Shrinks Gone Wild
Do you suspect your therapist needs a therapist? Here, patients reveal the moment they knew it was time to take their business, and their brains, elsewhere . . .
Say goodbye to the Freudian psychoanalyst of yore who sat silently behind the couch dutifully taking notes and saying absolutely nothing, ever. Blame it on insurance or on meds, blame it on these polarized times that seem to have driven even the therapists closer to the brink. Especially the therapists.
“I know someone who’d been in analysis for four or five years without a word spoken by his revered analyst,” Amy L. recalls. “During one session, my acquaintance was droning on when the analyst suddenly cried out, ‘You are the most boring person I’ve ever known.’” Um. Thanks for sharing.
These days, shrinking outside the box is all the rage. Even the media has caught on. In the Apple TV hit, Shrinking, Jason Siegal plays a psychologist who goes way outside the bounds of normal therapist/client propriety. “I think I can help people if I just get my hands a little dirtier,” he proclaims. He proceeds to tell one patient that her boyfriend is a fuggly, fuggly man. Fuggly inside and out. Just fucking leave him.” Reader: she did. (Well, at least in Episode 1.)
Of course, there will always be the sexually inappropriate shrink, the one who is likely to make headlines in The New York Post—as Lisa L.’s did when he slept with two of his patients. “He never crossed the line with me,” she says. “Though he did frequently fall asleep, probably from all the sex he was having with his other patients.”
Adds Sharon S.: “Mine told me it would be ‘therapeutic’ for me to sleep with him. Worst pickup line ever. I gave up on therapy after that.”
But beyond the obvious illegal ignominy and the simple fact of not hiding how uninteresting you are, bad therapist behavior seems to fall into three basic categories:
The Overly Opinionated Shrink
Why spend those laborious hours leading you to a decision you make for yourself when they can just tell you the right thing to do? Case in point: I once had an on-again/off-again relationship with a famous and exceedingly handsome architect who just didn’t quite see the point of monogamy. (Tip: Never try convincing a former star of the Harvard debate team of anything.)
He had a habit of double-booking our dates, as I suspect he saved the best for last. I was usually the early shift. I would break up with him, but the minute he cooked risotto, bought me roses and had Nina Simone playing, I was a goner. This went on for three years.
When I finally got it together to leave, my therapist did not just approve heartily. She leapt out of her seat, jumped up and down a little, and applauded. It’s good to know your therapist thinks you’ve made a sound decision. It’s a little less good to know that they clearly think you’ve been an idiot for years, and couldn’t hold back any longer.
The Oversharing Shrink
Something about being in the room with a box of tissues can make boundaries disappear. “I stopped seeing my shrink when he was crying more than me during our sessions,” Chris C. says. “I think that there was a lot of countertransference.”
Debra N. also had a shrink with issues. “My last therapist, who I saw for far too long immediately after my divorce because he took my insurance, repeatedly told me about his marital problems with his second wife, and added that his aunt was shot to death by her husband. He said he could share because he considered me a friend.”
And there are many, many therapists who are not shy about sharing their extracurricular ambitions. One invited her patient to watch her perform in a comedy club; the act was more or less about her patients. Another one: “When I worked in publishing, my psychopharmacologist would give me manuscripts—short stories and poetry, mostly.” Another former patient got short stories that were, not to put too fine a point on it, high-brow porn: “It’s a little hard to look at your therapist in the same way when you’ve read his spanking fantasies.”
For the record, the American Psychologist Academy code of conduct states: “Psychologists strive to be aware of the possible effect of their own physical and mental health on their ability to help those with whom they work.” Then again, it also states psychologists should avoid torturing their patients. So many damn rules.
The Barking Mad Shrink
The therapist who brought her dog to a psychic.
The therapist who told her grieving client, who had two small children and whose husband had just died, that she should join a bridge club to meet men.
And then there was the therapist who told her patient that she was probably bipolar, and she should lick limestone rocks if she was worried about taking lithium.
But perhaps the award goes to the doctor who got a little peckish during sessions. Jill W. recalls, “A therapist I’d only seen a few times opened her purse while I was talking, took out a hamburger, peeled back the foil and started chomping on it.” And it wasn’t like a neat little White Castle burger-ette, either: it was dripping in oil that coated her fingers. “She even gestured with it as she answered my questions.”
Finally, we must include a bonus category for the Shrink Who Wasn’t. “My brother saw a psychiatrist in Manhattan who practiced out of his brownstone. He was in his eighties,” Irene C. recalls. “My brother waited a long time in the waiting room, then finally knocked on the door and opened it a crack. The therapist was in his chair . . . dead.”
Now that’s a Freudian analyst.
Hero image of Sigmund Freud by Max Halberstadt, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons