Why do I go through so many therapists?

It doesn’t take long of reading this blog for someone to notice that I’ve met with a lot of therapists.

I’ve made reference to reasons why I think this is the case, but never organized all those thoughts together.
This is certainly something where if I fully understood it that maybe it would no longer be a problem, but I’ll share with you my current understanding of it.

Looking at the whole picture, it’s obvious to me that I have an avoidant attachment style. That’s the common thread running through this.
I should be clear though that an avoidant attachment style is not the same thing as avoidant personality disorder. Some have tried to suggest I have this, but I really don’t think it describes me well. My problem is with intimacy in particular. There are a lot of things aside from intimacy, which I find anxiety provoking, but I tend to push through that anxiety and continue to do those things.
I find close relationships threatening. People who are too friendly feel to me like their friendliness is an assault. I feel like these people like me more than I like them and that they won’t give me the space I need. To clarify I am referring to primarily to platonic relationships here.

My concern about them not respecting my need for space it probably partially a projection about my relationship with my mother, but it’s also been further reinforced by others who couldn’t take a hint to back off. My mom has very little respect for interpersonal boundaries. I’m an introvert and she’s more extroverted. She’s the very needy kind of extrovert, the kind who can’t fathom that other people might feel drained by interactions while she feels energized by them. My dad would step in sometimes and tell her to give me some space. She’d agree to do that, but 5 minutes later she’d be back to the same thing. I’d have to physically hide places (like closets) to escape her destructive consuming affection. For her expressing love is not a two person interaction. It is about her and her insecurities. There is a general consensus among my family that she has some type of undiagnosed learning disability that impairs her ability to recognize that she is doing something interpersonally destructive.

Now a days I can just hang up the phone on her. I know that sounds awful. But calmly telling her to give me space does not work. And after I hang up I have to turn off the phone because she will call over and over. My email inbox gets flooded with one line messages.

A couple of years ago I was staying with my parents for a bit. My mom had bought a new computer, which I set up for her. She’s very computer illiterate. She spent a day pestering me with questions about it (very basic things like installing word). I helped at first, but finally told her to use the Apple support number, since we’d paid for it already. The Applecare person was less tolerant than I was and actually hung up on her. I wanted just a couple of uninterrupted hours to myself after playing tech support all day, so I locked myself in a room. I barricaded the door, because locks in that house are easy to pick. My plan didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped. Within about 5 minutes my mom was banging on the door demanding I open it. It’s important to note that there was no reason she needed to be in this room. If I hadn’t been in there she’d not have wanted to get in.
She quickly escalated to threats that she was going to kill me and alternated between death threats and threats of calling the police. I don’t really think she would kill me, but in the moment I wasn’t about to open the door for someone threatening to kill me, even if they were not serious. And if the police had come I think they’d have understood why I’d not opened the door. And what crime could I be charged with for locking myself in a room in the house I lived in?
I was having a panic attack and wanted to escape out a window, but I was in my pajamas and had no shoes. My dad was on a business trip and called demanding that I open the door. It turned out that he was simultaneously telling my mom that if she called the police he would divorce her. He was on no ones side. Eventually I was bullied by my dad into opening the door.
Thankfully the next day was the day I was scheduled to move into my apartment.

That got a bit sidetracked, but I think it illustrates a reason why I find close relationships threatening. My mom’s affection is very aggressive. I’ve never felt unloved and my parents do care about me, but the way my mom shows this is very overwhelming.

The problem with looking at my therapy problem as an attachment problem only, is that when I look back at each therapist I’ve left individually I can think of good reasons why I left each. Globally there’s a picture of attachment style that emerges, but individually it looks different.

There’s also the issue of how I’ve been treated in prior therapy, which puts me very on guard about protecting myself from bad therapy.
It wasn’t until therapist #4 that I actually started using therapy for myself. Before it was something that I was forced into by my parents. I started seeing her because my parents felt I didn’t have enough insight about my ADD. The therapy eventually evolved into a place where I talked more about anxiety and depression, but it took nearly 2 years of more superficial conversation to get to that. The therapy was helpful in some ways, but I hit a point where I reached the limit of how much she could help. She became very pushy about some things. I agreed to start seeing #5 for DBT in addition to seeing her, but that didn’t work out when he demanded I phone him before I self injure if I wanted to meet with him. The theme between the two of them was that I received ultimatums where I either had to do something they wanted or I could no longer meet with them. After I quit DBT, #4 gave me a list of things to pick from. I had to do one or she would no longer meet with me. I picked that I would have my primary care doctor look at my cuts regularly. I felt very bullied by this.
I did leave for a little bit and met with #6. #6 was so much worse that I came running back.
The final straw with #4 was when she told me she wanted me to do DBT all summer instead of the summer job I’d just been hired for. I went to the job instead and am very glad that I did, because it was a wonderful experience.
In a way my tendency to leave therapists easily, is a protection against this sort of bullying. If a therapist tries to threaten that I should do something or else leave, well then I’ll just leave. I’m sick of being pushed around. Threatening to withhold therapy is not a useful form of treatment.
An unintentional outcome of these experiences is that I’ve become a lot more assertive in my daily life. I will stand up for myself.

Then there was #7 who got me kicked out of my school and #8 who I met for medication who told the doctors at my first hospitalizations to lie to me about my diagnosis.
This whole experience made everything more difficult. Not only could therapy be something that might not help, but it also became something that could potentially destroy my career and life goals. While a therapist might believe their intentions are pure, ultimately I am the only one who can protect myself and I need to be on guard to make sure the helpers don’t hurt me.

I’ll skip #9 and #10 mostly because that therapy was for the purpose of getting a note to allow my re-admittance to school.

Then there’s #11. S.M. My favorite one. He’s the only one I left on good terms with. There’s some idealization going on in there. I’ve tried to hide it from him, but by now he knows. I don’t like anyone seeing if I care at all about them. I’m so used to feeling horrified by overwhelming expressions of affection, that I forget sometimes that in moderation people actually do appreciate being told they’re valued and needed. While I would feel threatened by being needed interpersonally (needed in a professional sense is fine) most people don’t feel like that.
I left because I transfered schools and the new one is far away. At the time I didn’t think finding a new therapist would be a big deal. I thought that all psychodynamic therapists were the same (I sure was wrong about that) and that all I needed was another psychodynamic therapist.
If I’d realized how much trouble I’d have finding someone else I would have put more effort into finding a school in that area. I do think though that there are ways in which I’ve grown, through this struggle that I might not have had I stayed with S.M. the past 3 years.
My idealization of S.M probably made sticking with a therapist harder. I thought for awhile that maybe these other therapists who didn’t work out were just the wrong kind of psychodynamic. I now realize that there is a huge amount of heterogeneity within any theoretical orientation. While I like the psychdynamic approach, it was probably things outside of the theory that made therapy with S.M. work.

Things are going okay right now with #27. I’ll wait and see what happens.

All of the factors mentioned here probably contribute to some of the difficulty I’ve had in finding a therapist. Explaining partially why I’ve seen 16 therapists in the past 3 years. There are probably others reasons I am not yet aware of. I know that because I’ve personally had so much trouble, that I am the common factor in this. It’s at least partially my own fault. There are certainly elements (systemic and therapist factors) outside of myself that also contribute as well.
Even though it seems that with each therapist I see they become a little more disposable, it is still devastating to me each time I leave one. That one or two hours a week is very important to me. This importance is part of why I need so badly to be sure I’m in a therapy that is getting it right. If therapy didn’t matter I’d just be content in something mediocre.

26 thoughts on “Why do I go through so many therapists?

  1. I think that I’m the exact opposite in this sense. I hate telling my personal problems to new people. I don’t know how you do it! I definitely need that connection.

    No offense, but your mom is scary!!!!! I was the one bugging my mom senseless, but she got used to ignoring me.

    I hope #27 continues working out for you!

    • I find new people easier to talk to than ones who I have an established relationship with. Early in this whole therapy ordeal I had a lot of trouble getting started talking. But now I’ve gone though my basic history so many times, that it’s very rehearsed.

    • With 12-26 there were definitely specific issues that were problematic, but I don’t have anything interesting to say about them individually aside from the blurbs about them in my therapist list post or in terms of the larger issue of how I keep seeing therapist after therapist.
      I kind of lump them together in my head. I don’t even know all their names. They’re just all in this category of people after S.M.

      It does suck to live it, but I like that I’m able to get my story out there (instead of locking it up inside) and that people care about hearing it.

  2. “Threatening to withhold therapy is not a useful form of treatment.”
    I couldn’t agree more!
    I also agree with your comment about the need to “protect” yourself from the “helpers”. Although I’ve stayed with the same therapist for nearly 5 years now, we have had the same arguments about DBT, and I still find myself “guarded” and needing to protect myself.
    I just find it so difficult to start over and at this point, don’t know that I could.
    Thanks for sharing this!

  3. So how do you address an avoidant attachment style? (or is that something you’re content with as is, at least for now?)

  4. I would like your opinion on something… I hope this doesn’t bother you, but I don’t have anyone else I could ask. First, let me say, I love to read your blog. :) I found it fairly recently but I’ve gone back to read every post. I find it all very interesting. I also have an extreme love for psychology, although I’m only in high school… Well, anyways, back to my question… I’m a cutter. I cut fairly often. Almost all of them are pretty deep… There are 5 on my leg that are deeper than the rest. They’re deep enough that they probably require stitches, but they’re almost all healed over… But they’re really tender to the touch. The chance of infection is very slim because I’m very careful. (I sterilize everything very well & clean my cuts at least twice a day.) I’m scared that there is something wrong. I’d like to go to a doctor about it, but I don’t want my parents to find out about it. What should I do? Please get back to me when you can, & thank you in advance. :)

    • If you’re under 18 it’s a tough situation. In an ideal world you could get both medical care and have privacy. Unfortunately it is possible (and likely) that a doctor might tell your parents if you are under 18. In the anecdote I told here about going to the doctor, I was over 18 when this happened and my parents were not informed.
      Obviously the right answer for me to tell you is to see a doctor if you are concerned about your heath, but I understand why you’d not want your parents to know. My guidance counselor in high school never told my parents, because she knew I was in therapy. Sometimes if the other treater knows someone is helping you already they don’t feel as much need to bring the parents in on it.
      For people under 18 the confidentiality rules seem to be applied inconsistently. Which is frustrating, because it makes it hard for a person to know what to expect.

      • That’s what I thought. I’m too paranoid that my parents will find out so I guess I’ll find another way to handle this. Thanks.

          • It’s all right. :) if it starts looking really bad I will. I just don’t want to be sent back to therapy. Not my favorite experience, & clearly, it wasn’t my therapists either. The two I’ve been to both gave up & said they couldn’t see me anymore.

  5. At times I feel like I really need to go back but I think my mom will be suspicious as to why. When I went the first few times it was due to my relationship with my parents. It was never trully about me. When I attempted to talk with them about it before, they said I didn’t need it because it wasn’t a family thing. So… I’m kinda stuck at this point.

  6. I think I like your blog because I’ve never been in therapy (except horrible useless family therapy) because I assume no therapist can possibly understand me as well as I feel like I understand myself. I am positive that if I did attempt to seek therapy (coincidentally, my mother is also the smothering/no boundaries type as well. She is also paranoid and prone to extreme belief in impending doom like nuclear disaster or even alien attack) I would go through many people just like you have. It is interesting that you have related this avoidance of close relationships to avoidance of attaching to a therapist. Perhaps this has some commonality to why I won’t even see one in the first place even though I have a lot of things I know I would like to talk about.
    It really doesn’t help me that my mother was a therapist.
    Anyway, thought-provoking entry. Thanks for writing it.


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