Excessive self disclosure: bad therapy red flag #8

Your therapy is supposed to be about you! I know relatively little about my current therapist personally. Enough to know that the therapist is sane and enough to know that there have been times the therapist has had stuff to work through…but I have never been burdened with whatever issues they are. I know the therapist graduated from Columbia University. I know the therapist is divorced and has an adult child who is now married. I know this therapist attends a monthly peer group consultation, and in the past has attended individual therapy. Quite refreshing really! Outside of that there are a few details that I know….but again those details keep the therapist a authentic human being, not an icy, self proclaimed “expert” that places themself upon a pedestal, and then claims the client is idealizing them. I feel safe in sessions. Sessions are about me. The boundaries are crystal clear, yet not obtrusive!

My former therapist however flooded our sessions with information about his life that I really did not need to know.I didn’t need to know the following that appeared throughout multiple therapy sessions with him for 2+ years
…that he didn’t have the money to fix his pool
… that his mother underwent ECT when he was 6
… that his brother allegedly abused him
… that he was considered a good tennis player, but also was considered “uncoachable”
… that he was “thrown out” of a internship with a therapist he wanted to work with
… that his son had back pain, was very depressed, and suicidal
….and that he himself experienced suicidal thoughts and severe depression throughout his life
…that he used LSD to experience altered states of consciousness

Perhaps the one thing I didn’t need to know about that took up way too much space was the therapists new career pursuit in becoming a “public speaker”. This subject appeared in just about every session I had with him. This subject sometimes took up half of the session and other times continued beyond the “therapeutic hour” and included monologues about who he hired as a mentor, and how much money (he claimed $12000) he spent on this mentor, training’s he went to and the speeches he gave while there, subjects he wanted to talk about, and often enough, the therapist presenting his “talks” and written speeches to me in session. He’d spend time explaining how this was a “dream” of his and that he was “destined to fulfill it”. Not only did this subject infiltrate my sessions, it ended up invading my life.

Being an adult that was raised in a in a narcissistic family structure I developed tendencies to be a “caretaker and people pleaser” I felt like I had to help him… I did what people pleasers and caretakers do! I experienced him as someone who was “trying so hard and getting nowhere.” As a client I felt that maybe I was standing in his way, that sessions were taking up time that he could be working on “his dream”. I wanted him to be happy. My “people pleasing and caretaker tendencies” took over and I assisted him by finding him a few places to give public talks, he even came to our house (mine and my ex’s when we were married) to get help with a talk he was going to present at a high school. ( not just infiltrating my life, but my then husbands as well, he was also his client) He was very willing to accept the assistance, in fact, he seemed to think he was entitled to it. He had offered to buy my ex and I dinner in exchange for our help with his speech and then totally blew that off. There was no reciprocity.
This therapist also let me know that he had “fired 5 or 6 other clients” so he could have more time to work on his public speaking career. This essentially backfired on him when
( no suprise to me) he wasn’t just accepted as a wonderful and dynamic speaker. Apparently others didn’t think public speaking was his natural talent either…I’m trying to be gentle.
So …of course I felt responsible to help him find new clients and would point others in his direction, when appropriate.

The above is the short version. The point is that through the therapists excessive self disclosure the therapeutic frame was irreparably damaged. The therapist had a professional responsibility to keep his “stuff” out of sessions. Of course he is a (very wounded) human being, but he should have been doing his own therapy and not exposing clients to his life’s desires and difficulties. This excessive self disclosure also created a “dual relationship” and it was one of the items in the licensing board complaint I filed. I didn’t “win” this part my case as the therapist denied that all of this occurred, and there really was no “hard evidence” to prove it…one of the problems with licensing board cases is the lack of hard evidence a client can provide. “Promotional” emails I wrote for him, to get speaking “gigs” and clients were “used against me” by his attorney in the “licensing board” complaint, as a claim that I had a great therapeutic relationship with him…B.S.! Again, I did what people pleasers and caretakers do. Therapeutically speaking, I transferred my childhood desire “to please and take care of” my parents onto him, in order to be accepted, and loved. Transferrence is a “normal” part of therapy, and a therapist must be capable of handling it appropriately…this therapist should have known, and in my opinion did know!

However, what he and I both know, is that along the “insurance fraud”, he commited, his excessive self disclosure and the dual relationship that was created, are the reasons therapy failed.

This therapist had a professional responsibility to reasonably “care for” me as a client and handle the transerence, and instead put himself and his needs first. In my opinion this therapist exploited my “weak points” and issues to serve himself.
Today, with the ongoing assistance of my current therapist, I am so happy to have realized that it wasn’t my responsibility to take care of and serve him.(and many others previously in my life).

A therapist has a professional responsibility to leave his stuff outside the therapy session!


3 Responses

  1. I had an experience with a therapist that was full of his self-disclosure. It made me feel as if I had to encourage him…which totally turned things around. The relationship became useless to me. I had to severe it…which turned out to be good as I realized later that there were other things also going on that I had dissociated.

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