When I first start seeing my therapist she told me that she had knowledge/experience (20 years) in treating my issue. I’m single with no family/support, yet at first I only communicated with her in session. I had difficulties with anxiety and dissociation in between, but refrained from text or emails (I don’t like to call by phone).
Anyway, she insisted I text or email with updates. I did, and she was very supportive.
At holidays/my birthday she gave me gifts (a Chromebook, video recorder, exercise bike, etc., etc.) – things she had or that her son found at the college where he works – not things that she went out and bought specifically for me. Then when I needed new hearing aids and started a fundraiser, she told me that she knew of a grant that would give me the $2,400 I needed. She gave me a cashier’s check but she was the person who wrote it. When I asked her, she admitted that it was her money but that it was a gift.
In the last 3 months she’s quit her job at the hospital, started a full-time private practice, found out that her daughter is cutting and not eating and that her son may lose his eyesight. I was able to collect enough through my fundraiser and returned the money she gave me at around this same time and she started crying. She wanted me to keep it but I didn’t feel it was right.
Since then, our therapeutic relationship has deteriorated and she has told me that she doesn’t even know why I continue to see her. Last week, when I came to session she said I texted too much. I told her I didn’t need to and wouldn’t and then she said she didn’t mean for me not to. As I sat and cried for 20 minutes she didn’t even offer a hug – which 2 months ago, when her dog died, I hugged her as she cried over his loss.
I’m so torn. I know I should leave but am so attached and just want things to be like they were in the beginning. There has to be a way that we can make this work but I just don’t know what to do. What should I do and can I help both of us?
Hello and thank you very much for your email.
It is a very difficult situation so I shall try to break it down as best I can. I shall also try to speak as objectively as I can.
Our job as therapists, psychologists, is to offer a service to the public. In doing so, we need to be able to ‘contain’ their difficulty, and bracket off whatever is happening in our own personal lives, in order to be able to support the person, that comes to see us.
That said, we are also human beings, and things can affect us to, but we still have a duty of care, to the people we see. When things affect us personally, and we think this may impact on our ability to do our job, then this is not a good time to offer therapy.
I think it boils down being aware of our competencies. If I were feeling particularly fragile, and thought that I would not be able to bracket off (or set aside) whatever was troubling me, I would decide at that point in time, that I was not competent to carry out my job, as it may blur the lines of what we call the therapeutic relationship.
The relationship that a person forms with their therapist is very real, and can indeed be very powerful, many would say that it is the strength of the therapeutic relationship that helps to create change.
An important point in my mind, is that in order to create a strong alliance between the therapist and the client, this therapeutic relationship is quite different from the relationships we form with other people.
For example, if you and I were friends. If you came to me with a problem, I may listen but I would feel it was okay to share some problems that I have. In doing so, if I were going through a difficult time and you were aware of this, you might not tell me some of your own concerns, as it would pop into your head that I was a bit fragile, and you would offer me support. The point here is, you would be acutely aware of my needs and this would affect what you say to me.
However, if you came to see me as a psychologist, I would create a space between us, where we would establish a strong and secure relationship, but one in which the focus was on you and your needs. For me to do my job properly and to do my best for you, you would need to feel that I have the strength not only to hear what you are saying, but also the strength to hold and contain it, while you are able to work through it.
This would only be possible by the boundaries that are set up in the relationship. These boundaries allow the focus of attention to be on you and your needs.
I think, from your question, the boundaries have been blurred, and you are now concerned about your therapist. You asked at the end how you could help both you and your therapist. From what you have said, I would suggest mentioning this in your next session, that you are having thoughts about helping both. You might also need to think about and if necessary, discuss ending therapy.
The reason I suggest that, is that you have moved from seeking therapy to being concerned about your therapist.
It really does sound quite muddled. The gifts, we are not to give gifts as it blurs the therapeutic relationship. Giving gifts like the ones you mentioned, introduces a whole new dynamic into the relationship, too many for me to mention in one email. I hope I do not sound harsh here, as that is not my intention, but it sounds like you have been given a problem, while seeking help from a therapist.
I don’t recommend just not going back, as you may well need an appropriate ending to therapy. As stated before, I think this should be discussed in your sessions, that you would like to bring them to a close.
As a final note, your therapist, if he or she is having problems, they will be able to take this to, what we call supervision. Supervision is where we can discuss any difficulties that we are having with another professional.
I think you have to bear in mind, that therapy is about you getting the support you need, and in this case, I am not sure that this has been managed well for you.