s going on here, and what do I do about it?

You take a deep breath.  You bring it up, into the light of day.  You explore the realm of contradictory feelings, the juxtaposition of loving and hating.  Because the one thing you can count on if you do risk sharing those tough feelings with your therapist  is that you’ll learn an awful lot.  About yourself.  About yourself in relationships. It’s rare to have a dedicated person and place to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly – with the very person you’re feeling those things about, when you’re feeling those things.  Unlike the other people you may love, your therapist doesn’t have any vested interest in the outcome.  Your therapist is working for your insight, in your best interest.  It starts in the relationship between you, but it extends beyond that, way beyond that.

Even with any fears or anger or disappointment.  Even better than any fantasies.  And  that just might be the best thing about Therapy Love.

Copyright © 2012 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

The Psychologist as Business Consultant

“Being a psychologist” in a business setting too often translates as “You are analyzing (read: assuming you know and judging) me,” “You think I need therapy,” “You’re wasting time we could use accomplishing something,” or “You really think psychobabble talk and bearing my soul isn’t a waste of time?” Psychologist, therapist, counselor, and now, goodness knows, executive coach: professional know-it-all’s who give business advice without understanding how, when, why businesses really work.

So what could a psychologist potentially bring to the privately-held business table?

Psychologist as social scientist: frames hypotheses and conducts research in the areas of human behavior, personality development and change.

Psychologist as clinician: observes and analyzes how people think, feel, and behave.

Psychologist as health service provider: applies behavioral science research to alleviating emotional and mental distress for individuals, couples, families.

Psychologist as organizational consultant: utilizes knowledge of human behavior and interpersonal dynamics to optimize group, team and leadership functioning.

Most psychologists specialize in one of the above. A psychologist who’s useful in a family business context is ideally expert in all four. S/he should understand how individual personalities, styles and psychological needs impact this particular organization, and how the organization and its processes impact individual behavior. S/he should understand how business works, how this particular business works: the nature of the business, the market, the competitive landscape, the financial structure, external factors that impact success.

And – most uniquely – s/he should creatively utilize psychological thought processes to achieve tangible financial results. Because in this context, the goal is not to understand, not to feel better, not to share touchy-feely ‘kumbaya’ moments, but to optimize the organizational processes that will sustain growth and make more money.

Questions to ask to get at all that?

“In the following business scenario, what are the issues that need to be addressed – and why? What is unique about your ability to help us solve the problem?” – You want someone who offers a different, insightful, useful!, perspective on the problems the business needs solved.

“What do you need to know to be of use to us?” – You want someone who knows what s/he needs to know and learn about how the business runs, who can read a spreadsheet and speak the language.

And then there are the old standbys:

“Your experience with privately-held businesses? Successful outcomes? Failures?”

“How can you help us increase profitability?”

“Got any references?”

Copyright © 2011 Marlin S. Potash.  All rights reserved.

Can’t Be Said Much Better Than This…

Life’s never easy.  We can decide what we want.  (Well,  some of us can;  for others, even knowing what we want is not so easy). 

There’s much we can choose, if we are fortunate.   And we are all, all of us, quite fortunate (even when, on those bad days, we don’t feel that way).  And though there’s no sure-fire path to getting it all, good psychotherapy can help find – and clear – the path to happiness.  Search, question, focus, discipline, know what matters, meditate, learn about and face oneself honestly in the company of a therapist who listens and “gets it”: safe landing, real contentment and true happiness are indeed possible.

Even if there’s no guarantee of getting/having even what we (think we) need.  Even if it’s finding and traveling the path to, not being and staying at some desired destination.

Sometimes therapy’s about listening – both the therapist, and the patient – to the felt need.   Permitting the feelings, the desires, the sense of urgency:  wanting what we want, when we want it.

And then accepting that it is however it is.  And if we share our most private wishes with someone who hears, gets it – and accepts us as we are – well, sometimes, maybe, that’s really as good as it gets.  And it’s quite good enough.

Is it any wonder people fall in love with their therapists?

Copyright © 2011 Marlin S. Potash.  All rights reserved.

How Many Therapists Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Only one.

But

That lightbulb

has to be oh so very serious

about wanting to change!

Then again, maybe who your therapist is really does matter, just a bit…

Copyright © 2010 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

Reasons to Leave your Therapist, Part I: The Good Experience

Ok. So I lied: not ready to “go fishin'” yet. You see, it’s August, the traditional month most therapists take off (hit a beach on the Cape and you’re apt to see yours in a bathing suit). I, on the other hand, generally stay in the city and see patients. I figure just because most therapists take a break in August, psychological needs and interpersonal issues don’t necessarily.

So here I am, with a lighter load (many of my patients are off for part of August, too), thinking about the process of therapy. What helps, what makes it less effective, and, today especially, how to manage and understand the breaks: illness, vacation, I-think-I-need-to-try-this-alone-for-a-while. And ending therapy.

How in the world do you know when to end therapy? There are a number of scenarios, depending on you, your therapist, and your course of treatment. So let’s start with:

Part I: Leaving a good therapeutic experience. You’ve been in therapy what seems like forever. You look forward to your regular Monday afternoon sessions with Dr. Whoever. You save up stories during the week to share, you note things you need to discuss or get opinions on, you’re comfortable and always enjoy your sessions. You trust your therapist, even like your therapist (except, maybe, for that horrible taste in office furniture). So why in the world would you even think about ending therapy (we call it termination – but since neither of you are not terminating your life, just the therapy, it’s not a word I find myself using…).

If therapy’s gotten too comfortable, and you find yourself sharing views on the markets’ rise or fall, discussing the relative merits of one sort of restaurant (car, clothing line, gardening tip…you get the drift), or inviting your therapist to your son’s middle school graduation, it’s time to reassess. Maybe, hold on, even time to leave your therapist.

What! Leave, just when I’ve gotten comfortable, when I really trust this person?

Yes, leave. Graduate, perhaps. Or switch to another therapist with a fresh take, a different style, maybe even a different approach.

Therapy requires trust, a level of comfort, and communication to be effective. But really useful therapy, the kind that helps you learn about yourself and change, becoming more and more the you you want to be, that kind of therapy starts there, but moves on to so very much more. It’s not enough to get support, to feel understood and accepted. Crucial, but you can do better. And you should.

You should leave your sessions often feeling challenged to think in different ways, uncomfortable because you’ve felt emotions you haven’t in years, awkward because you are trying out new behaviors, angry because you’ve been pushed to confront something you’ve been avoiding, teary-eyed because your therapist ‘got it’. More than comfortable: growing, learning, taking therapy into real life, facing the hard stuff, sharing your fears and taking risks.

If that’s no longer happening in your treatment, bring the subject up in your next session. What have I learned and accomplished so far? What work remains to be done? What are my goals? What issues haven’t we tackled – and why? Do you think you can help me with the next phase, or have we done all we can together?

And then decide. Ending therapy. Ending therapy with this therapist and beginning anew. Getting a consultation. Or just taking a break and giving it some thought; maybe even with the help of the meditation you’ve been practicing.

Part II: The Not So Good Experience to come…stay tuned…

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