A Guide to Psychology and its Practice

and Answers
About Psychotherapy


Website Menus

Page Contents: When a psychotherapist desires to rescue clients.                    


I am training to become a psychologist and wish to understand my own frustrations of feeling remorse that I had failed a patient I was working with; he didn’t want any treatment, yet he wanted a cure for his illness which I could not give him. I found myself wanting to “rescue” him.

This is a good question because it raises an issue that speaks not just to psychotherapists but also to all clients.

Years ago, when I was a student, a reading for one of my clinical psychology classes raised the question of whether or not a “borderline” client could be treated with psychoanalysis. Since I was in Lacanian psychoanalysis myself at the time, I asked my analyst for his opinion about that issue. Predictably, he didn’t answer right then. This was real psychoanalysis, and psychoanalysts don’t just answer any questions that the analysand happens to ask in the moment. Nevertheless, in one of our private seminars on Lacan a few weeks later, he gave his answer to the whole group: anyone who asks for psychoanalysis can be treated.

Of course, you have to pay attention to the carefully chosen wording of the answer. Anyone who asks does not mean “anyone who asks casually” but “anyone who seeks treatment by committing to do the work of it and is willing to pay for it.”

Now, this is a fair answer because it doesn’t rule out anyone for stereotypical reasons. Nevertheless, it does rule out many persons because only a few are willing to do the hard and rigorous work of psychoanalysis. And, by extension, this same principle rules out many persons from any form of psychotherapy in general. Only those who are willing to take responsibility for their own lives, and who are willing to work through the pain and darkness of their troubled psyches, can benefit from treatment. Or, as I say elsewhere on this website, when you want psychotherapy as much as you want to breathe, then you shall have it.

Therefore, those who ask for a cure but refuse treatment—that is, those who are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives and who are unwilling to work through the pain and darkness of their troubled psyches—simply cannot be helped by traditional psychotherapy.


Still, consider Jay Haley’s book called Uncommon Therapy; it’s about the non-traditional hypnotic treatment provided by Milton Erickson. Erickson’s work demonstrates that, in some cases, even resistant clients can be helped in spite of their fear of treatment. Therefore, it could help all psychotherapists-in-training to be familiar with this work and to appreciate it.

Similarly, though, psychotherapists who are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives and who are unwilling to work through the pain and darkness of their own troubled psyches will not be able to help their clients; instead, they will experience an overwhelming urge to rescue their clients. Why? Because, in trying to rescue their clients, those psychotherapists will be unconsciously trying to rescue themselves from the pain and vulnerability they don’t want to see in themselves. And so they will bungle the psychotherapy.

Thus, that leaves you with the task of using your own psychotherapy to get to the root of your desire for the glamor of being a rescuer instead of accepting the slow and laborious work of a healer.


 Back to the list of questions


No advertising—no sponsor—just the simple truth . . .

If this website has helped you, then
please help support this website

FOR THE SAKE OF TRUTH this website about the practice of Clinical Psychology does not accept any advertising.

Therefore, if my work has been informative and helpful to you, please send a donation in appreciation, even if it’s only a few dollars, to help offset my costs in making this website available to everyone without advertising.

Gratitude is joy to the heart!


Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
San Francisco




A Guide to Psychology and its Practice



Copyright © 1997-2023 Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
San Francisco


All material on this website is copyrighted. You may copy or print selections for your private, personal use only.
Any other reproduction or distribution without my permission is prohibited.



No advertising and no sponsor—just the simple truth.