As a teenager I went to a psychotherapist. I was completely lost at that time. I suffered from anxiety and depression, did not find a secure base or emotional support at home and was in a toxic friendship with the girl I called my „best friend“ back then.
The therapist was the first person I talked to that understood me – an really helped me coping with my anxiety. Yet, there were things from the beginning that bothered me. „I went to the pediatrician yesterday with my daughter, and at that occasion we talked about you“ she told me a few weeks after I started seeing her (she and my family apparently had the same pediatrician). „Well…is that even…allowed?“ I asked her. „Of course. Otherwise there could be no professional collaboration“ she answered.
I would see this attitude again and again in her. I don’t know if this is a thing of the town I grew up in, a country thing or a psychotherapists’ thing. It’s not so much what she said. It’s how she said it. The false security. The arrogance. The attitude of superiority.
Her practice was in the same building where she and her family live. Upstairs family. Downstairs practice. A few times her 3-year old son suddenly stood in the room, while she had a session with me. One time I was crying. And the kid stood at the threshold of the door. “Come in” she told him. “Look, there is a turtle at the table. It’s a cute turtle, isn’t it?” I was sitting in my chair. Crying. And frozen. I felt so uncomfortable. A few sessions after that, I found the courage to tell her that this had bothered me. “So what?” she answered. “There was a baby-sitter and he escaped for a few minutes. So what?” I still remember the arrogant and self-righteous look on her face – “I do, what’s best for my son” she said.
She never apologized. For nothing. No matter what I told her that had bothered me about her therapy style, her answer always was “So what?”. Then she turned it around and made me believe it was something about me. “You don’t support yourself enough” she would repeatedly say. I stayed with her for years. When I complained that things were not improving, that I feel like I come here, we chit-chat and then I leave again, that there is no structure, no plan, no evaluation sessions – she would always reply “It is. There are. And I do. The problem is that you are not supporting yourself enough”.
Years of therapy, and I still had to ask myself “Well, how do I do that? How do I support myself?”. “You are not supporting yourself enough. Be your best friend”, was the answer. I paid and paid and paid. When I told her, that this is a financial burden for me, she’d tell me “Ahh, now this is where this is coming from. You struggle financially. This is why you complain. Not because of my therapy”. “You are projecting your problems onto me” is another phrase she used when I told her that I was unsatisfied with her.
Writing these lines I am asking myself why I stayed with her for so long. She was the only person that I could really count on for many years. She was there. She listened. She supported me. In hindsight, I should have left much earlier. But I didn’t. I probably wasn’t ready enough yet to see her bad behaviour.
She gave me the feeling that I am a “special” client. That she somehow shares a special bond with me. It’s highly unethical to create a bond with a patient that suggests anything else than a therapist-client relationship. It is inappropriate to tell your patients about your kids in almost every session, and write your patients an e-mail, asking them to tell you about what you liked about your high-school because the therapist’s son is about to enter high school and she wants to get some better understanding of the schools she’s considering. It’s highly unethical to give a patient the feeling that they are your best friend. Especially when they are a teenager. This is double vulnerability. Patient and under-age. Whenever I hear or read about “difficult patients” I wonder what their therapist is like. And how their therapist behaves towards them.
I know that there are good therapists out there. But this experience has hurt me deeply. And I want to share it. I want to share that patients are not crazy when they say that something’s not ok. I want to share that their feelings and perspectives are not invalid. And I want to share that we need to stop glorifying people because of their name/profession/or whatever – and face the fact that everyone can potentially behave in a wrong way. And that we need to address it! We need to talk about it! We need to find out the truth! We need to support survivors. And we need to address the narcissism of those that exert it. In a respectful and humane way – but we need to address it. We have to.
All of this is some years ago now.
It may sound odd, but today, I found peace with what happened. Not because I think it’s ok. But because I changed my perspective. I fell for narcissists and toxic therapist-client relationships twice (I will write about this story too one time, because like I said – I think we have to adress these experiences). In the end it was their toxic behaviour and comments that made me leave – and finally understand that I am ok. And that their behaviour was not.
I learned A LOT about relationships. I think about it this way today – these experiences protected me from a narcissistic marriage with a toxic guy in the future – big time! I have a much better understanding of and feeling for narcissism now than before. I learned. I left. I am free. And I will do my best to never ever fall for someone who talks smart but behaves shitty again, no matter which kind of relationship it is.