But therapists are only human

When I was working with my therapist Judith, when our relationship was fine, I was seeing her regularly, and had known her for years, she would sometimes excuse her mistakes by saying that she was only human. In those moments, because we still had a good rapport, I rolled my eyes at it and moved on. I had learned that she had a difficult time admitting her mistakes, and when she did admit them, it was with saying how human she was.

When Judith terminated me abruptly in a ten minute phone call, with no termination sessions, no warning that I was to be terminated, and a threat of harassment charges if I contacted her further, I was told by many mental health professionals that she’s only human. In my attempts to find a new therapist, I had many correspondences with therapists, a few consultations, and met with three therapists for a few weeks to a couple of months in this past year. Almost all of these therapists explained Judith’s termination as if they knew her- she’s human, she must have been triggered by something, perhaps she was going through something in her own life.

I remember screaming internally that I don’t give a shit how human she is, what she did was wrong and it hurt me. I’m human too. We’re all human. I’m so glad we’re standing around establishing our humanness, but it doesn’t seem relevant. It’s not an excuse. My father sexually abused me, but you know, he’s human, flawed, so I guess that makes it okay?

I never expected perfection from Judith. I wouldn’t even know what that perfection might look like. I did however expect her to respect me as a human being, to honor her word, to finish the therapy she started with me. Dropping me in the middle of a crisis and with intense attachment and dependency is cruel. She encouraged, allowed, and enabled my attachment and dependency. We focused on trauma for years, without much improvement. Now that I am out of therapy and off of medications, I can see how the therapy I did with her was keeping me sick. It wasn’t healthy for me. Knowing that doesn’t ease the grief of this loss or the bitter betrayal I feel.

If therapists are mere humans then stop acting like gods. Stop treating clients like they know less than you do. Stop infantilizing clients and doing therapies that focus on attachment and regression, encouraging us to relive our childhood fears, pain, and experiences and then getting upset with us when we’re not being adults in the relationship. Stop touting your education and experience as if this qualifies you to mess around in client’s heads and hearts, and then abandoning and punishing clients when their feelings get out of control.

Therapists are only human, but we are bombarded with messages that therapists are more than this. They advertise themselves as healers, using theories and studies to back up their claims that if they do this and that, we’ll be better. They are claims that have a tremendous amount of emotional risk. Because we are all human and therapy exists in the context of relationship, there’s no way to guarantee anything at all.

I trusted Judith. I believed that she could help and that help came in weekly therapy sessions for years, EMDR, crisis calls, and attachment. I trusted that she knew what she was doing. After all, this is what I’m supposed to do if I truly want to get better, right? It got to a point where Judith was all I could think about at times. I was checking in with her almost daily, definitely weekly. I took everything to her. I constantly talked about what she said about this or that in my life. She loomed large in my mind and in my heart. She was my anchor. I brought up many times that the attachment was feeling like too much for me. It was painful and embarrassing. I didn’t want to be so consumed with her and to feel so dependent on her. It didn’t feel good. She kept assuring me that it was part of the process, that the only way for me to get better was to go through this part. I read articles about attachment in therapy and read similar things.

So, Judith worked for years in getting me to trust her, attach myself to her, depend on her, constantly encouraging me and reassuring, and I trust her because she’s a professional, she’s the expert, she knows what she’s doing, and she has all those little letters after her name. And then Judith, being human, makes a decision to abruptly terminate me without warning, without concern for my safety, with ensuring that I have adequate support lined up for myself now that I don’t have her, and this is explained away as her being human.

I don’t care how human she is. It’s no excuse. After all those years of teaching me about interpersonal relationships, encouraging healthy communication, and insisting on honesty and openness in our relationship, she disappears out of my life without any kindness.

Humans can also be assholes. They can be cruel, insensitive, abusive, unethical. There are hundreds of adjectives I could use right now to describe humans. And therapists being human, also means that they can be cruel, abusive, awful, unethical, unprofessional, callous, and so much more.

In some ways, I wish Judith had been more human with me throughout our therapy. She had a traditional, Freudian-type psychotherapeutic perspective. She shared very little about herself and encouraged the transference of my feelings onto her. I wish she had shared more about how she was so human, instead of showing me the worst part of her humanness by terminating me over the phone after eight years of us working together. I wish she had expressed her humanness to me by communicating with me at the end, as much as I had communicated with her over years. I wish she had respected me enough to at least give me an explanation as to why all of this happened instead of leaving me feeling like the termination was all my fault. It confirmed my feelings of worthlessness, my feelings of being too much for people to handle, of not deserving simple kindness. My thought afterward was if my own therapist couldn’t handle having me around, then nobody can.

References and Further Reading: Therapists are human, too; Therapist Mistakes; When therapists make mistakes.

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