Do You Need Help?

The following is excerpted from the booklet Professional Therapy Never Includes Sex published by the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

Warning Signs
In most sexual abuse or exploitation cases, other inappropriate behavior comes first. While it may be subtle or confusing, it usually feels uncomfortable to the patient. Some clues or warning signs are:

  • Telling sexual jokes or stories.
  • “Making eyes at” or giving seductive looks to the patient.
  • Discussing the therapist’s sex life or relationships excessively.
  • Sitting too close, initiating hugging, holding the patient or lying next to the patient.

Another warning sign is “special” treatment by a therapist, such as:

  • Inviting a patient to lunch, dinner or other social activities.
  • Dating.
  • Changing any of the office’s business practices (for example, scheduling late appointments so no one is around, having sessions away from the office, etc.).
  • Confiding in a patient (for example, about the therapist’s love life, work problems, etc.).
  • Telling a patient that he or she is special, or that the therapist loves him or her.
  • Relying on a patient for personal and emotional support.
  • Giving or receiving significant gifts.
  • Providing or using alcohol (or drugs) during sessions.

Signs of inappropriate behavior and misuse of power include:

  • Hiring a patient to do work for the therapist, or bartering goods or services to pay for therapy.
  • Suggesting or supporting the patient’s isolation from social support systems, increasing dependency on the therapist.
  • Any violation of the patient’s rights as a consumer (see “Patient Bill of Rights”).

Therapy is meant to be a guided learning experience, during which therapists help patients to find their own answers and feel better about themselves and their lives. A patient should never feel intimidated or threatened by a therapist’s behavior.

If you are experiencing any of these warning signs, trust your own feelings. Check on the therapist’s behavior with a different therapist, or with any of the agencies in “Where To Start” (below). Depending on what you find out, you may want to find another therapist.

What If It’s Me?
If you have been sexually abused or exploited by your therapist, you may be feeling confused. You may feel:

  • Guilty and responsible — even though it’s the therapist’s responsibility to keep sexual behavior out of therapy.
  • Mixed feelings about the therapist — protectiveness, anger, love, betrayal.
  • Isolated and empty.
  • Distrustful of others or your own feelings.
  • Fearful that no one will believe you or understand what happened, or that someone will find out.
  • Confused about dependency, control and power.

You may even have nightmares, obsessive thoughts, depression, or suicidal or homicidal thoughts. You may feel overwhelmed as you try to decide what to do or whom to tell.

It’s essential that you face what happened. This may be painful, but it is the first major step in healing and recovering from the experience. You may have positive and negative feelings at the same time, such as starting to feel personal control, being afraid of what may happen in the future, remembering the experience, and feeling relieved that the sexual relationship is over.

The second step in the healing process is to decide what YOU want to do next. Try to be open-minded about your options.

Remember: It doesn’t matter if you, the patient, started or wanted the sexual involvement with the therapist. Therapists are responsible for keeping sexual intimacy out of the therapy relationship and are trained to know how to handle a patient’s sexual attractions and desires.

Where To Start
You may need to (1) talk to someone who will understand what you’re going through, (2) get information on whether the therapist’s behavior was illegal and/or unethical, and (3) find out what you can do about it. Three places to get help are:

  • Licensing Boards — In the Department of Consumer Affairs, three different boards license therapists. They can give general information on appropriate behavior for therapists and your rights for reporting what happened, as well as how to file a complaint.
  • Sexual Assault/Crisis Centers — These centers have staff trained in all types of sexual abuse and exploitation. They can provide general information on appropriate behavior for therapists, crisis services, your rights for reporting what happened, and names of therapists and support groups that may be helpful. Look in your telephone book under “sexual assault center” or “crisis intervention service.”
  • Professional Associations — Each licensed therapy profession has at least one professional association. Associations can provide general information on appropriate behavior for therapists, your rights for reporting what happened, and how to file a complaint. They can provide names of therapists who may be helpful.

What You Can Do
You can deal with your situation in several different ways. Take time to explore all of your rights and options. It may help to decide what your goals are:

Reporting the Therapist — Perhaps you want to prevent the therapist from hurting other patients. You may want to make it known that sexual exploitation is always wrong. If this is your decision, you have several reporting options. It is important to note that reporting misconduct is time-sensitive. What can be done in response to the report of misconduct usually depends on:
— who the misconduct is reported to, and
— the length of time between the misconduct and when the report was filed.
Such a time limit is called a “statute of limitations.” As you consider your options, be aware of these time limits.

Your Recovery — You may also want to explore and process what happened between you and the therapist. If you decide to do this, you can look into therapy or support groups.

Moving On — You may wish simply to move on past this experience as quickly as possible and get on with your life. Remember — you have the right to decide what is best for you.

Your Reporting Options
If you decide to report a therapist’s behavior that you believe is unethical and illegal, there are four different ways to do so. All of these reporting options are affected by time limits, so you should consider reporting misconduct at the earliest appropriate opportunity. You may choose one or more of the options listed below.

  • Administrative Action — File a complaint with the therapist’s licensing board.
  • Professional Association Action — File a complaint with the ethics committee of the therapist’s professional association.
  • Civil Action — File a civil lawsuit.
  • Criminal Action — File a complaint with local law enforcement.

From Professional Therapy Never Includes Sex Copyright 2004, California Department of Consumer Affairs.

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154 Comments

  1. Hi, I see my therapist weekly & somehow he has arranged that I don’t have to pay a co-pay which saves me $40 per month. I have been seeing him for two years. We are close in age & we both are married. My marriage is not good, but i have been a faithful wife even tho’ my husband & I have not had sex in over 12 years in a 19 year relationship.
    My past is filled with sexual, physical & emotional abuse that I have been trying to treat on & off for 35 years with quite a few of those years being suicidal.
    I had never before seen a male therapist that was this close in age with me. We started off slow, but as I began to trust him I opened up to him in ways I had never before with any other therapist. He began to tell me about his life. He began to call me sweetheart, honey, sweetie. He would sometimes hold me if I was crying especially hard & he hugs me after every session. He also calls me once or twice during the wek just to talk. He says we are friends & he promised he will never leave me, I am sure he made this promise because of my separation anxiety, not to be cruel.
    Now I have found myself to be in love with him, of course, his feelings are not reciprocated. He tells me that he will be leaving me to return to his hometown. I am devastated. I am so scared & confused. I feel very suicidal right now.
    My family tells me to give therapy another chance – this was my another chance – I can’t do this again, trust someone, create a new relationship. I’m so tired, I don’t know what to do.

    • Sue, I’m so sorry to hear about this and for what you’re going through. Your therapist really violated the boundaries of the relationship, intentionally or not, and now you are paying the price for it. I understand being exhausted, scared, confused, and wanting the pain and suffering to be over with — and you’ve got to hang on. He is not worth your life. Your life is precious and it is YOURS.

      Please call a crisis support hotline. There are some listed on the right side of the website if you scroll down.
      And I know it’s tough, but if you can get a referral for a new, FEMALE therapist with a good reputation (maybe check Yelp for reviews?? or try an online directory like PsychologyToday.com) it would be really good to process this with a boundaried therapist who can help you understand what happened and heal. If you can’t do that, perhaps a religious or spiritual advisor?

      This guy really messed up. If he has any clue what he’s done, HE should give you a referral for someone new because holding the boundaries for a SAFE therapeutic relationship is absolutely his responsibility.

      Keep reading the posts and comments on this website — it may help you feel less alone. You can also visit TELL at http://www.therapyabuse.org for things to read.

      If you continue to feel desperate, PLEASE CALL CRISIS SUPPORT or 911. They’re there to help.

      Love to you!
      Kristi

  2. Hi Kristi,

    I started seeing my new therapist (he’s a psychologist) since December. I was seeing seeing another therapist but then decided to end it because I got tired of talking about how I feel for so many years. I just got fed up and told myself I’m better now I don’t need therapy anymore. (I have social anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder). In December I began having panic attacks again and my depression got worse after an incident with someone on facebook. I deleted my account but I was still hurt and started cutting myself which I did a lot when I was a teen. I’ve been feeling suicidal also. I was diagnosed with having borderline when I was 18 but I never discussed it with any therapist because of how some therapists feel about people who have it. There seems to be a stigma with borderline and people think if you have it you’re a difficult patient and or violent. I’ve never been violent with anyone. If I’m angry I usually cut myself but never assaulted anyone. So I kept it to myself all these years. I never told my friends I have borderline either. I felt ashamed to have it, but they know about my other disorders. My mom knows but not anyone else in my family. I was sexually abused by my dad when I was a kid so I always had a hard time being intimate with men, extremely uncomfortable with sex to the point of denying that I have any sexual feelings. I felt it was wrong to feel that way. Again, no one I dated knew how I felt because I kept it hidden which was very frustrating. So then I decided I needed to talk to someone again and be honest about having borderline. I found another therapist who is a man. The one I was seeing before was a woman but I’ve had a few male therapists in the past so I wasn’t uncomfortable about it.

    When I called him, it was difficult but I had to be honest from the beginning. I was so relieved when he said he has experience with borderline patients and that his approach is different. He’s very friendly and more open to doing other things than what most therapists do because he wants patients to be very comfortable and trust him. The first session I was anxious but after a while he made me feel more and more relaxed. He has a great sense of humor which also helped. He doesn’t mind texting which I never did with my other therapists and when I need to, he often texts back the same day. He likes to take walks and explained to me that some patients feel more open to talk while walking instead of always having to talk inside the office. Also, at the same time, getting exercise because that’s part of therapy. He told me exercise helps patients feel better mentally. I felt, wow, this is different and I really like that. He also wants me to join a group because of my social anxiety but right now, he’s only introducing me to some people so I can be comfortable with them before I join. I often talk to one person in the waiting room every Tuesday after my session is over at 11 am. The group starts at that time and the sessions are two hours. While everyone is in his office, I’m usually talking to one of the members for two hours in the waiting room. At first I thought it was a great idea but this has been going on since January and I don’t understand why he feels I’m still not ready to actually talk with those I’ve met inside the office since I feel comfortable with them now and it’s only a small group. I’m thinking, why I have to keep talking to the same people in the waiting area? I can understand if it’s someone different he wants me to meet. Maybe it’s nothing but for some reason I’m confused about it.

    Other things have happened recently like one session he wanted me to drink water that will also help me feel better mentally and physically. When I drink something, I usually sip it unless I’m very thirsty and then I’ll drink a lot. He wondered why I was sipping it and showed me how he drinks water which is gulping it down. I felt, well, I’m not really thirsty and also that’s the way I drink. Is there a rule I have to drink it the way he does? I never discussed it with him because I’m not comfortable expressing how I feel about something that irritated me. I know I have a hard time being assertive and get so angry at myself when I just sit there and don’t say anything. Sometimes I still have difficulty with eye contact so he brings it up a lot. I told him the reason is because I have social anxiety and if I’m uncomfortable about something that’s difficult to say, I can’t look at him and find myself focusing on something else in the office. Again, I got irritated because he’ll keep saying it’s one of my weaknesses but doesn’t give any suggestions on how I can improve it. I feel I make eye contact better than I have in the past but he insists I still have poor eye contact. Yes, he actually said poor. I felt he was being too critical and he knows I don’t feel good about myself because of my mom who was very critical of me so I always felt I needed to be perfect. I know he wants me to get better but maybe he should have said it differently? Maybe I’m reacting this way because I’m very sensitive? Again, I don’t know.

    At first I felt really comfortable with him but now he seems different. He can be very controlling and sometimes I feel like he treats me like a child. Once, while waiting for my session to start he came out of his office and said come in young lady. Young lady? I’m in my 40’s and he’s in his 60’s. Why is he treating me like I’m his daughter? He wasn’t joking either. He said it very serious like a stern father. Then I thought maybe it had to do with me finally being assertive and confronted him about something he said in another session. It seemed like when he said come in young lady (which he never said before) I sensed that he may have been upset that I spoke up about how I felt. But isn’t that what you do in therapy? To discuss what you’re feeling? Even if you’re angry about something? Should a therapist take it personally? He also talks about himself a lot during some of my sessions. I don’t mind if a therapist disclose something about him or herself if it helps me feel better and more relaxed. I can open up more because they’re not so rigid. But many times I’ll say something and I notice the conversation goes back to him. Like lately he talked about going to the pool and he’s a member there. He loves to swim and it makes him feel better mentally. I was curious about it and told him I have a water phobia ever since I was 15 when a guy I knew threw me in the water at the beach despite me telling him I can’t swim. My therapist asked me if I want to see the pool and since he’s a member he can take me there as a guest. He also said he can help me get over my fear of water and teach me how to swim, but again, he added it’s good exercise and it’s part of therapy so I’ll need to buy a swim suit. He asked me if I would be comfortable with him seeing me in a swim suit and seeing him without his robe when he gets in the water. I said yeah, but now I’m feeling is this right? He said it will be my therapy session but should we be that close because there would have to be physical contact while he’s teaching me. Then he also said I was pretty and I have a nice body a few weeks ago because he knows I have a hard time accepting compliments from people and when someone looks at me, I’m always thinking I look weird. So I guess he wants me to feel better about myself but then last week he said I was beautiful and I have nice skin. I’m thinking, wait, at first I felt good about him complimenting me because he wants me to think more positive about the way I look and I thanked him. But after he said I’m beautiful, should he say that to a female patient? Is he really flirting and wanting me to think it’s part of therapy to help me feel better? I’m very confused and what’s worse, because he’s saying all these things, I’m starting to have strong feelings for him. I find myself very attracted to him and having sexual fantasies about him constantly. I feel so ashamed to be feeling this way. I try so hard to deny any sexual feelings but now I’m afraid of losing control and I’ve been obsessing about if he’s attracted to me. Maybe he’s not but why does he say things or want me to do things like going to the pool? Is what he’s doing wrong or is it just me feeling paranoid especially since I’m borderline? I don’t know what to do. I’m just so confused right now. Kristi, what do you think because I don’t know anyone else I can talk to about this.

    • Hi Vonnie,
      I agree with J. This sounds so much like my own grooming process — and that of so many other victims of abusive therapists. He is testing the boundaries, then pushing them to see how far he can get, while totally normalizing the process and making it seem as though all this is the most natural thing in the world. It’s not. This man has horrible boundaries and he will keep pushing yours. Your therapy has become about HIS needs, not yours. There’s nothing YOU can do to bring this back into balance. It’s not your fault, it’s not your responsibility. Follow your gut and instincts on this — they’re telling you that this is not right. I strongly encourage you to stop seeing this therapist and find someone new. He will want you to keep coming to see him and won’t want you to leave — that, too, is the mark of poor boundaries, because a good therapist would respect your need for something different. So yes, you will probably need to make some effort to leave. Call on whatever support you need. Perhaps you can start looking for a new therapist who can support you in getting away from this guy?

      Stay strong and true to yourself!
      Kristi

  3. I know you were asking Kristi specifically, so I don’t mean to butt in, but I felt so unsettled reading what you wrote that I had to say something….. I know this road you seem to be on. I’ve been there, and it doesnt lead anywhere good. I dont know how exactly being a borderline would change the way you feel about a normal situation, but this doesnt sound normal, so dont let him or anyone else blame your discomfort on your being a borderline, or on you being sensitive, or on anything else. You’re feeling uncomfortable because what he’s doing is wrong. He’s testing the waters. He’s trying to see how far he can push the line before you freak out, and if I had to guess, I’d say that whenever you do freak out, he’ll probably just blame it on your disorder and claim that he meant no harm or that you’re over reacting. Guys like that are all the same. They seem to have a script they adhere to when they’re behaving unethically. I’ve read countless stories that sounded almost exactly like my own in some ways. It’s as if guys are offered some class on how to take advantage of female patients properly, so now they’re all doing the same things, in the same order, etc… They each put their own personal spin on it eventually, but the beginning of the path seems to always be the beginning of the path. I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone say that they were on this path, but it led nowhere. Know what I mean?

    As far as your feelings for him, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Really, I’d bet that that is also his doing. He knows exactly what to say and what to do to spark those feelings in you, and it sounds like that is just what he has done. . .and even if your feelings are really your own, that’s ok too. There is no reason why you should have to be ashamed of that. Youre entitled to have any feelings that may come up. You should also be entitled to share those feelings in therapy without it pushing the relationship to a more inappropriate place. Therapy should be safe. It should never leave you with a need to seek out websites such as this one.

    I wouldn’t normally tell someone what to do when I dont know them or the whole story, so please forgive the presumptuousness, but in this case Ive heard enough to feel comfortable saying this – get yourself away from him. It’s not going to get better. He sounds like the kind of person who will keep pushing the line further and further as long as he can. If you wait too long to get out, you will find yourself in a lose-lose situation. Letting him get away with everything will feel intolerable, but the reporting process is equally intolerable. Im in the middle of it now, and It’s completely violating… Please get out before you end up having to choose between two equally horrible paths. Find someone who has good, traditional boundaries. You’re not paranoid. You’re smart enough to see through what he probably thinks is a good smokescreen.. Trust your gut and move on to someone else. I wish you the very best

  4. Vonnie
    J is right. Get yourself away from him as fast as you can! I am speaking from personal experience. I was married to a psychologist and it is my understanding that this is the same pattern that he used with people. He was forced to resign from one job due to sexual harassment and then lost his license to practice after having inappropriate relationships with several patients, one (or more) of whom he impregnated. He made them feel comfortable then guided them into a “relationship” with him. I believe he also used psychological testing perhaps to see who was susceptible to his advances. Whenever I questioned him about something I observed, he would say I imagined it and even told our own therapist that I was crazy because I was always “imagining” things and that it must be out of jealousy. Needless to say, the things I “imagined” were indeed real and it manifested after his patient turned up pregnant. From what I understand, he would provide marriage counseling and use his skills to basically alienate the wife from the husband while using what the wife complained about to make the husband look unreasonable and wrong and make himself seem like the better pick. To my knowledge, he destroyed several marriages this way. He would also woo children of single mothers with gifts and use that to form a “relationship” with the mother. I know of at least 7 “victims” so who knows how many there really are. Not one of his female patients have reported him or acknowledged that he crossed boundaries with them. He had a habit of bullying and manipulating people into keeping quiet or doing other things. Once I saw the magnitude of his illness, I divorced him. He is now married to one of the patients he impregnated. I also found out after we divorced, that he had propositioned or been inappropriate with, several friends and family members ( a couple of whom were teenagers at the time). Trust me when I say you would do well to cut all ties with your therapist!

    • Hi Kristi, J and M

      I’m so sorry I couldn’t reply last month. The computer broke down and I finally got a new one. Thank you all so much for your replies. You probably think I’m stupid but I’m still with my therapist and last Wednesday it was my first time I had gone to the indoor pool with him. I wasn’t really comfortable about it because I had to wear a one piece swimsuit and I had to see him with only wearing his swim trunks. He told me it’s okay because it’s part of therapy. He’s into exercise that will help me feel better mentally and physically. Also he wants to teach me how to swim because of my fear of the water. He told me don’t tell anyone he’s my therapist at the pool because he knows people there. Instead call him by his first name which is Joe, not Dr. LXXXX and we’re friends at the pool. He’s not my therapist when we’re there and I’m not his patient. He wanted to invite one of his other patients who is a woman I met so she can give me support because of my anxiety going into the water but she doesn’t swim and she didn’t come. I’m thinking maybe he’s not doing this because of any sexual advances since he invited her. He also told his other patients in his group that he’s taking me to the pool so it’s not a secret to anyone. I met them a few months ago so I already know them (one thing I find odd is that he said the members in his group are his children) I’m not a member in the group yet. He doesn’t think I’m ready to join right now. Last Friday, which is when I see him for my session he introduced me to a guy whose name is Alex. Dr. LXXXX wants him to join the group but only when he feels Alex is ready. He also told him he takes me to the pool and he asked him does he think what he’s doing is unethical. Alex said no. But one thing I found confusing, before I met Alex, he did not tell me or anyone else that he has taken five clients individually to the pool in the past and I’m not the only one because they had special needs like I do. Why didn’t he tell me this in January when he mentioned the pool and that it helps him feel better when he swims. I remember when he said I’ll take you there if you want to see what it looks like since he’s a member and I can come in as a guest. When you’re a guest you have to pay $11 but he said he’ll take of that I don’t need to pay when I decide I’m ready to learn how to swim. The way he acted was as if he never taken anyone else. Every now and then my therapist compliments me. He says it’s because he wants to help me feel better about myself. I know some therapists do that when a patient has a low self esteem like I do so I thought it’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. When I told Alex one of my goals, which is to be a part time model because my social anxiety has kept me from doing that years ago, my therapist again said isn’t she beautiful to him. I don’t know if I mentioned this before but Dr. LXXXX did say last month that I’m pretty because I felt like crap. Then he said I had a nice body and nice skin until he finally said I’m beautiful. I was stunned. So now I feel if he’s telling other patients he’s taking me to the pool and now complimented me again to Alex, is it possible he’s doing this because he wants everyone to know he’s not being secretive and he has boundaries, in other words he wants them to know he’s not making any sexual advances? It’s all part of therapy and that’s it. Again I’m really confused and it’s so hard to leave him because he acts really nice, caring and he giving me a lot of feedback which is helping me with my fears. And I think I mentioned that I also have feelings for him but I’m trying so much to deny that and also convince myself that he’s not exploiting me sexually. He can’t be because he hasn’t said anything sexual to me. Well, I still don’t know what to do and I would understand if no one replies to this because I’m afraid everyone here would think I’m an idiot for not ending therapy with him.

      • Hi Vonnie,
        Just want to let you know I altered the last name of the therapist, since I’m requesting that commenters not disclose full names of therapists unless the person has been formally charged or disciplined. Hope that’s okay with you.
        Kristi

      • Vonnie- I do not think you are stupid or an idiot. I do, however, believe you are vulnerable. As far as your therapist taking you to the pool to get over your fear of swimming, is he skilled in this type of therapy? Maybe Kristi can weigh in on that aspect. I just want to say that just because he has not mentioned anything sexual it does not mean that he is not crossing boundaries. One woman that was victimized by the therapist I spoke about said he asked for photos not as anything sexual but to prove to her there was nothing wrong with her or her body. She learned better when the pictures surfaced in other men’s email after being shared. Just be careful. I would actually suggest that you go to a different therapist, especially if you are developing feelings for this current one.

      • Vonnie,
        First of all, I don’t think you’re an idiot! It’s perfectly natural and normal to want to feel good, to want other people to like you and approve of you and think you’re beautiful. But many of us do get into trouble if we are looking for someone else to validate us, because we need to be able to validate ourselves and not rely on others for our self esteem. A good therapist will help you learn how to do it for yourself and become self-empowered. That is not what this therapist is doing.

        This therapist is violating the boundaries of the relationship in so many ways! He is your THERAPIST, he is not a swimming instructor. A therapist should only be a therapist. He should not be your swimming instructor, your friend, or someone who validates you. The kind of compliments he’s giving you — even though they don’t seem sexual, they are letting you know HE finds you attractive. He may be paving the way for a more intimate kind of relationship. With you and others, he is creating a variety of dual relationships that are extremely inappropriate and unethical. A therapist should only be a therapist with you, nothing more. However much either of you want it, it’s simply not appropriate — and it may be harmful to the client, whether or not the therapist believes that.

        One important warning sign of a boundary violation:
        Is the therapist asking you to keep secrets? Is the therapist asking you not to tell people what’s actually going on, either in the room or out of it? If your therapist is asking you to lie or be dishonest in ANY way, there is a violation going on.

        A good therapist RESPECTS AND HONORS the boundaries of the relationship and will say no to anything that could violate the boundaries. I think many of us get confused about this, because we want attention, approval, validation, to feel special — things we probably wanted and didn’t get from our parents or primary caregivers. So we think when a therapist gives us special attention, it’s a good thing. IT’S NOT. It can be incredibly harmful. I know this is hard to understand, because the attention feels so good and we yearn for that kind of favor from an authority figure. But a therapist is supposed to teach us how to honor ourselves and give to ourselves what we need, so we can be empowered. They’re not supposed to give us what we never got and in the process make us DEPENDENT on them for what we need.

        If you have questions about this, I would call his licensing board or the American Psychological Association (and you could call anonymously) and tell someone what he has been doing and see what they say. But I also think that because you’re on this site and telling us what’s going on and asking us about it, you know that what he is doing isn’t right. Some part of you KNOWS. And you need to trust that. If you really deep down believed everything was okay, you wouldn’t be asking these questions. TRUST THAT. And stop seeing him. If you need help with that, enlist support from friends/family, get a referral for another therapist, whatever it takes. But please do not continue to interact with this guy. He’s trouble.

        • Thank you M and Kristi for your help. I’m very grateful for it.

          I finally decided to quit therapy with him and find another one. What made me make that decision is what you and M said. When I saw him on Friday, this time he went too far and said I was wearing a sexy outfit. It was a hot day so all I had on was a T-shirt and shorts. I didn’t feel comfortable with that at all because now he finally made a sexual comment. I should have known eventually it would escalate to something sexual after the other comments and him telling me it’s okay to teach me how to swim, also sit out on the sun deck with him at the pool when it’s a hot day. You’re right he’s not supposed to be my swimming instructor or a friend outside therapy. He knows I have a low self esteem, been abused by my dad when I was a kid and now I feel he’s taking advantage of that because I’ve always been lonely and getting validation does feel good. But yeah, he has no boundaries at all and there have been a lot of violations. I just didn’t want to think he would be that kind of therapist and thinking it was me having paranoid thoughts because of my disorders. I also discussed it with my mom and she said he sounds like he has issues himself and may be dangerous, meaning he could hurt me emotionally. One thing I don’t want is to get hurt and have a bad relapse mentally.

          It’s going to be tough because I trusted him so much. I should look for a female instead which I had before and there was no problem. I was with her for five years and got tired of therapy but then I realized I quit too soon after finding out I had borderline personality disorder. That’s why I called him because he told me he has a lot of experience with BPD. Now I feel like he probably lied. I’m not surprised if he lies to other clients about his skills. Again, thank you for your advice and maybe I can go back to the female therapist. I wish I didn’t quit therapy with her so I’ll call her and hopefully she’ll see me again.

          • Vonnie, I’m so glad you’re able to make that decision to quit with this guy! That takes courage and strength — and you’ve got it. Congratulations! Yes, you’ll need to heal from the broken trust, and that will get easier over time. I agree with you that you may be better off with a female therapist and hopefully your previous one can see you again. Please let us know how it goes.

            Wishing you all the best!
            Kristi

  5. I’ve been on this site before, but not in some time. I like the way it’s grown! I’m hoping for some advice. I’m not going to share alot of my story but I was emotionally and sexually abused by a therapist around 2003-05. He moved away. Some time after he left, I began to understand what had happened, so I looked online at his professional licensure. He had been sanctioned for a similar event while grooming me as his next victim! I was devastated because I really bought the idea that it was “an affair” and I consented. I requested copies of the complaint and sanctions, and promply asked my current therapist to hold onto them for me because I did not want my spouse to find them. My spouse still does not know about all of this. Fast forward to today, I have worked hard in therapy to slowly get those papers out of the drawer, so to speak. I am on the fence on what to do with them. The statute of limitations is up in my case for both legal and civil action and he’s no longer licensed, because he’s retired. I really want to mail them to him. I think it might bring me some closure, or symbolically end my complicit silence, and I want to him to know that I KNOW, if that makes any sense. But, I’m terrified for some reason that I cannot fathom. I actually drove to the post office today, but I began to shake and had to leave without mailing the envelope. Still after all this time. I think I am concerned about retaliation, but that seems very irrational. I don’t even know what kind of advice I am looking for, but thought if anyone could understand this, it would be people on this site.

    • Hi Libby,
      Thanks for sharing your situation. I just want to offer a few thoughts.
      I can’t really advise you on whether or not to mail the papers. I don’t know this guy or what he’s like — or likely to do, and it really needs to be your decision, since only you can know what’s best for you. But I do totally understand feeling triggered by the prospect of sending the the papers and “making contact.” You likely have a trauma bond with this person that may not be resolved. So any possibility of contact (and especially of retaliation, however remote the possibility) may trigger a kind of PTSD reaction. It may not seem “rational” to your logical brain, but to your emotional brain it makes perfect sense. This man violated you and is still a threat, as far as your psyche is concerned. It sounds like you have some therapeutic support — ? — so you may want to discuss this and see if you can work through it, or see if you can have the fear and still do what you need to do and then address the emotional reactions to it. And if you think he really could retaliate, perhaps you could develop a plan that addresses possible consequences, and that might alleviate some of the anxiety. Whatever you do, enlist some support so you know you have people on your side who have your back.
      Hopefully, you’ll get some additional responses from readers, too!

    • Hi Libby. Thank you for sharing your story. I too was sexually and emotionally abused by a therapist. It has been many years, and I still don’t know all the ways he hurt me emotionally & mentally because it still effects me to this day.
      I also understand about the fear of retaliation. I can’t tell you either what to do with the papers, but I can say to not be in a hurry to do anything, especially with your fear and the reaction you had when you were going to mail them. I encourage you to keep working with your current therapist on this issue…..I believe you said you felt comfortable with your current one. Know that it was not your fault, I know it can take a long time to not feel guilty because you consented. For years I felt responsible because I told him I couldn’t discuss certain things because I was attracted to him, and that led to a sexual relationship. I did not know he had been grooming me, I was emotionally a child & niave. The therapist is the one responsible, they are the ones to set the boundaries, not us. Take care and be kind to yourself while you are going through this. Know that you are not alone. Mags

  6. Hi, I self harm and my therapist told him everytime i feel like I want to do it to text him and tell him, no matter what time of day it is and he may not text back right away or text back at all but to just text him. I’m confused about why or if this is ok too do? What do you guys think about this?

    • Hi Holly

      I suppose its really his intentions that would make it either ok or not, and I don’t know what those are, so I cant swear to anything, but I believe that having patients call/text/email anytime they feel like hurting themselves can be a relatively common practice. Not with every therapist, of course, but in reading about different types of therapy and different approaches to treating different issues, Im almost sure that Ive come across at least one treatment modality that uses that approach of having self-injurious patients reach out every time they feel unsafe. The fact that he’s telling you outright that he may or may not text back right away, or at all, gives the impression that he’s not trying to turn this into anything particularly inappropriate. He seems to just want you to have to stop and think before you do anything rash, and in this way, he’ll also be aware of your level of safety at any given time…….

      That said, I dont know him, and I could certainly be wrong, so if this request of his makes you feel uneasy, you could try just asking him where he’s coming from on this. Maybe his answer will put your mind at ease, or if it doesnt, then you could always tell him that you’d rather not go that route. And of course, if the whole thing just makes you too uncomfortable (or if you dont get an answer that eases your discomfort), you always have the option to move on to a new therapist who does not make that request of you.

      Maybe other people here will have more definitive answers and insights about this. This is just my 2 cents.

      Take care of you :-)

  7. J
    Thank you for your reply this deffently makes since now! He has also asked me to breakfast for our session last week, which I thought was odd then he said that and i thought I would get opinions from others but now I see where your coming from.

  8. That is what I had thought. It was right before we were going to start our session and he asked me if I wanted to go to breakfast and have our session and I told him I already ate and he said that was fine.

  9. Holly,
    Therapy should take place in the therapist’s office. Often, taking a person out of that environment to a restaurant or other place is meant to make you feel comfortable with the therapist in other environments. In other words, it is often meant to loosen you up and see if you would be susceptible to later advances. You should be aware of anything that makes you uncomfortable, to include compliments and gifts from the therapist. It is okay to ask questions.

  10. Dear Kristi

    Thank you so much for your website/blog, I admire the bravery of all those who have commented and who have shared their experiences. I think anyone who happens upon this page knows deep down that all is not right with their therapy and is looking for answers.

    I was in therapy for 4 years. The first 2 years seemed good and I still like to believe I achieved something during this time; my issues were fairly minor ones, compared to others who comment here, and it was good to talk through them. However, red flags started to emerge in the 3rd year and went downhill from thereon. Thankfully there was no sexual abuse, but there were many of the warning signs including “special” treatment, arranged meetings outside of sessions, misuse of power (emotional and financial boundaries were violated), inappropriate physical contact (long hugs and massaging my back), and sexually suggestive comments. By the 4th year I realised we were going around in circles not achieving anything, and I couldn’t understand why I was still in therapy. I started cancelling sessions, and then approached the subject of taking a break. This was met with A LOT of hostility.

    Long story short I finally confronted him with a list of my concerns. I was scared, and I hoped for a good resolution, but it ended as I knew deep down it would. There was much annoyance, rolling of the eyes, told me I was resistant, in denial, and suggested that I was frigid. He then shrugged his shoulders and announced I could “leave today” when I clutched at straws and suggested we might implement a plan to taper off therapy amicably and discuss what had been achieved. As uncomfortable as this situation was, and in my still vulnerable state wishing the ground would swallow me up, I had my answer.

    There are two outcomes to confronting the situation. Either your therapist will listen and you can ultimately resolve matters between you, and continue with some good therapy/work toward an end point if desired (good therapist). Or, you get belittled, and you are brutally confronted with the realisation that the person you have trusted for the best part of 4 years, not to mention handing over your life savings on a platter, is an arrogant prick riddled with unresolved issues far exceeding anything you went with (bad therapist).

    I won’t lie to you, ending therapy in this way is hard. I was crushed. I remember thinking oh god I’m going to need therapy to get over therapy, how the hell did this happen, I only initially went for 10 sessions! For me though my recovery in the short term seemed quick. This was really surprising to me. Yes I was completely alone and had no one to talk to, but within weeks I felt happiness, peace, contentment, and above all relief. In 4 years I hadn’t done anything without talking things through with my therapist first; suddenly I was left with nothing but my own instincts. Within 1 year remarkable changes started to happen. Fast forward another few years and I have no more toxic friendships, I’m in a job I love, I met my husband (the love of my life), and we now have a beautiful child. I couldn’t have imagined this would happen in a million years.

    It’s been 5 years since I terminated therapy. This is the first time I have spoken about it to anyone. I’ve thought about it on and off over the years, but recently I became interested in the personal accounts of people who have survived cults. I have never been in a cult, but to my horror could relate to a certain degree of brain washing and manipulation. Somehow I found myself on this website. Ha, I’m guessing my longterm recovery might still need some sorting out, or maybe it’s just taken me this long to process what happened.

    In the UK there is no minimum qualification to call yourself a “therapist”, and accreditation/affiliation to a professional body is voluntary. I subsequently found out that my therapist is not registered, and there is no one to complain to. So unless he commits an actual crime (such as that you would report to the police) he is unaccountable. If you are in the UK and you are reading this, here are some useful links:
    http://abusedbyatherapist.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/how-do-you-know-if-your-therapist-is.html

    http://www.amandawilliamsoncounselling.co.uk/2014/11/regulation-client-and-therapist.html

    Of course, the system that’s in place in the UK (e.g. BACP and UKCP) is by no means perfect, but at least if your therapist is registered they are adhering to a minimum standard, and there is someone to talk to if it all goes horribly wrong. Once you have the fundamentals sorted you can then go about asking whether this person is the right therapist for me. It’s a bit like choosing a GP; there are some in your practice you prefer to see over others for whatever reason (experience, personality, skill-set etc.), but underlying that they’ve all had the same basic level of training and are answerable should they make a misdiagnosis or treat you badly. How would you feel if you were admitted to hospital and told that the person performing your investigation or operation is neither qualified nor accredited, and that there is no recourse should an error occur.

    We wouldn’t put our physical health in the hands of someone unqualified or unmonitored, so why would we do the same with our mental health? In the UK I think it’s because we, as the clients, are not aware of the situation. When I first booked an appointment to see my therapist it never occurred to me that he could call himself a “therapist” without any kind of formal training or affiliation with a professional body. Granted, he was very well-read, intelligent, had a fancy website, and talked a good talk, but when it really mattered he didn’t have the substance or integrity to back it up. Unfortunately it took me years to realise it. Of course it’s possible that accreditation may not have made any difference to his poor treatment of me, but at least I would have had the choice to report my concerns, and in turn he would have been able to reflect and adjust his practices instead of carrying on unchecked.

    It seems currently the only answer in the UK is passing out this message as far and wide as possible, educating future and existing clients as to what their choices are, and speaking out about our experiences, good and bad. If you are reading this and can relate to anything I have said, I hope this helps, and please know that you are not alone, there is hope, and all is definitely not lost. Getting yourself out of toxic therapy is an achievement in itself!

    Feel free to repost/share my comments. Thank you so much for reading and for listening. After all, at the end of the day we just want to be heard :) Bx

    • Beatrix,
      Thank you so much for sharing your experience and the information and links! If you have any interest in guest-writing a post providing this information for our UK readers, I’d be happy to share it.

      So glad to hear your life has turned around for the better!
      Kristi

  11. Hi! Can I do anything about a therapist who treated me unethically and downright cruel if it doesn’t involve sexual misconduct? (My mom witnessed what happened)
    Thank you!

  12. I am a recovering alcoholic and have schizophrenia and social anxiety. I was remanded to a center after several psych ward visits. I’m 28 and i was assigned a CBGT? therapist a girl, also 28. I’m a pretty funny guy in 1-1 settings I just can’t go out in public. She seemed nice and cared and my parents liked her. but after a year she started telling me how she also had bouts of depression and took medication. I was like why are you a therapist then? then she kept asking about my ex gfs. and then she offered to have sexual relations in her office. I felt trapped. I don’tknow how to say no. A 58 yr old woman did the same kind of thing at a previous job (inviting me to her house to help her lift something heavy, next thing you know she wants to know if i can stay over). I’ve never had a sexual or romantic relationship with a woman where i initiated it. I know everyone thinks males can’t be raped/taken advantaged of but my new therapist is telling me its not my fault. Anyway, one of this girl’s coworkers ratted her out and now i have a voice mail from the NYS protection of mental health services. I told the girl and she is sorry and then talks about suicide. I can’t handle the guilt, i feel like people will assume that i seduced her. so now im having panic attacks. i dont want to lie, but i also dont want to throw her under the bus and ruin her life and have her license taken away. i dont know what to do.

    • Hi Cooper,
      I am so sorry to hear about what you’ve gone through. Males can definitely be taken advantage of sexually and victimized, and I can only imagine how hard it is when you encounter people who don’t believe that.

      I think many who have been victimized/abused by their therapist end up feeling responsible for the therapist’s livelihood and well-being — but this is a result of the boundary violation! If the therapist had respected the boundaries in the first place, the patient might not feel quite so responsible (depending on the degree of co-dependency the patient already experiences). I cannot stress enough how important it is to let people be responsible for their own actions and deal with the consequences of those actions. This applies to EVERYONE in your life. You are not responsible for her, her livelihood, or her life. You are not her caretaker. If she is talking to you about suicide, then she is trying to make you responsible for her life — and that is really not okay. She is not respecting the boundaries. How will she learn right from wrong if you prevent or protect her from having to deal with the consequences of her actions? This isn’t being heartless or insensitive. In fact, the best way to take care of her is to allow her to be responsible for her choices. That is how people grow and learn and become empowered to make better choices. She made mistakes. Now, however hard it is, let her be responsible for them. If she has mental health issues, those are her issues to deal with, not yours.

      Please absolve yourself of responsibility for this girl and give her the respect and authority to deal with her own life. You have a big enough job taking care of yourself and doing your own healing work. Honor and respect yourself by valuing yourself and taking care of your life. Bring the focus back on yourself. Love yourself. Take care of yourself.

      All the best,
      Kristi

      • had been to this site a number of times over the past few years but, have never posted. cooper’s post prompted me to. I have been a life long depressive. its related to physical, emotional and sexual abuse from my mother, physical and emotional abuse from my father. life came apart in my mid forties when I had a job termination. I initially treated with a male therapist for depression. after 4 years, I stopped because I felt he was not helping. I did some research and approached a female therapist specifically for EMDR therapy. initially, we made significant progress, albeit painful. I was able to acknowledge the childhood abuse.
        during this time, I shared all of my “secrets” and came to totally trust her. she was very interested in a 12 year intense sexual relationship I had with a married woman who was 5 older than me. she insisted I share the intimacies I had with this woman which I did. it seemed to further deepen the therapeutic relationship but not to my benefit or so I felt.
        finally one day she told me that she could no longer treat me and that she wanted to be “friends” and continue to see me socially and that I could continue utilizing her as a “therapist”. at the time, I felt very panicked, scared, and anxious with this change. we discussed my apprehension on a number of occasions, the first while meeting for some food and drink.
        after that first social meeting, we went out again and she invited me over to her home. I spent the night. I move out from my house and wife three months later. she had always told me that I needed to move out and get a divorce. the relationship continued for the next three years before I broke it off. Her daughters, friends, family all welcomed me in although they were not aware I had been her patient. she continued to contact me until I simply stopped responding last may 2014.
        I had not divorced my wife of 40 yrs., had maintained contact while separated, and move back home last November.
        I just want to put this out there. I have been very angry with what has happened. I have communicated this to her(therapist). she finally stopped communicating. now that a number of months have passed, I see that she crossed the line with me and that I am in a worse place than I had been prior to seeing her.
        I don’t want to formally file a complaint, file a law suit etc but, she has never really apologized and acknowledged the transgression. i’m beginning to feel that I have no other choice than to disclose and be proactive. I too feel guilt. the therapist is a single divorced mom. her two girls are now adults.
        the clandestine relationship I had with the other married woman previous to re-entering therapy was also controlling, manipulative and ultimately extremely destructive to me and my wife and family. Unfortunately, my wife is also emotionally strong, dominant and at times very manipulative.
        I just wanted to say to cooper that you now have an opportunity to heal yourself. now is the time, just as now, finally, is my time. any feedback would be appreciated. I plan on making a call to my EAP this coming week. it seems like I have been living a b movie rerun for the past 20 years. I’ve made progress and am much more self aware of who I am but, I do not believe I will ever truly change how I am hard wired.

        • Hi Jim,
          You have every right to be extremely angry. This therapist didn’t just cross a line, she violated trust and the boundaries of the relationship. Unfortunately, if she is like so many other therapists who are guilty of this kind of misconduct, she may never acknowledge the violation, accept responsibility for her actions or apologize. Then, sadly, it is up to the victim to heal and find their way forward without receiving that kind of validation for their experience. But you never know… I hope for your sake she is able to be accountable for her actions. As I said to Cooper, her transgressions are her responsibility. Please do not feel guilty about allowing her to learn from the choices she made.

          I hope you have the support you need to to heal and move forward in your life.

          All the best to you,
          Kristi

  13. Boundary crossing is a major problem with therapy. ideally you should feel comfortable and safe with your therapist and sessions should meet your needs and make you feel better. Unfortunately, therapists are only people and many come from abusive backgrounds and lack the social skills and knowledge to help some clients. Others can take advantage of the relationship and abuse their knowledge and skills to exploit or control and hurt the client. Ideally your therapist should increase your good coping strategies and encourage you to have safe and healthy relationships. You enter a room with someone you do not know and then tell them personal information without them disclosing much about themselves. This does not really foster intimacy as little sharing occurs. A good therapist displays listening skills, validation, understanding, helpful insight and is able to offer ways to improve the way you act and feel. A bad therapist will pry into your problems and intensify the pain you feel without offering ways to find relief. This merely intensifies your sense of helplessness and renders you more dependent. Maybe the best solution to those who are complaining is to gain information about skills to improve your mood and social skills and to target sessions to work on concrete problems and goals for personal development. Therapy is a one way relationship where you pay someone to help you feel better. If your life erodes as a result of entering therapy there is a serious problem. For those with valid complaints, in hindsight many people fail to trust their gut and place too much faith in strangers instead of learning to help and trust themselves. Therapists try to develop positive relationships with their clients to keep them coming back. If you are not improving then it is best to find someone who can foster your independence and better coping skills. I feel sorry that therapy has become an industry with many people entering an office in distress and becoming worse and not better as a result of meeting an unethical, immature or self-serving person.

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