Angry with your therapist? I have been angry with mine. You may have your own anger and reasons for it. I am hoping to shed more light on this important topic, and hopefully provide some help about how to deal with anger in the therapy room.
Anger in therapy can be part of the process, a feeling we have difficulty with, even without knowing it. Then there could also be problematic, unacceptable or unethical behaviour on part of the therapist, which you are responding to with anger. Using my own experience from when I was a therapy client, I am hoping to shed some light on this important topic.
“Don’t stop now, Karin” my therapist had said. “Remember the process. This is a critical time in your work. Trust me. Stay.”
That is how I remember it. I felt misunderstood and angry with my late therapist. I wanted to leave and never come back.
1. In any human relationship there may come the time when we do not feel understood.
It might happen at the beginning or later on.
Not feeling understood is a human experience and not uncommon in therapy. It can happen frequently or less often. Sometimes we think it is ‘the other person’s fault’. Sometimes it goes a lot deeper than that. What could it be about? Why do you feel angry with your therapist and what to do?
In therapy we may feel anger in the first or early sessions or later on. Sometimes we may find that we are not well-matched with our therapist or counsellor and that the chemistry is not working. But before settling for that explanation it might be worth considering some other possibilities.
2. Angry with your therapist? What might be going on?
The episode with my own (late) therapist happened a long time into our work together.
Finally, I had started to feel really p… off with him. I was angry.
How much longer would this take? I was tired of therapy. I was bored. Every week, this relentless self-introspection, the pain, the tears…
But my therapist was right. Therapy and personal growth is a process.
Finally, I started to get in touch with my anger about many things and many people. Finally, I was ready to dump and ditch and shout and swear.
And he, the most trusted, kind, honest, wise and caring person in my life, he was going to get it in the neck. My therapist was the first in the firing line.
And of course, he knew it. He had seen it coming. He had been waiting for me to finally get in touch with the raw stuff.
My therapist had been willing me on to stop being so nice and so considerate and such a doormat.
Because I was really good at that. Top marks. It runs in the family. An exquisite mix of compliance, sense of responsibility, guilt and high threshold of putting up with injustice.
But underneath it all, I was boiling. I just did not know it. That is what I mean by getting in touch with my anger.
So, when he asked me to stay, I did stay – not out of compliance, but out of trust. I allowed myself to be guided by my intuition. And I am glad I did, so many years later.
In therapy we are together with another human being and during our sessions we interact with each other.
We relate to our therapist and have a sense of them relating to us.
Depending on the practitioner’s training, way of working and personal style, they can relate to us in a number of ways, ranging from not saying very much at all to being more involved.
Because it is a meeting of two human beings, we will find that whatever issues we may have in relating with others outside of the therapy session, will sooner or later be played out in the way we feel towards them.
For example, we may:
- find it difficult to trust
- be afraid of being let down
- feel easily ridiculed or embarrassed
- have a tendency to question our own judgment
- feel others are more powerful then we are
- want others to take responsibility for our life and sort out our problems
- find it difficult to negotiate and let others know what we need from them
- feel alienated and not understood.
In the therapy setting these issues may show up as finding it difficult to trust the therapist.
We may fear they will be judgmental and may not keep professional boundaries or respect the confidence we place in them.
And we may get impatient, especially when s/he does not tell us what to do. When we think they sit on the fence and pocket our hard earned money without giving much in return.
At times we may find it difficult or near impossible to talk about our difficulties for fear of not being taken seriously.
We wonder whether the therapist just puts on a face during the session, but deep down does not like us very much.
Perhaps we find it difficult to ask for a change to our appointment, for fear of letting the other down, or not looking committed to counselling or therapy.
You may be angry with your therapist and disappointed, but cannot get ourselves to say so. Instead we may play out old patterns – carrying on and pretending that everything is ok.
Perhaps we even choose not to go back and cut the other off without explanation.
Then again, we may try to please them.
I had tried pleasing my therapist for a very long time. And I worried about him.
Just the stuff I did with everyone else, but not enough with myself.
3. One day, my therapist, stuck in the knife (so to speak).
That’s how it felt. It hurt. But perhaps it was the only way to make me see sense and STOP.
“I do not need you to take care of me. That is my responsibility and not yours.” he said.
Bingo! Bull’s eye. Right message at the right time.
He was right and I could take it, finally.
We may also try to make the other angry with us, so they abandon us and stop working with us, and then we can ‘blame’ them.
4. If you feel angry with your therapist …
… then it may be a good opportunity to explore with them what might be going on.
Now you may find that hard, especially if you think ‘they are the problem’.
I am not talking about who is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or who is or is not the problem.
I am talking about the possibility, that you may be noticing something about the way you feel, and how you relate to the other and how you can handle that.
And you have choices: either fall back into your pattern/s, which may have served you well, or not, in the past, or use the therapy or counselling setting to try out something new.
You may have a real opportunity here to develop another way of coping with relational difficulties.
Talk about it with your therapist and try to understand what may be at the bottom of the discomfort you feel.
This might not be easy and you’ll need to push yourself out of your comfort zone. But you may find that this is only temporary.
Your sessions can become a reflective and practical rehearsal ground for trying out different ways of dealing with difficult situations in your life, which have found their way into the therapy room.
5. If talking does not resolve how you feel.
Alternatively you may find that even talking about it does not help shake off the feeling, that the two of you are not well matched.
Then you remain with the choice of ending your therapy – hopefully in a way that will make it a useful experience and helpful for finding support elsewhere, if that is what you want.
6. What happened to the therapy?
A couple of years or so after these events, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I told him, he did not flinch. He was not afraid. He remained consistent. I knew then, I could do this. He would be by my side. Not long after, he had to stop work due to his own health issues. Some months later, we, his clients were told he had died, of cancer. To date, it has been one of the hardest experiences in my life.
With this article and my letter to him, I would like to say thanks, something I was never able to do in person, neither a good bye.
If you feel and believe that your therapist has acted in an unprofessional, unethical and harmful way, and this cannot be clarified by speaking with them, then you may want to consider reaching out to others: eg their employer, or their professional body (if they are accredited and / or registered). In the UK this may be the UKCP or BACP. These organisations have complaints processes and can also provide help with ethical questions.
(NB. Many therapists / counsellors attend therapy as part of their training, accreditation or self care.)
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Published by Positively Positive | Image courtesy of composita.
In a therapy session I revealed details of years of no intimacy in.my marriage. After that session My therapist who used to dress neat, really put put together, is now dressing like a homeless person. Last week she had on baggy pants 6 inches too long hemmed up with safety pins, and a baggy t shirt and old sweater that she continually pulled closed. Her whole body language has changed also. I can’t shake the suspicion that even though she said there is no judgement, I think she is reacting to what we talked about and she seems uncomfortable in my presence now.
Hello Frank, thank you for reading and sharing your own experience. Perhaps it would be helpful (though possibly uncomfortable) to mention to your therapist that you wonder whether what you disclosed has changed anything. What you observe in her way of dressing may have nothing to do with you or any other client they see on the same day. But your mind might be inclined to make it about you. I do not know. But therapy is an opportunity to find out. With best wishes. Karin Sieger
I’m 3 sessions in so just still getting to know the counselor. I was just explaining to her why I am depressed and all of sudden she’s like “it wont hurt my feelings one bit if you don’t schedule future appointments.” It left me really confused and somewhat angry. Needless to say, calling tomorrow and canceling my next appointment. To me, it was uncalled for. Since she did not have my medical records apparently from the referring physician I was just trying to give her a rough idea on everything. Never once mentioned attending future sessions. I just took it as she did not want me to come back. As a disabled person, I don’t want sympathy, but I do want to insure mutual understanding. I tried and I failed. Big surprise.
Hello, I am sorry to hear you have had that experience. I can see why those words were upsetting. I wonder what the counsellor meant. I hope this does not put you off counselling / therapy altogether. With best wishes. Karin
The you for your article and sharing about your therapy and therapist.
I found your article when I googled “I hate my therapist – today”. See, I have progressed; I said “today” haha.
I googled that after leaving a session where I felt unheard, steamrolled (part of unheard – when she plows ahead with what felt like her agenda, not mine. From someone who “isn’t directive”). Was I rehashing something from the past? Yes. But it felt to me like it was in a very different context. I felt like I couldn’t get a word in to explain. I ended up just letting her talk. Two sessions ago she let me know she felt attacked – by my references to a return of post-session emotional meltdowns and changes occurring. I am a long-termer, have seen her for nearly 15 years. I just retired. She is in the process. Parts of the process, which started about 5 months ago after changing to phone sessions temporarily, due to the pandemic, are: dismantling her private office and moving to another part of the building to share an office part-time (NONE of her things are in there; the entire room is “someone else’s”. Ironically, it is the room where we met for a few years), reduced work days and hours, and an additional recent decision to leave this location and continue only in another location, some distance away. Another change is related to my recent retirement and financial adjustments: going from 2/week to 1/week and considering moving back to my home state.
So, short story long…I felt an in her an unwillingness to listen and a determination to reiterate my avoidance and isolation issues, with the theme of ‘you must create a life for yourself!!’
I’m sure I’m one of those frustrating, if not exasperating, patients. But this session, it felt like it was me being attacked.
Dear Nancy, thanks for reading my piece and sharing your own experience. I hear your anger and disappointment with the choices your therapist makes, and how you may feel being left out. I trust you will find your voice and share with her how you feel. In my experience as a client and as a therapist, that’s among the most valuable pieces. With my very best wishes for you. Karin
Thank you so much for your article – I’ve found it at the right time. I’ve been working with my therapist for 2 years. We’ve had our ups and downs. Every so often I feel like my therapist moves the goalposts and challenges me. I end up feeling like I have to justify why I’m having therapy. Last week I left our session feeling really angry and determined to finish things. I felt like my therapist was jumping on everything I said and finding fault with it. My inner voice was screaming out “What do you want me to do then?” I felt like I was being attacked. When the anger dissipated I did a complete 360 and wrote everything down. As a result I have more of an idea. Your article really resonates with me – I think I have been putting on a face to keep things because I fear my sessions ending. I went from trusting my therapist to questioning everything..
Hi Guy, thank you for reading and sharing some of your own therapy experience. Sometimes we reach a point when we may question even the most trusted of people in our lives (including ourselves). And sometimes that is needed and leads to personal transition and growth and strengthens the trust we questioned. With my very best wishes for your therapy and personal journey. Karin
Truly outstanding and thorough article on that, I am bookmarking it so I can peruse it again.Thank you AUTHOR, You truly roused me to find out additional.
Thank you very much for your kind feedback. Best wishes. Karin
We have been working with a therapist for marriage issues for a almost a year. I have learned so much from her and also through all my readings and self education and she even knows about it. Last 2 sessions were so different and The last one was heartbreaking when she started turning everything on me and joking about one of my behaviour incident that had happened before which I had told her . I trusted her. She even said to my husband that I am suffering from anxiety that’s why I am like “ a corn on a a hot pan” I was talking completely normal , yes I was worried and concerned. She knows that I speak passionately, this is the way I am but… it seemed she was completely off or try to push me away from therapy.
I feel so awful specially in front of my husband and I feel ashamed with so much doubts. I don’t want to continue therapy with her but I am reading many advices which advise to talk with them.
It would be very helpful your point of view.
Dear Amy, thanks for reading my article and sharing your own experience. I hear you are upset and disappointed. One should not make assumptions from afar and it can be unhelpful to provide more than general advice. It sounds to me that you feel a trust has been broken and that you might wonder whether there is a motive of “pushing you away” (being rejected or abandoned). I would definitely raise this with your therapist. I would also suggest you think whether you recognise a pattern, eg issues with trust, shame, abandonment in your life. You are also there for marriage counselling. How do you as a couple respond to what has happened? Is there a shared response about how to move forward? What went on in the last 2 sessions that may have triggered something in you. I need to be clear, this is not about blaming you. Getting ‘triggered’ does not mean we are doing anything wrong. But it can set off a series of feelings and responses which follow an old pattern based on previous experiences. Then it can happen that our feelings and beliefs of what might be going on are not in line with reality. Clearly, I was not there and don’t know what happened. The three of you were, and I would suggest trying to raise the topic. See where this may lead, and see what you would like to do next. It sounds like you are investigating a lot of time, money and effort. Walking away without checking may not be in your best interest. I hope this helps a bit for you to formulate your plan. With best wishes. Karin
Thank you Karin for your reply, you are right We have invested a lot to find some sort of coping skills and I feel sometimes tired of trials.
About your questions,
Actually after the last session my husband realized that I was sad but I rejected to talk about my feelings and emotions with my husband. This is my main problem with my husband, I knew his response would be your feeling towards her is wrong, She did not mean that and so on …
Now I can see this is a pattern in my life, that I hate to be judged without understanding my point and I am tired to justify my needs and my feelings to my husband, so I usually ignore it and try to forget it, but you know…Now I can see that breaking trust was always a dealbreaker for me in all my relationships even with friends. I try to communicate fairly and I invest as much as I can in my relationships then when my assumption is wrong I get frustrated. I think assumptions and expectations are the source of unhappiness.
I can see your point, and thank you for your understanding.
Hey Karen I recently started therapy and I shared my broken relationship with my sister and my therapist prior to my session talked to my sister’s therapist. She knew that we had a very broken relationship and still grilled me about details of her life which she knew I didn’t know and proceeded to say, ” That’s sad that you don’t know that about her” and completely sided with my sister. My feelings were so badly hurt and it felt like I was being blamed and felt so guilty. I definitely can take criticism but I felt so hurt by her tone and judgement and I’m scared to trust her and open up now. I don’t know if I’m being defensive or If I’m actually hurt. She didn’t even acknowledge my feelings.
Thanks for sharing your own experience here. I don’t want to speculate about your therapist or you – that would potentially make me a third therapist that is involved. If I understand you correctly, your and your sister’s therapist spoke about you and your sister ahead of the start of your therapy. Was that agreed with you, or not, and how do you feel about that?
You are making some really important points here, which are worth exploring further with your therapist. And I know, given what has happened, this might not feel easy.
(1) Confusion: “I don’t know if I’m being defensive or If I’m actually hurt.”
(2) Blame and guilt: “…it felt like I was being blamed and felt so guilty.”
(3) Difficulty to trust: “I’m scared to trust her.”
(4) Confusion: “I don’t know if I’m being defensive or If I’m actually hurt.”
(5) Importance of empathy: “She didn’t even acknowledge my feelings.”
This is not about being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. But it sounds like these are key issues for you. We all have them (me included) and they tend to be shaped by early experiences in our lives and can continue to shape our life and relationships (potentially with your sister and potentially now with your therapist).
So, I would say, definitely worth exploring and see where it takes you. You have choices. I hope this helps and I wish you all the very best.
You don’t need another person making you feel bad. I think you should find another therapist, as your current one is being so judgemental.
This was super helpful–thank you for listing points that provide some insight.
After 3 years of weekly sessions, I am getting tired and recently had an upsetting–actually devastating experience with my therapist. She was wrapping up and I felt I had just shared a key point about my trauma for the first time, she bulldozed past it and started tidying the room. I got a few emails asking if I wanted to talk about the incident on email and telling me how she knew I was angry–I was shocked, devastated, and I felt sharing something personal was not treated with gentleness–this has been hard to get over and I feel more abandoned, but maybe I should be angry?
I’m so confused and don’t have it in me financially or emotionally to commence more weekly counselling sessions with anyone else. I wonder if some clients drop out because the therapist also tires and the client feels they will never be understood and feel hopelessness? Do people ever get past a fracture in the relationship?
Thanks for reading sharing your own experience. It sounds like something that needs and deserves to be talked about with your therapist. These are valid feelings. And then see how you feel about it all after. Some ruptures in therapy like in other interpersonal relationships or settings can be overcome or they can fester and get worse. On the occasions my late therapist got something wrong, I really respected the way he handled criticism and that made the work better. I also know it might not always end like that.
With best wishes for you.