Picking a therapist

I’ve been in either individual or couples therapy with 8 different therapists since my husband’s addiction and cheating almost destroyed our marriage.  And I can tell you definitively that all therapists are absolutely not created equal.  Considering that your emotional life – and possibly the future of your family as you know it – is in their hands, it’s vital to select a therapist who is professional, attentive and empathetic.

If I am going to take the time and money to hire someone for ANY job I expect a certain level of professionalism…but when it’s my mind, heart and gut involved that my requirements have hit a whole new level.  In hindsight I wish I had learned this earlier, but better late than never.

To some degree, it’s true that you will get out what you put in.  Regardless of how good your therapist is, if you are resistant to the process it will be a very difficult road.  However, if you can walk into your therapists office each week with true willingness then you should see obvious results.

Here is a brief synopsis of some of the therapists I have seen – they range from complete incompetence to positively life changing.

# 1.  Male “counselor” without a degree who hangs out his counselor shingle for people in his 12 step program.  He was primarily my husbands therapist when he first entered SAA, but saw us as a couple as well. After 2 years I learned that he occasionally encouraged my husband to lie to me since that was the easiest solution.  He cloaked it in “you don’t want to cause her additional pain”.  Of course, when the truth came to light it was the pain of the lie which hurt most of all.  In one particularly memorable session, I was convinced my husband had reached out to an affair partner – it was my gut screaming that it was true – the counselor and my husband both sat there and lied to my face saying it was just my imagination.  Alas, it wasn’t.

# 2.  Older psychiatrist with a long history with couples.  My husband and I saw him for a couple years.  The sessions were fascinating on an intellectual level however there was never any emotional growth.  The experience was purely mental which in the end wasn’t what we needed.  I think we stayed with him longer than we should because we found the sessions to be stimulating and evoked a nice level of communication, even if they weren’t particularly effective for us.

# 3.  I started seeing an MFT by myself.  Sessions with Michelle felt very comfortable and casual.  In the moment I felt like I was chatting with a good friend.  But in the days following sessions her words would start to resonate with me. It was an impressive dynamic.  I started my affair with my ex boyfriend while I was seeing her.  She is the one who encouraged me to seek couples therapy with my husband so I could express my resentments over his cheating.  It took her 2 months to convince me that it was OK to tell him how I feel.  She said that his behavior caused me to develop muscles I didn’t have before and now it’s his turn.  She assured me that he would be strong enough to handle hearing my feelings.  She changed my life by teaching me this.

# 4.  My husband was seeing a sex addiction specialist.  After Michelle’s suggestion that I tell my husband my feelings, we started seeing her as a couple.  It was difficult for me to tell him that I was angry, resentful and was no longer in love – but Michelle had given me the strength to do so.  I cried in every session for the first month as I spoke my truth.  After that we continued to see her as a couples therapist for about 2 more years.  There were no more emotional sessions after that first month.  She phoned it in and we allowed that.  In our final session last year I said that I still feared my husband was lying.  She laughed at me.  No lie.  She insulted my instincts and said that if he were lying that SHE WOULD KNOW and that he would be incredibly sick.  Such betrayal from a therapist could be considered malpractice.  2 months later I discovered I was right and that he had been lying for the past 6 years.  She never checked in with me after that.  She still sees my husband and takes credit for his now being honest.  Her ego can’t see it any other way.

# 5.  I tried seeing another therapist who worked at the same clinic as therapist # 4.  This one was supposed to be an expert in sex addiction as well but held such anger toward my husband it was shocking.  Here I was a woman who still deeply loved and understood her husband and this woman would refer to him as a “dude” and kept suggesting that I wouldn’t stay in the marriage once I got some therapy under my belt.  It didn’t feel like a safe place for me to talk through my feelings…not when the response was so very one sided.

# 6.  I found a therapist who only deals with partners of sex addicts.  She is fair, warm, intelligent & understanding.  But she pushes me so hard to look at my role, my family of origin, my “addictions”.  I cry in most sessions (and I am not a cryer).  I have seen unprecedented growth with her.  Yes, part of it is my willingness – but she takes if from there.  When I am uncomfortable she allows me to hesitate but never lets me off the hook.  Never allows me to change the subject.

Therapy is important business.  It’s so vital to find the right match.  It’s not easy and can take years.  If your therapist has an attitude or an ego you aren’t going to get the attention you need.  If they don’t know how to push you to very uncomfortable places then you won’t have growth. During the therapy process you will often times go to scary and sad places and need someone who is going to know when you have gone far enough – and someone who can sympathize.

Your therapist should never shame or embarrass you.  If you can’t tell them the darkest secret you hold then find someone else.  If you don’t leave most sessions with a clearer understanding of why you are/react/feel/think the way you do, then find someone else.  If you feel you are at a comfortable plateau, find someone else.

They are tough shoes to fill but there are amazing therapists in the world and if you find the right one they can change your life.


2 comments on “Picking a therapist

  1. Great post and thanks for sharing. I’m sorry you have had to deal with such crappy therapists but I must report, I have been there too. I agree so much comes from what you put in, but the best therapists know how to pull it out also.

    I am especially affected by your comments on your husbands lying as I have been in this situation multiple times and it has now taught me I must trust my instincts: if my gut says he’s lying, he almost always is….and I’ve “proven” it one too many times. Stick to your intuition, it’s almost never wrong. It sucks when the lying continues and sometimes leads us to make decisions we might not have otherwise.

    My favorite therapy and most successful was cognitive behavioral therapy. Short in duration, you focus on 1-2 subjects at a time and over the course of the therapy (12 weeks, like I said: short for therapy!) you work towards closure or resolution of just those issues rather than delving into what caused the problem. Resolution based, I found this a useful tool even in business.

    Again, thanks for sharing and good luck.

  2. sassygirl40 says:

    This is such a great post. Unfortunately a lot of people give up on therapy when they have that one bad match. It sounds like you truly had a mix and found a really great therapist in both #3 and #6. When I am ready to start the work, I hope it doesn’t take too long to find that fit, but I will keep trying.

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