People have asked me whether engaging with the topic of harm in therapy has led me to feel jaded or cynical about the the profession I am entering. I have reflected on this question a lot, and I have concluded that the answer is an unequivocal “no”. On the contrary, I feel that engagement with this topic makes the profession more robust, and the positive response I have received from therapists since I have started this blog assures me that the profession as a whole cares deeply about ethical practice and client responses to therapy. I am also encouraged by, and in admiration of, those therapists already speaking out about harm in therapy, such as Philip Cox and Amanda Williamson.
I was motivated to begin blogging about harm primarily because I just couldn’t hear the voices of those who have had negative experiences in therapy, even though statistics tell us that they are out there in large numbers. There’s something terribly disempowering about having a harmful experience and then not being heard.
Over the years I have engaged with online communities where people have supported each other through harmful experiences in therapy and I have also been involved with online forums for therapists. I wondered, where do I exist in all of this? Where is the bridge that connects these experiences and viewpoints? I feel like I belong at the place where those worlds meet, and honestly, I feel like we all belong in that place – we are all learners and teachers.
Somebody recently asked me who this blog is intended for. When I write, I am aware that I will be read by a mixture of therapists, clients, trainees and other people with an interest in the subjects I discuss. It is important to me that we are all able to engage in dialogue together. I am always learning from the comments on this blog from clients and therapists, and also from my engagement on twitter, which I initially saw as a means to promote my blog, but which has actually become a real platform for learning and exploration for me.
It is my feeling (and my personal experience of therapy supports this) that harm in therapy can, in some cases, be mitigated by a positive re-engagement with therapy. Quite likely, this is not always true, and it is important, in my view, to trust a client’s own self-determination when deciding their best way forward after a harmful experience.
It seems crucial, when a client presents with a story of an unethical or careless therapist, or an otherwise harmful situation, that the new therapist is able to be with them on that journey, just like with any other presenting issue or traumatic experience. It is important to be aware of our own personal investment in the profession, how it challenges our objectivity and how this might impact on our empathy. Awareness, as always, is key, and in creating a healthy collective consciousness of harm in therapy, I feel as though the profession is moving in the right direction.
3 thoughts on “The more I explore harm in therapy, the more optimistic I become”
I think the way a new therapist handles the situation of previous negative therapy experiences is very important. Attachment and/or trauma bonding can often mean that the client is wounded but isn’t ready to hear criticism of their previous therapist from others – even if they are critical themselves. And sometimes getting a bit of distance and time to cool off can put the previous therapy relationship in a new perspective. Pain and misunderstandings do not always equate to unethical conduct or bad therapy. I found it really helpful that a new therapist was always respectful of my previous therapist and prepared to let me discuss him endlessly. It helped me to see things about that relationship that I hadn’t appreciated before, and in the end I went back to the previous therapist.
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I think you are absolutely right about that. I had a similar experience of changing therapists (although I didn’t return to the previous therapist) my therapist’s ability to reserve judgement of my previous therapist was important to me too. I mentioned this in an article I wrote for counsellor’s café. Here’s the link in case you wanted to read it https://www.thecounsellorscafe.co.uk/single-post/2018/01/22/When-Clients-Experience-Harm-in-Therapy
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I have a saying that is one of my motivations as I seek to educate people about harm/abuse by a therapist: Victims of abuse within therapy are doubly wounded as their worlds collapse in silence in the midst of a society that has no frame of reference to understand what has happened to them.
Thank you for helping to educate society.
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