‘I need therapy but I don’t trust shrinks’

If you need help but have a general mistrust of therapists, you are not alone.

psychotherapists 521 (photo credit: MCT)
psychotherapists 521
(photo credit: MCT)
I recently saw a cartoon that shows a male patient lying on the analyst’s couch and the patient begins the therapy session with the words: “I trusted my mom and dad; they got divorced… I trusted my teacher; he was a pedophile... I opened a college account with a broker; he was a scam artist... why should I trust you?”
The attitude of distrusting psychotherapists is more common than you might think. It is also a primary reason that many people who need professional counseling refrain from seeking it out.
Take the following two examples: I remember a young male client, Jerry, who was in his 20s and joined a group that I was forming for single adults. He reported the following dream before attending the first group session.
“It was evening and time for the first group session to begin. I was eager to meet the other several people who were supposed to be in the group. Being very punctual, I showed up exactly 10 minutes before the session was going to begin. I walked through the door into what was supposed to be a group therapy room, but it was not; instead for some strange reason, it was an auditorium. The therapist was seated at the front of the auditorium and waved to me to come forward. I was actually the first to arrive. He suggested that I pay for the session before it began, just to get the fee collection out of the way. I took out my hardearned cash and paid. I still could not understand why there was an auditorium.
As I waited, a few more people had arrived, each paying the therapist and then taking a seat. I was shocked as the auditorium slowly filled up with 200 people, all having paid the fee for what was supposed to be a small group experience. I woke up shaking in a cold sweat with my heart pounding and my thoughts in a state of shock and disbelief. I felt exploited and could not believe what a con artist this therapist was.”
You don’t have to be a Freudian analyst to see that Jerry feared that he would be exploited by the therapist. While there were many contributing factors that led him to not trust people, he was in so much emotional pain that none of them stopped him from seeking help. As therapy progressed, I learned that Jerry had in fact grown up with a very angry and narcissistic father who had never credited Jerry for any of his accomplishments and always pointed out to him that there was nothing special about his achievements – “anyone could do it.” This was in spite of the fact that Jerry was the first member of his family to graduate from college and put himself through medical school, graduating at the top of his class. I learned together with Jerry that he had expected something negative from the therapist, reflecting his inner wound and the low self-esteem that resulted. This came out in his dream in the form of the exploitation.
Esti, a woman in her 20s, resisted seeking out a therapist for years even though her life was not going very well. She could not find or develop a healthy relationship with a man, was depressed and suffered from severe migraine headaches. Esti had grown up in a home with a caring mother but a very explosive and emotionally abusive father who was a manic-depressive. Most of her life Esti watched helplessly as her father went on violent screaming tantrums directed at her mother. She started to get migraines at age 15 but her family doctor told her there was nothing medically wrong with her and all she needed to do was to learn to relax. She could not relax and now, as a young adult living away from home, her life was in emotional turmoil. Her friends suggested that she go to a therapist and my name was recommended. For more than six months she resisted coming to therapy, stating to her friends that no one could help her. Finally, she called. The first thing we had to focus on in therapy was to focus on her mistrust of me.
IN BOTH of these cases, Jerry and Esti had enormous ambivalence about trusting people. Psychotherapists describe the phenomenon of transference, in which a patient projects onto the therapist emotions and beliefs that originated from primary caregivers like parents and significant others while they were growing up. Clearly, this negative transference was a factor for both Jerry and Esti and placed a major barrier between themselves and their ability to seek out or trust a psychotherapist. Once helped to overcome their initial distrust, they were both able to move on and begin to work on their core problems.
My point is that if you need help but have a general mistrust of therapists, you are not alone. It is more common than you think. But this should not be a reason not to seek help. Instead, get some recommended names and try one session with each therapist. Let them know about your lack of trust and see how they respond to it. The one who makes you feel the most comfortable with his or her response may be the one you should try. In any case, don’t let this problem block you from getting the help you need.
The writer is a marital, child and adult psychotherapist practicing in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ra’anana. drmikegropper@gmail.com