Once upon a time, I worked as a therapist at a residential program for adolescent girls. A new therapist was hired who came with a lot of experience and was highly recommended. She worked there for roughly 2 months before walking out one day claiming the rest of us were unethical. Now mind you she gave no notice, did not say goodbye to her clients, and did no transfer work from herself to a new therapist. After she left and her clients had been reassigned, we found out what a typical session had been like with her. It went something like this: the client would come in and begin talking about her day or something they were struggling with. From there this highly experienced and touted therapist would turn whatever the client had begun to talk about into how her life was messed up and how hard she had it in life. And this would last for… the rest of the hour! Now, who was being unethical?
Unfortunately, this is all too common. Therapists are people too, which means they are going to make mistakes, and do things for their own reasons. Pardon me if I throw up here, but last time I checked, doing things like taking over a session for personal reasons, taking advantage of a client or having even sex with a client (in your office during a session!) is not a mistake. Don’t get me started. Therapists and counselors have done a terrible job of promoting trust with the public. No wonder people don’t want to go see a therapist. They’re hypocrites!
Why do therapists and counselors do this? Again, they are people, too. My opinion is that a lot of therapists or counselors shouldn’t even be practicing! They are doing more harm than good, usually because they lack professional boundaries, are only thinking of themselves (or their shopping list), or are naive about the dynamics of human relationships despite their training.
I went to graduate school. I took a test (and passed). I was granted a license (or two). I was under supervision for well over two years. I obtain CEUs every time my license is up for renewal in ethics (and other required subject areas). I’ve been trained to have professional boundaries with clients. And so has every other licensed professional!
Therapists are imperfect and fallible human beings, just like everyone else. In the beginning, therapists are more mechanical and not as focused on the relationship with the client, so they miss important things while trying to stick to their agenda. They’re scared they are going to screw up, or that the client won’t like them. Heaven forbid the client might figure out their counselor doesn’t know everything everything. But they can also get burned out and tired of the same old thing, day after day. This is when a therapist or counselor can lose the heart connection, the engagement, and it becomes just another task to complete. It becomes a speech, a habit put on repeat. This might be the 579th time they have given this speech, but for the client its still their first time. I know because I have done it.
Sorry about that. In time a dedicated therapist or counselor can find their passion and purpose, resolve their own personal issues, and really live what they are promoting. And they can have genuine helpful relationships with clients. That is why clients most often report that the relationship with the counselor or therapist is the number one determinant of success. It’s not the model or theory or experience. It’s the relationship.
The problem with therapists and counselors is that they are human. That’s what makes them so great.