Choosing a therapist or counselor with discernment

“It is also a vital part of the process to learn discernment. To learn to ask for help and guidance from people who are trustworthy, that means people who will not betray, abandon, shame, and abuse you.  That means friends who will not abuse and betray you.  That means counselors and therapists who will not judge and shame you and project their issues onto you.

(I believe that the cases of “false memories” that are getting a lot of publicity these days are in reality cases of emotional incest – which is rampant in our society and can be devastating to a person’s relationship with his/her own sexuality – that are being misunderstood and misdiagnosed as sexual abuse by therapists who have not done their own emotional healing and project their own issues of emotional incest and/or sexual abuse onto their patients).

Someone who has not done her/his own emotionally healing grief work cannot guide you through yours.  Or as John Bradshaw put it in his excellent PBS series on reclaiming the inner child, “No one can lead you somewhere that they haven’t been.”” – Quotations in this color are from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney

In his PBS series on healing the inner child, John Bradshaw talked about how important it is to choose counselors and therapists who have done their own emotional healing.  He stated that he had been in recovery for 10 years and counseling for that period of time before he started doing the emotional healing.  Prior to starting that process if someone he was working with started to get emotional, he would immediately take steps to pull them out of the emotions back onto an intellectual level.

One of the most important things to check out when you are interviewing a new counselor / therapist – is whether they have done any emotional healing.  If they have not done any grief and anger work – actual emotional release work involving the deep grieving of sobs and snot running out the nose, and anger work, beating on cushions while they shout out their rage – then they will not want you to get emotional.  Doing the deep emotional work can be terrifying – and unless the person who is facilitating your work has been through it themselves, they will be scared by your emotions.  They will try to get you back into an intellectual framework – and many of them will tell you that you need to go on medication.

Too often, when we start counseling or therapy, we feel it is somehow shameful, or weak, because of our cultural programming – and come kind of hat in hand, as it were.  We come to the professional from a place of hoping they won’t tell us we are the sickest person they have ever met, and there is nothing they can do for us – or at least that was what I was sure was going to happen.

It is important to remember that the person going to the therapist is the employer.  You are the one doing the job interview with the power to decide who gets the job.  You are the one that is going to be paying for services and you have a right to ask any questions you need to – including what healing they have done personally.  Because someone has degrees, credentials, and is licensed does not mean they have done any healing on a personal level.  In an emotionally dysfunctional society, the standards used to judge qualifications are based on the dysfunctional, emotionally dishonest standards of the society.

My first experience of going to a licensed therapist in my recovery from codependence, was a very telling one.  I went to a therapist that was recommended by a friend.  I told her that I wanted to deal with emotional enmeshment issues with my mother.   The third session I had with this person, she delightedly told me that she wanted to line me up with a blind date.  A blind date with someone who worked for her husband, who had his office in their home as she did.  Duh!  The therapist I am seeing to sort out emotional enmeshment issues wants to line me up on a blind date – absolutely inappropriate and very codependent, thinking a relationship would fix me – with someone who works for her husband in the same building we are in – talk about enmeshing and incestuous.

She could not understand why I was upset.  I left that day, and went home to process what had just happened.  In processing through the issue, it was obvious to me how inappropriate and unhealthy this therapist was.  So, I called her up that evening and fired her.  I was very proud of myself because I did not buy into the guilt trips she laid on me as she tried to convince me that I was the one with the problem and that there was nothing wrong with her suggestion.

There is no one as good as a therapist at turning issues back on you so that it seems to be all your problem.  Therapist can be very difficult people to have personal relationships with – unless they are working an honest recovery program, and sometimes even then.  And if they are not involved in a personal recovery program, it is inevitable they will project their issues and judgments onto their patients.  Even therapists who are seeing another therapist for supervision, can only be as healthy as the belief systems which he/she and the supervising therapist are empowering.  And if those belief systems do not include an understanding of the importance of emotional healing, they will not be able to help someone do the emotional healing.

Another experience came shortly after I had started in a therapist position at an outpatient chemical dependence program in Van Nuys California in 1987.  One evening in a Family Group I was talking about how grateful I was to be in recovery and I teared up from joy – I didn’t cry, just teared up.  The next week the Clinical Director – my supervising therapist – came marching into our office and proceeded to lecture me about getting emotional in front of the clients.  This psychiatrist, who was on anti-depressants because he was suicidal over a relationship breakup, warned me to never let it happen again.

Often the more credentials someone has, the more tendency they have to wear blinders.  To see things only within the traditional paradigm – which labels and pigeon holes individuals – and more often than not, discounts emotions while worshiping chemicals.

Allow your Spirit guide you – not your shame.  Talk to a person, meet with them, and see how you feel about them.  Do they feel like someone you can trust?  Does what they have to say resonate?  Do you feel like they are really hearing you?  Are they empowering a belief system that is black and white, right and wrong?  (If they are, they will judge you.)  Do they talk to you – or down to you?

It is your choice.  You are the one holding the audition.  Going to see a counselor or therapist can be a very important and invaluable experience – but it is important to remember that choosing a therapist is not a commitment to them, it is a commitment to you.”

This article is part of a longer web article on my site entitled Inner Child Healing – Choosing a therapist or counselor with discernment

Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to quote in my book from: Bradshaw On Homecoming “Reclaiming and Championing you Inner Child”, a PBS series by John Bradshaw.  Reprinted in Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by permission of John Bradshaw 2412 South Boulevard, Houston Tx 77098.


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