A Mind-less Breakdown

This blog aims to explore the negative encounters within – and breakdowns of- therapeutic relationships. Drawing on my own personal experience, of being both a patient and psychoanalytic practitioner,  I hope to explore each therapeutic relationship in more depth (in future posts), linking traumatic ‘therapeutic’ ruptures to the early infant-maternal caregiver relationship that, although long gone and “forgotten”, can evoke strong unconscious forces within both participants leading to a breakdown that cannot be thought about and understood at the time, instead needs to be got rid of and forgotten.

Holding the belief that early relationships with maternal caregivers (male or female) will be re-created and acted out within the therapeutic space, a space created by the meeting of the client’s and practitioner’s mind, a simple blaming of client or counsellor alike when therapy breaks down, is not always helpful and certainly not rectified with a slap on the wrist or a ban from practise; as a matter of fact, the breakdown and all following actions can be a reflection of the client’s past and internal world needing to be thought about and understood. The dilemma, however, is the very person, the therapist, who is needed and used as a tool to re-create the past in order to understand it, may feel abused himself by the client (Projective Identification) and terminate therapy prematurely.

When such a rupture happens it most likely leaves both parties in an internal reality, meaning, client and therapist may become stuck in the re-created past of the client (and of the therapist, depending on the therapist’s unworked early defences).

Depending on the strength of unconscious projections that were thrown to and fro between client and therapist during their time together, after the breakdown both may carry on life separately but still very much entangled psychologically. An example of this is the therapist who, after introjecting and acting out (becoming) the client’s projections renews his profile from ” counsellor” to “very experienced counsellor”; or suddenly increasing his fee drastically, both done to boost his self worth and esteem. He may still be caught in the client’s projections of e.g. worthlessness. If the therapist stays in these projections he may be more likely to “re-abuse” again.

The client on the other hand, and here I will share my own experiences as an example (see below) is left with the painful sense of being a helpless victim (infant); even if she complains, a desperate move to regain self worth and esteem, or within the infant part of our mind a desperate act to “get mother back and repair what has been damaged” , it will not help free her from the projections that are internally attacking and hurting.

The infant part within the client may look for reparation but unable to find it with the counsellor turns to another therapist in the Hope s/he can offer such relief by helping her make sense of what is happening. Unfortunately, her anger, rage, helplessness, hopelessness and despair may have gained in strength after the previous therapy breakdown so that the next therapist may experience unconscious forces coming from the client that will frighten him, causing another mindless re-action rather than well-thought-about/of action, which may lead him to withdraw emotionally in order to withstand the projections and beta elements (Bion) or terminate the therapy prematurely. The vicious circle of rejection continues for the client and compounds rage, anger and despair, creating hatred and an unconscious need to annihilate the rejecting Other. (Fairbairn)

Those clients, unless meeting a very grounded and robust therapist, will be stuck in an internal world that is hostile, barren and unforgiving unable to free themselves of the projections that were once forced into them as infants/children.

The following account is about my own experience in which after each relationship breakdown my internal world became more powerful; outwardly, however, I became more and more withdrawn, despairing and fearful, leaving big parts of my mind behind in the soul destroying past when feeling worth-less and not-part-of-this-world was the daily companion (and tutor) of an infant and little girl in desperate need of a mind strong enough to contain, survive and make sense of her feelings and thoughts.


My Experience

10 years ago I entered into integrative therapy. The counsellor had almost 20 years experience and as I had never been to see a counsellor before and therefore didn’t know what my needs around therapy were, I agreed, after our initial meeting, to continue my work with M.

Our relationship lasted 3 and a half years in which M and I were able to create a space in which I felt safe enough to show parts of myself that had, until then, been hidden. When a human being has parts that are hidden, it is likely they are too unbearable for him/her to think about so it is important for the therapist to handle any new revelations about the self with great care and respect, keeping in mind the possible shame, humiliation and or confusion that is attached to those insights.

M spend 3 years offering me unconditional positive regard and acceptance but eventually caved in exclaiming that “this sort of therapy was not for me as I was unable to trust her” (forgetting that I was starting to trust her – slowly- by presenting parts of me that had been hidden.)

What M and I hadnt been aware of at the time was my unconscious need to let M know what it was like for me as a baby/child; what it was still like for me internally. I had been the unwanted pregnancy, the unwanted baby and child trying in vain to win my mother’s trust, love and approval to exist. What does a child do with these feelings, these unbearable feelings of rejection and loss? I internalised and split them off so I could push them into the darkest corner of my mind where they no longer hurt.

When I met M, I met a person who told me she would listen I just had to talk. Which is rather difficult when feelings and words you need to get a hold of and express have been split off and/or are from a pre-verbal time. But the psyche has a wonderful way of telling the story that the mouth cannot speak – by using unconscious communications such as projections and projective identification.

Unfortunately, as well-meaning as M’s intentions were, she did not listen to the unconscious dynamics between us and soon became overwhelmed by fear and anger.

M later stated, in front of the BACP complaint’s hearing, that she had felt very afraid of me, believing I would turn up at her door with a knife behind my back. When asked if this really happened she replied “No”. She admitted to the panel that I had never been violent in any way yet the fear within M had become so overpowering at one point that she told me about sensing my dead father’s spirit in her bedroom.

This was a very sane woman but she had been taking in my projections of fear and believed them to be hers. On one hand M needed to experience this fear (as I said before, unconsciously I wanted her to hear me) on the other hand I needed her to think about and make sense of this fear.

For whatever reason, whether it was M’s own wounds or whether it was the strength of my projections – my guess is it was a bit of both-  M ended the therapy abruptly. She had called me one evening before a session but I had been out. When I came back there were a number of missed calls from her on my mobile. The phone rang again and when I picked up M told me she wanted my partner X to join my counselling session the next day. I felt very uncomfortable with this but eventually agreed to bring him along (M told me did I not bring X with me she would not see me any more). The next day, in the session, M started by telling X that I was manipulative and abusive, that I was ungrateful and dangerous. She pulled out the poem to show X just how dangerous I was.  X told M he would not be reading my private writings without my consent and asked her why she felt I was dangerous. At this point X was more like a mediator but M shot up with rage, jumped out of her seat and told us to leave.

Unable to think about what was happening to us both, within the relationship, M literally shut the door on me. I tried to make sense of what was happening, tried to get M to think about it with me but to no avail. Stuck in projective identification M started to act out more and more. She had told me one or two sessions before the breakdown that she had to move her office because of me. She told me this was expensive and that she had bent over backwards for me and I was very ungrateful. I did not understand why she had moved her office and she could not tell me. Later on she told me in an email she would probably move away altogether but she wasn’t sure yet. She was terrified of me and I didn’t understand why, neither did she; but it is heartbreaking to love someone who cannot love you back because they are so terrified of you – like my mother who I loved and needed to be loved by but who was terrified of her baby’s needs.

Once M realised I was making a complaint against her (after having tried again and again to resolve it) she wrote to my GP and told him I was a threat to my child, that I was dangerous (another projection) and should not be allowed to see my notes – in my best interest of course. This letter to the GP, an absolute lie, is still on my file to this day (I assume).

Months after the breakdown, still enmeshed with each others internal worlds, M tried to convince the panel of the complaint hearing that I was dangerous and to proof it she showed them the poem I had written. Together with the DSM, the imaginary-knife-behind-my-back situation and the “dark, stalking and menacing emails” I apparently wrote yet could provide no proof of (although she had printed out every other email conversation!) M was convinced, this would show and explain how dangerous I really was. I could see the desperation in M’s face to be believed (re-creation of my past in which M had become the child, trying to make people hear and believe her: look this is a monster -I had become the monster- cant you see? S/He abused me!

I can not describe the devastation I felt (and still feel) knowing the other experienced me as a monster and abuser. It broke my heart. Another childhood experiences repeated itself: the baby with needs was the monster that robbed and abused mother.

It was obvious to the panel that M had acted unethically and unprofessionally and she was disciplined, ‘punished’. But did it help any of us? No. I still loved M, I still missed her, I was still devastated and most importantly I was still left with the projections that were attacking me internally.

I googled M after the complaint and she had altered her profile. She was now “very experienced” and no problem seemed too big for her. She never did move away; as a matter of fact, some time after my therapy with her had finished she moved her practice back into her house.

Desperately trying to revive the annihilated mother I looked for a new therapist. This time it had to be someone who understood unconscious processes. Someone with a lot of experience! Someone with years of analysis under their belt. I found H.

I was with H for almost 5 years, 3 times weekly …analysis?… therapy?… Rape?….

I was in training to becoming a counsellor at the time I saw H and H knew this from the start. I had never talked about my training and work to her in detail but when I decided to do so she told me that she was now my “training analyst”. She told me that her role had now changed and I must tell her about my clients and training (even when I didn’t want to).

Some time later H told another client of hers C, who was also in my supervision group (something H knew as she worked for the same organisation as us) about confidential details to do with me and my therapy. From that time on C kept coming up to me at work asking me questions about my therapy with H.

H did not respond to my concerns about confidentiality instead she withdrew all support she had offered me up to this point: For example H had:

  • Given me her mobile number while she was away on holiday.
  • Welcomed and encouraged email contact between sessions telling me how important they were and at no point suggested to stop email contact.
  • Emailed me when she came back home, after she had been away.
  • Suggested phoning her between sessions.
  • Offered Skype contact while I was on holiday.

Even though I had never used some of her support (mobile and Skype) it felt very painful to have something taken away after it had been offered, especially as it was done retaliatory without explanation. H withdrew all of the above just before she went on holiday but suggested I phone her the evening before she went on holiday. When we spoke on the phone that evening we ended up having an argument and H put the phone down. Later that evening I received an email from H sending me pictures and words that were supposed to have a soothing affect on me.

While H was on holiday I found out about a lie she had told me and together with the previous break of my confidentiality and the sudden, unexplained withdrawal of support I became increasingly angry and told her in an email that I felt unsupported and unsafe.

When I saw H after the break she was very angry and told me if I would ever phone or email her again the therapy would be over.

I wanted H to understand why I was feeling angry and asked why she withdrew all support just before she went on holiday but she replied “You are a counsellor now, you can get your own helplines!”

I tried to honour H’s request and not contact her between sessions which was difficult due to having different parts (something H knew about, encouraged and worked with for the last 4 years).

I felt very frightened of losing her and tried hard to talk in the session about my feelings around her break and the lie. However, whenever I mentioned any feelings around this, whenever I said I needed her help in rebuilding the trust, whenever I mentioned any confusion around any past events, including my training and C, she cut me short and told me to concentrate on the present. I told her that a “bad thing” was happening here, she replied “And there are more to come!” I continued to try to express my difficulty to trust her which was met by H telling me to look for another therapist and that she “will (lie) do it again”.

H continued to tell me to speak of my feelings in the session not via email or phone otherwise my therapy with her would be over yet when I wanted to talk about my feelings in the session H told me that if I did not stop talking about it my therapy would end. I was in a double bind and had no outlet for my feelings and concerns (another repeat of my childhood) so I decided to write a letter instead and hand it to her in the session.

H read the letter and told me “it is full of complete sarcasm. It is completely sarcastic. This is not written to communicate. It’s sarcastic. It is not expressing your feelings.” When I asked H if she thought about the impact her words may have on me, she replied “Your question doesn’t deserve an answer.”

Being in this double bind, not being allowed to voice my feelings even within the session, as well as being threatened with the end of my therapy I experienced a breakdown and contacted H the following weekend for help and to repair what had been broken.

When I returned after that weekend, H told me that my therapy with her was now over as I had contacted her. I was begging her to see what was going on. I tried to explain that the sudden change needs time for all internal parts to adjust (something she had worked with all those previous years but now completely ignored). I tried to understand why she felt she needed to threaten me with the end of my therapy; I was not against her changing the boundaries, I wanted more secure boundaries! But I needed to talk to her about my feelings regarding these changes. Yet H did not want to hear any of my feelings or thoughts regarding this instead told me that I had an abuser within and that I was a bully and manipulative. I could not believe it, the past was repeating itself yet again. I tried to explain to her that she was suddenly acting like M. I had talked to H about M in the past. At the time H told me M had acted unethically and seemed to have been caught in the repeat of my past. I hoped by me mentioning M to H, she would reflect what was happening but her reply was “You wanted to destroy M; very nearly did. You wanted to destroy her business, her life!” She also told me that now I wanted to destroy her. This was such a shock as H suddenly blamed me for the previous breakdown whereas before she had expressed concern about M’s behaviour and told me that it was not my fault. This was another repeat of my past.

I replied that I never wanted to complain against M (H knew that), but just like her, M seemed to have been taken over by some fear which she had no explanation for. The only way to protect herself against that fear was to get rid of me.

I explained to H that the reason I felt I had to complain against M was because she pushed me away, blamed me for the breakdown and didn’t give me a chance to be heard. I told H I was afraid of her doing the same. I felt she did not discuss the new “boundary” or the feelings around this with me which I needed her to do, especially after working with me in a total opposite way the past 4 years. H scoffed at me and replied: “Well, when you put your complaint in you will be able to do that…” (This shows her fear, my projection, and inability to think “straight” and speak).

I continued to tell her that I had no intention to complain; I also did not want to change her new boundaries; that I too wanted some sort of boundaries put in place as the things that were happening in our relationship were very painful and humiliating for me. (for those of you who have been attached and depended on another person will know how very painful it is and not something anyone would love to experience) I asked if she would talk to me about it and that we perhaps find a way together to make this work, for both of us. She told me that she will not be challenged and that she was doing this to save my therapy.

I asked her why there needed to be the threat, why not work with how the change felt for me, her reply was “because that is how it was” I tried to make her aware of the fact that she is apparently doing this to save my therapy yet in her trying to save it, she is threatening to destroy it at the same time. She kept repeating “this is the boundary I put in place now” (it became a mantra which she would repeat as if she was in a trance. Again it shows her need to protect herself from my projections and her inability to think about what was happening) I told her I wanted to work with the boundaries, the feelings they evoked in me but she would not let me. Every time I mentioned this she told me to look for another therapist.

I asked H what she did with the last 4 years where emails and phone calls had been encouraged and allowed. She said she was “using those four years with the hope that I would be able to use this boundaried therapy now that I was seeing clients.” H told me that if I was able to contain feelings outside of the session with clients, I should now be able to do this in my own personal therapy too. I would agree with this did I not suffer from dissociation. For 4 years H recognised the separateness of the internal fragments, understanding and working with the very different parts of myself, encouraging them to feel safe enough to come out and talk and show themselves. She now was unable to see that I had a part who was very capable of working with clients, but who did not come out in the session. Because of the dissociation I am able to work ethically in an emotionally and mentally demanding profession while at the same time having internal parts that may emotionally collapse at the thought of monsters underneath the bed! There is a huge discrepancy between parts and for years H assured me that she knew how to work with such fragmentation, and it never was a problem for her – until I started seeing clients.

I told H that her threat of ending my therapy was destroying my therapy and she told me that it could go either way, destroy it or make it possible to continue. I told her there was a third way and this was me continuing therapy so I can finish my training but not doing any work – I was very angry at the time as I needed H to finish my training (something she knew). I was now also scared of having to inform the training organisation and tell them my therapy had broken down. I was extremely afraid of being blamed, especially as H had broken my confidentiality before.

The next session H told me “she was no longer willing to support me through my training”. I tried to convince her not to do this but it was only when I agreed to end my training (something that was actually very good for me) that H reconsidered working with me.

I suggested that what was happening between us could be a repeat of something from my childhood. Her reply was “Yes everything is a repeat! Everything is a repeat!” I felt mocked by her sarcastic tone and asked her who she thought she was for me in the transference, she replied: “You know that better than I do!” I tried to explain that I wasn’t asking this question to manipulate her, I just wondered if she ever wondered what was being repeated here for me. H replied “everything is being turned around, and turned around. I’m not going to get into this right now” (again she went into a trance like state and repeated “around and around and around”). I asked why and she told me because I wanted to attack her. I asked how I attacked her? I explained that it was important to me to understand what was happening as my therapy was breaking down but H refused to explore this and kept saying I was attacking her. (Unconsciously my projections were attacking her thinking) When I told her that this was something to do with my past and was coming from me (my projections), she mockingly replied “Everything is yours!”

I asked H why she did not want to discuss the change of the boundaries and her answer was “because that is the way I did it” I replied I felt she didn’t do it right as this was now the end of my therapy H replied sarcastically “I haven’t been doing anything right for months!”

H continued to call me an abuser throughout the sessions yet whenever I asked her what I had done that was abusive she told me that I already knew this. I told her I did not know and I needed her to tell me to understand what was happening. Some time later H explained that it was the email I had sent while she was on holiday in which I had “accused” her of being cold, uncaring and untrustworthy. It particularly seemed to hurt her that I said I trusted everyone else in my life but her.

At the end of the session H changed her mind again and asked if we should try again. I agreed as I didn’t want to lose her. At the beginning of next session, however, H told me that she changed her mind and she decided against working with me. She told me I had a vicious, powerful abuser within and she was no match for ‘him’. I told her that I will try anything to make this work H asked “How will I know you have not been sent from inside to keep this going?” H then decided she would give me 2 months. In this “trial period”, as she first called it, I was to show I had changed, the trial period then changed to an “ending period” within the same session and when I asked her if she would continue seeing me after this “ending period” if I had done everything right in those two months she replied that she could not answer that but that she may consider it.

I left the session and became very ill. I spent most time in bed in physical and emotional pain and almost had to stop my training.

H wrote to me and told me that the therapy was now over and I stilled owed her money and that I had to the end of the month (a few days) to pick up my drawings. When I wrote her this email some time later….

Dear H

 This is a difficult e-mail to write and I hope that you can find it in your heart to read it.

 It has been over a year since we have last spoken and the breakdown of my therapy has affected me deeply, on many levels.

Not one day goes by that I do not wonder about how this could have happened; how our relationship could go from sitting next to each other, drawing pictures and playing with play dough together to an (in my mind) absolute disgust and repulsion for me.

 I wonder if it would be possible to offer me a talk with you, maybe on the telephone or email, so I can have an ending and move on.

 The reason I would like to have this opportunity is not so I can come back to therapy with you, but to be able to end the torture in my mind that I put myself through day in day out.

 I know you know that endings are so very important, especially when attachment wounds are deep. The breakdown would only be half as soul destroying for me if I could have a reparation… not to the point of working together again, but to the point of offering each other empathy for what we have both been through, within this relationship.

 I am very sorry for all the hurt I have caused you; I hope you can find enough compassion for me too, to reply to this email and open up a communication that will offer me an end to the pain that I still feel regarding the therapy breakdown.

kind regards

…H replied that it was unfortunate I felt this way, that mediation wasn’t an option (something I had suggested before) and to work through this with my new therapist.

Some months later H too had moved house to the next town.

I felt and was extremely traumatised yet I had a training I wanted and needed to finish. I now had to let the training organisation know that my therapy had broken down. I felt ashamed and humiliated and the many meetings with the head of the organisation and clinical manager that followed the breakdown (to find out if I was mentally stable enough to continue this training) often felt like the straw on the camel’s back.

I tried to forget about H, like I tried to forget about M. Unable to understand, resolve and repair what had been damaged and annihilated I pushed my hopelessness, despair, rage, hatred, love and confusion aside and concentrated on finding a new therapist. Someone who could see what was going on, surely. Someone who could see just how devastating the loss of H was for me. Someone who understood ‘attachment’.

Unfortunately I was not able to chose my own analysts (training organisation’s policy at the time) so I ended up seeing G. Therapist 3. Very experienced Jungian analyst. Beautiful room. White. Laura Ashley style. I straight away felt like the unwanted piece of shit that no one wanted to have in the house but was now dirtying her beautiful white room. Unable to talk much, withdrawing to protect my fragile self, I sat and stared into space. I was heartbroken…. grieving. I wished I could cry… but I was a prisoner in my own mind and body and the guards were my fear, hatred, rage, hopelessness etc. G started asking me questions. Aware of me being a trainee she asked what had happened with H. I knew I needed to provide something so she would not reject me. I needed to talk. I answered “I am not so sure…” Keeping in mind that any breakdown of therapy and loss of therapist is deeply traumatic yet here she was demanding I answer intimate questions about the whys and hows of this previous relationship. I tried hard to talk but when I said I didn’t know, I wasn’t sure, G replied “If you cant think about the reason why this relationship broke down you cant think about your clients either.” I replied that I felt humiliated and ashamed about it but G asked me again and when I said I was unsure she replied after the 38th minute “Well then, I suggest you leave.” In shock I grabbed my bag and left.

Again, I had to tell the organisation that it didn’t work out. The grilling interviews continued yet everyone agreed that I was quite sane! and that I should continue my training. Another therapist was suggested. It was B. Another analyst. When I sat in front of her, utter hopelessness trickling through every vein and fibre of my body, overwhelmed by grief, rage and helplessness, B said “we have to control your wild horses” I smiled and thought “Maybe she is the right one?” The next session I came back to her, piece of paper in hand with quotes I had spend hours collecting and printing of that I thought would be of help to B and myself, and this new therapeutic relationship. Quotes that may explain what had happened with H and myself. When I sat down, daring to feel a little hope again, B announced “I have decided not to work with you after all.” My world collapsed, this old, familiar pain of not being loveable enough shot through my heart, I couldn’t speak. After a short while B continued: “It’s a conflict of interest”. I asked “Is it because you know H?” “I know you want to know but I’m not going to tell you” I felt sick and dizzy, grabbed my bag and headed towards the door. I could hear B say “I think you should stay and hear the rest of this” as I passed her. She seemed far away. I left.

Again, told the organisation that it did not work out. Everyone became confused. It was so powerful that the organisation’s guidelines were changed and from now on students could look for their own therapists. So I asked V an analyst I had been in contact with on and off due to the breakdown with H, so she knew my past experience regarding therapy. V suggested I see a therapist called O. I looked O up and told V that I was really grateful for her suggestion but that I would not be able to work with O as she lived in London and was far too expensive for me. I asked if she could suggest someone else. V replied that I should think about it a week. Shortly after I get an email from O (who had never talked to me before! and where did she get my name and email address from?!) telling me she had been told I was looking for a therapist and she wanted to work with me. I kindly declined explaining what I had explained to V, that I could not afford to drive into London (probably more than once a week) neither could I afford to pay 60 pounds for each session. O wrote back and told me to make her an offer, what I could afford because she wanted to help me. I felt obliged. We had essay long conversations in which I stated why I rather not work with her but she would not accept it. She suggested I read an article she had published to see just how qualified she was to work with me. (Again, what and how much did she know about me to know that she was “qualified enough to help me”?!)

I had a look for the chapter and although it all seemed very narcissistic at the time I pushed my gut feeling aside and read the article. Half way through I had to stop as the graphic details felt too disturbing. the chapter described O working with someone who had been involved in satanic rituals.

After many emails I agreed to seeing her. I drove to her office. The appointment was 9 or 10 am. 2 minutes before the session started I saw her walk down the road towards her office. She opens the door. Everything is still cold and dark. She puts on the light and heating. I sit opposite her. Pens and toys around me and a therapist who seems very eager to get me talking.

We spent some time in silence and I am desperate to keep this one, desperate to not get rejected again. I try to speak, make conversation. My words seem fragile as they leave my mouth yet I know they will hit her mind like a sledge hammer. I try to make myself weak and submissive so I don’t scare or hurt her. I think about H, I miss her so much and  I start to cry a little. O suggests I take a tissue. I gratefully decline. She gets up, walks towards me, bends over next to me and pulls the tissue out the box and literally holds it right under my nose almost touching it. (She did the same thing again about 10 mins later.)

It felt very unkind, impatient and intrusive. I took it. She then started to say me not wearing a watch was a sign I had been abused. Keeping in mind that I had not told her anything about myself at this point (first session).

I became afraid of her behaviour. (She also constantly called me ‘sweetie’) I said that I was afraid of becoming just a”project” to her, like the client she wrote the chapter about. She said “The reason you feel like that is because you have been involved in child prostitution, sweetie.” I was stunned. Apart form the fact that this was news to me, had I really been involved in child prostitution, this “insight”, a hidden part, would have felt extremely shameful and humiliating and painful. But O didn’t even see me.

I drove home….missing H, grieving for the loss of her, the loss of my mother, the longing of what never was, the loss of what could have been had I not destroyed it all, had I not been ‘so dangerous’; had I just been loveable enough. Suicidal and confused about what I had been told and O’s constant use of sweetie and the like, I anonymously wrote on a forum for survivors of childhood abuse. I did not mention the therapist’s name or address but told the members what she had been saying to me. Everyone seemed disturbed by her behaviour so I wrote to V again asking if she could recommend a different analyst for me as I didn’t think O and I were a good match. Instead of hearing from V, I received an email from O shortly after, telling me that I had broken confidentiality as she had seen my post on the forum talking about her. She said that this was unacceptable especially as I am a counsellor myself and she was no longer willing to work with me.

So now I had been dumped again, but this time via email, by an attachment based therapist who knew of my therapy breakdown with H and who should have known about the importance of endings.

Still in training I looked for another therapist.This time it was D another attachment based therapist. In the first session D told me I was a very beautiful woman and asked if she could sit next to me and hold me. When I didn’t seem keen on the idea she told me she did this with all her clients. I wasn’t sure what was worse, her wanting to hold me or the fact she was doing it with all her clients, making me feel like I didn’t really exist, one of many, a call of duty. The dutiful mother. Just hug ’em!

The sessions were filled with D. She even bought me a gift while she was away on holiday (with the explanation she did this with all her clients). She had only seen me a few times. Had no idea what I felt about gifts, what that meant for me. I accepted it all, I just wanted to get this training over and done with. At one point D mentioned I was “very intelligent but that she could deal with this” (never explaining to me how she got to this point of view) but unfortunately D wasn’t able to stop involving her other clients and even after I had told her several times that this was very painful for me knowing there were others, even knowing that she existed (and was therefore important to me – considering the breakdown with H) she kept on telling me about her clients (example: “I have shut the curtains because one of my clients was afraid of the fireworks outside.”) I could not comprehend how an attachment based therapist (O and D trained at the same attachment centre in London) did not understand the impact her behaviour could have on a client, especially if the client had been hurt within an attachment, grieving for the loss of the last therapist. I left.

I found S. For the first time I was able to cry. I never cried like this before. My thoughts were with H, my feelings with mum, my heart on the floor. I cried for weeks, asking her at the beginning of each session if she would reject me today. At first she was empathic, telling me she was “not like the others and she wouldn’t do such a thing”. Still I kept asking at beginning of each session which was then followed by a howling that seemed to have escaped from the darkest, deepest corner of my internal hell.

The months passed. S sat there, most of the times not saying anything at all, our eyes never met but I was able to cry and let it all out. I started to think she understood my needs. She gave me space, especially when she mentioned a possible second weekly session. I wasn’t able to accept it (as I couldn’t bear the thought of becoming attached again) but I felt seen and understood.

Then one session, I came in, sat down in my usual wall staring position when I hear S say “I think it is best you look for a different therapist.” I knew it was only a matter of time before it happened again so this time I stayed the session, demanding to know why she suddenly changed her mind. But nothing she told me made sense. Why? I don’t know. She didn’t stay to help me find out. Something about “not being the right therapist for me”. I think she feared I would need to spend years in therapy with her and as she was already in her 70’s…

I took my keys and left.

I no longer wanted to be in ‘therapy’. I wanted out. My training was almost over a few more months. I often feel this bitter irony like a growing cancer in my heart, my soul. I hate it – my life long passion for counselling, the unconscious, analysis,  destroyed. Annihilated by the very thing I am so passionate about.

Another sleepless night and I find myself crawling through yet another counsellors online register. I see L.

I spent almost one and a half years in L’s living room that was her office. It was cosy. She seemed kind. Different. She was the first one who mentioned the difficulty of coming to counselling after the loss of H. I was so relieved. At last someone who saw me? Still, I was terrified of scaring her off. But this time I decided I would talk about it, make myself talk about my fear. Get it out there. So it can be worked with. I said “L, I’m scared I will frighten you. I’m scared you will become frightened of me and reject me the way H did.” She replied something along the lines of “X, you are not that powerful, you cant make me do things.” I felt relieved, at last someone who was strong within themselves. I prayed it would stay this way. 20 minutes later, after a long silence I mustered up some courage and asked “L, can I really talk to you about anything?” She quickly and firmly responded “There wont be any acting out in the room!”

Within 20 minutes she too had swallowed the “fear bug”. By now I knew the signs. Big round eyes. Dear in headlight look and words that don’t fit the situation. Words that express fear.

I tried to ignore it and went home. Next session I almost peed myself I was so afraid of being told to leave as I knew I had scared her the previous session. So when I came into the room I shouldn’t really have been surprised when I saw the table, that usually rested underneath the window, pulled into the middle of the room, in between us. I was so stunned that she sat there staring at me as if she couldn’t see the table between us. Was she really not aware of what she had done? Surely you cant miss a table. Of course, she too needed to protect herself from my projections.

I was able to mention the table and connected it to last session when she warned me that there was going to be no acting out in the room. I asked her if she was afraid of me ‘acting out’ and had therefore pulled the table between us to protect herself? She responded “Maybe I was acting out?” I was so relieved. She seemed to realise something powerful was happening between us and she was not afraid to name it. Could I have found the right therapist for me?

The months passed. I still hadn’t told her details about H; like a dirty secret I kept it hidden, afraid to hurt H, afraid to hurt myself, afraid to hurt L. Yet L seemed to want to hang in there with me, even trying to make sense with me what may be happening between us. For the first time in my whole therapy experience someone actually suggested that I had grown up with huge amounts of my parents’ shit projected into me. I started to feel some trust towards L and decided to write an email (again, L seemed to be OK with email contact between sessions as she herself had written me a long email once without me initiating contact) explaining that I was too afraid of becoming attached again. That I was terrified and therefore felt the need to end the therapy. Her reply was caring and respectful.

It seems very sad that your previous experience has deprived you of a potentially better one. I would have very much liked the opportunity to continue with you. I continue to believe that our work could incorporate your mourning and eventually give you a chance to move forward as you had begun to believe you deserved.
I certainly do not blame you or hate you, I do however understand how very difficult our work together has been for you. Perhaps what is therapeutic about this ending is that you have been able to instigate it for yourself, thus protecting , in your interior world both yourself and me from further attacks by the internalised bad objects of your parents. I think this could represent progress for you, as neither of us has been destroyed and neither has my capacity to think about your mind.
I’m hoping that you will at some point feel able to return to therapy both for yourself and for your own professional development. I so hope you will be able to break the chains of the past and use the power that you have already found in your relationships to find better things in life.


When I received her reply it felt she was different to the others; she understood about my fear of being rejected. She was able to see the fear behind my fickleness, accepting it without retaliation. This felt very freeing and in a fit of Hope I decided, after excruciating 14 months of trying to talk about the therapy breakdown, to reply to her, describing in detail what had happened with H. I sent it off, anxiously awaited her reply but daring to hope. Hope is a cruel mistress.

Her reply read:

Thankyou for that X, I hope it has been helpful to you. I will now consider that we have made an ending, and wish you all the best on your journey into the future.

I was shell shocked and replied

Dear L

I think I misunderstood your last email I thought you meant there was a possibility I could work with you again. I think I shouldn’t have ended it in such a way even though I took control I ended it because I was so scared.  Is it still possible for me to come to my session tomorrow? 

Keeping in mind that this conversation took place within a few hours not over days or weeks in which I had missed sessions, L replied:

I am willing to concede that it is no longer appropriate for us to continue to work together, in the light of the information that you have now disclosed. It seems to me that you are paying a very high price indeed, and I too have found this exchange exhausting. I am not able to continue this struggle, and in the light of what you have told me I think there must be more comfortable ways for you to make some peace with your past that do not require you to go through therapy. You may well find that you feel better for stopping this process.
However, in the light of what you have disclosed I do consider the fact that we have managed over a year together a a great accomplishment. […]


6 thoughts on “

  1. I am so sorry to hear about the pain you have been through as a result of your therapies. Thank you for addressing this issue. It is the shadow of psychotherapy that has not been brought into the consciousness of so many therapist. I have suffered for ten years as a result of therapy. My wound from therapy is far worse than the original wound of my childhood.

  2. Your story is – unfortunately – only one of many similar stories: indeed, as another anonymous responder said, “It is the shadow side of psychotherapy” – or counselling: you don’t seem to differentiate very much.
    Unfortunately there really are some bad therapists and there really are some therapists who abuse their position using projective identification as a weapon.
    I can quite understand why you feel that therapy (the therapeutic relationship) has failed you; yet, actually, it was M, H, G, B, V, O, D, S & L (have I got them all right) who failed you: as well as the BACP (to a certain extent) and your training organisation (to a certain extent). I cannot count how many instances of “bad practice” you list.
    However, there are also some questions that co-exist along with this story: and I would like to make it clear that these questions do not – in any way at all – undermine or negate your story. Indeed, you do not even have to answer them: they are just questions that arise for me – especially since the ‘page’ is clearly marked as “unfinished”.

    Q1: Either, you are extremely unlucky in having chosen a series of really “bad” therapists, or you are not being totally clear here about your own contributions to the breakdown of these therapeutic relationships: it is extremely unlikely (improbable) that your interpersonal dynamics had absolutely nothing to do with their extreme reaction(s) to you.
    Were you totally innocent? You imply that you may have contributed (or suspected that you might have contributed) in some way to the breakdown of the therapeutic relationships – you asked them this sort of question, but didn’t seem to get an answer that you could understand. You imply, or state, that you might have had some early trauma issues that may have complicated your own ‘attachment style’. How much (more) insight or information could you possibly get by following this line of thought – about your own contributions, however painful? You must be aware of some of these as possibilities from your training: you are obviously intelligent, but you don’t seem to demonstrate a high degree of emotional intelligence about this aspect of the breakdowns: innocent bewilderment – Yes; self-reflective learning – I am not sure.
    The counter-transference is quite clear: your transferential aspects are not quite so clear. It is usually never just a one-way street. Without negating your experience in any way – as you described it above – how much, or what, can you contribute additionally to the circumstances of the breakdown(s) of the relationship(s)? Obviously, you don’t have to post any of this, but it might balance the picture. It does not justify the abusive “cut-offs” that you received, but it might explain them a little more. If, once the door had been opened (so to speak), you had sent (for instance) 50 e-mails for each of her one; then that would balance the picture a little bit.
    Anyway: that is one question. I hope that I have expressed it reasonably fairly and clearly, and in a way that is acceptable. It is a “both … and …” issue; not an “either … or …” one: complex, not simple.
    The evocative picture heading your account shows 19 black crows circling the orphan – and obviously innocent (new-born) – white lamb. Your story – whilst horrific – is not quite that black-and-white, as it involves quite complex adult relationships.

    Q2: Were any of these therapists male? Have you tried working with a male therapist? If not, why not? I know the dynamics are very different, but after 9 (or so) bad experiences from female therapists, I would have thought that a male therapist might be worth a try.By asking this question, I am clearly not suggesting that male therapists are any less abusive than female therapists: the type of abuse may vary; they may abuse different types. As some of your ‘attachment traumas’ are possibly to do with your mother – you speak about an “annihilated mother” and the picture shows a dead mother sheep – then using female therapists is an obvious first choice; but therapy with a male therapist might give you a different, more (possibly) protective or supportive ‘ground’ from which to work out some of these issues.

    Q3. Your training was – you state – an analytical counselling one. You were ‘forced’ into a “training analysis” and, on at least a couple of occasions, with an attachment therapist. A training analysis is not necessarily the same as therapy. In other therapeutic methods and modalities (you mentioned that ‘integrative’ was your first choice), attachment issues are looked at differently: therapists may have worked on their own attachment issues better (more deeply and more comprehensively). So, the question is, Are you – or have you been – in the wrong type of therapy? At last count, there were over 400 different types. If there is something wrong with you physically, the best person to advise you and see you right is the GP – as long as the basic diagnosis is correct. But seeing a lung specialist for a back problem is counter-productive. Just maybe, you have been told “This is your problem”, and it isn’t ‘This’ but it might be ‘That’ – so you (or someone) got it wrong and you have talking to the wrong people, who don’t seem to know much about what you DO need; more about what they DON’T need. So, I would consider changing tack and exploring pastures new.

    Finally: whilst a therapist can – and sometimes does – abuse; they cannot heal. You are the person who heals – or has to heal – and, whether you do this in therapy, or via a loving relationship, or by having a baby and giving it what you never got, or by writing, or by any other means, is relatively immaterial. So – the last and also the “Perilous Question” (see the Grail legend)- What do you need to do in order to heal your issues?

    I hope that some of this might help a little – we are not all “bad” or like ravenous crows.

  3. PS: I should have also said that I really admire your courage in bringing this issue up for us all to look at. Thank You. It cannot have been easy. I hope that it will be worthwhile.

  4. I too admire your courage E,
    Like Courtenay, I wonder if there is any overarching reason you do not consult a “different” ‘type’ of therapist ………….
    I too wish your burden and pain could be lifted.

    Good Luck; Kind thoughts and prayers.

  5. Some very good point Courtenay. This experience is very painful and it moved me to tears on occasion. However I was struck by the lack of boundaries that apparently all the therapists displayed. How has this happened? The unconscious needs of client to be reunited with the good mother and to be with her all the time…The poem was certainly very powerful, full of hate and need to hate the object who rejected her. There is a question of competency to. Am I competent enough to work with someone with multiple and complex needs (I am not sure of many of them in this instance)? What I found touching however is the openness about vulnerabilities about all of us whether we are therapists or clients or both at the same time. Thank you for sharing.

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