Therapists know our deepest secrets—but just because they're professionally accredited doesn't mean that they can't be surprised. Or that they're completely sane themselves. These stories from both sides of the couch—shared by real-life therapists and clients—are examples of moments when it quickly became clear that the session had gone horribly, horribly wrong.
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.
I’m a clinical psychologist and the case that has stayed with me over the years goes back to one simple question. I was in a therapy session with a five-year-old girl who said she didn't want to see one of her parents because they "hadn't paid child support." Excuse me? What five-year-old knows, understands, or needs to be worried about child support? Clearly, one of the parents had manipulated their child to detest the other parent.
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).
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.
I ran a men’s anger management group, and some of my clients had done incredibly terrible things to women. But over the weeks and months, I found ways to understand most of the clients, if not ways to rationalize what they had done. But there were two guys who always rubbed me wrong. One basically never spoke up in group. He would give one-word answers and just discuss how unfair the “system” was to him.
I worked really hard to open him up and find things to connect over, but he never opened up to me or the group. I didn't know how to deal with him, and soon enough I didn't have to. He left the group—but for an incredibly dark reason. He strangled his girlfriend and was sent behind bars for many years. She survived the attack, thankfully.
The other man left the group early, came in late, participated minimally, and likewise never wanted to open up. After discussing his attendance and saying I couldn't give him credit if he didn't stay for the whole session, he threatened my life. Oddly, I eventually moved into the apartment below him, completely without knowing he lived there. I had to listen to him scream at his girlfriend and break things while I called the authorities.
I try not to judge my clients and most of the time, it's not a problem. In fact, I can usually find ways to admire and respect my clients, despite their past struggles. But not these two. They were just terrible. Maybe they’re redeemable, but redemption requires self-exploration, and both refused to do any the whole time I knew them.
So, I had my first episode with psychosis when I was about 13, but I recovered and didn't need care or medicine. The second time it happened was when I was 16, and it was so much worse. I saw a psychiatrist at my local health department; my parents had no money so this was all we could afford. This "doctor" specialized in mental health for teenagers.
He even had an article in the local paper once a week. For a bit more background, I had always been overweight, but still, I always aspired to be an actor. Well, in less than an hour, he completely took all my confidence and dreams away. I looked up to and trusted my elders, so I thought this man knew what he was talking about.
Not to mention that I was extremely vulnerable at the time. He said, "You know, most actors and actresses are slim and attractive." Then he asked me, "Are you ordinary or extraordinary?" He even wrote it on a piece of paper, and circled the word “extra.” "Most people are just ordinary, not special. It's okay to just be one of those people."
I never really got over that, and I'm 43 now. I figured if I can't handle my senior year of high school and I had a nervous breakdown, how could I ever handle Hollywood or New York? A doctor's responsibility is to help their patients heal. This guy cut a wound in me so deep it still hasn't healed at all. I'm sure he said more messed up things to me in that session but I don't remember because of those two things.
Early in my career, I had a patient who wanted help reconnecting with his wife, the same woman who shook their baby so hard that the poor infant passed. At the time, I was a young father of a newborn myself, and this patient (and his life choices)...they never really left me. I felt a deep loathing for his spouse and thought his need to keep seeing her was pathetic.
I tried to keep seeing him for three sessions, but after I met his spouse, I knew I couldn't be their therapist anymore. I ended up handing the case over to my supervisor. It's the only case I've handed off.
I work in mental health and crisis management. A few years ago, I worked with a young person who had significant ongoing suicidal ideation and was dealing with a lot of emotional pain. I spent a lot of time with them, looking at de-escalation strategies and working out what their mental health management plan should be as they move forward. It was a high-pressure situation, but not too out of the ordinary for my line of work. Well, until I met this poor young person's parents.
One of their parents came in so we could discuss what had been going on with their child. I had the child's consent to discuss aspects of our sessions with the parent, of course. Midway through me trying to explain some of the child's psychological issues and go through ways the parent could help, they said something that made my jaw drop.
They actually asked me, "I'm sorry to interrupt you, but is this going to take much longer? I have a show to go and watch?” All I can say is, I never judge my patients. I’ve never walked their path or viewed the world through their eyes. But the people around them who perpetuate their suffering through ignorance, malice, and selfishness, I judge them.
In 4th grade, my father got incredibly intoxicated around Christmas time. I was trying to sleep while my parents were fighting. I heard a crash and came out to see my dad had fallen into the Christmas tree, knocked it over, and broke a bunch of family ornaments. My mom stormed to bed, slamming the door.
My dad laid there, then threw up. I helped my dad up, and got cleaning supplies to start cleaning his vomit. Soon, I couldn’t help but start to cry. My dad started yelling at me for crying, and then he started crying and started telling me all these horrible things that happened to him as a kid, and about how good my life is.
I went to school the next day, exhausted, overwhelmed, and I forgot my book report at home. I couldn't hold back the tears, so the teacher sent me to the school counselor. I opened up and told her about this horrific night. Her response made my blood run cold. She looked at me and said, "Well that is terrible, but you know, some little girls’ daddies get like that every night."
She then continued, "And that's really bad. If this happens every night, people would come take you away from your family, and you'd have to live with foster parents! Wouldn't that be worse?" I remember the thoughts racing through my head. I had come prepared to finally talk about my dad's problems and how it was affecting me, but the words "really bad" were bouncing around in my head, along with "foster care."
So instead, I just nodded and didn't say another word. It absolutely wrecked me for about four years. Having a secret, a burden you feel that you carry alone, and if anyone finds out you'll be ripped from your family, is the loneliest feeling as a kid. In 8th grade, my mom took me to Alateen, and I believe it saved my life.
As the situation worsened here in the US, one of my most extroverted clients and I brainstormed ways to meet her social needs while remaining safe. Then she tested positive for Corona after sleeping with a group of people, which definitely wasn't one of our ideas. I let out the deepest, most defeated sigh after I hung up the phone and ended that session.
When I was 12 years old, my mother took me to a therapist. I did actually need therapy because I had a horrible home life, but my mother didn't take me for that type of reason. She took me because I was “acting out” and getting bad grades. I wasn’t “acting out” though. I was wanting to do things like “read” and “be a kid,” and not do things like “take care of my younger siblings” and “cook meals.”
On our first session, my mom started outlining my many flaws, some of which were obviously a sign that I was having trouble at home, such as never wanting to come out of my room and having a hard time with hygiene. The therapist started making faces like I'm nasty and worthless. He gave me “homework” that week.
I had to bathe every day, help with chores and siblings with no complaints, and study every night. Of course this didn't happen. So the next week, we went in for our second session, and he asked if I did my “homework.” Of course, Mom immediately told him that I didn't even try to do any of it. This was not true. I did try to study but she kept dragging me out of my room and lecturing me for “hiding again” when I should be cooking dinner.
She told me she did so much for me and I was so ungrateful, etc. This is when the therapist nearly made my heart stop. He turned, looked at me, and said, “You're worthless, stupid, and lazy. You can't even follow simple instructions.” Then he looked at my mother and said, “You may as well give up on her. She's never going to amount to anything. She's stupid and lazy and will end up locked away. Just focus on your other kids.”
Ironically, that ticked my mother right off and she took me away from that therapist and found a new one. This therapist was nicer, but really of no help either. My issues were right there, flashing in neon, but he never did anything about it. Mom stuck with him though, because he would let her vent. She used him as her therapist more than I did.
He kept reassuring her she really was a good parent, which is really what she wanted to hear. To this day, she insists she took me away from that first therapist because he said to give up on me, but she would never give up on me. This is partly true, but we didn’t leave because he was horrible to me. It was because by saying I was worthless and would never be worth anything and to give up on me, he was calling HER a bad parent.
My ex and I had broken up, but before we ended things, we booked a couple’s therapy appointment. Even though we were over, my ex still wanted to go to the appointment "for closure." This was around the holidays, and she had been pressuring me to decide if I would be celebrating Christmas with her family. I was putting it off because I wasn’t sure. It would be weird since we weren't together, but since she wanted to tell her family after the holidays, we'd have to pretend that we were still a couple. It was such a mess.
Anyway, when we were at our counseling session, my ex brought up the whole Christmas thing, saying she needed me to be there. I told her that was dumb, that I didn’t want to pretend to be together, and that the whole thing was messed up. Then my ex looked at the therapist and was like, "Obviously, I'm right. Don't you agree?" The therapist laughed out loud, then went bright red and apologized for being unprofessional.
My ex still hates the therapist. I kept the therapist. I like her attitude, honestly.
I was 17 and recently homeless because my parents kicked me out for being bi and dating a girl. Unfortunately, this girl was also horrible, and actually once fed a neighbor's dog cut-up razor shards. As a result of the relationship, I was deeply depressed and anxious. So, I saw the therapist at my college, who told me that "women aren't abusers" with a real snooty attitude.
When I countered with examples, she scoffed and said it "must not be that bad if I didn't just leave." Yep, classic blame the victim stuff. And then she asked for my payment. I was young and scared and had no support net, and in hindsight I was trying to find someone to help me mentally steel myself to leave this girl.
Instead, the “therapist” made me feel invalidated and weak and stupid. As a result, I stayed in a relationship that only got worse and more dangerous. I stayed for five more years, if you can believe it. I eventually figured it out, but she did so much harm. I wish I had that time back…plus a much better therapist than I got.
I used to work in a psych hospital. You learn pretty quickly not to judge anyone especially when someone can go from being manic talking about hurting their dog for their waffles to being a completely “normal” person in no time. But I will never forget this one woman. This woman came in for depression and suicidal ideation.
She was drinking and driving with her 17-year-old son in the car. She crashed into a tree, and her son didn’t survive. He was from my town but was much younger than me, so I didn’t know him. When the woman came, she stayed in her room at first, but over the course of the week, she started coming into the common areas.
Then she made a bunch of friends and was loud and obnoxious. She met with her doctors, and they decided to give her a day pass to go to her son’s funeral. The day of funeral, she was laughing and joking with her new friends. She left for the day, and when she came back, I overheard that she’d skipped her son’s funeral.
Instead, she went to record a video of her and her new boyfriend hooking up. I know they say you never really know how someone grieves, but I really wanted to tell that woman to screw off.
My husband and I decided to go to counseling that was being offered by Veteran Affairs, or VA, for families. Our dynamic was horrible at this time, and it was taking a toll on me. I cried at the first session and the counselor said that I was depressed and that I needed meds. She said that we could all resume sessions together only after I was medicated.
In the meantime, she would continue to counsel only my husband. After his first session alone with her, he was visibly upset. He didn’t want to talk about it, but eventually did—his confession was horrific. The counselor actually came on to him during the session and basically suggested they should go and get a hotel together.
She then mentioned that her husband was high-ranking and was always busy, so she could do whatever she wanted. My husband blasted out of there, and I immediately went ahead and called the VA to turn her in. My husband was so scared because she made a veiled threat that her husband could ruin my husband’s medical retirement status.
That woman was vile and aggressive. I wonder how many men or marriages she did that to.
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 diagnosed with ADHD 18 months ago after a lifetime of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc. At the time, the psychiatrist said he strongly suspected that I'm also autistic based on answers to certain questions and family heritage, but we'd concentrate on the ADHD diagnosis for now. The ADHD meds definitely made a huge difference and enabled me to get some form of life back, but I was still having problems.
In December, after my mother and I filled in extensive questionnaires, I had a three-hour interview with a renowned specialist, and the autism diagnosis was unequivocal. Like my ADHD, it was missed for so long because I'm female and older. No one was looking for either of those things in girls as I was growing up. It really helped to put my past in perspective.
In January, I paid for a follow-up appointment with the original psychiatrist who diagnosed me with ADHD, and who had suggested I'm probably autistic in the first place. I told him of the new diagnosis, and his reply stopped me in my tracks. He informed me that I "actually can't possibly be autistic because you can socialise."
He then proceeded to tell me that the company who diagnosed me tended to "diagnose everybody at the drop of a hat." He actually sent a letter to that effect to my doctor, telling him to take my autism diagnosis "with a pinch of salt." I was floored over this. He was an older, caring, father-figure type whom I trusted, and credited with changing my life.
I didn't want to disagree with him, but accepting what he says basically means I go back to my original image of myself as just broken instead. However, perhaps he's right. Even so, how unprofessional is it to dismiss another psychiatric institution like that, and to put that in writing? I'm still trying to work all of this out in my head, but my main takeaway is I think I need a new psychiatrist.
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.
After a couple of long years of medical struggle, my therapist hit a wall and yelled at me that I had an eating disorder and I needed to accept it. She put me on a diet of all the things I hated eating, and told me to not come back to her until a month had passed. I hated eating the foods on the list not because I had an eating disorder, but because they hurt me.
The list included things like acidic foods, high protein foods, and peanuts. Four months later, I was diagnosed with multiple digestive conditions, had a long list of sensitivities and allergies, got declared disabled, and was gently reprimanded by my doctors for following my therapist's demand because it caused esophageal bleeding and slight scarring.
My doctor is definitely mad at her for ignoring what was clearly not a mental health thing. I got a new therapist.
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.
In high school, I was being pretty difficult because of some really intense events happening in my life. I had a super rough family home life, and I withdrew because of it. My parents were very "Sunday Christian," meaning while at church, they're the best Christians, but the teachings did NOT make it home. They gave us NO privacy whatsoever, and were always in our phones, our bags, our rooms.
They were just in every aspect of our life if it offered them control. Eventually, they "found me a counselor," and hinted I knew them personally. What they actually ended up doing was sending me to therapy with the PASTOR'S WIFE. It became super clear that she was telling them the things we were talking about, but I held out hope because I didn’t really have proof of it happening.
One day, I just couldn't take it anymore, so I made a plan to catch them in the act. I ended up lying and telling my therapist I got in a fender bender. Well, she told my parents right when I left, because when I showed up at home, my dad demanded to see my bumpers. My bumpers were fine. My parents won’t admit what happened to this day, but they never made me go again, so there's that, at least.
I was working at a rehabilitation center, and there was a client who checked in and was a self-proclaimed, "drug lord." As we worked together, he told me about his history. During our conversation, he made a chilling revelation. He admitted to selling his sister into slavery. He forcibly injected her with sedatives and narcotics, and people, "taught her a lesson."
He never shared what that meant. He told this story with a blank face, smiling only when he recalled the "good times," which he referred to as times when he had enough substances to get through the day. I do not know where he is at now and honestly, I don't want to. But this disturbing conversation with a horrible man did have a good side.
It inspired me to work with victims of human trafficking, because not only do they deal with the stigma of "selling their bodies," they often manage addiction issues at the same time. People would honestly be floored if they knew how many people's addictions started against their own will, when somebody forcibly gave them something.
When I was in my early 20s, I was still a virgin at the time and it was really upsetting me. A therapist told me it was a good thing, and then showed me pictures of STDs. Oh, but it got so much weirder than that. She told me that STDs were God’s punishment for immoral behavior, and that one in three people had one.
When I brought up the fact that condoms exist and can help with that, she told me that condoms couldn’t protect me from God’s anger. She then prayed I remained a virgin until marriage, and that I would no longer desire to commit sin. Looking back, I should have reported her to some sort of therapist license board. Also, I ended up getting plenty of action about a year after that, and still no STDs. I guess God isn’t angry enough at me.
I work at a residential group home. We had a kid admitted four months prior who admitted in a family session that they had parasites. I felt incredulous. The mom went, “Oh yeah, our whole family has them. We don’t believe in getting rid of them since they’re part of our biological ecosystem,” and I was just dumbstruck.
We spent the next three weeks convincing the family it was an infectious disease concern as other residents had fecal eating behaviors and many other unsanitary issues that could cause a unit spread. It was three weeks of education, planning, and, worst of all, convincing the kid and mother that their IQ wouldn’t drop.
My therapist was at one point also my mother’s therapist. At first, he didn’t want to see me due to the conflict of interest. However, he felt bad for me because I had just received a harsh medical diagnosis and was reeling. I had met with him before so I felt more comfortable with him than somebody I did not know. When my mother moved to a different city and stopped seeing the therapist, he started to see me.
At our sessions, we talked about my mom a lot. I'm not going to give details, but my mom had recently done something really messed up. It basically ruined our relationship. When I told my therapist, he wasn’t surprised because of how well he knew her, so he believed me when I told him about how cruel she was. Though he was mindful to not reveal anything about his sessions with her, I got the sense that he understood that she was not a nice person (and that's putting it lightly).
Anyway, my mother came back to the state a couple of months later, and I asked my therapist if he would be willing to mediate a conversation between her and I. He didn’t want to do it. At first, I was upset—until he explained it to me. He said that my mother is a narcissistic woman, and by then, he had learned a lot more about her from me.
He could not be a neutral party in the matter. He said, "I'll be honest. I would be on your side, and we both know how upset that would make your mom, and I worry it would just lead to more mistreatment for you." I had never heard him straight up call her that before, so it was kind of surprising and also very affirming.
I was in a mental health ward for a month and became close to a nurse. After leaving, she gave me her number and we hit it off. We started a relationship, but I finally noticed how secretive she was. I soon found out she was doing this to other patients, too, forging relationships with them after they got out.
Once she found out I knew, she blocked me on everything. Since then I’ve struggled with addiction and two DUIs. I don’t blame her for what she did, but I became reliant on her and felt loved. I felt so betrayed. She is still a mental health care nurse.
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.
There was a lady with several issues and a tragic childhood full of trauma. She ended up with a guy who severely mistreated her. She had a child. Her child meant the world to her. She took that kid wherever she went. Sadly, that meant that this poor kid had to watch his mother get hurt. One of her boyfriends even kept her in a cage. I can't even imagine...
Thankfully, the mom got out and is now doing much better. But for that kid's childhood, he already saw everything, and that kind of damage can't be undone. It breaks my heart to see such a terrible cycle continue onto the next generation, especially when this kid was a complete innocent. The whole thing still makes me cry, even though I dealt with this case years ago.
My ex broke up with me because I was more invested in the relationship than she was. It was a totally fine thing to do, but my shrink told me that “Your ex-girlfriend is acting this way because she wants to get back together with you, and if you hang in there I’m sure she will.” Yes, this is ridiculously bad advice, and I took it hook, line, and sinker.
I spent a whole year truly believing that any minute we were going to reunite, and this was actively encouraged by my therapist. It was awful. After 12 months of tormenting myself and my ex with these fantasies, I dumped the therapist, and my ex and I are actually pretty good friends now. That year was a lost year for me.
When I worked in crisis management, I went to visit a client in the emergency room. Her boyfriend was a registered offender. Her mother and her best friend told her that if she was going to be with him, they weren’t going to have contact with her. The client's mother had custody of her children and wouldn’t let her visit if she was with her boyfriend.
So the client said that after many fights with her boyfriend, she ended up in the ER feeling suicidal. This happened multiple times, usually every two weeks or so. While talking, she admitted that all of her problems were due to her boyfriend. But then, after talking about all this stuff, she insisted that she wasn’t going to leave him.
As a personal rule, I never tell anyone what to do. That's not my job. My job is to outline the choices they have and go through the consequences of their choices. But that night in the emergency room was the first time that I wanted to break the rules, shake this girl, and tell her to leave her skeezy boyfriend YESTERDAY.
My first-ever psychologist, who I saw when I was about 20, was super into astrology. She had a “purple room” where she would figure out the exact second of your birth, and how the planets related and all that. I don't remember what else, but she charged an additional like $500 for it. That wasn't the worst thing, though.
So one day, I had some abnormal test results with a pap. I was worried about it, and expressed that to her. She told me some story about my chakras, and told me my tongue ring was causing my abnormal paps. Looking back, it really ticked me off. She set the expectation of what I could expect from a psychologist, since I didn't know. I didn't seek the right treatment for many years after because I thought, “What's the point, they're more loony than me!”
I provided therapeutic services for people with brain injuries. I was trying to explain to a family that they needed to accept their son/brother as he was in the moment because, in all likelihood, he wasn’t going to get any better. The family was being unkind to him, calling him stupid, and generally being the worst version of family "support."
The family said they would never accept him as he was and demanded that I arrange a brain transplant for him so that he could go back to the way he was before the accident. I didn't react, but my student completely lost it and started laughing uncontrollably. She had to leave. That outraged the family, who demanded an explanation.
I literally had to explain to them, a group of adults, that first, brain transplants are not possible, and second, if a brain transplant was possible, that would mean putting a different person into their son's body. They didn't get it. Instead, they insisted I could do it and that I was just too lazy and dumb to try. I felt so sorry for that poor young man.
A few months ago, my 16-year-old daughter's therapist asked her if she was thinking about her career after high school. I work in the trade industry and have encouraged her to look into trade jobs or careers. My daughter, no doubt influenced by my example, told her that she was going to take a course to become a professional welder.
The therapist told her, "You don't want to do that, that is a MAN's job. It will be hot and you'll ruin your makeup." My daughter told her, "I don't wear makeup,” and ended the session. She then called me at work and told me all about it, almost crying. I immediately canceled her next three appointments and changed counselors.
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.
This happened to me before I was married, and was struggling with living on my own. My therapist began to feel so bad for me that she asked me to come live with her. She had a big house and two other adopted daughters. I was like, 19 at the time, and I'm pretty sure that broke every rule of patient-doctor boundaries. Needless to say, I felt very uncomfortable with that doctor and switched soon after.
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 was told that with medication and therapy, I could become straight, and then I would “be fine.” She wasn’t a psychiatrist, and couldn’t prescribe medication, but encouraged me many times to get my hormones tested, which all showed up normal. She insisted that if I wasn’t chemically gay, then I must have experienced trauma with a man to have made me that way.
She didn’t believe me when I said no, I’m fine with men, I love my dad a normal amount, and I never suffered trauma with a man. She was just very cold and weirdly unable to deal with people expressing emotions, and I know that she received complaints from other clients too. Thankfully, I switched psychologists eventually, and I was ironically too distraught during our sessions to really absorb anything the old therapist was saying and to put her plans into action. Still, what a horrible way to start off therapy. I was 14 years old.
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.
It was a bad time for my marriage, so I went to visit a marriage counselor. At the office, there was a sign on the door that said, “Do not knock. Please sit and wait for someone to get you,” or something like that. Well, I was standing near the door when my wife came over and knocked. I told her, “There’s a sign that says don’t do that!” So, she sat back down.
The therapist opened the door and saw me standing there, and she immediately hated me, thinking I knocked on the door. She just bashed me the entire session. I had to walk out and when I left the room, this lady even started talking about me behind my back. I was shaken. I refused to pay, and told her she shouldn’t treat patients like that. Those were some terrible times.
I had a mother report that her child was having bathroom accidents suddenly and at home only. He’s a nine-year-old boy with no history of bathroom accidents or trauma. Training tells us this behavior could be a sign of a variety of things such as neglect, anxiety, PTSD, etc. So to start figuring out the cause, I spoke with his in-home behavioral specialist.
She was a clinician who helped the boy's behavioral troubles and mental health issues, and worked with the family to make healthy routines. She called me and told me the real story. The boy was becoming very angry and spiteful with his parents for making him go back to school when they reopened this year. He wasn't mentally troubled. He was mad.
It turned out that he went into his parent's en suite bathroom, took his mother’s robe off the hook, threw it on the floor, took a giant dump on it, and hung it back up. He also peed inside her dresser drawer. I’m not going to lie. My jaw was dropped when I hung up the phone. I then laughed so hard I nearly fell out of my desk chair.
I was in college having a really bad panic attack. Actually, it was more than a panic attack, because I felt like I was dissociating and leaving my body. I was scared and I needed to see someone to calm me down, so I went to my school's mental health care facility and requested to speak to a therapist on call. They allowed emergency walk-ins like this, but for some reason it took like 30 minutes to see her.
I was still panicking when I finally got to see her. She recommended some muscle tension technique where I clenched my fist and focused on the feeling of releasing my fist. Well, that triggered my panic attack to enter some different dimension. Pins and needles went up my arm, into my neck, and down my spine. I thought this was it.
I didn’t know what was happening. I started crying hysterically and gasping for air. I took off most of my clothes and sprawled out on the ground. I was holding onto her for my life. I couldn’t see and couldn’t feel my body. It was terrifying. I finally just surrendered to the feeling and stopped resisting, and just kind of mentally let go.
I instantly started to feel better and slowly came back to my body. As I was sniffling and calming down, makeup all over my face, slowly putting my clothes back on, she just said to me, “You know, you should really try laughing sometimes.” She didn’t say a word to me while I was having an episode, and this what she thought was appropriate to say to me when it was all over?
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.
Keep in mind I went to a volunteer clinic that accepted donations as payment, so I'm sure this guy was trying his best, but I had a horrible experience. First off, I do struggle with being around strangers, so I asked if my husband could come with me the first time. While the doctor was asking me questions, I mentioned that I was bipolar.
He proceeded to look directly at my husband and said, "Wow, I feel sorry for this guy. It must feel like your wife is going through her monthly cycle all the time." Long story short, I left and never went back.
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.
I specifically sought out a therapist that had training and specialization in treating ADHD patients. I ended up finding a particular therapist who specified on her website that she specialized in ADHD. So I booked an appointment, and we got to talking. I start talking about how difficult things have been with my ADHD symptoms, and she said, “I actually don’t believe in ADHD. I think it was made up to sell more pills.”
I was completely shocked. In my head, I was thinking to myself, “What? Are you joking? You literally specified on your website that you specialized in ADHD!” Instead of arguing with her though, I just got up and left. I didn’t even pay for the session. The whole entire thing was false advertising at the very least, and was harmful.
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 was pregnant at the time, and my then-husband was, well, not a good person. He called me when I was out of the house asking me to come home. I thought he sounded odd, so I asked a friend to come with me. It turned out he was intoxicated, which brought out all of his angry, violent tendencies. He ended up firing a gun at me.
He missed, thankfully. The authorities were called, a standoff happened, and it was hours before he was finally taken down. The psychiatrist who treated him afterwards told me not to leave him as he wouldn’t cope. Unfortunately, they did succeed in guilting me into staying, but I got out a few years later and gave my kid an awesome life.
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 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.
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.
A mental health “professional”—I have a hard time viewing him as such—told me that I couldn’t have male friends. This is apparently because mixed gender relations always mean there are romantic inclinations. Basically, girls and guys CAN’T just be friends, so all my problems were because I didn’t have enough female friends.
I held my tongue and kept myself from asking about how this would work, since bi and gay people exist. Instead, I told him that I was asexual, so it wasn’t like it would matter. He then proceeded to “mansplain” that I wasn’t asexual, because he has had other patients who thought they were asexual, but they all changed their minds eventually.
A woman who was the director of a group home came in, so that I could do an assessment on one of her clients. This particular client was being discharged from a 12-month stay at a state hospital. She had been in there for a terrible reason. She had stomped another girl in the face and caused serious brain damage—all because she thought the girl was going to "take her vape."
Obviously, there was more than just that. This client also had severe schizophrenia and trauma history. She kept telling me that she didn’t care about anything and that she didn’t have to talk to me. When she started berating me, I said that I did not feel comfortable doing the assessment if she kept shouting. It was already a bad day, but it was about to get weird.
The group home director started saying that she was the girl's temporary guardian (which is against a slew of regulations). Then the director kept cutting the client off, saying that we had to do this today or she’d be homeless. She also smelled like weed, had dilated pupils, and was speaking strangely. I started suspecting that the client wasn't the only one with mental issues.
I got really uncomfortable when the client was talking about her symptoms, only for the director to interrupt and say that she heard voices in her head too. The entire thing was bizarre, and I looked into it just to verify and that person was indeed the director of a group home. Somehow, she was—but clearly, this lady needed help.
I ended up speaking to several colleagues and learning that many other people had made complaints about the director. She was currently being investigated. Looking back, I'm certain that she was exploiting my client in some way.
I worked in a recovery center for families. We received a family where the mother had a diagnosis of BPD, dissociative disorder, and c-PTSD with domestic charges, battery charges, and previous addictions. She also had a couple of kids, so part of her program involved re-learning how to interact with her children and being a better mother.
Here I was working with this family fresh out of my masters and, in all honesty, I was way out of my league. One of the kids was basically what we would call the "channeler" in the family. They channeled all the anger, sadness, and rage from the mom onto everyone else. We tried talking to the mom about how she interacted with this child. It couldn't have gone worse.
All communication between the family came in the form of screaming, grabbing, or restraining them, but mom could not grasp it. She was in trauma therapy but still was having difficulty processing. We were on a walk, and just out of nowhere the mom body-slammed that kid to the concrete floor, shocking my co-worker and I.
That was the moment when I judged my client. This kid was like six years old and just looked so scared and sad.
My wife is a therapist at the state correctional facility. The only thing for her that makes her judge someone is if they strike a nerve, usually because they remind her of an insecurity she has had to deal with in her own life. For example, one client, an addict, spouted off about how the whole world was against him and he did nothing wrong.
He started bragging, going on about all the amazing things he was going to do when he got out of the clink, and his whole attitude really rubbed her wrong. As she was telling me about the guy and how much she had trouble with him, I was like, "He sounds just like your brother." Not to go into it, but her brother was not a great guy. After that, she realized why the client triggered her so much.
I think the worst was my therapist telling me I should give up on my career and go back to school again to become a teacher. According to my therapist, teaching was "steady employment." Nevermind the fact that I had no interest in teaching, and had no financial means to go back to school since I was still buried in debt from my first two degrees. When I brought those points up, I was told I was making excuses.
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.
After working with a client for two months on his substance use during inpatient treatment, I thought he was making real progress. He’d had a lot of real change talk and had started discussing his goals for the future. The next session he told me that the reason he had so many issues in his life wasn’t because of his habit, but his mother.
I listened and thought maybe something deep was about come out from his childhood or his relationship. Nope, I was so, so wrong. He said, "If my mom wasn't so awful, I would be living in her house right now." I asked why exactly she wouldn’t allow him to currently live with her, and he said, "because she won't let me take hard stuff in the house.”
And he just kept going: “I don’t understand! That's like telling her she can't take her heart meds!" Internally, I was like, “Um what!? That substance will destroy you, and you are comparing that to your mom's heart medications!? You were so far past this yesterday!” But what came out of my mouth was, "Okay, let's explore that a little more."
A gentleman sat down for the initial consultation and said, “I’ll get right to the point, Doc. I’ve been married five times. My question is, since I know I'm obviously not the problem, what does it take to find a decent woman in this world?” He said all this with no sense of humor, no hint of irony, nothing. He was completely serious.
My very first therapist ever told me to stop my dieting, and to eat "intuitively.” This meant that I should be eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. If that meant I ended up weighing 300 pounds, then I shouldn't feel ashamed and I should love myself at whatever size I am. But she had an ulterior motive. Ironically, she was about 350 pounds, and said she recently went horseback riding, or at least she made an attempt to.
She found out real quick that her size prevented her from riding. Most horses really shouldn't carry more than 200 to 250 pounds, max. So, she wrote a nasty letter to this place, saying they were fat phobic, and should get bigger horses for people her size. I told her this was our LAST session because she was insane. I am very confident and I do love myself no matter my size, but I can still improve and drop the extra weight. There was a lot of self-projection going on with her.
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.
I volunteered in a psychiatric hospital where we’d visit the patients and interact with them. One of the requirements was that we didn’t know what things they had done before being admitted to the facility. The idea was that the less we knew, the less we could judge them. Suffice to say, this was a high-security place and the people inside had some dark pasts.
One day, I was playing basketball with a group of about five residents when one of the guys stopped to say something mid-game. He came over to me quietly went, “I’m in here because I sedated my wife and kid before burning my house down, and then I pled insanity.” He sounded completely sincere and clear, and I have never had more intense goosebumps my whole life. He then yelled game on and continued to play like nothing had ever happened.
One of my first jobs was in a residential treatment facility for kids under 18. There was one patient who had incredibly severe schizophrenia, but because he was only 15, he was too young to be officially diagnosed. Because he didn't have an official diagnosis, he didn't get the care he needed—and the results were brutal.
Even though he was young, this kid was built like an absolute tank. He beat multiple adults for the tiniest reasons. He hurt one guy because his astrological sign wasn’t Aries. The guy needed full facial reconstruction after the attack. Then there was the time during a community meeting when everyone smelled poo. The staff asked to speak with one kid, since he was known for having accidents.
They excused him from the meeting and told him to go clean up. He avidly denied that he was the source of the smell. But then, as the kid started to walk to his room, a piece of poop fell out through his jeans. Wild times.
In a first-semester class, the professor said to consider our values and share which clients, if any, we’d be uncomfortable serving. One classmate said, “gay people,” because he was personally disgusted by them. Another shared that her religious beliefs wouldn’t allow her to serve a client who was considering ending a pregnancy
The professor thanked them for their honesty, gently reminded them of their duties under the NASW ethics code, but ultimately validated their right to not serve certain clients stating that if they harbored implicit biases, they may do more harm than good. A year later at my internship, I had weekly one-on-one meetings with a client.
She had rejected all the other therapists she had met at the agency. I was told that I was a “perfect fit” for her, but never told why. When I met with the client, everything became clear—but in the worst way possible. She was a white supremacist, and I’m white. All the other therapists she’d met at the agency were either Latino or African American.
When the session ended, I set up a meeting with my on-site supervisor. I explained to her that I’d been assigned to counsel a white supremacist and that white supremacy was against my core values. As such, I explained, I could not continue working with her because I harbored such a fundamental disgust for her ideology.
I expected that, like those who shared in my first-year class, I would be thanked for my honesty, and the client would be reassigned. This was not the case. The pushback I received was significant, and I was told that I would have to serve her and that it’d be a “learning and growing” experience for me. I had no choice. If I wanted to keep my internship and complete my required hours, I had to do as they said.
It was an incredibly horrific year.
One time, I had a therapist who tried very hard to tell me that I definitely wanted to marry my dog. All I told her before that was how I had a very loving relationship with my dog, and how he was my favorite thing in my life at the moment. She then proceeded to go on a 10 minute rant about how she really wanted to marry her dog, and how I also really wanted to marry my dog. Needless to say, I never went back.
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.
I’m a behavioral therapist for autistic children. I don’t judge them for anything. But what did shock me once was when I worked with a seven-year-old child in the middle of a tantrum. I was sitting next to him because he had asked me to stay by his side and hold his hand. During his intense crying, he stopped for a second.
Then he asked, “What’s wrong with me? Why am I like this? Why am I so useless?” This kid was freaking smart. He could tell you pretty much anything about the solar system. I asked him one time very randomly, “Hey, how many kilometers is the earth away from Jupiter?” And this kid, without hesitation, gave me the answer.
I looked it up, and he was right. So, to hear him say that about himself broke my heart.
This one patient really got under my skin. He seriously injured his wife, denied it, and said she was lying about the entire thing. He later told me that they were having relationship problems. The reason for these problems? He felt like she wasn't allowed to refuse him in bed because they were married. I later learned that the wife had to call the authorities on her husband because he refused to take no as an answer.
I’m a crisis worker. I was trying to de-escalate a teenaged girl experiencing suicidal ideation. She called her mom, and since I was right beside her, I heard their entire deranged conversation. Her mother was telling her to just do it, that her dad walked out when she was a baby because he didn’t love her, and that she didn’t care about her at all.
I felt completely shocked. Another time, when the girl was having a crisis, I had talked to the mother. She called from work and asked, in the sweetest voice possible, if her daughter was okay and if she could come down and support her. It took all my strength not to go off at that evil woman right then. I met the mother later and could barely look her in the eye.
I had a patient with a ton of personality issues early in my career. He had a very rocky marriage with a lot of infidelity on both sides. We were discussing how this had affected him over the years when he revealed a wild secret. It turns out that he borrowed money from his brother, but couldn't pay him back. So my client and his wife agreed to go to bed with the brother to settle the debt.
Inside I was like "...what????" but I did my best to control my reaction. I don't think I was very successful. After that, the patient kept testing my boundaries. Eventually, he went too far and I had to end our professional relationship and refer hm to someone else. But then, a month later, I was working with another patient who was also having self-esteem issues.
I could not believe it when he revealed that he and his wife had a threesome with his brother too. I think I did better at controlling my reaction this time, but what the heck, people!? Two patients in a month? I haven’t had that come up since, but I now still wonder what the prevalence is of people having threesomes with family members and their spouses.
During a session, my therapist told me, “It sounds like the only time your parents cared about you was when you were playing hockey. Since you can skate, do you want to join my friend’s roller derby team? They’re always looking for more girls. Here is some information.” Yeah, I never went back after that one. I also never played on that team.
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.
A 20-something said, "You're going to be proud of me!" one session. She said, "I paid a guy to put sugar in my ex-boyfriend's motorcycle gas tank." I said, "What made you think that would make me proud?" She said, "Because, I wanted him to cut his brake lines, but I heard you in my head and knew you'd be disappointed."
I worked at a mental health agency and dealt with parents who were involved with child protective services. I had this one couple who needed to complete therapy and do psychological evaluations to prove they could care for their children and give them a safe home. After outlining the plan, the couple refused to do any of it.
Instead, they decided to abandon their children in foster care, move to another state where there wouldn't be files about them, have some more kids, and start over. And that’s exactly what they did.
A psychiatrist told my mother that my non-verbal brother was pathetic and sad. He was just four years old at the time. A few years later, the psychiatrist was in the newspaper because he was trying to set up his wife as being mentally incompetent through fake reports, all so she couldn’t get custody of their children.
My mother cut out the news article and wrote, “Who is sad and pathetic now?” Then she sent it to his office.
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.
A guy who was high on a cocktail of substances ran into a staff area, took the fire extinguisher off the wall, and began spraying it into the hallway, filling the place with white foam. Then he started shouting the lyrics to "Sympathy for the Devil." It upset another patient who was awaiting admission for schizophrenia. He freaked out and started yelling "Satan! Satan is here!" and tried to run out of the front doors.
It's the most chaotic situation I've ever experienced.
One client bit and ate his fingernails so much that he stored his fingernails in a box, so he could snack on them later. It was nasty, but the patient was only nine, so I figured he’d grow out of it. Nope. Wrong. Then he told me something that made me want to puke. It turns out that when anybody in his family clipped their nails, they put it in his box.
So, when he's eating nails from the box they could belong to his mother, father, or siblings. Yes, I've addressed the parents about enabling this behavior, but they refused to stop. To them, it's normal.
I was counseling a 13-year-old girl who had severe anxiety. At one of our sessions, she revealed that her stepfather was abusing her. Immediately after our session ended, I called her mom and told her that I needed to call child protective services. The mom's next words shocked me. She told me that CPS was already aware of the situation, it had first been reported when the patient was about seven years old.
Mom was aware of what was happening and still stayed with the guy who was harming her daughter. It was a complicated situation, and it wasn’t. How could she not do more to protect her daughter?! Sorry, lady... I’m judging.
I worked with a woman who would deliberately keep getting pregnant because she enjoyed the attention. Then, when she would have the baby, she would immediately dump them into the foster system or, in one case, just drop the baby off with a willing relative. She had already given birth to six kids when I met her.
I was working with a child who had a severe mood disorder and had made both suicidal and homicidal threats and attempts. I was telling the parents that it did not seem like a good idea to buy the young kid a firearm...especially the week after the mother spent our session sharing her fears that the child would hurt her.
When I was 14 years old, I was telling my shrink about how I was teased in school. "Do they make fun of your nose?" She said. "...nnnno....?" And that's how I found out I have a big nose.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
One therapist tried to read into my sketches and doodles. I drew a realistic fish, which I was quite proud of, in pencil. So, I was told that the fish was a silent, scaled, armored or walled-off creature, with no one around to interact with. A fish is not really noticed, and it wasn’t done in color, so obviously I thought that all the color had gone from my world.
In reality, I was nervous over the fact that I hadn’t been accepted to a post secondary school at that point, and was practicing drawing realistic images as a way of giving myself something to focus on as I waited.
I once had to ask a client, “So you thought the best way to deal with your child's anxiety was to buy an anti-psychotic prescription pill off the internet and grind it into their food without them knowing?”
I was an administrator for a terrible therapist. Most of my job was just scanning files. I came across one file where the patient's only presenting concern was an absolutely paralyzing fear of squirrels. So, this person came bi-weekly, spent two hundred dollars an hour, all in an effort to correct his squirrel-phobia. That's when I knew I'd never be a therapist.
I helped a guy whose chief issue was loneliness. He had no friends, no relationship, standard stuff. But he refused to give any meaningful details about himself. He was 100% just a complete brick wall. I asked him about his hobbies, and he said he didn’t have any. So, I asked if he had past hobbies. He refused to talk about them. He claimed he was bullied by girls about them.
Okay, that's fair, but I needed something, anything, to go on to get to know him as a person. I spent hours of my life trying to get him to open up about anything, and all he said is, "You won’t get anything out of me.” It was as if he was enjoying it. He did this with other volunteers at my clinic too. He kept complaining about loneliness, but when people tried to be his friend, he shut them out.
Since our sessions were over the phone, I always assumed the guy was either in high school or fresh out. Nope. He was in his 40s. He was still brooding over high school and refusing help to process and move on from it. I eventually had to ban him because of him guilt tripping our other volunteers. But yeah, he's the one guy I am genuinely judgemental about. He is the reason his life sucks, and until he stops being obstinate with people extending him help, he will remain that way.
I went to see a psychiatrist because I was having symptoms of PTSD after an ex tried to hurt me when I left him. He then stalked me, forced his way into my apartment, and forced himself on me. The psychiatrist, who was an older man, told me that I needed to work on my physical appearance and demeanor to be more feminine and demure.
Apparently, "quality men" weren't attracted to women who looked and behaved like me, and I should never try to get involved in another relationship without making myself more appealing to "quality men" first, or I would end up right back in the same situation. Yeah, I dropped that guy like a hot potato after that.
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.
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.
I'll never forget this one teenage patient. He calmly told me how he physically hurt and tossed around a little kid who lived in the neighborhood for no reason—and with no remorse. He only stopped because he worried that eventually, he'd get in trouble. I had to keep my poker face on and just document the interaction, but my son was in pre-school then, and the entire interaction shook me.
I used to be a professional counselor and worked mainly with children. One of the kids came to me after they tied up a younger child and doused them with gasoline. They never set the other child on fire—but not because they felt bad. It was because they were too young to figure out how to get the lighter to work. They were in an intense outpatient program.
In a week, this patient managed to manipulate the other children into getting in trouble. After one of his schemes, a kid was so badly hurt that they had to be hospitalized. I started searching for a new career that night. I am now a librarian where I get to use the things that I learned in counseling to help the general public with information to get professional help.
I had an adult client who was talking about an 11-year-old girl she knew. She said the girl had told her she was being abused by an older man. Most people would help that poor girl, but not my client. She went on and on about how the girl was flirting with the man. She said she was totally asking for it. She never acknowledged that this girl is 11 years old. She can't consent to that stuff, never mind initiate it!
Sadly, the client had grown up in a dysfunctional environment and also experienced inappropriate behavior. She seemed to have internalized the idea that if young women are "promiscuous" then they deserve whatever they get. I tried challenging her multiple times, but it was part of a much bigger and more awful intractable framework.
This guy was an "ADHD specialist." I was seeing him to try and make sense of my crippling executive dysfunction and lifelong problems with attentiveness. He just spent our sessions telling me my problems weren't bad enough because, "You make good eye contact and you're an engaging, interesting conversationalist. Clearly, you can't have ADHD."
He kept saying things like, "My other patients are addicts with no direction in life. You think your problems are as bad as theirs?" Apparently, everyone with an attention disorder is a delinquent. Also, way to throw your other patients, who are surely coming to you to deal with their own demons, under the bus, dude.
I was having panic attacks daily, and the meds I got made my anxiety worse. It turned out I just have bad reactions to the medication, but my therapist was a moron and kept prescribing me the same kind. I let him know, and he just started taking it really personally that all the medication he had put me on was giving me seriously bad side effects.
"Have you just given up then?" he asked. "Do you just want to be like this the rest of your life?" Obviously not, that’s why I'm in this office trying new medications! I was so angry, and ironically had a panic attack in his office that very day. I ended up just walking out and finding a new psychiatrist later, and they are much better.
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.
During sophomore year of nursing school, I told my counselor that I was getting really scared I was going to relapse into anorexia because of my perfectionism in school. If I got less than 93% on assignments, I felt that I didn't deserve to eat and would restrict. Her response was, "Well, I really admire your hard work, and I think it's admirable what high standards you hold yourself to. That dedication is going to help your future patients."
I was also her last appointment of the day. She was behind her desk, packing her things up to leave while she was talking to me.
I saw a therapist maybe a year ago, and I felt pretty good about the connection during our first session. Two weeks later, I came in ready to talk, and she said, “You look so familiar. I feel like we’ve met before.” She didn’t remember that we already had a session and talked for an hour. One of the things I was struggling with was feeling like my family forgot me often, and didn’t spend time getting to know me.
I saw a new therapist who specialized in addictions. He had been doing his job for decades at that point, so when I walked in, he could tell that I was into some heavy stuff. But after I told him my typical intake, he lost his cool. His jaw dropped and he actually went, "Holy moly, how are you even still alive?” I never had a therapist be so frank, but honestly, it was a fair question. I don't know how I'm alive.
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.
I went to see a marriage counselor after my wife and I had separated, and the counselor asked me to fill out a questionnaire. It told me to score how hopeful I was about the marriage working out. I selected a very low number. When he asked me about it, I said that while I felt hopeless about the marriage, I was very motivated to work things out.
I further pointed out the fact that even though my wife moved out, which left me in a real terrible situation at home, I still left work in the middle of the day for the appointment, and was in his office paying full price to find some kind of path to reconciliation. His response was that he 100% understood the difference. But hours later, the horrible truth came out.
Later that day, my wife called me after her one-on-one with him where, according to her, he told her that he didn't understand why she even came into the office because I was clearly not interested in a future with her. He referenced my response to the “hopefulness” question in his questionnaire. I was beyond furious about that. There has been no other time in my life where I wanted to punch an old man.
So, I'm a therapist and I work with kids. Worst misdiagnosis was a family with a two-week-old who was convinced the baby had 1) anxiety—because he cries, 2) autism—little eye contact, and 3) bipolar disorder—because the baby would seem content then suddenly angry. I spent HOURS explaining child development, what these diagnoses mean, how they would present in kids.
I provided them with books, handouts, etc. They insisted on going to see my co-worker and a psychiatrist as I was surely lying to them. Even after meeting with the other two professionals, they still weren't convinced. They requested psych meds from the doc.
I had a very troubled patient who was consensually sleeping with her own uncle. These were very wealthy, high-society type people. During our one-hour intake appointment, she went very in-depth about the relationship. It was the longest hour of my life. I'm taught not to judge my clients, but...that session weirded me out.
When I was 8, I went to a children's therapist. She liked using puppets, despite both me and my mother saying they creeped me out, so much so that I actually had a kind of phobia about them. While I was in one session, said she was trying to help me not bottle things up, so she would push and push and push, asking more invasive questions that I felt uncomfortable answering.
On our fourth or fifth session, she got particularly frustrated with me not answering her nosey questions and, for the first time, I began to cry during the session. This made her even angrier. Then she did the worst thing ever. Instead of comforting me, she started talking to one of her puppets. "Ignore her. Don't talk to her. She's just attention seeking," she said to the puppet.
Then she made the puppet say, "I won't be your friend if all you do is cry." To make things worse, I got sent to her in the first place because I had been severely depressed ever since my parents divorced. My teachers were concerned because I didn't have any friends, and I had recently started getting overstimulated or overwhelmed and crying in class. So to say she didn't help the situation is probably an understatement.
I was halfway through a counseling session with a couple with a four-month-old baby. I asked about the baby, and the mom said, “She’s in bed at home.” I said, “Ah, grandparents babysitting?” The dad went, “No, she is at home alone. Nothing can happen to her. We bought a special mattress. One where she can’t suffocate.”
At this point, my jaw was on the floor, and I was just staring at them for a couple of seconds. Then I asked how long it took them to get here. They told me about 15 minutes, so I said, “Alright, the session’s over. I want you guys to go home immediately and call me when you arrive. Please hurry. And never ever leave your baby alone!”
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