What Therapists Should Never Do

It’s the Summer Solstice tomorrow, and I really should have written a background piece about it. It’s doubly difficult for most ritual abuse survivors in the US and Canada because it coincides with Fathers’ Day. I’ll just mention a couple of things briefly.

The Solstice, one of the eight major Pagan holidays, is the ancient Celtic festival marking the longest day of the year. Bonfires are lit, the health of the crops is celebrated, and spells are cast to insure a bountiful harvest.

Fathers’ Day, on the other hand, has a much shorter history. It was celebrated sporadically from the turn of the last century but only took off after merchants started pushing for it after the second Word War.

 

It’s really important for you to know about things that a therapist should never ever do, either in the first session, later on, or even after therapy has ended.

A therapist should never make a pass at you, ask you out on a date, try to have sex with you, tell dirty jokes, or touch you in a sexual way. (Neither should a member of the clergy, a teacher, or anybody else in a position of authority.) This is sexually abusive. It is just like a parent trying to have sex with you. It should never, never happen.

What should you do if it does happen? Get up and leave, quickly, and don’t go back. Do what you need to take care of yourself right away. As soon as you can, write everything down. Consider consulting an attorney or making a report to the police, to the therapist’s licensing bureau, or to their professional organization. If you are too upset or frightened to think of reporting the therapist, it’s okay. Taking care of yourself comes first. Try not to blame yourself. It’s normal to feel like you are to blame, but you are not. The therapist is. Period.

And if you are amnesic for what happened, listen, as always, to the little voice saying “this is not good” or “help” or “disgusting.” Explore, let those feelings expand. When you start to get memories, journal, write them down. Find somebody you trust to tell and support you while you try and figure out what to do. If you have nobody to turn to in your 3-D life, join a message board and lean on others there for support. Cut yourself some slack; this is like leaving the cult all over again — it isn’t easy and you shouldn’t blame yourself for not leaving immediately. How could you know what you didn’t know?

A therapist is supposed to act in your best interest, and only in your best interest. It is not in your best interest to try to rape you or seduce you. Even if a client makes a pass at a therapist, it is the therapist’s responsibility to say no, to be firm but kind, and to help the person figure out what is behind his or her feelings. The therapist cannot use the fact that the client tried to initiate things as an excuse for abuse.

A therapist should not be sexual with a former client, no matter how much time has passed. Similarly, the client’s relatives and friends are off-limits. If a therapist has dated you or a relative or close friend of yours, he or she should decline to see you and give you names of some other therapists for you to call.

Some therapists, fewer than in the past, use “safe touch” judiciously. This means holding your hand when you cry, giving a hug, putting an arm around your shoulder. You should be asked first whether this is acceptable to you. If you think it might be, and it then feels uncomfortable, say so. The therapist will stop. This should not be sexual in any way;­ it should be like a friend comforting you.

A therapist should never use physical force against you or threaten to use physical force against you, your family or friends, or your pet. The “no force” rule isn’t quite as hard and fast as the “no sex” rule. What if you lose it and start throwing punches? What if you start destroying the office? Self-defense is okay, even for a therapist. But if you didn’t become violent first, physical force has absolutely no place in therapy. And the therapist should, if at all possible, use words to talk you down; force is a last resort.

Some therapists use non-destructive techniques to help clients express anger. You should be asked first if you want to try it, and you should feel free to stop if you are uncomfortable. These techniques include hitting pillows with tennis rackets or toy baseball bats or punching pillows or special punching bags. I don’t count this as use of force, although, technically, it is redirecting violent urges in a safe way.

A therapist should never shame you, humiliate you, call you names, or put you down. You don’t have to take this from anybody, and especially not your therapist who, remember, is supposed to be on your side all the time.

Humiliation has been used as a “therapeutic” technique. This horrible technique comes from encounter groups (specifically the Tavistock Group, in England, which was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation to do research for the Cold War. Note that the Tavistock Group is not the same as the Tavistock Clinic, which is a respected place for the study and treatment of dissociative disorders.) It has been used in drug treatment facilities (think Synanon) and money-making organizations like EST. It is a brainwashing technique designed to break you down and then make you accept the “authority’s” point of view. It has absolutely no place, in my opinion, in legitimate therapy.

That’s it. I’m totally, irrevocably opinionated on these three points: no sex, no violence, no put-downs.

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