Write To Me, I Want
To Hear From You
What Is A Therapist's
This topic comes from an e-mail letter I received a few
I've only done some minor editing.
THE LETTER I RECEIVED:
What is the job of a therapist? To listen? Anybody can do that, and
I've had two therapists that just stole my money.
What is the job of a therapist? Are they supposed to give advice or just
sit there? Are they supposed to help you?
I want you to answer these questions!
This is a great question, and I do want to answer it clearly and thoroughly
The basic answer is: A therapist's job is to help you to change the things
you want to change.
So the first thing a therapist does it to ask you what you want to change,
and this can sometimes be a very difficult first step.
For example: Some people come to therapists without wanting to change
anything at all. Some clients are ordered into therapy by a court. Other
people are also sent against their will (for instance when spouses insist
that they get help under threat of a divorce.) These people may not want
to change at all. They might even be furious that they have to be sitting
there talking to the therapist. When people come to a therapist against
their will, the therapist's job is to simply hear that they don't want
to change, allow them to quit if they want to, and to also encourage them
to consider that they can change and that they can make wise decisions
about whether to work at their changes in therapy. So, the first reason
you might have had a bad time with therapists is that maybe you didn't
really want to be there in the first place, and the therapists were essentially
"fishing around" to see if you would change your mind.
Another reason you might have had a bad time with the therapists is that
there are many different kinds of therapy.
Some therapists are "non-directive." They believe that the best way to
help people is to simply allow them to talk and gather insight about what
they want to change and about their own abilities.
Other therapists are very "directive" (me, for instance). They are very
free with their opinions and they have ongoing and sometimes quite intense
conversations with their clients. They believe that change comes partly
from "supportive confrontation" (pointing out things that they think the
client should consider changing, while sincerely respecting their right
to their own choices).
Maybe you ran into some "non-directive" therapists. If so, they certainly
were not a good match for you since you want a therapist who interacts
with you more.
That leads to yet another reason you might have had trouble with your
therapists. The therapists simply might not have been a good match for
you. Clients have to take responsibility for finding a therapist who is
a good match, and for moving along to other therapists when they run into
someone who doesn't feel right to them. (Some men don't work well with
female therapists, or with males. People of different cultures might have
widely different values than the therapist. Nobody is a good match for
Another big problem that frequently happens has to do with addictions.
People who are strongly addicted to alcohol or drugs often have to overcome
these addictions first before they are good candidates for therapy. Since
the addiction is so strong, they often come to therapy with a chip on
their shoulders and are very well prepared to defend their right to continue
drinking or using. The therapist knows that they can't get better very
fast without first giving up their crutch. But the client believes he
needs his crutches. So they tend to go round and round without appearing
to get anywhere for a while. (What's actually happening during all this
time is that the client's trust in the therapist is building very slowly.)
Yet another problem has to do with managed care. Some therapists work
for insurance companies who won't send them clients unless they are very
quick at finishing with every client! In these cases the therapist may
be more concerned about trying to convince you that you don't need to
come back than he is in actually helping you!
Of course, the final reason is simply that there are a lot of lousy therapists
(including the ones who follow the insurance company's orders instead
of focusing on their clients).
But whether you ran into two lousy therapists, or whether the problem
was one of the other things I mentioned, the thing you need to remember
is that IT IS YOUR LIFE... and if you want to get professional help you
simply must go through as many therapists as necessary until you find
the one who is right for you!
I will warn you, however, that even after you find a therapist who is
easy for you to trust and who seems competent and ethical, there will
still be times when you and the therapist feel "stuck" for a few weeks
or even months. Every client has quite a few "plateaus" during which nothing
seems to be changing, and they get back to making big changes after that.
You will have to tolerate these plateaus along the way. It is just part
of the process.
So now I have given you a very thorough answer to your question.... and
it's time for you to get on the phone and call another therapist to see
if they are a good match for you. (You might want to read: "Are
You Considering Therapy?" at my site first.)
Believe it or not, you are the first person to ask me this question in
about seven years of answering these letters! I'd be very interested in
hearing from you about what I've had to say. I think I'll turn this letter
into one of the topics at my site eventually, and hearing back from you
about what I've said might help me when I write the new topic....
So thanks again for an excellent question!
I know I saved a copy of this man's response letter, but I can't find
I'm almost positive he wrote back to apologize for "venting" on me in
the first letter, and to say that he was thinking about how the things
I said applied to his experiences with his therapists.
I also think he said he would try again to find a therapist who was a
good match for him. (I'm not so sure of this part. Maybe it's just wishful
Please Tell Your Friends About
Enjoy Your Changes!
Everything here is designed to help you do just that!
Write To Me, I Want To Hear From You!
Tony Schirtzinger, Therapist (Milwaukee)
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