Therapy abuse can work both ways. There are clients who take advantage of their therapists in various ways. This can be direct, where the client is manipulative, verbally abusive or emotionally abusive, or it can be indirect where the client uses the therapist as an excuse outside of the therapy session. For example, an unscrupulous client may say such things to others as, "My therapist says I have to do this," or "My therapist says it's not my fault so you just have to accept me as I am."
Here I want to focus on therapy abuse where the therapist does harm to the patient or client. This happens in 2 broad categories, the first being where the therapist does harm without realizing it. The second category, on which I will spend most time, is where the therapist deliberately takes advantage of the client. We will see however, that there is a connection between the 2 and even lots of overlapping features.
In any therapeutic relationship it's safe to say that there are 3 elements: A relationship between the therapist and client, a process that is engaged in and an intention on the part of the therapist to help the client. Let's look at each in turn.
In a normal, healthy situation, a patient approaches a therapist (which for our purposes can be a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, coach, spiritual advisor, channeler, psychic, hypnotist, body worker, energy worker and other 'healers') for help. The patient typically takes several things for granted.
The patient believes that the therapist knows more about the problem than the patient does and that the therapist knows how to resolve the problem. The patient also assumes that the therapist has the best interests of the patient in mind. Accepting these things to be true, the patient then grants the therapist power in the relationship, treats the therapist as an authority figure and agrees to accept the ideas and instructions of the therapist.
There are several factors here that allow for therapy abuse. Most obviously is the manipulator who is not actually interested in the well being of the client. And yes, there are a lot of these types around, everything from medical professionals to charlatans who set themselves up doing all sorts of weird therapies. They use their services as a façade to attract clients and then take advantage of them in all sorts of ways about which we will go into more detail later.
Many of these types fit the profile of a psychopath or a sociopath and getting caught by these people causes many problems. A psychopath is not necessarily a serial killer or a serial rapist as portrayed in fiction. A psychopath is a person who has no conscience, no inner policeman, and they typically have a huge ego as well. They have no conscience because they do not have emotions like normal people. There is no guilt, remorse, fear, regret, embarrassment, love or empathy for others. They do know the difference between right and wrong, they just don't care! They can do horrible things but they don't feel bad for having done it. Most people don't understand these facts about psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists (all of which are personality disorders).
The fact that the psychopath is in a therapist role with all the power and influence that this entails means they can do an awful lot of damage to their clients. Psychopaths often know very well how to use authority to influence others and the qualifications as a therapist lend validity to this influence technique. The psychopaths know that the clients who come in for help are at a vulnerable point in their lives and the manipulators know exactly how to leverage this to take control of the clients' thinking, emotions and behaviors in order to manipulate and control every aspect of the clients' life. They are basically using mind control techniques to dominate and take advantage of their clients.
The other aspect of the trusting relationship that may lead to therapy abuse is the idea that the therapist knows about the problem and has solutions to it. In the case of the psychopaths, they don't actually care what the problem is because they claim that their methods can treat anything and they are happy to have as many people as possible coming through their door. Initially they will offer solutions to the client anyway, regardless of the problem.
A subtle trick of the psychopaths and narcissists is to make a diagnosis that no-one else has made for the client. This may include any diagnosis made previously but it will be more specific or it can be an additional thing. What happens here is that the client assumes that the therapist knows more about the situation than anybody else, (after all, no-one else spotted this issue before) and therefore believes that this therapist is the only one who can help to sort things out. This gives the therapist even more authority in the mind of the client.
There are slightly different considerations for those therapists who 'inadvertently' do harm to clients. Therapists who have learnt an 'alternative healing' process may have been led to believe that it is a catch-all, that it works for anything and everything. Therefore they are happy to take on clients regardless of their problem and may genuinely think that they can help. They set out with the real intention of helping.
The second scenario in the inadvertent harm category is where the therapist misdiagnoses the situation and treats the patient for the wrong thing. This happens when a therapist has not learnt many theories or treatment protocols and tries to fit the patient into a category that they are familiar with. It also occurs when a therapist specializes in one area and a client who has some of the similar symptoms is given a diagnosis even though the specialist realizes that it's not quite right. I have come across instances where a psychopathic spouse is given a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome, autism, multiple personality disorder, chronic depression and bipolar disorder. Needless to say, the treatment programs had little effect on the psychopath but the spouse suffered considerably.
When a client goes for therapy because they are in a mind control environment, an abusive relationship or a cult, and the therapist does not recognize what is actually going on, the effects can be ruinous for the patient. The patient is typically in a state of confusion, knowing that the person they are involved with is doing horrible things but often thinking that they themselves are responsible for it and they need someone to make sense of the situation. If the therapist assumes the patient is exaggerating and/or puts the responsibility on the patient, telling them that they have to be more understanding of their partner or more flexible, the result is devastating. It increases the sense of isolation of the victim, it provides more external evidence for them that their abuser is right although they know inside he or she is not. This adds to their confusion and makes them feel even more helpless. If the abuser finds out what the therapist is saying, they use that against the victim to increase their control over the situation. This is my area so I hear this story a lot!
Remember that the number of certificates on the therapist's wall is no guarantee of anything either. A person who has a medical certificate can be a psychopath and a therapist who has dozens of certificates may have done only a long weekend's training in some technique which by no means makes them an expert in that technique. And some of the techniques and processes are... 'suspect', shall we say. Let's have a look at them next.
There are lots of processes used in therapeutic situations that have a scientifically proven track record for specific problems. Nowadays there are also a huge number of processes that have no proven track record, scientific or otherwise. However, they are offered as scientific in various ways. There may be claims that the process uses the latest development in neuroscience, although how specifically this is being done is not revealed. There are often links to articles in medical journals which, if you look closely, often have no direct link to the process in question. There may be studies done or paid for by the originator of the method that are offered as evidence but are neither scientific nor peer reviewed and sometimes not even finished!
The client is never told about any controversy surrounding the proposed treatment process which means, of course, there is never any informed consent. Many processes are offered as legitimate forms of psychotherapy but are really techniques of personal development. Many so called therapists are simply testing out their personal processes on unsuspecting, fee-paying clients. Many psychopaths take a technique that may be valid and they introduce a twist into it somewhere, and it's in this twist that they exercise control and do damage.
There are many therapists nowadays who are one trick ponies. They have learnt a technique or a process and they apply it to everything. This is problematic for many reasons.
Many of these therapists have no formal training in therapy of any sort. They do weekend programs or week long seminars in a technique and then hang out their shingle and start working with clients. They themselves have been led through a process where they learn the technique, they experience it themselves and they are told that it works for everything. The therapist believes that the technique works because they have experienced 'the power of it' on a personal level. They are then encouraged to go and do it with friends and family and others who are willing to pay them for it.
A particular part of their training may involve a change of beliefs. In order to believe in and use the technique a new set of beliefs are necessary. These beliefs are installed during the training modules. While their beliefs are being shifted, they are at the same time learning the arguments and proposals in order to shift the beliefs of the clients. When a new client arrives, an important part of the treatment is manipulating the clients beliefs so that they can experience the wonder of this technique, too. Many times the belief change is actually the most important part of the treatment. The therapist and the clients often report that the technique has helped them a lot in that their symptoms persist but they don't bother them so much. They report that they feel better overall. This is just trickery. If you try to pin the client down about how specifically life is better, you get answers about how the clients feels things are better but there won't be any measurable benefits. (No, you can't measure emotions, any scale is too subjective. It's not the same as a patient saying that he can flex his joint to 90 degrees today while he only had 45 degrees of movement 2 weeks ago. That is objective, that's measurable.) If there is no cure, the patient is often blamed, because after all, the technique itself works!
The thing to keep in mind here is that the therapist in this case is learning someone else's technique. The originator of said technique may be a charlatan, but the therapist has been tricked into believing that it is going to change the world. He then goes out and spreads the work of the charlatan, thinking that he is doing some good in the world. He may genuinely be a good person who thinks he is helping others. Some of his clients may even be encouraged to go to classes (with the charlatan) to learn how to do the technique as well. If you know anything about cults, then you know that this is how cults work. The therapist has been manipulated and is a victim as well as his clients.
The thing about many of these techniques, processes and ideas have in common is that it is not possible to prove them or disprove them. These ephemeral ideas are ideal grounds in which to manipulate, deceive and thus control others. Think aliens, past lives, angels, spirit entities and UFOs. There is no proof that they exist or that they don't exist. In the same way the ideas that rebirthing can change your life, all your problems are because of repressed and unremembered trauma or that the energy in crystals and rocks can heal illnesses are likewise not provable or disprovable. Humans are complex creatures and we simply don't have any way to accurately measure these things. This means the ideas have to be taken on faith. That's where the belief change stuff comes in. The therapist has to change the clients' beliefs in some ways so that the clients accept the ideas, then link the ideas to their problem and then accept that the technique or process generated from the idea is going to sort out the difficulties.
There are so many possibilities for therapy abuse here. Once the therapist installs magical thinking in the client, the possibilities are endless. Magical thinking is basically a flaw in the attribution of causes between actions and happenings. The idea is that my doing something, whether that action is a behavior or a thought, can affect other events where there is no physical or logical connection. For example, if I believe that touching my forehead 3 times every morning will bring money into my life, that's magical thinking. If I believe that even thinking of touching my forehead three times every morning will bring money into my life, that's also an example of magical thinking. This may seem like an extreme example, but if you examine some of the current ideas you will see that many are based on connections that are just as flimsy or even non-existent.
Many of the newer techniques and ideas are based on magical thinking. Change your beliefs and you can be tremendously successful. Think positive thoughts and everything will work out. These are examples of magical thinking that are very prevalent today. If they truly worked we would all be happy, healthy and rich.
Once the magical thinking is in place, the manipulators start to use it for their own benefit. They lead people step by step through more and more extreme ideas and behavior. They start off with something that is a possibility and then once that idea is in place, the client is pushed to take the next step. Over a period of time it might go something like this: "Your problems are due to the childhood traumas you had. That time when your mother shouted at you when you were 3? That trauma is being held in this muscle here and until we get that sorted out you will continue to have problems dealing with authority. In fact, your mother made several mistakes bringing you up and she is the source of all your difficulties. When she asks you what time you will be home for dinner, she is controlling you. You would be best to spend less time with her. And don't tell her anything. In fact, you'd be better off not seeing her at all, she is just going to hold back your progress and development. She won't understand the work you are doing here..."
In a step by step fashion the unscrupulous therapist may isolate their victims from their family, their spouse and any supportive relationships they may have. The therapist becomes the main source of information for the client. Any outside ideas are dismissed as inferior, stupid, dangerous or just wrong. The client begins to refer to the therapist for advice on anything and everything, not just the original problem.
In fact, the original problem may be a minor issue for the client because the therapist has pointed out all these other things that need dealing with that are presented to the client as much more pressing and important. A client goes to a therapist because of stress at work and they are told that they need to overhaul their life and change their thinking and behaviors to be more successful. Another goes with problems sleeping and they learn from the therapist that their relationship with their parents is unhealthy and they need to grow up and become more independent. How do they do this? By changing their beliefs, their emotions and their way of being to the way the therapist thinks is best, of course.
At this stage the therapist is controlling the behavior, the thinking and the emotions of the client as well as the information available. If you control one or two of these things, you can basically run a person's life. The psychopathic therapists will be controlling all four of these things. This gives them tremendous control over every aspect of the client's life. The therapist is basically forcing a change in the personality of the client.
This change will be obvious to the client's friends and family but often the client will be unaware of these drastic changes. Their world view is so narrowed that he or she can only see that they are working hard on themselves and that the therapist is helping them. The therapist at this stage is even controlling the client's reality.
There are several things to be on the look out for in situations like this. One is where the therapist suggests that the client comes along to group sessions with other clients. This in and of itself does not indicate therapy abuse but is very common with the abusive therapists. It means that they can charge clients twice a week and oftentimes the therapist will be present during these sessions but may do very little. The clients talk about their experiences over and over amongst each other and they are led to believe that this is therapeutic. There is no evidence that simply reliving a traumatic experience does anything to help the client to find relief or recover from it.
The second and more important clue to abuse is when all the clients are being treated for the same problem. They have all discovered, courtesy of this therapist, that their relationships with their father was abnormal in some way and they are all trying to deal with that. Or every client has been sexual abused as a child and the therapist helped them to uncover the repressed memories. Each client may have presented with a different issue, but they all end up believing that the root cause of their problems is the same thing, and it just happens to be the specialty of the therapist.
The individual client's past history is typically rewritten and redefined to fit with the idea of the therapist. Real memories are reinterpreted to mean what the therapist wants them to mean so that the client comes to believe that the therapist truly knows what they are talking about. It may feel to the client that this therapist understands them in a way that no-one else does.
Another important aspect here is the time the clients are in therapy. In normal situations there is usually a time limit for therapy. With psychopathic and other abusive therapists there is no time given to the clients within which they can expect to be better or healed. In fact, they are led to believe that this 'work' will take a lifetime and they can expect to be working on themselves for a very long time. And to the client it seems that there is a never ending stream of issues that they need to work on to improve themselves. Once they seem to be getting a handle on one thing, the therapist finds some other thing that is 'off' or missing in their lives and this keeps the client busy again.
This being busy is another warning sign. Abusive clients will often keep their clients very busy between sessions with tasks, homework and in some cases even daily rituals that can take hours to complete. The time required to do these may mean they are impossible tasks and the therapist then uses this to criticize and belittle the client for not following the program. And even if the client is not physically busy, they are invariably busy in their head ruminating on the ideas of the therapist and reordering their thoughts and experiences to fit into the 'new' way of thinking.
The therapy sessions themselves are often full of criticism, humiliation and other types of emotional manipulations. If the client is led from tears to feeling good or even euphoria during a session, they believe that they are making progress because something that was upsetting to them is no longer so and this creates the idea that things are changing. All that is happening is that the client is being dragged through cycles of abuse over and over again (criticism followed by compliments) and this creates a very strong dependency in the victim on the abuser. (This is not the same thing as 'codependency'.)
Any therapist or group that suggests that you need to distance yourself from your family (except where there is obvious abuse going on in the family) should start alarm bells ringing for you. It doesn't matter how valid or logical the arguments seem to be, separation from family and friends is a significant indicator of therapy abuse.
Victims of therapy abuse undergo profound changes at the hands of abusive therapists. Remember that there is a power imbalance in the relationship between a therapist and a client by the very nature of the relationship. The client also trusts the therapist. These things are taken advantage by psychopathic therapists to alter people at their very core. The relationship between therapist and patient is of the utmost importance and it typically has much more impact on results than the process used in therapy or whatever qualifications the therapist has. The level of influence the therapist has is fundamental and the psychopaths realize this and they will capitalize on it as quickly as they can. (Remember the psychopaths practice their manipulation skills on others from the time they become aware of them, regardless of any formal education they may have received.)
The abusive therapist influences the behavior of the client, often affecting their ability to function. The therapist has a profound effect on the thinking, decision making and the emotions of the individual. They change the beliefs of the client about reality and the beliefs about themselves. All these things add up to a change in the personality of the victim.
This personality is programmed to believe what the therapist says, it is programmed to follow the instructions of the therapist and it is programmed to be very dependent on the therapist. It is programmed to put the wants and needs of the therapist before that of the client. The client typically thinks they are making their own decisions but they invariably end up doing what the therapist wants or 'suggests'. This can include staying in (and paying for) therapy for years, going along to extra activities that the therapist proposes, many of which benefit the therapist financially as well, having a sexual relationship with the therapist, bringing more clients to the therapist and so on.
This new personality is imposed on the client without their knowledge or consent. It never destroys the real personality but rather it represses and dominates it. It is called a pseudopersonality because it is actually a false personality that is created in the likeness of the therapist. It has the same ideas and beliefs as the manipulator and may even have some of the same behaviors.
It is a very nice description to understand many of the difficulties that the abused patient has. The internal battles that the patient endures with one part wanting one thing and another part wanting the opposite is explained by the pseudopersonality being programmed to want one thing while the real personality wants something else entirely. The pseudopersonality does and says things that the person might never have considered in the past. The pseudopersonality may lie, cheat, have multiple sexual partners, do drugs, go on strict diets all because the therapist suggests that it is advisable, while these things may have been unthinkable to the person before therapy. This is actually the same thing that happens in cults to the members, where they undergo a radical change that is obvious to outsiders but completely hidden to the person themselves. The psychopath running a cult uses the same tactics and techniques as the psychopathic therapist, with similar results.
This pseudopersonality is put in place through repetition with powerful influence techniques and the beliefs of the pseudopersonality are typically stronger than normal healthy beliefs. If you have ever seen a cult member respond to the suggestion that they are in a cult, then you will know what I am talking about .
The last aspect of the client therapist relationship is the intention of the healer. Normally, of course, this intention is to help the client. Even in many abusive situations the intention of the therapist may be to heal but as we have seen already, the therapist themselves may be a victim (and have their own pseudopersonality, which is programmed to continue the work of the psychopath) and his or her intention to heal has been distorted. If they are good enough at what they do, they can even impose a pseudopersonality on their clients, too!
If you consider that the pseudopersonality is a clone of the psychopath, then this therapist is basically propagating the ideas of the psychopath further along the line. A pseudopersonality is never beneficial for the victim and the harm done outweighs any potential benefit the client may believe that they have received.
With abusive therapists, it is obvious that the intention is not to heal. The intention is usually to keep the client subservient and providing as much as possible for the therapist for as long as possible.
Even with the weirdest of treatment protocols some people seem to get a resolution of symptoms. This may be the placebo effect or it may be that having someone pay the client attention for an hour a week can be beneficial even if it's just that the client felt like they had been listened to.
More common with the unintentional therapy abuse is a loss in some way, a loss of money on treatment that had no effect or a loss of time that could have been spend on a more worthwhile treatment program. Very often the original problem may not have even been dealt with because the patient was fed straight into a 'one cure for all' system. The patient comes away poorer, having endured the symptoms for the duration of therapy with no relief in sight.
With the abusive therapists, and even with the unintentional abuse where the therapist imposes a pseudopersonality or even just magical thinking on the patient, the effects are harmful and damaging. Going through a recognized treatment protocol for your problem with a qualified medical person is no guarantee of success either. Therapy abuse occurs at the hands of medical professionals and quacks alike if the therapist is a psychopath. As I mentioned, the psychopath can take any process and introduce a twist and use it against the client. The twist with formally trained professionals is that they abuse the trust placed in them to control a person's thinking, emotions and behaviors and create a pseudopersonality which is under their control. Of course they are obviously not sticking to the genuine treatment program either.
Having a pseudopersonality imposed is very damaging. Having someone change your personality when this change is not for your benefit at all but totally for the benefit of the abuser is very, very destructive. As well as the programming mentioned earlier, the pseudopersonality is also programmed to believe that the manipulator is right and that the pseudopersonality is personally responsible for anything bad that happens. This pattern also destroys the self esteem of the client because the client is not allowed to take credit for successes and is forced to take responsibility for even the abuser's failures. This may also play havoc with a person's motivation and ability to get things done.
Because of the dependency of the pseudopersonality on the therapist, a client may be caught in therapy for years. The beliefs and ideas of the therapist are actually designed to keep the clients involved in therapy. They may also end up very isolated with little contact with friends and family. The therapist may keep them in a work situation that the client hates, simply so that the client can continue to pay for therapy. Another frequent occurrence is where the therapist directs the clients into doing the same work as the therapist. This can mean learning the technique the therapist uses in a program organized by the therapist or even in a university. The therapist benefits by charging for the course, supervision of the 'student' and by having the student send the therapist more clients. Again, if you know anything about cults you will recognize this as one of the methods a psychopath uses to build a group of devotees whom they control and manipulate.
It's typical that the original problem is not dealt with and when someone leaves the abusive therapeutic situation (and undoes the pseudopersonality and the damage) the problem comes up to be dealt with again. The reason for this is that when the pseudopersonality is created, it thinks differently from the real personality and the original problem may no longer be considered a problem. In fact, the pseudopersonality is usually programmed to believe that the original problem has been resolved in some way. This is another one of the internal battles that a victim experiences with a pseudopersonality, believing that the problem has been resolved (a very strong belief of the pseudopersonality) while still suffering the effects of it.
When a person has a pseudopersonality, for all intents and purposes, their maturation and development is put on hold. Many people report that when they are undoing the pseudopersonality that they feel very immature for their age. When a person is in a manipulative environment they do miss out on many experiences and this helps to explain this lack of maturity. People who recover have the sense that literally years of their lives have been stolen away from them.
And once a person leaves a situation of therapy abuse, if they realize that bad things were going on, (many people don't realize the depth of the damage done to them) they may be very wary of therapists. Depending on their awareness of what happened, they may have difficulty trusting others, too. After all, they were caught badly by the therapist without realizing it, how can they know that they won't get caught again? How can they trust people? In fact, how can they even trust themselves to be able to spot manipulators? This can have a very powerful effect on their relationships until they undo the therapy abuse. Being afraid of therapists is a major problem, because it is practically impossible to undo a pseudopersonality alone. This is compounded by the fact that the victim is programmed to believe that what happened is their own fault. Professional help is needed to sort through all these factors.
Sometimes a victim can compartmentalize their lives and can maintain, for example, their work life separate from the rest. The client may be doing well at work but the therapist is controlling and dominating everything else. Because work is going well, the client thinks that all is well and even after leaving the abusive relationship, the client uses the idea that work is ok to reassure themselves that they don't need help. This is an error in thinking because eventually the work situation typically begins to deteriorate as well.
The pseudopersonality is put in place with layers of influence techniques over time and it is reinforced over and over again. It becomes the 'default' operating system for the victims. Even when a client leaves the abusive therapist, this pseudopersonality does not just disappear. The client was a 'willing' participant in the therapy at the start and the client believed they were making their own decisions. There was no sense of outside physical or psychological force initially. In such a situation one's beliefs are strong and last for a long time into the future.
This is very different from someone who is told to say something under threat of immediate physical punishment, for example. Once the threat is gone, the person will say what they really believe, not what they were forced to say under threat. This reversion is practically instantaneous.
The pseudopersonality is very different in that respect. The effects of the manipulation will last for years, decades even, despite the fact that the victim recognizes the abuser as bad in some way. This is why cult members may leave and say that they didn't like the leader for whatever reason, but the ideas of the group were very good. Many victims of therapy abuse will also have some level of confusion because they may reach a point where they realize the therapist was bad but still believe that the therapist helped them in some way. (Real personality vs pseudopersonality again!) This idea that the therapist helped is a belief but may be strong enough that people will think that it's reality. Not until the person learns about mind control and psychopaths and how they were taken advantage of does this belief disappear and the person come to understand that what the therapist did was actually bad for them in many ways.
The recovery process is a process of psychoeducation where the victim learns about the tactics and techniques of mind control, how they were used against them and how their emotions, their thinking, their decision making and their behavior were changed.
Bit by bit, the pseudopersonality is dismantled, sometimes belief by belief. The real personality is built up again so that it controls everything once more. The victim may have to rebuild damaged relationships. They may lose some relationships. The victim has to create a new list of criteria for making friends (the previous list didn't work out so well!) so that they are not taken advantage of in the future. They learn to spot the difference between normal, healthy influence processes and processes of influence that are being used in a destructive mind control environment.
Having a pseudopersonality also makes people more vulnerable to the next psychopath they meet. Psychopaths and narcissists often read people very well, and if you have a pseudopersonality the psychopaths spot it straight away. It's as clear to them as if you had it tattooed on your forehead!
A recovery from therapy abuse is best done with an expert in this field. An expert will save you time, effort, money and heartache, helping you to avoid common mistakes and misconceptions as well as pointing out things that you may not have considered yourself. It’s not an easy process but it's definitely worth it. And the sooner the better! Once people get rid of their pseudopersonalities they typically wish that they had done it sooner.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
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