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Therapy for My Therapy?

I recently had an appointment with the psychologist I’ve been seeing for two years and let’s just say it didn’t go very well. Arriving there in a good mood, I left in tears, feeling sad and stupid and angry and misunderstood. I’m not sure, but I don’t think you’re supposed to leave your therapy appointment feeling worse off and more dejected than when you went in at the beginning of the appointment? I don’t want this post to be a therapist-bashing post by any means, but my latest experience with this doctor left me feeling frustrated and pretty unhappy. How did things go so downhill in the matter of an hour?

Backing up, I started seeing this doctor about 2.5 years ago after having a very strange, sudden bout of intense anxiety for an extended period of time (which I think was due to being over-medicated with thyroid medication by a former internist). This psychologist was referred to me by my endocrinologist and assured me that the doctor was familiar working with patients who have chronic illnesses. Okay, sure, I’ll try it out. Living with a painful chronic illness like RA certainly affects my emotional and mental state and I agreed that it would probably be good to have someone to talk to about stuff I was dealing with in life—RA and non-RA issues.

My therapist did help me regarding the weird anxiety I started seeing him for, but I feel he’s been a bit hit-or-miss about other things. Most of the time I really enjoy talking to him and look forward to my appointments. But other times I end up feeling pissed-off and frustrated because I feel like he’s being judgmental and just not very understanding. My last appointment was one of those pissed-off and frustrated times, that escalated into me having a sobbing breakdown and then feeling like a huge idiot when I left the office with my red, tearful face.

The appointment started out fine and normal and we talked about the same stuff we always talk about: jobs, health insurance, weight loss, work and family stress. Those are important topics but they’re not the only things I want to talk about. Or, I tried to explain to him, that maybe I don’t want to always talk about my “life issues” in such a practical, pragmatic way. I told him that I can get a job or jobs and I can always find a way to make money. It’s the bigger, more important things in life that matter to me, that I feel like I have little or no control over: relationships; living with this scary disease; regrets; loss and grief; hopes and dreams; my fears and worries about the past, present and future; real feelings.

I tried to explain how overwhelmed I often feel and that I need to have someone to talk to about my emotional issues, and not just how to apply for jobs or lose two pounds in a week. He kind of stared at me weirdly (in confusion, in contempt?) like I wasn’t making any sense or that I was being too dramatic. I asked him, “Why don’t we ever talk about this stuff?” I think that’s a valid question, isn’t it? I didn’t ask it in an aggressive or snotty manner. I just asked and wanted a genuine answer. Or to start a real conversation about it. He immediately got defensive, which I sensed by the change in his tone of voice and his body language. At one point he also got started on this mini-tangent about how when he first started practicing he was judgmental towards his patients but now he isn’t anymore. What? Um, okay. So I clearly pissed him off, which just added to my feelings of frustration, rejection, and embarrassed awkwardness. I’ve only tried to bring up this sort of thing maybe once or twice before with him in the past and each time I’ve been met with a similar response.

I don’t want to criticize and I don’t want to fight with my therapist. I just want to be heard. Truly heard and understood. I usually like our sarcastic banter and his down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach. But being treated with a little gentleness and kindness wouldn’t hurt either sometimes. So what should I do? Find a new doctor? Or am I being dramatic and oversensitive? Maybe we just have a personality clash sometimes, I don’t know. But I do know that it’s hard to switch doctors. And finding a therapist that you feel comfortable with is especially hard and takes a lot of work and perseverance.

So yeah, I don’t know what to do. I really like my doctor but sometimes I really don’t like him. I like it when our personalities get on well together and I feel like I’m chatting with a friend. But I don’t like it when I feel like I’m being judged or that I’m not being taken seriously, and that my problems and disease are trivial or less important in comparison to other people’s. I have experienced this more than once and I don’t think I should be made to feel that way by someone who is supposed to be supportive and help me feel better.

I’m curious to hear about others’ experiences with their therapists. Do you see a therapist to help you deal with your RA? Does it help? I do think that a person who has a painful chronic illness like RA can greatly benefit from counseling and therapy. RA is not a trivial matter or disease, of course, and it can affect your life in deep, long-lasting ways, and sometimes you need help dealing with that. As a patient, it’s crucial to feel understood and respected by your medical caregivers, whether from your rheumatologist, therapist, physical therapist, primary care physician, or whomever else you see to help you live a healthier, happier life. Hopefully at my next appointment we can discuss some of these things without him getting defensive and without me getting angry and crying like a baby. If not, it’s probably time to move on.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Amy
    5 years ago

    Holy moly Angela, you should never leave your therapist’s office feeling unheard, judged, or trivialized. Even if this person helped you in the past, it sounds like he’s not the right person you to talk to now. Perhaps it is time to find a therapist that is better suited to what you are going through. I have had similar experiences with therapists, not for RA but for other issues. Sometimes as patients we have to realize that therapists are only human, they have their limitations too.

  • Cecilia Jankura
    6 years ago

    Angela, move on! Get a female therapist and look into some physical therapy such as workouts and hot tub/saunas that help stress to accompany the psych stuff. I used a therapist for a year during a meltdown before RA. this gal was so good at feeding me back what I just said with no influence either judgment or swaying – just clarity (I was facing important decisions). she allowed me to stay on the fence as long as she heard me say I needed to be. I really couldn’t tell you much about her personality – it wasn’t about that. I haven’t needed therapy (yet) since I have had RA (4 yrs). my husband is very supportive and allows me to talk about the little things on a daily basis so that I don’t tend to internalize them into big things (frustrations) later. he facilitates a lot of my care and therapy. he is the hot tub master so I always have one in working condition. he drives me everywhere and accompanies me to all of my infusions and appointments. so part of not feeling out of control is to have some of the important support systems around you. i really wish you the best. a lot of strength has to come from within and i feel that you are already there –

  • Norreen Clark
    6 years ago

    Sorry to hear, sounds like your therapist needs one himself. Cut to the chase my therapist is the Lord. We talk all the time and if you listen at times you can hear him answer. I have an affirmation I say a few times a day. One of my affirmation that I say goes like this. All is well, everything is working out for my highest good, out of this situation only good will come, I’m safe. Hope this information helps. Norreen B. Clark

  • Elizabeth
    6 years ago

    Angela, I have not needed therapy for my experiences with RA as I have a very supportive husband, children, and grandchildren. I did go to a therapist when my previous marriage broke up, however, and was fortunate enough to have a very good psychiatrist who was extremely supportive.

    That said, I think seeking another therapist might be a Good Thing for you [more on that later]. Yes, support in finding a job may be good, but there is more that we with RA face. We face guilt: did we cause our own disease? are we using our disease to extract attention from others or to punish those around us? We face the pain: How do we deal with the amount of pain we experience? How does our chronic pain affect those around us? How do those around us treat us in terms of our disease and the pain we experience? And the big one: How will the disease affect our length of life and our health vis a vis cardiac and lung effects?

    We with RA face huge outcome possibilities and day to day effects of our disease. We are affected by weather changes, stress, infectious diseases, over and under activity, and other stimuli. A stressful job, a job that requires over activity – these can pitch us into a flare. Yet not staying with or taking an obviously stressful job can lead others to condemn us.

    Your therapist needs to understand all of these and more – and to accept them, embrace them, in order to help patients with RA and other, invisible, chronic, painful diseases.

    If your therapist cannot do these things, you may need to consider a new therapist. As Andrew said, however, you need to give him one or two more tries, gently confronting him. Organize your thoughts ahead of time. Based on your previous interactions with him, can you anticipate his reactions to the things you want to say? If so, you can then develop an anticipated dialogue with him – in which you have answers and additional challenges to his responses, observations and statements.

    If these don’t work, do seek someone new.

  • Sarah
    6 years ago

    You definitely need to find a new therapist! RA is enough to deal with period nevermind someone who should be a professional acting like that! Trust me I know how hard it is to find doctors I have gone through several RA doctors because they treated me like crap and I refuse to deal with that no matter how hard it is to find another one! So go find a new doctor who will listen to whatever you want to talk about your there for you not him!

  • Eva McCue Wilson
    6 years ago

    I had a similar problem years ago with a therapist and a few sessions were uncomfortable to me. I believe he was saying inappropriate things to me that surprised me and made me feel really weird.
    I have found going to a female therapist more comfortable and the one I was seeing had a gentle approach.
    If it was me, I would find someone else.

  • Sarah
    6 years ago

    You are so right I agree we don’t deserve that treatment so finding someone else is best people have feelings and we don’t deserve that 😉

  • Kathy P.
    6 years ago

    I’m sorry to hear you’ve had this experience, Angela. The fact that you’ve had it more than several times, and with this last time being particularly brutal to your feelings, I think it’s time you look for another therapist.

    You might also see if there’s an arthritis support group (call the hospital for a reference), so you can get together with others that are just looking for a supportive environment where they can voice their frustrations without being judged. Just having someone to listen can be very therapeutic!

    If there’s not a support group in your area yet, why not start one? It’s a common problem that people with chronic illnesses also have other everyday problems that can be maddeningly frustrating, and difficult to deal with because you struggle everyday with pain. Sometimes we just need a sympathetic shoulder.

    Here’s hoping you find a therapist that’s perfectly suited to you right away!

  • Sarah
    6 years ago

    Me and a couple ladies on this site have exchanged phone numbers and call each other when we need to talk we are all suffering with RA so talking to someone else who is going through it too is very helpful like the lady above also said so if you need to talk

  • Kelly Mack moderator
    6 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your story Angela. I have found psychotherapy helpful in talking about RA, managing my disease and life changes. However, it did take me awhile to find a therapist I liked. I feel like this kind of treatment/support needs to be well-suited to your personal needs and personality. Not all therapists are a good match for everyone. Hope this gets easier for you and that you get the support you need and deserve.

  • Charlene Atkins
    6 years ago

    Hi Angela,
    First, as I am a professional counselor, your experiences with this psychologist frustrated me greatly for you. I’m sorry that you had (and have been having) some difficult issues with this psychologist. Granted, he is a person first, and we all make mistakes and have an array of personal feelings we deal with; however, that being said, I’m proud of you for talking about your fears and frustrations about this and for reaching out for advice. First, if you’re up to it, I would suggest confronting him (in a gentle way) about your concerns — even tho it sounds like you already tried. If he interrupts you or gets defensively, simply ask him to let you finish discussing your concerns. This can be quite a healing thing for you to do…standing up for yourself and your right to competent and good care. On the other hand, as a psychologist, whether he was having a bad day or was feeling defensive, etc is moot. He should absolutely know better. This kind of unprofessional and frankly unethical behavior on his part is absolutely unnecessary. It sounds as tho you have had a gut feeling for some time that things weren’t working right with him and / or he wasn’t helping you in the way you need him to. Please let me reassure you that your feelings are completely normal and valid.
    Please trust your gut. As women, inparticular, we fail to do this way too often!! I would suggest that it is time to find someone with whom you are more comfortable. This can be frustating–starting over. But the rewards can be so worth it when you found the right therapist! Know that it might take a couple times to find the right therapist for you and that’s also ok! A good therapist is going to be okay with you despising that it might not be a good fit and will help you find someone who is. Most of all, a therapist should not get defensive with you. This is called counter-transference. Look it up. It might help you understand what happened and how unhealthy it can be. You sound like a person who has grown much in your personal journey toward healing. Keep up the good work and best of luck to you!

  • Sarah
    6 years ago

    Charlene I’m not sure if you have RA do you? Well if you have RA you should understand how frustrating and emotional life is period physical and mental so as a therapist I don’t think her going back there would be a good idea he made it clear he is clearly not interested in her emotional well being he made it clear and also was very unprofessional so going back again would be getting set up for him to belittle her again and cause more stress which people with RA don’t need being as it causes flares! So Angela I think you should just let it go you didn’t deserve that its him who has the issue obviously and there is no need to put yourself back in that stressful situation! You deserve better treatment I have walked right out on doctors first visit for them treating me like a piece of paper and thinking they can treat people any way because they are doctors and feel like they are smarter and better than us. You know yourself better than anyone you know what you need so don’t settle for less you deserve better :). From one hurting person to another hopefully we can find good doctors that treat us like people not like a chart with no feelings 😉 I know its hard I deel with it everyday I’m currently looking for a new therapy doctor myself so good luck to us both!

  • Andrew Lumpe, PhD moderator
    6 years ago

    Charlene, your comments were spot on and I appreciate your professional take on the situation.

  • Sharon
    6 years ago

    First, my suggestion would be to think about everything in your last session: is he just doing/saying something that’s making you uncomfortable and you aren’t ready to hear it, or is he definitely being defensive/judgmental.

    If you still feel he’s not helping any, then give him your letter (or a slightly abridged copy). If he’s any good, he should understand and be able to deal with it. Even if he’s not being judgmental or defensive, your perception that he is, is just as important.

    I’d also consider looking for another therapist, one you are comfortable with.

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