Bad Therapy: When Firing Your Therapist Is Therapeutic

Bad Therapy: When Firing Your Therapist Is Therapeutic

by Charlotte Fox Weber

Therapist Charlotte Fox Weber describes an agonizing 5-year therapy as the client of a cold and withholding therapist, and the lessons she learned about what NOT to do with her own clients.
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The Nail Biting Maternal Yes Woman

Throughout my training as a psychotherapist, I heard tales of blatantly bad therapy: therapists and clients trespassing boundaries wildly and dangerously, sleeping together, or behaving in ways that were clearly destructive.
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Charlotte Fox WeberCharlotte Fox Weber, UKCP Reg MBACP, is a psychotherapist based in London. She started the in-house psychotherapy service at The School of Life and works in private practice. She can be reached at:
Thanks for writing about your experience. I have also had negative therapy experiences, although very different from yours. But the common elements seem to be: 1) what the therapist did didn't make sense to you; 2) she didn't seem to try to help you make sense of what she was doing; 3) there was no possibility of recourse to a third party who had information about both you and the therapist, let alone about what transpired in sessions. I sincerely hope that therapy can improve so that clients do not have such negative experiences as you or I had. I still have distressing intrusive thoughts of therapists, 10 to 30 years after the fact. I would not wish my experience on anyone.
Mary S.
I am intrigued by the essay, E stuck within her own circle of hoarding and dysfunction. Hoarding her relationship with you in a passive way in the same way hoarding the things in her own life. Isn't it so true that we often settle for what is familiar for so long even when it feels like it is killing us inside. Maybe we hold on because of some sense of hope that it will 'all work out in the end' or with a sense fear that we won't get anything better. Thank you for writing this piece. May we each have the strength and courage to face our fears and soberly analyse our hopes that we might find truly life-giving experiences rather than settling for something less.
Congratulation on writing such an excellent article on a subject matter that is not often talked about. The description of your various experiences made me laugh, cry and sometimes uncomfortable, especially the painful and long process with E. I was deeply touched by your honest, expressive, clever, witty and vulnerable accounts. Very well don!
I've been licensed for 35 years, and am appalled that some of my colleagues never were the patient in a therapy session. It was so painful to read the account of your experience with "E". I had to force myself to finish the article. Clearly she is in need of intervention, and treatment. My guess is that some of her countertransference to you is revealed in her last comment "you're smart and you're beautiful". Envy?? Thank you for sharing your experience. But just one question....what did you have? Boy or girl? Congratulations on leaving an emotionally abusive situation, and for your successful pregnancy.
Glori R Zeltzer, MA, MFT
Excellent essay on the power differentiation in therapy. Fortunately, I had the opposite experience to you and had a wonderful therapist for 12 years. Warm, caring, nurturing and as committed to the therapy as I was. She did heal me of my very insecure attachment issues. I'm so sorry you had this experience and had no-one to tell you it was not ok. I do believe she was practising unethically. The hoarding was a dead give away that she had serious psychological issues that needed to be addressed. Her colleagues should have called her on this.
Sue Paton
Really useful insight on a subject not spoken about enough. Honestly written and something we should all try to emulate in the psychotherapeutic community.
Frank N Gale
good piece. i also have had therapists who lacked compassion and/or warmth. A possible reason they are therapists: we all need intimacy. But if someone is scared of it, by being a therapist he or she will feel intimacy, from their clients. But they won't have to display it. In this way, they can have intimacy without emotional vulnerability, which scares them.
I'm so sorry you had to go through this -- it all sounds so agonizing. The Underpants winced reading it. You handled it so well. I was "treated" by a cold, withholding therapist for over a year, and everything you said to your supervisor as to why you stuck it out so long rang very true to my experience. Why my therapist (and yours) didn't have the character to refer me out to a more appropriate therapist when it was obvious he couldn't help's sad, really. I really appreciate you having the guts to write this. Too many therapists are overly defensive when it comes to discussions of bad therapy. Your take on it was refreshing and a very welcome change. Thank you!
I think everyone who wants to get paid to be a therapist needs to have therapy themselves. While unpleasant for this author, at least she has a chance at not blaming a client who comes in and tries to make sense out of a failed past therapy experience.
FR McComber
What a sensitive and perceptive essay, one that explores a territory few practitioners are willing to discuss so directly. Therapy is what happens in that room, hour by hour. The only witnesses are the two people in the room. The good enough therapist is at least as perceptive as the client.
A. Gibralter
This article is actually a rebuttal to the idea that all therapists should seek therapy. The first obvious reason is that there are a lot of mediocre therapists who can pass licensing exams but don't have the skills or wisdom or ethics to conduct effective therapy. Secondly, the practice of requiring therapy for trainees is quite problematic. To essentially force someone to enter therapy is antithetical to the research which has shown that only people who are ready for change will profit from therapy. I recommend that you watch the videos on this site on "motivational interviewing" I have personally witnessed numerous interns who abhor their required therapy - having the exact opposite of the desired effect.
Bernie Schwartz
The huge elephant in the room is the distortion of psychotherapy itself which tells patients in order to "heal," whatever that even means, they're required to relinquish their privacy, triangulate their relationships and relinquish their perceptions and interpretations to an outside expert. This guru then warps basic human experience through an arbitrary and theoretical filter. I'm sad to read Ms. Weber's self-recriminations. It was the therapist who abandoned responsibility and made therapy about her selfish needs. I'm happy to see an article, for the industry little explores therapy's pitfalls. For iatrogenesis from the consumer's viewpoint there are a couple of blogs: Bad Therapy? A Disgruntled Ex-Psychotherapy Client Speaks Her Piece Reasons to be Therapy Free--TryTherapy-Free
I was very glad to see you have written this - I have heard quite a lot of similar stories over the years. Particularly in "training" analyses. I find it really painful to think that we haven't really helped patients try to gauge whether the work we are doing with them is useful.
Alasdair Stokeld
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CE credits: 1.5
Learning objectives:

  • Describe elements of a harmful therapy relationship.
  • Illustrate necessary elements to a good, therapeutic therapy relationship.
  • Understand how to break free from a toxic therapy relationship.
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