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Overcoming a Bad Therapy Experience

On Screen Bad Therapy Experiences

Have you ever noticed that every mental health professional in movies is the weirdest, most messed up character in the entire thing? The kind gentle therapist who suddenly starts screaming at his clients. The seemingly “normal” therapist who soon reveals that she believes every problem to be related to sex. The therapist who crosses all boundaries and ends up being more of a help-seeking friend than a help-giving therapist. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve been watching something and thought, “yikes, that is a messed up therapist, and that is a very bad therapy experience.” Of course, these portrayals are primarily to add to the dramatic nature of the shows and movies they are part of, but I can’t help but think this has given the whole profession sort of a bad rap. If I wasn’t a therapist, and I had seen any one of these movies/shows, you could count on me to never share anything vulnerable with a counselor, let alone go anywhere near a therapist’s office.

Real Life Bad Therapy Experiences

While hopefully, these fictional portrayals are far from average, people have had everyday experiences just as bad as this. I can remember going to a therapist who felt like she was probing my mind without my permission, and I did not feel safe. Often people can come away from their first therapy experiences feeling exposed, manipulated, fearful, and misunderstood. Therapy is a vulnerable and brave step to take, and we all need help sometimes. However, it can be damaging to encounter a pushy therapist who doesn’t listen to us or even makes us uncomfortable. It can often make people vow never to return to therapy again.

Therapy is often what helps people break through their roadblocks that have been in place for a long time. It is a freeing and unique experience that little else can provide the same type of space to process. Unfortunately, most therapists are not going to reach out to you to convince you that your experiences, while valid, are not what should be happening. So how do you get back to therapy after such negative experiences, while protecting yourself from them happening again?

Here are a few recommendations to overcome a bad therapy experience:

–    Know that your voice is the most important one in the room: There is an unspoken power dynamic in all therapy offices that often goes unacknowledged. You may feel that if a therapist is making you feel uncomfortable, it is you that is the problem, and you just have to get through it. This is NOT TRUE. You are the most important voice in the room, and if you feel something is happening you don’t want, you are more than allowed to speak up. Good therapists not only welcome feedback but encourage it.

–    Find a therapist through a friend: While most people aren’t open about going to therapy, a lot more people are in therapy than you might realize. Ask someone you trust if they might have had a good experience, or might know someone who is a good fit for you.

    Explore different options: While this may be a bit more time consuming and is a longer process, it might help to explore different options. Go see several different therapists. A lot of therapists offer free consultations where you can get a feel for them, and there is nothing wrong with trying out a few different people to find one that works for you.

–    Trust yourself : Nobody knows your experience better than you. Therapy can be a little weird in general, but often, you will know if you are experiencing usual unease. Trust yourself that if you feel uncomfortable, that is ok. Sometimes people just don’t fit well together, and you are never obligated to force something to work.

While therapy is a unique process, often uncomfortable, it shouldn’t be the bizarre scenes played out on the big screen. If you walk away from your first session, feeling dread at the idea of going back, something isn’t right. If, after a few sessions, you think you haven’t gotten anywhere, and you feel unsafe to speak up, something isn’t right. Don’t lose hope, there is most likely a great fit out there for you, and keeping these tips in mind can help you find the right therapist for you while combatting more negative experiences.

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