Consider a teacher: a teacher goes to college to learn how people learn, and how to teach them to learn. There are theories of learning that explain how children absorb knowledge. There are various skills to be learned about how to transmit knowledge. Likewise, a therapist engages in a disciplined study, under qualified supervision, of how personality development occurs and how it goes astray. A therapist is not just some nice person who is kind to you. A therapist is a person who is learned in the ways and means of your psychological development, as a physician is knowledgeable in the ways and means of your physical development.
And there is no such thing as “free” therapy. There is always a price to be paid, and if therapist and patient are not clear at the outset what that price will be then the patient will suffer because the therapist is in a position of power and it is always the power position that benefits. A therapist might legitimately say, “I will engage in six weeks of therapy without financial charge . . .” because I’m really rich and can afford it; because I’m a student and not allowed to charge; because I’m doing research on people who eat pretzels with pineapple and you qualify. The issue is not how much and what will be charged: the issue is that the patient and therapist must both be clear about the terms of the therapeutic contract before therapy starts.
A therapist never says “I love you” to a patient. “I love you” is a statement of affectionate commitment and the therapist’s emotions are not to be involved in therapy. If a therapist finds herself having strong feelings about a patient then the therapist needs to seek supervision to work out her own issues so that they do not interfere with her treatment of the patient. For example, if a patient says something that reminds the therapist of the therapist’s sister and the therapist transfers her feelings about her sister to her patient then the patient gets mistreated.
A therapist should no more say “I love you” to a patient than say “I hate you.” It is a statement of one person’s feeling for another, not a balm that a therapist offers to heal a patient’s hurt. Friends say, “I love you.” Liars and hypocrites say, “I love you.” Therapists do not say, “I love you.” If a therapist says, “I love you,” then therapy is not taking place. The job of a therapist is to help a patient understand why the patient does things that do not lead to positive outcomes so the patient can change his behavior. It is not the job of the therapist to make the patient feel better with insincere words.
No responsible therapist would ever presume to know the motives of a person she’s never met, yet that is precisely what Carol has done, claiming that that ‘he did this,’ ‘he did that’ for whatever reason. Carol has no idea what the friend/colleague/therapist/lover did; all she knows is what I said he did. A good therapist always maintains a discrete distrust: what if the patient is a liar or ignorant or—oh, gosh—just plain crazy? And for her to say that I shouldn’t take it “personally” is the height of insanity. Carol argues that this was therapy but thinks therapy isn’t personal. Even sex is less personal than therapy.
Carol ends that I should “try to be a friend to him” after arguing that we didn’t have a friendship—he was giving me “free” “informal” therapy. You are not supposed to be a friend to your therapist; you do not drive him to the airport or help him move. You can’t have it both ways, and that’s the whole point. The boundaries of therapy or friendship, and the boundaries of lovers or colleagues, are uniquely different and must be observed in order to have a safe, healthy relationship, whatever type it may be. What my friend and Cathi Carol have in common is the absence of boundaries.
You should not take comments about psychotherapy from Cathi Carol to have any more expertise than those from your barber, barkeep or best friend. None of them are experts in psychology, although any of them may (or may not) be an expert in you. In the words of Mike Royko, “It’s been my policy to view the Internet not as an ‘information highway,’ but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies.” Furthermore, although I think I am smart and experienced, and should advise you on how to live your life, you should always keep in mind that I, too, may be a babbling loony.
Currently, some comments written for my blog are not posted until after I approve them while others get posted directly without my advance knowledge. I don’t understand how this happens but will try to learn and then make sure that nothing else gets posted without my prior approval. I promise to do my best to only post things that I know to be true.
My best advice to you, in all cases, is to trust yourself more than you trust anyone else.