Jeff Guenther on Aug 18, 2019
Icon illustrations by Austin Condiff from the Noun Project
A few weeks ago, I wrote about some hilarious complaints I have received about therapists. Because I run a local therapist directory in Portland and a national therapist directory, I get calls from clients sometimes that want to complain about the therapist they found on the site. Sometimes the complaints are funny, sometimes they don’t make sense and other times they are really upsetting. No matter what kind of complaint it is, I refer them back to the therapist or to their states licensing board.
Today, I wanted to share a few complaints that I personally found concerning. I hope that it provides therapists with insights into the experience their clients may be having and not telling you about.
One of the most distressing calls, and most common calls, I receive is when a client is at their therapist’s office but their therapist is nowhere to be found. Typically it’s due to miscommunication and the client figures out how to reschedule and it’s not that big of a problem. Other times it’s the first time the client has shown up for a session, they are crying and in distress on the phone while they are desperately trying to find their therapist. I feel helpless and powerless in this situation because there is nothing I can do for them in the moment. Occasionally, the client will get angry and claim that they’ll never go back again. Hopefully it’s not the end of their therapy journey all together. Miscommunication happens in life. I get it. But it might be a really good idea for therapists to make doubly sure that their client knows exactly where the office is on that first visit (and how to reach them if there is a problem).
Another upsetting complaint that I get from clients is that their therapist didn’t care about their problem. This comes in many forms. Some clients report that their therapist never asked them what was wrong and they never felt safe enough to bring up their issue. Other clients report that their therapist talked over them and were always “one upping them,” which created a feeling of shame and guilt. Clients reported that when they did reveal why they were there, the therapist didn’t show any type of concern or compassion for their problem.
I know therapists care about what their client is coming in for. But sometimes that’s not what the client experiences.
Another typical complaint is when a client calls to complain that their therapist doesn’t talk enough. The client doesn’t seems too upset, but they do sound really frustrated and confused. Sometimes the problem is that they have chosen a therapist who is more psychoanalytically trained. Analysts let the client take the lead most of the time and that can be pretty uncomfortable for clients. In fact, on this week’s episode of Say More About That I interviewed a modern day analyst and we talked about this very topic. It’s a super interesting conversation and goes deep into how analysts have evolved since Freud. Click play below or listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Whether the client is talking to an analyst or simply talking to a therapist that doesn’t do much talking, some clients feel really awkward about it and never want to go back.
As therapists, it’s important for us to set realistic expectations with clients and give them some real talk. That might include instances where we inform the client that their emotional pain may never fully go away but there are ways to deal with it more productively. Sometimes a client could hear that statement and walk away thinking that they will be in pain forever and there is nothing they can do about it. I have gotten calls from clients telling me that therapy was hopeless because their therapist told them they would never get better. While I don’t think the therapist said those exact words, that’s what the client heard. And then they became so upset that they decide to call me to complain about it.
As therapists, we have an ethical duty to not treat clients that are outside of our scope. Well, every now and then a client will be told over and over again, from multiple therapists, that they can’t treat them. And when that happens, I get a very disgruntled call from a client telling me that everyone is turning them away. It’s really sad. The worst part is that these clients are usually dealing with really intense issues and therapists might just be a little too scared to take them on. And sometimes they are people of color who are being turned away by white therapists that feel like they can’t competently treat them. Which can make it really hard for people of color, or others in disenfranchised groups, to find the care they need.
People like their dogs. I have a dog. I like him. His name is Josh. As much as I like my dog, I have never wanted to take him into a counseling session with me. But some clients really want to. And when their therapist says dogs aren’t allowed, they get really mad. So mad in fact that they call me up to file a complaint. But I’ve gotta side with the therapists on this one. Dogs shed, bark, pace around, jump on people and can be an unwelcome surprise to people in the waiting room. Sometimes I try to explain this to the upset client. Most of the time it doesn’t go over well. (Of course service dogs are an important exception.)
A therapist’s lack of (or perceived lack of) competency can bubble up in many ways. Lately, I’ve been getting calls about therapists who say they are trained in non-monogamy but actually are lacking in their education and skills when it comes to polyamory. I think it’s easy for a therapist to check the box of poly competency just because they support the idea of it. Some therapists don’t understand that non-monogamy is a relationship style that they truly need to get trained on. And that there are a lot of personal biases against non-monogamy that have been engrained in all of us starting at a very early age.
I recently had a conversation with Heidi Savell, a poly competent expert, on Say More About That. You can click play below or listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. It’s a must listen if you considered treating clients that are in non-monogamous relationships.
I put this one in the blog about hilarious complaints, but it might be more fitting in this article. A client called to ask me if it was normal that her therapist started clipping and filing her nails while in the middle of a session. I said no it’s not normal at all. Personally, I think that is really gross and disgusting and if my therapist started doing that I would have a lot of questions. And if you’re the therapist that did that mid-session please don’t ever do it again. It’s very upsetting.
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Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.