When I went to grad school, I trusted that I would have the responsibility of a therapist. Little did I know that the responbility of a therapist more closely resembles that of a brain surgeon.
Although, this information was not informed by my precision, steady hands or ability to not hurl when exposed to the squishy bits of gray matter. It was informed by my clients.
If you ask anyone who’s ever been in therapy, they’d agree that therapists can do every bit as much harm to the brain as a brain surgeon.
Except, with therapy, it’s not only the inner workings of the brain (i.e., thought processes) that can be harmed. It’s also the self-worth, psyche, behavior and relationships. Especially the relationship to oneself. The most important one of all.
Therapists don’t get paid the salaray of a brain surgeon. And a counseling grad school program is not medical school. But you wouldn’t know that based on the responsiblity of our job.
Like those in the medical profession, we are led by a type of “first, do no harm” ethical guideline. (The fact this is a guideline–as opposed to implied–is kind of a joke.)
Yet therapists have a tendency to do harm all the time!
They judge: “I don’t think a good mother would say that to their child …”
They defer: “I’m not comfortable with deviant sexual behavior …”
They offer opionions: “You look so pretty in that dress …”
The above may appear harmless to the naked eye, but between the lines, there’s a darker message with capability to do lots of harm.
Parents are judged all the time in therapy for not making judgment calls that align with the therapist’s values.
Sexual behavior is judged as well if it conflicts with conventional ideas of normal sexual behavior, regardless of what his healthy sexual behavior.
And opinions? These are the worst and the most egregious.
Clients aren’t paying us for opinions. But if we facilitate a dynamic in which they come to depend on ours, what happens if we don’t say anything about the dress/the hairstyle/the shoes/or how hot your girlfriend is?
Opinions in the therapy office may seem harmless. Enough therapists offer them freely, or so my clients have told me. But opinions, like judgment, have the capacity to upend a client’s sense of self. Undermine their own values and belief systems in an attempt to replace them with yours.
This does harm. I repeat: This does harm.
This has a tendency to set off a chain reaction. One that starts with doubt.
“Is that what a good mother would do?”
Continues with judgment.
“If I love anal, I must be a fucking pervert!”
And concludes with self-worth that sinks to the bottom of the ocean.
“My therapist didn’t say anything about my dress today … probably because I’ve gained weight … who would compliment a fat person, anyway?”
Opinions and judgment in the therapy office can often send clients on a bender of shop therapy. Shopping for a therapist who can help them with the issues they continue to have. Issues they don’t always realize were implanted by the therapists they’ve worked with before.
Not a good look. For anyone. (Or … maybe that’s just my opinion?)