The beginning of therapy brings up complicated emotions. You might feel relieved that you’ve been able to unburden yourself, or even awe at the way your therapist “gets” you. Like every relationship, there is usually a honeymoon period, in which you admire and respect your therapist, confident in their ability to heal you.
Over time, however, the newness fades and the work gets harder. People often put their therapist on a pedestal at first, but the therapist is bound to fall eventually. For some people, adjusting to a more realistic view of the therapist is easy, but for others, resentment or lack of respect creep in.
Common Feelings Toward Therapists
To understand negative feelings toward a therapist, first let’s look at the broader range of common emotions during therapy.
- Admiration/respect: These feelings can arise as people develop trust in the relationship and see improvement in their lives.
- Friendliness: It’s common to wish you could be friends outside of the therapy office, even though the therapist isn’t allowed to cross the line between professional and personal.
- Romance: This feeling really translates more to a crush. You don’t know the therapist as a whole person and therefore cannot develop true love. This reaction typically subsides over time, just as most crushes do.
- Shame/embarrassment: Because therapy often covers deeply personal, intimate details of a person’s life, these feelings are common.
- Anger/resentment: These feelings can happen for many reasons. Perhaps you disagree with the therapist, or don’t experience the progress you hoped for. Disappointment with the process can lead to resentment toward the therapist.
- Disrespect/disbelief of therapist: You might dislike the therapist’s approach, or maybe appointment glitches or other factors make you question the therapist’s competence or commitment. These feelings can also happen if someone makes you go to therapy before you’re ready.
Possible Causes for Negative Feelings
Your therapist is human, they might make mistakes, or have a personality that clashes with yours. However, common factors in the therapy process itself might also bring up negative feelings.
Transference occurs when one’s feelings about something or someone gets superimposed on another. It’s kind of like yelling at your partner over a little thing after you had a bad day at work. Feelings about one person, can get transferred elsewhere, and we’re not always aware we’re doing it.
When therapists try to address painful matters, especially if they push you to examine your role in those matters, sometimes you might react with anger. Anger is a defense against underlying pain and can be a natural human reaction.
When therapy brings up matters that make us feel ashamed, we sometimes avoid the shame by being angry with therapists or by trying to belittle their expertise. We hope what they’re saying isn’t true, because of the shame it makes us feel.
Poor relationship patterns
Many times, people come to therapy with a history of relationship struggles. We often repeat patterns in our relationships. If you tend to have conflict with friends, family members, and coworkers, some of those same patterns may resurface in work with a therapist.
What to Do about Negative Feelings Toward Your Therapist
Really, there’s only one thing to do with any feeling that crops up about your therapist — talk to them. It’s a scary prospect, no matter what type of negative feelings you’re experiencing.
Regardless of how annoyed you might be, it can be a real challenge to make yourself have an honest, face-to-face conversation about it. Remember, therapists are trained for difficult conversations.
Here are some possible outcomes from such a conversation:,
- Embarrassment: For most of us, being critical of another person to his or her face feels awkward.
- Fear of judgment: You might worry the therapist will judge you. What if they think you’re crazy? What if they blame you for the problem? What if they don’t take you seriously?
- Grief: A therapist cannot be your parent, lover, or friend. If the relationship can’t be what you want, you might experience feelings of loss or sadness.
- More anger and resentment: If the therapist doesn’t react the way you hope or disagrees with you, your negative feelings could intensify.
- Desire to end the relationship: If you cannot work through the problem, it’s possible you might have to find another therapist.
- Greater comfort in the relationship: On the positive side, if you can work through the problem, your therapeutic relationship will likely be richer. You will learn more about yourself and how to communicate better.
Overall, it’s common to have negative feelings toward your therapist from time to time, but feelings of resentment or lack of respect can be toxic for your work, and for you, if they aren’t addressed openly. I encourage you to share these feelings with your therapist as they arise so you can work through them effectively.
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