Feeling dreadful after therapy

Applecore

New Here
I'm a mature adult male who has been through a lot, I've done a lot of psychological 'work' on myself and let's just say I'm a survivor of trauma who has improved a great deal over the years (and have some friendly advice to share). I once suffered from tortuously intrusive thoughts, but I'm over it now. For what it's worth, in questionnaires I now score low on neuroticism (OCEAN / Big Five) and high on 'happy adult' (Young / Schema). I've got an enjoyable job and am healthy and relatively content and can do the stuff we're meant to do, like express our emotions in an effective way as well as allow ourselves to have fun.

I recently went in to therapy with the goal of discussing my current relationship with my woman, not my childhood or past trauma that I have hugely recovered from. The therapist, a woman about my age, is avoiding talking about my relationship and wants to bring me back to my childhood on the grounds that it must be connected. I keep telling them I have already worked on my past to great effect, and I added that we ought to be aware of the risk of re-traumatization.

Prior to the fourth session in, the therapist said in email that their accountant said I hadn't paid for one session and asked me to pay it; I replied with bank evidence that I'd already paid it. In the session, the therapist blamed me for their accountant being unable to find the payment I'd made (on on the grounds that I hadn't put a reference code on the transfer as asked); but no apology from the therapist for the false accusation of not paying, nor accountability from the accountant. Later in the session the therapist had me talk to my dead father in the 'empty chair' exercise; put their hand on my shoulder without my consent for no good reason (I wasn't crying or upset), and then flipped their middle finger at my dead father in the empty chair - presumably in attempt to show support for my criticism of him.

Unwanted touching is notorious right now, so it did surprise me. As did the insult to my dead father, which I didn't appreciate. But I felt pretty much 'meh' afterwards, like a big so what.

Then that night I had a dream in which the therapist, without my consent, kissed me and touched my privates; it was not something I enjoyed and was effectively assault. I woke up at 2:00 and couldn't sleep for about three hours. I don't usually have insomnia. The next day I felt dreadful, sad about my dead father, violated by the therapist. I bought a bottle of wine and drank in the day on my own, which I rarely do. I was tearful on my own and then confrontational towards my best friend on email.

I can already hear therapy advocates tell me this is all good, just part of the process, my hidden emotions coming to the surface, and I should work through it.

Well, I was feeling relatively okay before therapy and I don't like how I feel after therapy, how about that?
 

Movingforward10

MyPTSD Pro
Sounds like your therapists actions triggered something in you?
I sometimes drink after therapy. I sometimes sleep bad after therapy. I sometimes get meh after therapy. Doesn't mean it isn't working. But saying that: your account of her touching you and insulting your father like that, sound inappropriate. Also, my understanding was that the empty chair exercise is meant to only be done once a good relationship has been built up and not in the first few sessions?

I have to say though, I do agree with the statement of your therapist that your relationship with your partner is linked to the past. Maybe explore your resistance to looking at that?

Sorry it's been like this. But does sound valuable things to bring up with your T next week?
 
I can already hear therapy advocates tell me this is all good, just part of the process, my hidden emotions coming to the surface, and I should work through it.
I'm the world's biggest therapy advocate but this therapist sounds like a dud. However, sometimes duds can learn from their mistakes and turn into helpful professionals.
The therapist, a woman about my age, is avoiding talking about my relationship and wants to bring me back to my childhood on the grounds that it must be connected. I keep telling them I have already worked on my past to great effect, and I added that we ought to be aware of the risk of re-traumatization.
This part right here is what would make me, personally, find a different therapist. It sounds like this one thinks she knows what you need more than you do, which is a big therapeutic no-no. Sure, it's very possible that your childhood is the reason for the problems in your relationship, but it also sounds as if you've been pretty clear that you don't want to talk about that at this point. Your therapist should absolutely respect that.
Prior to the fourth session in, the therapist said in email that their accountant said I hadn't paid for one session and asked me to pay it; I replied with bank evidence that I'd already paid it.
Misunderstandings happen with money all the time, but it sounds like you feel very disrespected by this therapist, because there is also this:
put their hand on my shoulder without my consent for no good reason (I wasn't crying or upset), and then flipped their middle finger at my dead father in the empty chair - presumably in attempt to show support for my criticism of him.
Was your therapist aware that you don't consent to her touching her?

I also find the middle finger gesture to be surprising and rude. I mean, there are all different modalities, but that's kind of a head scratcher to me.

It's pretty normal to dream of therapists in the way you did, but if I can be an armchair Freud it sounds like the dream was an outgrowth of your complete discomfort with the session.

All of these things are absolutely worth talking about in therapy. If you think you want to try to continue to work with her, I would absolutely bring them up to her.
 

Applecore

New Here
Sounds like your therapists actions triggered something in you?
I sometimes drink after therapy. I sometimes sleep bad after therapy. I sometimes get meh after therapy. Doesn't mean it isn't working. But saying that: your account of her touching you and insulting your father like that, sound inappropriate. Also, my understanding was that the empty chair exercise is meant to only be done once a good relationship has been built up and not in the first few sessions?

I have to say though, I do agree with the statement of your therapist that your relationship with your partner is linked to the past. Maybe explore your resistance to looking at that?

Sorry it's been like this. But does sound valuable things to bring up with your T next week?
Thanks. Yes I'll certainly raise it. What I notice I am most bothered by is instead of receiving an apology, I was blamed: I was told that their mistake was my fault, after having been falsely accused of not having paid for a session. I have never in my life been falsely accused by a service provider of not having paid for something; and if I had, I would expect a serious explanation without shirking of responsibility from them. If they can't see this minor episode is abuse in miniature, then I don't have faith in their professionalism. I feel that was what cased the nightmares more that the insult and the unwanted touching.

Of course, all our present is somehow related to our past, I've never disagreed with that. My resistance to going through my traumatic experiences all over again is that I am a survivor of trauma and I know myself well enough to know what triggers post-traumatic intrusive thoughts and pathological rumination. We would know not to invite an addict who has been clean and sober for years to have another go at their substance, so that we can understand them better. That is my resistance - the responsible resistance of someone who's recovered from trauma and been through it a million times before, quite literally.
 

Friday

Moderator
I can already hear therapy advocates tell me this is all good, just part of the process, my hidden emotions coming to the surface, and I should work through it.
At best she sounds like a bad fit... at worst like a whackadoodle nut bird.

I happen to be a big proponent of therapy, but bad therapy is worse than no therapy.

You’re only a few session in... Any reason not to keep looking for a better therapist?

The therapist, a woman about my age, is avoiding talking about my relationship and wants to bring me back to my childhood on the grounds that it must be connected
I have a private bet with myself that this woman is NOT a trauma therapist?

((Because trauma therapists usually recognise a) trauma clients have lives with issues unrelated to their trauma history that they’d like to work on / it’s not all about trauma all the time & b) working on trauma is a reeeeeeally big deal, with a lot of prep work & expected fallout... & hammering their clients to dredge up the past with no support isn’t something people experienced with trauma tend to do anyway, but especially not 4 sessions in.))

Which is a lead up to : you might consider looking for a trauma specialist or trauma informed MFT, even though that’s not what you want to be working on ... just so that you don’t end up with someone who thinks grabbing a tiger by the tail, because they’re used to house cats, is a good idea. Because there’s a huge difference between the present being informed by the past, and someone with a major trauma history who has to be careful about how they approach it, and that’s not even why they’re here right now. So have to be not just careful, but reeeeally careful not to let the past blow up and obliterate what they’re actually trying to work on.
 
Last edited:

Rosebud

MyPTSD Pro
I really like @Friday's post. I think for some people with a hammer everything looks like a nail, and tbh that would have been a total turn-off for me, too.

Notwithstanding everyone has an attachment style that comes from childhood, and how can trauma in our history not at least initially affect our perceptions or triggers, and relationships or interacting, but the 'feeling' in dreams (not the content) is supposedly reflective of what you are feeling and processing- violated comes to mind, obviously- having to go along with something very private you didn't agree with and have no idea how you got there. And without power to speak up, as you didn't sound particularly 'heard' when they didn't address their error in the billing issue.

Agree with Friday, bad therapy is worse than none. Congratulations on your progress, don't lose heart (one bottle of wine isn't the end of the world, and I think I would have been left reeling too), and welcome to you.
 

RNrecovery

Learning
Yeaahhh so that would be a big nope. She’s starting right out not respecting a boundary. She touched you without asking and at only four sessions in she can’t yet know you’re comfort level. Pushing you to flip your dad off is just weird. Maybe it would have worked for someone she built a rapport with and gave other queues they would find it useful. For me, role play is never ever something I would be into. Not after four sessions not after four years.

I actually went to my therapist wanting help navigate a confusing relationship in my life. Right off the bad I told her my history and that I wasn’t interested in hashing into it. Had she pushed me I would have shut down and been worse off. Way way down the road we actually ended up talking about my trauma. But at my pace. And we’ve built a rapport so she knows what I think it funny and what would fall flat.

it’s your call. You know yourself. If you decide to keep trying just be careful you don’t push it just because you think you should. Your stability is hard won. Maybe your history is playing a part with your gf. Maybe not. Pushing her agenda won’t help either way.
 

whiteraven

MyPTSD Pro
I can already hear therapy advocates tell me this is all good, just part of the process, my hidden emotions coming to the surface, and I should work through it.
Oh, hell no. I'm in therapy, and I think in some cases it's useful to be, but this for me would be reason to go look elsewhere.

Have you talked with her about it? It might help to hear her perspective. Even if you've worked on your trauma ad nauseum, there's always the possibility it could inform some of your decisions, reactions, etc... The trauma will always be there - can't change the past - and it's possible that during conflict or in a situation where things aren't the best, some of the old stuff might be informing your reactions.

All that said, I don't think it matters in terms of your therapist's behavior. Only 4 sessions in and she's *blaming* you for *anything*? I only have my own to reference, but he would never do that, even if it was my fault. And if he for some reason slipped, he'd apologize.

My therapist never touches me without first asking or coming to an understanding beforehand, and he is never disrespectful, even to the folks who abused me. He's very supportive but shows that in other ways. If your therapist were mine, I'd discuss all of it with her, whether I planned to leave or not.

Best to you (and welcome!)
 

Survivor3

MyPTSD Pro
I think that flipping the "bird" to your imaginary dad is really weird and maybe is a red flag to how her attitude is generally. Also blaming you about the payment is bad when you had clear evidence that you paid it. I would maybe look for someone else. It's a hassle but maybe better for you. Best wishes.🙂
 

joeylittle

Administrator
Yeah, I'm with the other respondents here - I'd say, not the right therapist for you, unless there are some concrete positives that have come out of your work with her so far. Then, it could be worth it to invest in re-building the therapeutic alliance.

To my reading, you sound like you're too experienced for her skill set.
 

Applecore

New Here
To each of you who has replied here to my query, I would like to say a very very big thank you. Such kindness, such warmth, such intelligence. It has really made a difference.

In case you were wondering, I decided not to go back to the next session with the therapist. I did write to her by email and said it didn't feel right that a therapy clinic was blaming its client for its own disorganization. I said that this at the start of the session may have effected my experience of the rest of it. But I didn't specify the touching and the insult to my dead father, not my nightmares and insomnia that night. I actually cut that content from a first draft, because I didn't want it to come across as a rant or too much to comprehend at once. I pointed out that the concept of responsibility is a really important in therapy, so it felt like enough irony for me to want to take some time out.

I realize I have taken really ages to reply to you all, and I think that's because I wanted to get away from the issue in general, and even though you lovely guys have helped me out, in my mind you were part of the issue. So I am back here to thank you now.

You were all correct in your assessment. I would only add I think she really meant well, and I slightly feel bad for her that she messed up. (And according to cliche, maybe that's the empath/codependent/son of a narcissist in me talking).

In hindsight there is something else, in her favour. She asked me about my previous therapy and I told her I went to overcome debilitating rumination about traumatic past events. The therapist, a man about my age, responded by saying absolutely nothing for most of the time. When I asked what was going on, he finally explained was because he felt my story was so disturbing that he didn't want to say the wrong thing.

It felt as if he was intimidated by the problem, but it also felt like I was being shunned. Starved of practical advice let alone emotional contact, I left. The lady therapist was deeply concerned when I told her this, and said that the therapy may have had an echo of my childhood abuse, part of which involved severe shunning.

So I think the lady therapist, with the goodness of her heart, may have wanted to compensate and give me the exact opposite of my previous course of therapy. She was highly involved, highly connected (literally making physical contact), ostentatiously fighting my father in my defence at the empty chair. She also tried to 'regress' me by getting me to relive what it was like to be a young boy at home alone in my bedroom, and then she walks in to my bedroom and she wants to know my reactions. Extremely intense efforts to connect.

We know what they say about good intentions...

In the meantime my relationship has lurched along for the past few months of good and bad. One way in which the lady therapist effected it was that she encouraged me to speak up about my own feelings more, having correctly worked out that I was often more focused on my partners feelings than mine. But we have to be careful about dogma, and slogans. Because I did push myself to express things more, and I came out by saying how stressed and sad the relationship was making me feel. In hindsight, that might not have been ideal because I wasn't wrapping the message in genuine appreciation and acknowledgement of the happiness and joy that the relationship has often brought me, too. Consequently my partner might not have been willing to take on what I had to say. It's a tough one - to express ourselves honestly, and to be tactful enough in our expression to get the response would honestly would like to have.

To be continued!
 
Top