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Page Contents: When your psychotherapist seems intentionally harsh.                    


I’ve been seeing my psychotherapist for about six months. Because of past bad experiences, it took me a long time to be comfortable opening up to him. I see him for depression and anorexia. The most recent issue we tackled was a date-rape I experienced at 18. While discussing it, I felt so alone, and unsupported. I brought it up to him at our next session and he told me that he is intentionally inconsiderate of my feelings, intentionally harsh with me, but would not expand on why. I feel very betrayed; I feel like he completely destroyed me in three sentences; I’ve been very depressed, suicidal, and not eating since I last saw him. He will not respond to phone calls or e-mails. I am not scheduled for another session for two weeks, and he has made it clear he will not be available in the interim. He has mentioned several times that he wants me to learn to stand up for myself more, but when I ask for help he turns me down. What gives?

From the way you describe it, it sounds as if this “therapist” is trying to conduct his own form of Reality Therapy, like the “tough love” parents use on disobedient children. This sort of treatment can work on children who otherwise refuse to listen to good advice, but to use it on an emotionally wounded adult is like throwing someone into a pool and saying, “You need to swim a few laps for discipline.” And when you cry out, “Help! I don’t know how to swim!” he just walks away, saying, “We can talk about that in two weeks.”

Now, the truth is, if you became depressed and suicidal because of three harsh sentences, then most likely those three sentences opened up a pre-existing, deep wound about rejection, and the date-rape was just one insult on top of something—or multiple somethings—from even earlier in your life. Consequently, you lack experience in being emotionally trusting and self-reliant, and therefore you can’t just start standing up for yourself because someone demands that you do so. You need to be taught about trust and self-reliance and trained in how to practice them.

This sort of training can happen in psychotherapy if it is attentive to the symbolic material of your unconscious. Through accurate interpretations, your psychotherapist will gain your trust, and through respect for the psychotherapeutic process, you will begin to trust your own unconscious. Remember, the unconscious is not “out to get you,”—it’s just raw truth. When you can face that truth without fear, you can benefit from its wisdom, and that will be a big step into self-reliance.

So, what gives? Well, rather than punish yourself for feeling rejected, give yourself permission to find someone who can teach you properly.


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
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