ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Paranoia Toward Psychotherapists

Jack Bragen
Friday October 24, 2014 - 10:56:00 AM

I often have paranoid feelings concerning mental health practitioners even though these are the professionals who apparently are trying to help. However, not all of this paranoia is unfounded. Among counselors who are generally dedicated and giving people, there are a few bad apples. 

It is not my paranoid imagination that in some cases, mental health professionals do not perceive me as a person, but rather as a "subject." 

In a mental health treatment organization, there is a clear line of separation between staff and the recipients of treatment. Staff, among themselves, may have a camaraderie and a friendly social atmosphere. Collectively, they regard recipients of treatment as "clients" and not as equals. We are sometimes not even perceived as sentient beings subject to human suffering. 

This scenario is difficult to acknowledge. No one wants to be seen as an object of an experiment, a monster, a freak or a sick person. 

The best of mental health practitioners, many of whom I have had the privilege to work with, see the people they are treating as human beings like themselves, and they acknowledge that we do feel pain, and that we do experience self-reflection. I am lucky that I currently receive treatment at a venue in which the humanity of the recipients of treatment is acknowledged. 

Over the last thirty years I have been misled enough times that I find it hard to trust treatment practitioners. There are some therapeutic techniques that from the get-go don't work for me. If the therapist is incapable of being a person toward me, will not switch techniques or is incapable of another technique, therapy will not happen for me. 

I don't mind some amount of healthy distancing of a therapist. However, when it is combined with being dispassionate about inflicting psychological pain, you don't have a therapist, you have an interrogator. 

If a therapist wants to do some digging into deep emotions, how do you know they will be able to close you back up after the surgery is done? In some therapy, it is like getting an appendectomy but leaving you in a state of having all of your organs hanging out. The flesh needs to be sewn back together and the incision needs to be closed, and not all therapists know how or are willing to do that. 

Would you try to drive an automobile that had the cylinder head unscrewed from the engine block? The same goes for people on a psychological level. In fact, sometimes deep pain does get resolved, but the patient is left stripped of his or her defenses and abruptly can not function in the human environment. 

I don't trust a twenty-five-year-old therapist to take my subconscious apart, do the repairs they believe are needed, and then send me on my way supposedly cured. This is partly due to the fact that I know more about myself than a twenty-five-year-old therapist--even though such a person may have great ambitions of rebuilding me. 

A few years ago, a therapist on his second meeting with me asked, "Please describe your worst experience that has ever happened to you." Are you kidding? My worst experience is having you ask me that question. 

I am absolutely grateful that mental health practitioners exist and for the fact that most are helpful. Had it not been for mental health treatment, including talk therapy, I would be in a far worse situation. So while I may have complaints about a few, I believe that as a whole, at least in present day, people who deliver psychotherapy and psychiatry are good for people like myself who have these diseases. I am not an anti-psychiatry person who believes mental illness doesn't exist and that the whole profession is a sham. My position is in the middle of two extremes. 

So, while sometimes I get paranoid about the intentions of therapists, I do realize that at least some of the time I need to trust some people for some things. And this column is not intended to be a put-down of the psychotherapy profession or a denial that we sometimes need this help.