Most of the time, our therapists are distant by necessity. They are looming presences that help us through some of our toughest times, or just let us know that everything is going to be okay. But what about when that professional veneer cracks? These Redditors and therapists share the tragic, hilarious, and downright bizarre moments they had to say, “I need a minute.”
I’m a social worker who works with children. We got this underaged girl who was raised by a mother suffering from Munchhausen-by-proxy Syndrome, which essentially means the mother pretends that her child is sick to get attention and the pity of other people. This goes as far as poisoning her own child just to have a reason to seek out doctors and get their attention.
The mother in question was incredibly horrible, even when her daughter got taken away from her. For some reason, officials never took child custody from her, which made it easy for her to influence her daughter’s life from far away. She specifically used it to tell her daughter that she loved her and will always be there for her, but every time she needed to be there, she wasn't. This led to an absolutely heartbreaking moment.
One day, her daughter got pregnant. However, the fetus wasn’t viable, so they had to perform an operation. All the mother needed to do was grant permission by email, but although I called her several times and she assured me she would send it, it just never came. It took three whole, agonizing days for that poor girl to get the procedure she needed, simply because her mother just didn't do anything.
We finally reached out to CPS and got permission through them, but her daughter was deeply harmed by this and just never recovered from it. Seeing her like this was my first "I need a minute" moment.
I was in a tiny room with this well-known patient of mine. She was a sweet, sweet woman who all of a sudden stood up, said “Excuse me for a second,” went to the opposite corner of the (again, tiny) room, and threw the biggest, loudest, perfect high-pitch toot I’ve heard in my life. Then she came back to the chair (two steps really) and smiled as if nothing had happened.
Working with kids has always affected me the most. I had one kid who was in foster care and had been pushed from house to house. He had apparently had a very rough upbringing before that. He was very quiet and didn't talk much. We always gave every child a box that they could decorate and fill with things they made in sessions. At the end of their sessions, they could then take it home if they wanted to. His response to this shattered my heart.
What did this kid do when I first gave him his box? He started making it into a house. Gave it a door, windows, a roof, etc. and then wrote a message to his mother (who he couldn't see anymore) on the side to say that he loved her. In the sessions, he spent the majority of the time playing with the dollhouse where it always went the same way.
He arranged all the furniture and people perfectly. He was very specific about what went where and what people had which rooms. And then he would destroy it all. Saying that “the new people are coming.” I have a lot of stories but remembering his pain and his simple desire for a home always breaks my heart. I hope that he is out there doing OK now.
My client told me his family didn't appreciate his interest in guns, to which he proceeded to tell me he is always carrying. He then places his piece on the table in front of me and asked if it made me nervous. It did, but we focused more on why he wanted to know if I was nervous and brought it back around to his family. From then on, I made sure to always have access to a door and never put the client between the door and myself again—just to be safe.
I am an intake coordinator at a community mental health center. One day, I had to meet face-to-face with a woman who was wanting services. She desperately needed them. She was hoarding multiple properties and sleeping in her car at a fast-food restaurant. Her children wanted to help but she couldn't let go of the items. It was difficult to politely ignore the strong odor coming from her, but I did.
She's explaining how her life got this way. It was largely because she had to undergo treatment for cancer 10 years ago. My heart stopped for a moment. See, my mother had passed quite recently and very quickly with the same kind of cancer, after having been cancer-free for five years. I started to tear up. She thought it was so compassionate of me to listen to her story and work on getting her help.
After she left, I couldn't hold it in. I sobbed. The office staff teared up and they told me I was so professional and kind. I got a few hugs and I went to my car to process. But here's the ugly truth: I wasn't so much sad for the lady as I was angry that she survived her cancer and my mother didn't. That she lives her life in squalor while my mom perished just when she reached the happiest, most stable chapter of her life.
My therapist heard all about it. We've worked it out in our department to try to avoid cases that would be triggering if possible. My colleague will take the cancer ones for me.
I used to work as an outreach clinician for people with serious and persistent diagnoses. A person who was experiencing a lot of paranoia was showing my colleague and me “evidence” that the local hospital had harmed them during a medical admission. They handed my co-worker a freezer bag full of grayish-yellow, oily curls. When they explained what it was, I nearly threw up.
The bag was full of skin they’d peeled from their feet and thighs as evidence of “being exposed to contaminants.” I can hang with almost anything but we were NOT open to any more contact with the bag.
When I worked in bereavement, a client of mine used the term “skid-marks” when discussing the accident he and his family had been in. For some reason, there and then, the expression just caught me off guard. I joined the dots, and the corners of my mouth started to rise. In actuality, this may have only lasted a moment, but it felt like minutes. All the while I was drawing blood as I chewed down on the insides of my cheeks.
I felt like the worst human being alive.
I work at a residential group home. We had a kid who we had admitted about four months prior. In a family session, they mention they had parasites. At this point, I’m like what??? The mom goes, “Oh yeah, our whole family has them. We don’t believe in getting rid of them since they’re part of our biological ecosystem.” I’m just dumbstruck from here on out.
We spent three weeks afterward convincing this family it was an infectious disease concern for all of our other residents. Three weeks of education, planning, and worst of all convincing this kid and mother that their IQ wouldn’t drop because they had agreed to irradiate the parasites!
I worked as a therapist at an agency that dealt with substance misuse before going into private practice. One of my biggest “I need a moment” times happened there. I was working with a young individual (and I myself was around their age) who was an addict. They were bright, intelligent, and deeply empathetic to the world but so, so sick. They had to have not just one open-heart surgery due to cardiomyopathy, but two.
This was prior to ever turning 30. They just kept relapsing despite trying so hard. This client never missed treatment. One day, they didn’t show up for an appointment so I called. No answer. They called back and asked to speak to me. I will never forget the sound of their voice when I answered. They were so broken. They had just relapsed before calling.
They were so afraid and disappointed. I remember thinking that their addiction was going to kill them and it weighed so heavily on me. I will never forget this client. After that call, I sat there awash in the realization that my client would likely die from this and they were my age. Addiction can turn people all out of character, but they were so sweet and kind.
They would give you the shirt off their back. I truly believe they were just too kind for this harsh world. But there was a beautiful ending to all this. See, this was a while ago. My client went to a higher level of care and I found out over a year later that they were sober and doing well and had moved states. I remember crying when I found out they made it all that time later.
I’m a school counselor going into the second year of my career. I had a student with who I had grown close. She disclosed her major depression, highly impulsive tendencies, and her eating disorder to me as we talked more and more. But she had gone through extensive therapy and treatment and was getting better with it all. Her parents kept in close contact with me as well.
One day she came to me sobbing, wouldn’t say a word, just grabbed my hand and handed me a thumbtack that she had been scratching herself with. I asked her, “What happened?” When she replied, I nearly burst into tears. She said one of her best friends came up to her and told her she no longer wanted to be friends with her because she had too much “baggage."
The girl later called her parents with me in the room and sobbed to her mom. She said, “I wish you and dad didn’t care about me so much so I could just be done with this.” That was the first time I simply could not keep my composure. I asked another counselor to come in and stepped out of the room to sob at the fact we simply never know what a person’s going through, and words hurt so much more than we know.
I had a patient who was psychotic and believed their ex-spouse had been harming their child, when he hadn’t. They went into detail about the unhinged “tests” they would do on their child. I had to go to the door of my office and tell them they had to leave or I was going to call security. For the record, I never asked them about this, either, despite being aware of it from their crisis evaluation.
I'm an activity therapist and my assessment with patients is all about their lifestyle and activity. I was asking them about chores, housework, and their basic routine, and they just came out with this. Eventually, authorities removed the child from their care. The patient eventually cleared from their psychosis and recanted on their belief that their spouse was hurting their child.
I'm not a therapist, but this stirred some memories for me. Weirdly, throughout the passing of my infant daughter in the hospital, I was quite composed considering. The usual emotions were there with all of us. But it was a few days after I traveled on the ferry to sign her birth and death certificate that it hit me. They gave me a box of all the documents and a few items like her hospital wristband.
On the ferry back, I just sat there on the chair with the box on my lap. As everyone departed the craft, I just sat there. A ferry worker came over to tell me it was ok to leave, and I snapped out of it. I must have visibly had emotion on my face and red eyes. She then said, "Do you need a minute?" with genuine sincerity. I just nodded and sat there for a moment.
She walked away. I took some deep breaths and departed, and I gently nodded to the lady with a smile. She smiled back. I guess I really needed that minute.
I was working at a camp for children with various psychological disorders, most with some sort of behavioral concerns. The girl I was paired with had a history of aggressive and violent tendencies. We went the whole day without any problems. That was, until we were doing some group physical activity to wind down and focus before leaving for the day.
She didn't like that this meant no longer playing with a certain toy, so she took off her shoe and threw it at the little boy in front of her. He had autism and immediately started crying and screaming. While someone helped him, I turned to the girl to explain to her that what she did was wrong. As I turned towards her, she punched me square in the face, then grabbed a hold of my hair.
She managed to pull out a good chunk. I'm about 5'1 and this girl was maybe one or two inches shorter than me and had about 20 pounds on me, despite being nine years old. Trying to get a safe physical restraint was difficult and comical to say the least. Finally, I got some help from other staff and we were able to calm her down after about 15 minutes.
The kicker was when we told her mom what happened, she basically dismissed the entire thing and laughed about it. SO frustrating because you just know this kind of thing is reinforced at home as there is no punishment. The girl then starts hitting her mom, who grabs and holds down her arms. The little girl laughs, looks at me and the other staff member, and says, "Ugh a little help over here?! Are you going to let her do this to me? She's hurting my arm."
I went home and did this weird laugh/cry for a few hours after that. Luckily you learn pretty quickly not to take things personally and move on, so things were back to normal the next day. I do occasionally look back at that day just baffled at how quickly that whole situation escalated.
I was a CPS social worker working in a new country. The first client I met was an addict who turned tricks and was eight months pregnant with an elderly client’s child. She was homeless and disconnected from her family. The plan was to remove the child and place it into foster care immediately, and then she would have supervised visits. The first time I met her she was just such a sad and broken person.
The shame was just seeping out of her. I just tried to love her. I told her what needed to happen to protect her baby. She understood and was willing to work with me for her baby to be safe and healthy. She asked me if she would ever be able to have a child she could be a “proper” mother to. I looked at her and I said: “It will take hard work and determination and there will be lots of hoops to jump through, but I believe you can do it and I will get you help if you are willing to do it.”
I wasn’t able to contact her again until I got a call from the hospital where she delivered because of her homelessness situation. I went and saw her. It was a really hard day, she was alone by herself having given birth by herself, and I had to take the baby and place it in foster care. I bawled the entire way there. This beautiful innocent child, this beautiful mother who just got messed up and lost in life.
What a tragedy. And then something changed. Over the next two years of supervised visits, rehab, reconnection with her estranged family, new living arrangements, and therapy, I watched that woman turn her life around through sheer will, blood, sweat, withdrawals, tears, and lots and lots of mental health support and medication.
I was due to go back to my home country, and during the last week there, I was able to share the privilege of starting the transition plan of her baby coming to live with her at her mother’s house for shared care. The baby would still be on the CPS register for a while but the reunification happened. The mother’s smile was dazzling, as she had been gifted dental work to remove all of her damaged teeth and receive dentures.
This woman looked like a new woman, and she was. Honestly, every time I think of her I need a minute to cry. If the only person I was able to help in my career was her, it was worth all of the struggle.
Needless to say, I’ve seen a lot of things during my time as a therapist, but there is one thing that stays with me. And, uh, it’s not what I would have expected. I once had a client come in, sit down, remove his shoes, and begin cutting his toenails while talking casually about his week. It took everything I had not to laugh, or scream, or somehow do both.
I work in a hospital, and we once had a confused little old white lady who thought she looked like Whoopi Goldberg. She also received a revelation from God saying everyone was going to turn Black by the end of the week. I haven’t noticed any changes yet. When she was saying all this, I was trying so hard to keep a straight face, but I needed a moment after.
I wasn’t the therapist in this situation—I was the client. One day, I’m watching the news and I see my therapist’s face on the television. It was a mug shot. He had apparently been detained for sleeping with one of his clients, which is NOT legal, in case you’re wondering. But here’s the kicker. He was our marriage counselor, and he was married. So was the client.
I’m a music therapist and was engaging with a client when they became very overstimulated and began to thrash their head extremely hard. I was at the piano and they began to slam their head into the piano, so I used my hands to guard their head. Both my hands got completely crushed against the piano and I immediately had bruising and swelling.
By the way, this was all happening within the first five minutes of the session. I spent the remaining 30 minutes trying to regulate the client. They left the session and appeared totally regulated. I left in tears. I’ve been off work for two weeks so far and while my bruises are clearing up, I have nerve damage and pain each day (thankfully, no broken bones).
I miss and love my job, but it’s truly not all rainbows and singing “You Are My Sunshine” every day.
I completed an initial assessment with a client, built some great rapport, and agreed to a further appointment to discuss a treatment plan the following week. When that appointment came there was no answer for a while. When I finally found out the truth, I was floored. I got through to the client’s sister, who told me she'd passed from cancer.
She had told me about it the week before, but stated she'd been in remission for a while. It hit me so hard for not just being my first client, but obviously, when working in mental health you're conscious of mental health-related deaths and risk management, so I was completely blindsided and reminded that there are other causes of tragic ends.
It’s stuck with me since and took a while for me to manage my worry when clients don't answer the phone after the first ring.
Not a therapist, but in the mental health field. When I was a nurse on a surgical ward, a guy was being a bit odd and kept wanting his curtains pulled around him. After a while of hearing odd noises, I peeked in and he has SLATHERED himself in hand sanitizer. Head to toe, two full bottles. He looked rather proud of himself for getting rid of the germs, and I had to step outside so as not to laugh in his face.
I used to work as a Specialist Facilitator for a group of resource centers for people with profound disabilities, behavioral disorders, and mental health conditions. One early morning, my colleagues and I were setting up for the day when someone told us to come to the window quickly. I couldn't believe my eyes...One of our older colleagues was swinging through the trees and making monkey noises directly outside the center.
The center was on a regular domestic public street so we had loads of spectators. But it gets more embarrassing. The worst part was that her massive, unruly German Shepherd was running amok beneath her, barking at said spectators. Things came to a head when our colleague leapt on the roof of the center and started howling non-stop. My boss had to call the firefighters.
This woman then propositioned a male firefighter on the roof, and we ended up having to call animal control for the dog while one of our mental health teams helped our colleague. This was all before our service users arrived at the center.
I’m not a therapist, but when I was in the hospital two years ago for mental health reasons, I had to fill out a safety plan. One of the parts is to list three people you can reach out to. I was barely 17, so they told me I could write friends but I had no one to put down beside my mom. The nurse even let me have my phone to look at contacts, but I had no one to reach out to.
The nurse just sat there staring at me and then got up and told me she needed a minute. A different nurse came in and apologized to me and helped me do the rest. When I saw the first nurse later, she apologized to me and told me she has a kid my age and it was just hard for her to see someone like her kid suffer the way I was. It’s something I think about a lot.
I work in a community residence for adults with mental illness. Most of them are very capable and independent. One girl who is 27 years old constantly acts really dumb for sympathy and will do dumb things because she can, I guess. The first week she was admitted, she tripped on something getting out of bed and she fell on her foot and broke some of the small bones in the foot.
I take her to get her cast and she gets the usual: “Don't get the cast wet, use your crutches, elevate, etc.” Since her bedroom was on the second floor, we had to send her back to her mother's house for a few weeks since she would not be able to exit the building in time in case of an emergency. Well five days later, the boot to put over your cast comes in and we call her up saying we'll bring it over.
Her response: “Well, I don't think it'll fit" “Why not?” We ask. "Because I cut my cast off. I got it wet and it was too tight." They didn't give her a second cast and she never used her crutches, claiming they were unstable and she would fall and get hurt if she used them. Oh, but the worst was yet to come. Her foot never healed properly, and two months later she fell and broke it again.
She's since told us she wants her foot amputated because then it wouldn't hurt so much. ~Logic~
I used to work with children who have autism and Down syndrome, which means a lot of play therapy. I had my “I need a minute” moment when one of my clients wanted to sit on my lap while we practiced reciting animal cards followed by their corresponding noises. It ended in disaster. I made a noise that made him laugh so much that he ended up peeing on me from the laughter.
That night was also date night.
Not me, but this was a therapist I was supervising. Her and a client were in her car because it was community-based counseling for severe mental illness. Her client pulled money from her nether regions and put it in her water bottle. She then shook it up and drank the water. She then offers the therapist a sip. Absolutely bizarre and she didn’t know what to do with it.
I got a phone call from a co-worker right as my 3 pm client was walking into the office. My co-worker’s words stopped me in my tracks. She said, "Dan’s gone.” Now, we had a mutual co-worker named Dan, so my initial reaction was that it was him. I was in shock as she continued to talk about needing to "review the chart." I then realized that she was talking about my client, Dan.
My stomach dropped as my grief changed into something that was still grief but also fear and worry. I was in disbelief that he was gone. He was too young. I was worried it was self-inflicted that I missed something or had failed. I was realized that I had several clients who were friends with him and that they were impacted. It was horrible.
The co-worker hung up the phone with me and I burst out crying in front of my 3 pm client. I had to tell them that I wouldn't be able to meet today because I just had bad news. I needed more than a minute. It was hard. It was never determined if it was accidental or not. My agency provided zero support to me, other than reviewing the chart and telling me "everything looked fine."
It didn't feel fine. It sucked, all around.
I’m a school counselor. I was working in a school and one of the young boys I was seeing and helping was in an accident one night and perished. I didn't find out until the next morning when word got out during the first period. I was called in and rushed over to help with the students, a lot of whom I often saw along with this boy. I tried to stay composed and do my job, but we filled the library with over 100 students who were just finding out and breaking down.
Eventually, I had to crawl behind a bookcase and have a meltdown, although I quickly composed myself. The whole day was a nightmare and heartbreaking. At one point, I had to leave campus to track down the boy’s closest friends, who had run off and driven away. When I found them, the state they were in broke my heart. It’s the hardest thing I have ever had to go through as a counselor and took me weeks to emotionally recover. I still think about it.
I am not a therapist, but my husband and I were in therapy after losing a daughter to trisomy 18. The truth was all our family was horrible during this time and even before. It was rough. One day, my husband was finally opening up and talking. Then, he let out this loud, 30-second long toot. Him, me, and the therapist had a really good laugh.
It took us a few minutes, but we composed ourselves and continued the session.
I used to be a crisis counselor. I once did an assessment of a 13-year-old kid who, years earlier, lost one of his older brothers, and had lost his other older brother just a couple of months earlier. The way he and his mom talked about it, they had only just started to finally process and put the pieces back together after grieving their oldest when the other brother passed.
This boy had really fallen into a deep depression after. I’ve worked with a lot of youth before, but I still have never seen anyone like this. His sadness just radiated off him like that. I was able to keep it together during the assessment and gave his family some resources for therapy and grief support groups but I had a good, long cry in my car on the way back from the office.
Once I was with an adolescent client who wanted help because of his impulsive and antisocial behavior. During our fourth session, he tells me that he had bought pills to calm himself. As he continues explaining that he got them for "cheap," he reaches into his backpack and brings out what I only assume were thousands of very powerful…antipsychotics.
Like, these were STRONG. They were restricted for public use and were like $100 a pill. He was totally unaware of the price and only knew that the "friend” who gave them to him expected "some" value/compensation out of the transaction. He didn't want to sell them and was totally unaware of the danger of dealing with the kinds of people who would sell them.
At some point, I had to stop the session and explain to him the severity of the situation. Thankfully I worked in the public sector and managed to get the family a lawyer and help from the municipality in case they were threatened to give back the money. They immediately left the pills with the authorities. For a couple of months, he thought I "betrayed" him, but he kept coming and finally understood that the law can also bring you protection.
He has been doing much better since then. I have to admit that at some point I was in awe of the unawareness of the boy.
A teen I had been working with for about a year was finally "going there" and talking about her deep pain related to her mother. She had cut ties with her biological mother and was having issues with her stepmother. She looked me in the eyes, sobbing, and asked, "Why can't I get a mom to love me? What's wrong with me?" Her vulnerability in that moment reminded me of a small child.
She has since been doing much better. There was a lot of emotion in the room during that session.
Oh, this takes me back. But this time, it was my (terrible) therapist who made me take a minute. She stopped me in the middle of a session to tell me that the real problem was that I made everything about myself. Which would have been a valid point, had she not kept talking.
She continued: "Like right now, you're just talking about yourself, and about your life. Every week you just talk about yourself. You know, I just had a baby a few months ago, but you never ask me how that's going. You never ask me about my life, or my friends, or my relationship with my husband. If you're like this with everyone in your life, I can imagine why people don't like being around you."
I left super ashamed and never went back.
Went through a couple of years where I was using Xanax too much and eventually got my license taken away. I had to go to a counselor to get it back. She had a weird shed/building she had converted into an office, so I was already feeling uncomfortable walking into someone's backyard for therapy. I got there for my first session and was proven WAY right.
She immediately offered to get me a Xanax prescription after me telling her my history. Thankfully, at this point, I was already clean and had decided to stay that way. It was definitely a what the heck moment I needed to take a minute on. I'm glad I didn't find her at a time when I would have been weak enough to accept the offer. Screw that therapist.
I was 39 and had unearthed my wife's affair only a week previously. I was just a total heartbroken, shattered mess. Well, my therapist’s recovery plan was to "make a man out of me." This guy kept telling me in our sessions that video games were "for children." He was well into his 70s. I fired him. I have since remarried. I still play video games.
I am not a therapist, but I was in a therapy program years ago and we got a new patient. Within the span of a week, her mother died from cancer and her house caught on fire and her dad and sister perished in the accident. The sister died after slipping from the girl’s hands and falling into flames. I felt so bad for her and I couldn’t comprehend it at first.
A client referred to a wheelchair as a "wheely boi." We'd been on a call and I had tears in my eyes from laughing. I don't know why but that humor really gets me. Further context: the client was unable to reassure me of their personal safety and so I had been persuading them to go to the hospital. They responded with, "I'll only go if they give me a wheely boi."
I was working surveillance one night at a psych ward, keeping a close watch on a mentally ill patient. Right before my shift started, I was briefed that the patient had started eating one of the lightbulbs and went for a nurse. At around 5 am, he woke up and saw me sitting there at the end of his bed. I said good morning and he didn’t reply.
About 15 minutes of silence went by before he stood up and stared out the window. Then he made the most bizarre remark: "a person is most vulnerable while taking a poop." I didn’t sit back down for the rest of my shift.
I'm not a therapist, but I go see one. One thing we talk about a lot is that I have a narcissistic mother. She told me that I must be very resilient to be able to put up with my mother because anytime she has an hour-long session with a narcissistic patient, she makes sure to have a break for at least an hour afterward. It kind of helps knowing not even she would be able to stand my mother.
As a new therapist, I had a particularly intense client take a dive, Fight Club-style to try and get me in trouble. It wasn’t really a problem because there was a camera in the room, but I was so shocked that I said to him, "I'm going to sit here and breathe a moment," and I did. That's the only time I've ever needed a minute in the session, but it was scary.
Once, I had a client with a child who did nothing but scream at the parent for about 20-30 minutes straight. As soon as they left, I cried for 20 minutes due to how emotionally charged the words and accusations were. I tried to defuse it at times, but it continued to rebound quickly until I just had to sit there and watch it happening right in front of me.
I went to an appointment with my therapist and the door was locked. I waited 15 minutes and called him. No response. He texted me back a few minutes later and said he had the flu and was in bed and sorry he didn’t call to cancel. I went to the grocery store instead. I saw him shopping. He ducked when he saw me. I never went back to him.
I had been working with this client for a while to build their self-esteem and alleviate their depression, and at the end of the session, they told me I was the reason they found the strength to keep going that day. The session had started rough but it ended on such a high note and it felt great to hear that from them. I had to take a minute between sessions and appreciate the improvement the client was able to feel, outside of the compliment.
This past December, I talked to a very angry father of a kid I worked with. He ended the call by shouting down the line, "And you have yourself a happy freaking Christmas!" It was just so funny and weird, I had to take a minute before moving along with my day.
A client was going to probate court and thought he'd dress up by putting a non-slip sock on his collar as a tie. Trying to be supportive, I told him, "Nice tie." To which he replied, "It's not a tie, it's a sock, stupid." Yep, that one just about did me in with laughing.
Any time anyone tells me about their pets dying, I need a minute. I do not know your cat. But I love your cat.
I’m an intake clinician and once had this exchange. Me: "What brings you in today?" Him: "I'm here for an addiction. I watch too many adult videos." At this point, not the weirdest thing I've heard, let's go with that. "Okay, tell me about it." Him: "I watch them three times a week, for 15 minutes or so at a time. My girlfriend said I'm an addict and forced me to come in."
I see lots of very extreme cases, but this was so minor that it made me stop for a moment. I sent them to couples' counseling instead.
I arrived at a client's house for a session one day. I was doing in-home therapy for adolescents at the time, and it was with a 13-year-old kid. He was a little late getting home from school so he wasn't there yet. His mother has me sit down to wait for him and says that while he's not home, she wanted to ask me something. I never could have guessed her next words.
At that point, I'm assuming it's about her son since that's why I'm there. Nope. She proceeds to ask me why I think her boyfriend won't please her in the bedroom and if I have any suggestions to change that. Really didn't see that one coming.
It was my first internship on my path to being a counselor and I was working in a funeral home under the grief counselor there (grief and trauma is my focus). We were taught to be strong and supportive to those grieving, of course, and if we needed to cry, we were supposed to go in the back or to the bathroom. On one memorable occasion, I helped an elderly lady view her husband before the service.
I showed her to a chair in front of the casket—and then watched as despair as she completely lost it. The poor woman laid down on the casket, bawling her eyes out and declaring how much she loved him and missed him. She begged him not to leave her and to come back. That totally destroyed me. I immediately started crying behind her.
She stood up and I sucked it up to help her walk back into the hall to start greeting guests. I thought I had done a good job collecting myself, but my mentor took one look at me and softly said "go to the back room," which I did. I completely lost it for a few minutes, cleaned up, and went back to help with the service. I definitely needed that minute.
When I was just starting out as a therapist, I worked for a community mental health clinic at the satellite office, which was located in the basement of a community center. Looking back, it was completely unsafe. No other staff worked there except for me. I was in a cinderblock room, alone, with individuals who had varying degrees of mental health issues. One day, it came to a dark climax.
The incident involved a woman with Schizoaffective Disorder. She was typically very odd in her presentation, with loose associations and bizarre speech. However, she really was a sweetheart overall. But one day, she came into my office holding a giant rock. She was agitated and indicated that people were trying to "mess with her," so the rock was for protection.
I'm grateful that I had an established relationship with her and navigated the session without getting bludgeoned. But afterward, I was shaking and needed a bit to center myself for the next client. I also began to raise concerns about the safety issues (and it didn't change a thing).
This wasn’t a client, but I once got an inquiry from someone seeking therapy because he was cheating on his wife…with his mother. I’ll admit, I needed a moment. Then I collected myself, put my game face on, and referred him to a colleague of mine who specializes in infidelity. At the end of the day? You just do the job and process personal feelings and reactions afterward.
That’s why maintaining clinical supervision (even after full licensure) is a best practice.
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