Shortly after my mom died, I saw a therapist who had been great to our family during the ordeal. Something had happened to my body. I wasn’t able to sleep, eat, or function. I was terrified. As it turned out, I was clinically depressed, and the symptoms were symptoms of anxious depressive illness.
The therapist I saw (and trusted) told me to drive out to a cornfield and scream. That was it. I was stunned. Not only was this terrible advice; it stopped me from looking for another therapist for several months.
The second “worst advice” incident came when I hired an old supervisor of mine who had been a fantastic mentor for me when I first got out of school. Instead of advising me to be gentle with myself, and assemble a team to help me get back on my feet, she decided to excavate my childhood so I could work through the traumatic incidents I had endured.
I saw this therapist twice each week for a couple of months, and instead of feeling better, I got sadder and sicker. One day I got up the courage to ask, “Do you really think that reliving every traumatic moment I can remember from childhood is what I need?”
Her answer was, “Yes. I absolutely do.” Wow.
When a person’s mental or physical state is fragile, it’s not appropriate to go deep diving into traumatic memories. What they need is to feel safe, to be ‘held with love’ (figuratively) for at least one precious hour each week.
I respectfully ended therapy with my old supervisor, telling her I was feeling worse after each session. I was barely able to function as it was. I didn’t need more things to feel wretched about. She accepted my decision, but did not apologize for misreading my fragile state, or for re-traumatizing me every week. My respect ended the day we parted ways.
You’ll know when you’re being given bad advice. It makes you feel small, less able, less strong, and pressured to be other than where you are in the present.
Good intentions are no excuse for bad advice.