A Guide to Psychology and its Practice

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Page Contents: A wolf in counselor’s clothing.                    


I recently decided I needed to make some changes in my life and I was not sure where to begin. I was very depressed and worry seemed to control my life so one day when I was crying for some reason I was not even sure about, I called my insurance company and told them I needed help. This was a huge step for me because up until that day I was afraid if I admitted I needed counseling others may think I crazy. The insurance company referred me to a counselor. . . . My first trip to the counselor my husband went with me and at that time the counselor told him that he did not have to come to the other sessions that he would never be alone with me. I found this a little strange. He did say though that if I wanted him there it was fine. The second session I explained that I have this uncontrollable urge to wash my hands a lot and that my hands are raw and often crack and bleed because of the excessive washing. His response was “This may sound a little too personal but do you masturbate a lot?” He said that sometimes they are related. I had never heard this before and it seemed a little strange to me. My third and last session was very emotional and I revealed very personal things, at the end of the session the counselor asked if I needed a hug and extended his arms out to me. I was very uncomfortable but I did not want to be rude so I said yes and we hugged. Now I am so confused about the whole thing. I called and cancelled my sessions for the next few weeks. Is this a normal part of psychotherapy? Why am I not sure now if I want to even try going back?

Most likely, you’re not sure about going back because you realize you have met a wolf in counselor’s clothing.

Your experience illustrates two points about psychotherapy. First, as I say in answer to other questions (see Transference Issues #2, #10, and #12), hugs are not a legitimate part of the psychotherapy process, and, when initiated by a psychotherapist, a hug or a request for a hug should be taken as a warning sign of impending sexual abuse. You seem to have properly intuited this fact, and that’s why you cancelled further sessions with this so-called “counselor.”

Second, the best way to choose a psychotherapist is to spend the time—and money—necessary to interview several candidates. This way you can assess your emotional reactions to the interpersonal styles of several psychotherapists, and you can choose the person with whom you feel most comfortable. Unfortunately, the managed care system can make you feel pressured to accept any referral you’re given. If you understand your rights as a consumer, however, you can insist on several referrals, and you can eliminate any one for any reason, even if the reason is only an intuitive reaction to one meeting.

So I recommend that you listen to your intuition—the very intuition that told you to seek treatment in the first place—and find a new, competent psychotherapist to get the help you need.


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
San Francisco




A Guide to Psychology and its Practice



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San Francisco


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