The “Highs” of Just Plain Bad Therapy

How does it happen that intelligent people stay with abusive therapists or self development leaders or healers for so long, becoming more and more dependent, and giving them more and more money?

How does it happen that intelligent people stay with abusive therapists or self development leaders or healers for so long, becoming more and more dependent, and giving them more and more money? Gena Dry on the “five questions you must ask your therapist” website describes the process as she sees it, including the notion of an “induced high”.

The abusive therapist knows how to create a high, at the very beginning of the relationship, which makes people feel good, although they have not actually made changes in their lives from which a true sense of well being would arise. This could be, Dry writes, through powerful emotion releasing techniques, apparent empathy, or the sheer confidence of the therapist himself.

I would add that self-belief is an immensely attractive thing, especially to those who are seeking help because they lack it. It can become a powerful charisma which will, when exercised in an irresponsible way, certainly play on people’s vulnerabilities. It may sweep people into a dangerous sense of security. It may indeed start to act as a drug, not only to those needing more power in their own lives, but to the “guru figure” themselves.

The high is temporary, because it is not really based on anything except the effect produced by the therapist. Hence a low follows, and a need for more contact. There is a danger that another session or workshop may be needed to fix the depression created by coming down from the effects of the previous one, rather than to deal with what originally sent the client to seek help.

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It is also difficult to overestimate how much people are affected by professional status, by the knowledge that the professional has knowledge they do not, and this may lead people to talk themselves out of the evidence of their own senses. If the therapist plays along with this and acts as if they have the answer, the client’s self belief is damaged, and they grow to need the therapist’s “truth” about them, as well as their powerful presence, more and more.

My motivation here is not to scare people out of trying therapy, and of course there may be other perfectly healthy “highs” at the start — caused by finally being heard, getting your story out, being understood and respected and accepted, feeling things shift. The difference is that these highs are quite clearly located in yourself, and not “the person who has done this to you”. Although there may well be a kind of emotional intimacy, a competent therapist is eager to help you strengthen your own perceptions and not theirs, to help you freely choose and facilitate changes in your “real life” which will render their presence in your life unnecessary.

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