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.
“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 our 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 the knife in.
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.
7. If there is an issue of unprofessional, harmful and unethical action.
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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Karin Sieger is a UK-based psychotherapist and writer. All rights reserved © Copyright Karin Sieger. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Article do not substitute medical advice.