Why to Find a Therapist Who “Makes You Mad”

Dr. Hurd:

How do you (as a psychotherapist/life coach) deal with someone one who wants you to validate their irrational emotions and accuses you of not caring how they feel?

Dr. Hurd’s reply:

I sometimes say to people: ‘You pay me not to care. That might sound harsh, but if ‘caring’ means agreeing with and validating your feelings, then that’s not what you’re paying me to do. If all your feelings were valid, constructive, logical and helpful—you would not need me.’

Actually, a therapist willing to be objective and honest does care, in the true sense of the term. If I tell you what you want to hear—so that you’ll like me, keep coming to me, keep paying me money—then that’s not very caring. If I tell you the truth, backed up with ‘uncaring’ logic and facts, risking your wrath and your termination of me as a therapist—I’d say that’s pretty caring, because I’m putting my professional opinion of your needs above your own (or my own) immediate gratification in the moment.

When I was an undergraduate in psychology, I remember being shown a movie about a real-life woman under the pseudonym of Gloria. Gloria was actually counseled by three of the famous therapists of the era (probably the 1960s—the movie was old even when I watched it in 1983.) I remember one of the therapists was Fritz Perls (the type who confronted); another Carl Rogers (the type who was nice and held back the truth); and the third was, I believe, Albert Ellis, a pioneer in cognitive-behavioral therapy.

I’m going on memory here, and haven’t watched the film in years. (I believe you can find the tape on YouTube.) But as best as I can remember, it went like this:

Gloria was quite assertive and confrontational herself, with a lot of inner turmoil and issues. She volunteered to have her sessions taped with these therapists and seemed to appreciate doing it. With Ellis and Rogers, the sessions seemed to go reasonably well. When she got to Fritz Perls, let’s just say the fireworks went off unlike those you rarely see on the fourth of July.

After the sessions were completed I recall that Gloria was interviewed by the person who conducted the study. Based on how the therapy sessions went, you’d expect her to say she liked Carl Rogers (the nice, warm, unconditional positive regarding type) the most, and Fritz Perls (the confrontative one) the least. She did kind of say that, I remember, but when asked point blank which one helped her the most, I recall that she replied: Fritz Perls. She said that she needed to be confronted about some unpleasant truths, and even though she didn’t like it, she knew she needed it.

When a person reaches out for a therapist’s guidance—as opposed to that of a friend or family member—it’s an open statement to the effect of, ‘I want the truth. No matter how much I act like I don’t want the truth—I want it, and need it.’

Not everyone is like Gloria about a therapist. Some truly do want to simply complain and have you reply, ‘Ain’t it awful.’ But this is not help, and just because the person doesn’t want logical truth doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get it.

From a cognitive point-of-view, the purpose of a therapist is to help you identify and change your invalid (i.e., unsupportable by facts) thinking. This can be easier said than done, but it’s the only solution possible. If your emotions are troubling you, then changing the thoughts and ideas giving rise to the emotions is the only way to go.

The psychotherapy client must let go of the idea that it’s ‘treatment’ and will ‘do’ something to the otherwise passive patient. Therapy is coaching, not treatment. It’s guiding a person to play the game right, not playing the game for the person.

Most psychological and emotional conflicts are not due to lack of knowledge or intelligence. Emotional problems arise primarily from errors in thinking or contradictions—and the subsequent mental maneuvers NOT to know them.

Internalizing and habitualizing the capacity NOT to think—in some context—is what gets people into trouble. If anything, higher intelligence makes you more prone to emotional conflict. Bright people are better at believing their own nonsense. It takes a strong, emotionally mature and pro-reason therapist to have any minimal hope of helping anyone.

The therapists who ‘make you mad’ (with reasons) are the ones whose input will likely stay with you the longest.


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