Only once, as I recall, did I come right out and ask someone why they had never asked me anything about my situation. As it turned out, it was a big mistake. Both of us, I think, left the conversation feeling really bad. I never dared ask the question again.
Here are a few attitudes about therapist abuse and therapy in general that you might encounter:
“Won’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or “I Don’t Want to Know”
Therapist abuse may be way outside of someone’s comfort zone. When presented with it, their attitude may read something like this: I won’t ask you about it and please don’t tell me anything. Instead, let’s just talk about something else and act like everything is fine. I wish you all the best, just please, please, please don’t make me talk about it. I just don’t want to know. (You can imagine them putting their hands over their ears and saying, “La la la la la….”)
“Why Can’t You Just Let It Go?”
People may assume that because you’re out of the situation and you seem fine, it’s over. It’s done. You can let it go and move on. They can’t understand why you need to talk about it and why you continue to wrestle and struggle and try to make sense of something that isn’t happening anymore. What they don’t understand is that just because you’re out, that doesn’t mean it’s “over.” (Especially if you’re having PTSD.) I think that the healing and recovery process can only begin once you’re out of the situation and away from your abuser. Only then can you really start to deal with what happened. The process takes time and others don’t always understand that. Hopefully, they’re open to some education on the subject.
“You’re an Adult—What’s the Big Deal?”
How many people, do you think, actually understand that a therapist having sexual contact with an adult patient is a form of abuse and exploitation? I suspect that many people regard therapist-patient sex as “breaking the rules”—a violation of ethics and, given the fiduciary relationship, a bad idea. But they may not realize how deeply an adult patient can be harmed by having sexual contact with his or her therapist. I imagine there are a lot of people who look at therapist-patient sex, see two adults, and think, Really, what’s the big deal? They’re adults. People should be able to make their own choices. Okay, but are their choices their own? Even people who are in therapy aren’t always aware of the incredible power differential that may exist in the relationship. If the therapist crosses a line, or if their needs intrude into the therapy, will the patient even realize it? In the case of exploitation or abuse, the patient may believe the choices they’re making are their own, that they’re capable of informed consent, and not realize how deeply they’re being influenced by their therapist’s opinions and suggestions. (I’ll be writing a lot more about this topic in the future.)
“Keep It to Yourself”
People who would never in their life go to a therapist have a hard time understanding those of us who do. They may be thinking: Why on earth would you pay money to go tell a stranger your problems? Can’t you just talk to your friends and family? Or: Therapy is for self-indulgent narcissists. Just shut up about your damn problems and deal with your life. Quit complaining and go help somebody else for a change. Or you may experience this kind of attitude from close-knit (or insular) families or communities, should you dare to seek outside counseling: Do not air your dirty laundry in public. What goes on in private should stay private. You are a part of this family, and if you dare to expose our private lives or secrets to any outsider, it will be regarded as an act of disloyalty and you will be punished. (Or at least judged mercilessly.)
“Therapists are Quacks”
This attitude is pretty clear cut: Therapy is a scam and therapists are charlatans and hacks. Anyone who trusts a therapist is an idiot and deserves whatever they get. I sometimes see these kinds of comments in response to news articles about therapists (particularly the unethical ones). While I tend to feel really defensive in response to this attitude, I’ve realized that it’s better to just let it go and not get into any kind of explanation or justification. These people have made up their minds and there’s nothing I can do to change them. (Although I have to admit that even now, in writing this, I’m having a hard time holding myself back from going off on a rant! Walk away, Kristi…just walk away….)
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Do people really want to know about therapist abuse? No, I don’t think they do. Generally speaking, people don’t like to feel uncomfortable, and I think this topic generates a lot of discomfort—and confusion and fear and judgment and anger (though not always for the reasons you’d expect).
No one wants to be a victim. We’d all like to believe we’re in control of our lives—that we know what we’re doing, making conscious choices, and able to handle whatever comes at us. This kind of abuse is disturbing because it involves victimization, not only of children, but of adults as well. If a “normal,” rational adult can be victimized by a trusted, well-respected health professional (or any other authority figure) that means it could happen to us. And we don’t want that. We don’t want to believe that someone we entrust ourselves to could betray us. We don’t want to believe that we’re not in control. How much easier it is to simply not acknowledge the issue or event, separate ourselves from it—and from the victim as well. If we can avoid acknowledging what happened to them, then we don’t have to fear it happening to us. We can maintain the illusion that we, at least, are not victims. We are in control of our lives.
What do you think?