A Guide to Psychology and its Practice

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Page Contents: Whether psychotherapy can create emotional turmoil.                    


I am interested in the effect psychotherapy has on someone and how much emotional turmoil it can create. My ex-boyfriend started intense therapy for three times a week (18 months) in January and became more and more consumed by it. In March, he seemed to change and started saying he didn’t like therapy at the time and then one day he told me he didn’t love me anymore and that he didn’t want to be with me. . . . When I asked him why, he said he didn’t know why his feelings changed. At the time he even said he felt differently towards his sister and mother too. He cut me off. . . . Recently I went to see him and ask if he wanted to be friends and he seemed very confused. . . . Anyway he agreed to be friends and said he cared but then a week later he swore and told me to get lost and said that I was causing him stress etc, made him ill etc. All for no apparent reason. . . . It just feels like the psychotherapy has made him incredibly confused and not very nice at all. It feels like all his anger is directed towards me but yet he can’t tell me what I have done wrong. . . . Does psychotherapy produce this kind of turmoil?

Psychotherapy doesn’t always produce such turmoil, but the reassessment of one’s social relationships can be a “side-effect“ of psychotherapy. In fact, on my Treatment Consent form I warn new clients about this very risk.

To understand this, it is important to realize that a core element of good psychotherapy is the ability to disentangle yourself from all sorts of illusory identifications with others and to stop using others to fill your emotional emptiness.

A large part of psychotherapy, therefore, focuses on learning to see your parents as they are, with all of their faults that you were blind to as a child. This isn’t pleasant work. But it isn’t meant to blame your parents, either; instead, openly acknowledging all the ways they have hurt you frees you from unconscious anger and allows you, ultimately, to forgive them.

A different process, however, happens in regard to other relationships, especially romantic ones, that aren’t based in a selfless commitment to a family through marriage. Because most romantic relationships in the world today are based in “common love,” not true love, all of these relationships, in general, are subject to what I call the love-hate flip-flop. This means that total infatuation can suddenly switch into disgust and hatred. It happens all the time in ordinary life, and it can be provoked especially by psychotherapy. The psychotherapist has no right to instigate such things, but they can happen simply as an aspect of the client’s own unconscious process.

For example, a woman might think her boyfriend is an entertaining charmer, but with insight from psychotherapy she might come to see him for what he really is: an irresponsible alcoholic. Or a man might think his girlfriend is a lovely free-spirit, only to see her, after some psychological insight, as an insecure person terrified of genuine commitment. Or, it might happen that a man with a perfectly decent girlfriend will come to realize that what he thought was love for her was only a defensive illusion created by his own insecurity.

These side-effects of psychotherapy can be very painful for the person getting cut off. Moreover, when the reasons for the initial attraction were largely unconscious, the reasons for the detachment will seem incomprehensible.

In your case, all you can do in such a situation is be grateful that the illusions have shown up sooner, rather than later.


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
San Francisco




A Guide to Psychology and its Practice



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