I'm Mad at My Therapist... Now What?
So picture this: you finally found a therapist that you feel you click with. You made it through the twists and turns of insurance, got an initial appointment scheduled, and things have been going great! You're confident that this time you're going to get the help you know you need.
One session things are going along as normal, until your therapist says something that really rubs you the wrong way. Or maybe they don't call you back when they said they would. Or maybe your fear starts to come true...that maybe they're not going to be able to help you like you thought they were because you're starting to feel let down. Ultimately...you start to get frustrated. Maybe you're straight-up irritated, right out of the gate. To your surprise, something your therapist does makes you angry.
Wait a minute...isn't my therapist supposed to make me feel supported? Didn't they tell me they would get back to me in a timely manner? Now what do I do? Well, I hate to break it to you, but your therapist is still human, and like with any relationship, there are likely going to be moments when you disagree or get upset with something that happened...in psychological terms, your relationship is bound to have a rupture. As uncomfortable or upsetting as this may be, it's actually a great opportunity to do some therapeutic work... if you can tell your therapist.
It's not uncommon for miscommunication to happen at times, or maybe your therapist did truly make a mistake. (Depending on what this mistake is, it unfortunately may be grounds for you to seek out at new therapist.) Other times, a phenomenon called transference happens. Let me explain:
Have you ever had a really strong reaction to someone that feels random? Or maybe something about a person you don't really even know reminded you of someone else or another time in your life? What's typically going on in this situation is, on an unconscious level, we project thoughts, feelings, and defenses that are actually in response to another person in our life, past or present. This is how relationship patterns seem to repeat themselves time and time again.
Often times it's a response to someone that hurt us in the past, and our brain is now working to keep us safe. And because your therapist is someone you likely know very little about, they are a prime candidate for projection. Our brains naturally fill in pieces that we don't know enough about, especially when we feel threatened (or angry). And in this sense, your therapist can act like a mirror for what your gut reactions tend to be.
Transference is a very important part of therapy because it can help you to gain insight into your own relationship patterns.
Ultimately, what you can expect is for your therapist to be receptive to hearing what made you angry without becoming defensive. You can expect them to take responsibility for mistakes they made or to work to clarify misunderstandings. (If this isn't the case, know that this isn't the sign of a good therapist—we're trained for this.) At the same time, there are responsibilities you have as a client, as well:
- As a client, if you're unhappy with how something has gone or is going, the only way your therapist will know is if you say something. We're not mind-readers, despite some stereotypes. And if you don't say something, it's likely nothing will change and therapy may be less beneficial for you.
- If you're realizing how difficult it is to bring up, this might tell you something about why you haven't been able to get your needs met in other areas of your life. Assertive communication is a vital skill, and something you can also practice in therapy, if applicable. - Maybe you have no issue bringing up your anger, and actually feel your anger is explosive at times. Try your best to use "I" statements and be kind. This is true of any relationship. The good news is, if you end up expressing your anger in an aggressive or inappropriate way, your therapist should be able to convey this to you and give you other options of how to manage and express your anger.
- Lastly, depending on what the disagreement is, you may come to understand that ending the therapeutic relationship is actually what would be best. If this is true, your therapist may be able to make a referral to another provider that could be a better fit. At the very least, you can expect an amicable ending.
At the end of the day, telling your therapist you're mad at them has the potential to be incredibly healing. You're likely to get a response that you haven't gotten from other people in your life that you really needed. Bringing up an issue you're having with your therapist is also a safer way to try out ways of resolving conflict because you have so much insight to gain and the relationship is a professional one.
If we're going to have conflict in our lives, we might as well learn how to address it in a way that leaves us feeling good about ourselves, knowing that we were honest.
As challenging as it can be to express our anger or approach conflict, practicing makes it easier and gives us the chance to have more fulfilling relationships.
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]
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