How did the therapy wind up in such a different place from where it started, so far from my original intentions? I have thought about that a lot and decided there are many reasons, both small and large.
The large reasons:
1) The bait-and-switch.
As I’ve previously discussed, the therapist never mentioned that she would use any particular approach or method or technique with me, but she did it anyway. Not only that, I don’t think she was doing Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (as she claimed) or even Gestalt Therapy (as I claimed). I think she was actually doing using something much more sinister – the Confusion Technique.
You can google the term and find out all kinds of things about it. It has been very influential in many types of psychotherapy. It is also used by interrogators, salespeople, cult recruiters and con artists. It is, to say the least, controversial. However, psychotherapy proponents of the technique claim that it helps people to access their un/subconscious beliefs and then to re-pattern them. Or some horseshit – I don’t care about the theory. It is a technique that can only be used without the client’s informed consent (think about it – if you tell someone upfront that you will attempt to confuse them, they’ll be alert to your manoevers and it won’t work) and is therefore unethical.
Anyway, my experience during the sessions was that the therapist would interrupt me, jump around from topic to topic, respond to my comments with random irrelevant questions, “challenge” my common-sense ideas (like thinking it is stupid to have affairs with married men) for no good reason, and so on.
The conversations were all over the place and we got into subjects I NEVER intended to discuss and didn’t even really care about. E.g. the reaction of some casual acquaintances I met while living overseas to the news that I was returning to my home country. I didn’t bring that up on my own and never would have; it only came up in response to her random questions.
I considered the most glaring instances of this behaviour to be red flags, but much of the time I was just… confused. So the technique works – watch out for it!
I want to be clear: The technique worked to confuse me, it did not help me. Literally all it did was confuse me and make me doubt my own good judgement. I consider this a net loss.
However, I have no doubt that it helped the therapist quite a bit. She managed to create the dynamic in which I would set aside my own judgement and replace it with her suggestions, especially re: the relationship. I think that laid the groundwork for her pitch for long-term therapy later on.
2) Therapist’s disregard for best practices such as assessment, goal-setting and treatment planning.
If these had been determined at the start of therapy, it would have been much easier for me to recognize and object to the therapist’s digressions. Notice how neatly a lack of goals or planning fits together with the Confusion Technique. A wily therapist can keep that going for years!
3) My own naivete, lack of research and trust in institutions.
I believed that because I had found this therapist through presumably trustworthy agencies, starting with my family doctor, and that because the therapist was registered with a regulating body, I could trust this therapist. Bait-and-switching, lying by omission, disregarding best practices – I did not anticipate that a supposedly appropriately credentialed therapist would do any of these things. Ask a random person about it and they would probably agree. Those are BAD things that only irresponsible quacks would do. Right?
The irony is that I was already aware that there were therapy quacks. I knew it was a bad idea to just surf the internet for a random therapist. That’s why I went through the channels I did, and it turned out to be a completely pointless exercise.
I also did not research therapy in general before I started. Had I done so, I might have at least stumbled onto the information about unvalidated therapies and treatment planning, etc, and insisted on them in my own therapy. On the other hand, a lot of rubbish is considered good therapy by practicing therapists and they are very willing to let themselves off the hook for any mistakes. (E.g. http://www.goodtherapy.org/what-is-good-therapy.html )
Also, many articles about choosing a therapist are really more about what the therapy is like once it is underway. A sample question like “Can your counselor accept feedback and admit mistakes?” can only be answered if you’ve attempted to give your therapist feedback, which would only happen after several sessions, at the earliest. By that time you have already invested time and money in your therapy, so what then? Back to the drawing board? What clients need is a way to determine early on if their therapist is any good, but I haven’t yet come across any good strategies for doing so. This is one of the reasons why I recommend staying away from therapy; it can drain you financially, temporally and emotionally with ZERO benefit.
At any rate, I would advise anyone who feels they MUST have therapy, to research it EXTREMELY carefully before and during the therapy. And to run a mile from any therapist who discourages you from doing so.
The small reasons:
1) The timing of appointments – They were spaced out enough (every two weeks) to make it harder to detect the patterns.
2) Apparent normalcy in the beginning – The therapist didn’t start using nutjob techniques right away , only after about five sessions, so I was caught off guard when it started. However, there were tiny red flags here and there that I saw in retrospect.
3) The notion that clients don’t reveal their “real” issues until therapy is underway – I’m fairly certain that the therapist saw my introducing the topic of the crap new relationship as a kind of “deepening” of therapy. As in: NOW we’re really getting to the heart of the matter. But it wasn’t like that at all. I mentioned the crap relationship in the six session because that’s when it began. I hadn’t even met the guy when I first started therapy, so I couldn’t have brought it up earlier.
I may add to this list as I clarify my thinking around all the reasons for the debacle. Heh – I just thought about the reasons the therapist would come up with: my unrealistic expectations (though we never discussed what they were), my leaving therapy “early” (thought I never committed to any particular length of time), my being too afraid/unwilling/defended to do the hard work of therapy and see it through (she’d be right about the unwilling part). Hell, you make up a Bullshit Bingo Card of all the ways therapists find to blame clients for therapy failures.