Why Some Therapist-Client Relationships Are Sick

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Hurd’s new book, Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference). The book is available in Kindle e-book format through Amazon.com, and autographed copies may be purchased at this web site.

One of the basic psychological requirements of an independent mind is the ability to distinguish between thoughts and emotions. The independent thinker knows his feelings, but also wants to trace the origins of the unspoken assumptions that created those feelings. Even if he requires the help of a psychotherapist, he understands that the purpose of therapy is to help him introspect and discover the causes of his troubling emotions. He is willing to work for his mental health.

On the other hand, dependent minds are unable to distinguish between thoughts and  emotions. They know what their feelings are, but little else. Anxiety, sadness and frustration are intolerable to them because they don’t know where those feelings came from. They don’t understand that feelings have origins. Consequently, their lives are reduced to dependence on their biological functions and knee-jerk reactions, devoid of reason.

The dependent mind does not understand that basic principles are required to govern even the most mundane aspects of life. She sneers at the idea of principles, dismissing them as rigid, authoritarian, and unsophisticated. Yet her life continues to be plagued by low self-esteem, unexplained anxiety and a pervasive sense of angry helplessness.

She pleads with a therapist to ‘make’ her bad feelings go away, but she resents the idea of having to work for it. In fact, she doesn’t want a therapist to introduce her to accurate principles about human emotions and introspection. She just wants the therapist to tell her what to do. Independent thinkers are equipped to handle political and intellectual freedom. They require it for their physical and spiritual survival. They accept nothing on blind faith, and will not be convinced of anything until they grasp its connection to reality in concrete terms.

On the contrary, a dependent mind is not only able to live without intellectual and political freedom; he is actually threatened by it. Instead of simply having a need for role models and heroes, as even independent thinkers do, he has a need to be ruled. In politics he expects either a strongman or a ‘benevolent’ government bureaucrat to handle every aspect of his life: medical care, retirement, day care, parental leave, disability insurance, etc. And they trot out on Election Day and vote these irrational expectations. Is it any wonder why things are the way they are today in government?

When he ends up in psychotherapy, the dependent mind expects the therapist to ‘make’ him feel better, rather than teaching him the principles and skills necessary for a happier life.

The dependent mind and the bad therapist are a perfect match for one another. The dependent individual wants to be dictated to, and the bad therapist needs to dictate. It doesn’t matter if the dependent person is encouraged to surrender his responsibility and his freedom to his Freudian ‘unconscious,’ to a mysterious ‘Higher Power,’ to some conditioning ‘stimulus’ or perhaps even to the therapist himself. The point is that bad therapy disempowers the individual by teaching him that the mind and the body—his thoughts and emotions—are at war with each other. He’s not allowed to see that mind and body, conscious and subconscious, can be successfully integrated with a little effort.

Only good therapy, or more fundamentally, a rational philosophy of life, can lead an individual to understand the basic incorporation of thoughts and emotions required for a psychologically healthy existence.

Independence is not the same as intelligence. Many intelligent people are highly dependent. In fact, many bad therapists and other contemporary intellectuals are themselves quite dependent, even though they may mask it with pseudo self-esteem or arrogance. Consider, for example, the experienced psychotherapist I know who approaches her colleague and complains, ‘I don’t know what to do with these panic-stricken people who come into my office. They feel that their world is collapsing. Who am I to tell them otherwise?’ (Dear Reader, I am not making this up.)

Most of her clients would be horrified to know she made such a statement, yet, given her lack of a rational perspective on emotions, how can one find fault with her logic? Who could expect her to think otherwise after years of being assaulted with Freudian, behaviorist, mystical and anti-male nonsense?

Or, consider the case of the client who was going through a bitter divorce and needed a child custody evaluation for court. The man and his estranged wife together attended a session with a respected psychotherapist appointed to make, in essence, the ultimate decision about custody upon which the judge would be expected to rely. The man later commented that the therapist looked as if she were about to burst into tears during the session. Apparently she felt the couple’s pain and anger so intensely that she was unable to be of any help. Yet what else can one expect from therapists who are taught that empathy, not judgment, is a therapist’s most important skill?

Interestingly enough, many uneducated individuals are independent and self-reliant in their psychological outlooks, though they might not have a great deal of knowledge about psychological theories. My own experience has shown that many helpful techniques, ideas and suggestions come from the clients themselves. In fact, clients teach me a great deal.

At the same time, I can count on one hand the number of therapists who have taught me anything worthwhile. This is not an attack on the intelligence or intentions of therapists I have encountered, but it is an attack on the quality of the theoretical principles and philosophies most therapists bring to their practices and, in turn, foist on their clients.

Independent yet uneducated individuals tend to give authority figures, such as intellectuals and psychotherapists, the benefit of the doubt. Sadly, I have observed over and over again that when therapists rely on mistaken philosophies, they tend to resort to subtle intimidation to get clients to accept theories that have no basis in reality. I can’t even begin to count the number of clients referred to me who have been emotionally damaged, intentionally or otherwise, by their prior therapists.

Here are a few very real (and very scary) examples: ‘My therapist told me I’m in denial just because I have a glass of wine at dinner every other night. Am I really an alcoholic?’

‘The therapist told me I’m not ready for therapy. Does that mean I’m a hopeless case?’

‘The therapist told me I was trying to terminate prematurely. What does that mean? I cut off the therapy because it wasn’t helping! The therapist actually called me at home and told me that I am not a very thoughtful person to treat her like that. Do all therapists do that?’

‘I took my daughter to family counseling and the therapist put words in her mouth. The therapist said to her, ‘You’re angry, aren’t you, Melissa?’ and Melissa claimed that she was. Yet Melissa had never said or done anything to suggest this was the case.’

A fair portion of my own practice has been spent undoing the damage to the self-esteem of conscientious, otherwise independent individuals by therapists with mistaken ideas and/or self-serving agendas.