Red flags of bad therapy#7 :Therapist takes on your spouse as a client and it’s not couples counseling!

Red flag #7: Your therapist takes on your spouse as a client and it’s not couples counseling

This is perhaps the biggest mistake I made in therapy! It arose out of caring, but ended up disastrous.

My now ex-husband had a substance abuse issue. After one of many nights of extreme “self indulgence”( as the therapist called it, I called it drinking to the point of extreme intoxication) and one of many nights of nasty fighting that he couldn’t recall, my ex-h once again laid claims to “wanting to get help”. At the time I had been going to al-anon for 6 months and seeing this therapist for about 3 months, but had never said anything about it to my ex-h. I had threatened divorce several times, but hadn’t committed to it, and was attending therapy with the hope of increasing my self-esteem, self worth and courage make a clear decision about divorce.

I explained to my ex-h that I had been seeing this therapist and thought perhaps the therapist could help him. I cared, and thought that perhaps if my ex-h quit drinking I could gain a better perspective on who I was really married to, underneath the self medication. I do believe my ex-h is a very sensitive person who lacks any sort of mechanism for coping with his emotions and feelings. However, I was not willing to engage in couples counseling with him unless he quit drinking first.. While substance abuse is involved in any relationship, therapy can not be effective for a couple until the substance is out of the picture. In my mind at the time I said “oh yeah, let me go to therapy with him on a Friday after work, then have him go to “happy hour” and when he comes home we can discuss what we talked about in therapy….not a sane idea!

So my ex places a call to this therapist and requests an appointment. I was in the group the therapist ran and at the end of it he tells me my then husband called, wanted to start therapy with him, and asked me ” If I was cool with it”. I said yes, PROVIDING his issues were his to deal with and mine were mine, that in no way was this to be couples counseling! If and when he could help him stop drinking completely, I would reconsider engaging in marriage counseling, and not before. I am 100% sure I made a clear statement about this.

However…after my ex-h started therapy suddenly I had to answer for issues that came up in my ex’s sessions with the therapist. It became ” ex-h said this and ex-h said that”. If I brought some fight we had up, it became “that’s not what ex-h said”. I was dealing with the distortions of an alcoholic through the “middleman” of a therapist”. (My ex’s sessions were on late Friday afternoons, and mine were typically on Saturday or Sunday mornings.) The therapist was making this marriage counseling without both parties in the room, and would frequently complain that “he didn’t know who was telling the truth”…again, I did not ask him to determine this! I was there to learn how to help and take care of myself.
What I got instead was my life and perspectives distorted by an alcoholic husband and a therapist who didn’t follow through with he agreement he made with me. I lost trust in the therapist and the therapy and should have “walked away” then and there.
In fact the therapist allowed my ex-h to share emails I had written and he had “hacked” into. A serious breach of confidentiality. I confronted the therapist on this and he didn’t seem to think he violated confidentiality, of course when I asked to share a phone message left on my cell phone by my ex-h, the therapist wouldn’t listen to it as it would be breaking his confidentiality with my then husband…..WTF!

At some point my ex absolutely refused to quit drinking, emphatically saying “I will not quit drinking”. So I filed for divorce.

This went on for the rest of my therapy with this therapist, even after the divorce, the therapist would ask how things were going with my ex, and if I said anything negative I was accused of “being the problem”

The therapist’s attitude was that whatever my ex said about me must be the truth and whatever I said about my ex was my own negative self projection! The therapist didn’t do this in the opposite direction. My ex’s words were “how it was”.

There are many more details to this story but they are a mute point.Bottom line is that the therapist should have known better than to have taken my husband on as a client. I would say it’s close to impossible for a therapist in this situation not to at least unconsciously “choose a side”, and entertain his own biases regarding marriage, relationships and perhaps his own paternalistic viewpoints.

On my end…I had the responsibility to walk away from the therapeutic relationship after explaining how I felt, and I did not. I stayed with it, if for no other reason than my past, which said “hey, I was here first” …something that goes back to having been the firstborn and having been “dethroned” by the birth of a new sibling. Not exactly a conscious cognitive memory! Yet those issues can influence our present day choices.

So that is Red flag #7 Your therapist takes on your spouse as a client and it’s not couples counseling!!!

BTW…My current therapist wouldn’t even consider taking on a friend of mine. In fact, would have to consider very carefully taking on anyone who was only even an acquaintance. This therapist maintains very clear boundaries, yet the therapy remains very open and very safe…and oh so refreshing and healing!


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