18 thoughts on “When a Therapist Breaks Your Trust

  • July 13, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    This is really an important point you make. I often find nothing but advice to take up therapy but nothing on what to do when things go badly wrong. I had therapy with a really well respected and well known counseling psychologist who after 3 and a half years gave me 2 sessions notice on him finishing up. He compounded that betrayal of trust by refusing to acknowledge there was any problem with what he had done, as if it was a normal thing to finish abruptly with a client of nearly 4 years. I went with another therapist for a while after as I was in bits, who validated my feelings , but I still made no significant progress with her as I just couldn’t move forward. I just couldn’t see how to trust a therapist again when I had seen clearly how little respect the first man actually had for his clients. It has had a massive effect on me. I don’t really know where to go for more help. And the counselling psychologist in question has gone on to more promotions and is one of the leading people in his field in my town. It really makes you wonder? I’m just very cynical after it, where I had previously recommended therapy to any friend who was thinking about it, now I’m not so sure. I was in a very vulnerable position and he made no provision for my continued care, no referral, no discussion of my history with anyone. Nothing. I didn’t make a complaint because, though the next therapist supported me in doing so, I just couldn’t. The whole thing was too upsetting, another part of my life that turned to shit. I just wanted to forget therapy ever happened but there is some piece of hope just evaporated and I’m not really sure where to go now. so, yes. Trust is a very precious, earned thing. When its been broken again by the person you told the most intimate things to, well there is nowhere really to go. Sorry to be so negative but I think therapy not really possible again after a significant breach of trust, no matter how much you want to get well. The capacity to trust like that again, just isn’t in me. I feel unless you are pretty high functioning already, a massive breach of trust can really knock someone. Thanks for talking about this topic. there is very little out there about it.

    • August 18, 2016 at 1:55 am

      I must agree, betrayal by a therapist has been a soul shattering experience. Sadly, even with complaints it is not taken seriously, viewed as a bad match of personalities. In reality it is an emotional rape.

  • July 13, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    Unfortunately I know exactly what you were/are feeling. I too was betrayed by a so-called helping professional. I’m not willing to go into any detail but by pursuing legal action I empowered myself and went a long way toward healing.

    • July 14, 2015 at 9:19 am

      Hi Tillie,

      I am happy to read that you have empowered yourself and have started to heal.

      All the best,


  • July 15, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Thank you for this article which has come just at the right moment for me.. I have been really badly let down in Mental Health services with counselling & support (including when in hospital and very unwell) and was thinking I can’t face the risk of being hurt in that way any more. Then by fate/coincidence your article showed up in my in-box today amongst some other topics – I just had to read! You have helped me make a few decisions which I was struggling with and you have given me some hope. Thank you for sharing your experiences and the positive outcome.

    • July 15, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      Hello Tamerisk,

      I am so happy that my article helped you. There is always hope, even when it seems like there isn’t.

      All the best to you,


  • July 15, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    FIRSTLY: A psychotherapist typically has many patients and can not always keep the do’s and don’ts of each specific patient in mind. Just as the therapist has a responsibility to respect patient/client requests, the patient likewise has the responsibility to fully discuss the error with the therapist. When a patient describes poor communication in the course of an interview, therapists frequently urge patients to discuss the issue with the other person so as to resolve the issue. This advice is equally good for the problem you had with your therapist, whatever it was. Incidentally, I found your statement of the case or statement of the complaint to be unnecessarily obtuse and almost mysterious. The year 2015 is a time when there is almost nothing not open to discussion. I think you are teasing your readers.

    SECONDLY: You get only a sense of false empowerment, as you did, if you terminate with the therapist but do not work out the issue with him/her. After first resolving the issue with your therapist in sessions, you might then decide to change therapists (or not to.)

    THIRDLY: I have been both a psychotherapist and psychotherapy patient over the years. I’m now happily retired from both at age 70. There are no areas of my life that I wouldn’t want a therapist to start to discuss with me. In retrospect, over the years, I have probably discussed issues that made my therapists uncomfortable. As a therapist when I discussed my own homosexuality. Before I retired I had access to “behind the scenes” (break rooms, staff cafeterias, treatment conferences, coffee breaks in a staff member’s office) areas in clinics and hospitals where therapy and other treatment was done (break rooms and I have heard MD’s, Ph.D.’s, MSW’s, etc, make comments like, “I hope that he/she doesn’t get into his/her (whatever)” But patients do get into these areas and the therapist(s) dutifully listen and attempt to be helpful. I wonder how many patients have started by asking their therapist if the therapist can work with them because of their thoughts and behaviors that the therapist might find unpleasant?
    The areas that therapists don’t want to get into are those areas they find anxiety raising, unpleasant, disagreeable, icky, yucky, criminal, disgraceful, or downright sinful. The most common source of this was sex, sexual conduct and practices, especially what they perceived as “deviant” (in spite of DSM-V), sadomasochistic acts, and the rather mundane acts of self-mutilation such as self-cigarette burning and fine delicate self scratching.
    Therapy is a two way street and you, the patient, have to take an active part in it.

    • July 15, 2015 at 1:58 pm


      I thank you for your open and honest input. The specifics of my own issue were not disclosed as it would without a doubt be a trigger for many of my readers. Thank you again for reading, commenting and sharing your own thoughts and experiences.

      All the best to you,


    • July 15, 2015 at 4:12 pm

      Wow, this feels a lot like blaming the victim here, when the therapist apparently violated an ethical boundary so serious, it required filing a formal complaint against the therapist. We don’t need to know all the intimate details if a person isn’t ready or willing to share them with us. I think demanding such details indicates an issue more with your need to know than giving the author any kind of helpful, empathetic feedback.

      To suggest that a patient should always “work through” a serious ethical boundary violation with their therapist seems either naive or almost criminal. What if the therapist had propositioned her for sex? She’s supposed to “work through” that inappropriate proposition with the therapist? Heck no. I’d file a report the next day with that professional’s regulatory board.

      And while I think that’s great that you’re so open and completely transparent with your own therapist, BAR, I think you should acknowledge that not everyone is at the same stage as you in their own personal development. Expecting every one else to be just like you in therapy is a strange way to approach this very unique relationship people have with their therapists.

      • July 15, 2015 at 10:38 pm

        I’m with you on the disclosure issue, Dr. Grohol, as well as the absurditity of working it out. I can be honest here because it was long ag and leaving out the doctor’s name–but bluntly, he tried to feel my breasts. I was horrified, never told anyone, and did not report the doctor. I just stopped going. What a mistake I made. There is NO way I could have talked that one through.

        Great blog, Nicole, as always I learn more and more from you.

      • July 15, 2015 at 11:04 pm

        Thank you for sharing that, Dori. I know how difficult it is.


  • July 15, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    This has happened to me. My privacy was betrayed. I find it shocking that it happened at all, but the negating of the act and the effects it has had on me by the person who did it and their employer has been just as bad.

    How do I screen any future counselors to ensure this won’t happen again? What controls can I put in place so that I can even sit down in their office and begin a discussion. Today I am repelled by the ‘caring’ profession.

    I cannot afford to pay for private counselling and have to rely on the publicly funded model which is far more open than private. Public funded counselors feel that their notes and cases can be shared and spoken about with each other as their right.

    I want to speak to ONE person who will not discuss me or share my information with anyone, even anonymously. How do I get this?

    • July 16, 2015 at 9:35 am

      Ki Kolj,

      I know how difficult it is to jump back in, but it sounds like you are willing to give it another go. That’s great!

      As for screening, depending on where you are, you can call the licensing board. I don’t know how much info they can give you due to their own privacy clauses. But rest assured that if a complaint had been filed previously or the therapist had been written up, they aren’t just thrown back into therapy without some sort of measures taken first, depending on the severity of the breach.

      You stated that public funded counselors feel it’s their right to share notes and cases with each other. This is called consultation and it’s not limited to public funded therapists. Our doctors are human, just like us, and in our jobs when we need a second set of eyes or another point of view, we ask our coworkers. Therapists consulting with each other is kind of like that. Consultations can help your therapist find a unique standard of care based on you, help them make greater informed choices, and it’s also a safety measure for the therapist in case of false or unfounded accusations from a client or licensing board, because you know that happens to them in their work.

      You asked about the measures that you could put into place. There are a lot. You can let your therapist know right off the start that you have concerns because of a previous situation. State what your concerns are or any areas you do not want to touch on. Be open to dialogue, this is not the same therapist that you had before, don’t paint them with the same brush. You have rights and so does your therapist. I think that you’re going to find the perfect fit.

      Do me a favour and search around the web to look up a little bit about the therapist-therapist consultations, they may ease that a little for you.

      All the best,


  • July 16, 2015 at 6:01 am

    Hi Nicole,

    After being in therapy for about 18 months my then therapist, with whom I had a wonderful trusting and beneficial relationship, suggested that she thought Hypnotherapy would be the right step for the next stage of my development/recovery.

    She recommended someone who was endorsed by her old professor and with great hope and enthusiasm I attended my first session with the new therapist.

    From the beginning of my first session I felt uncomfortable as the dynamic of the seating in her office meant that we were invading each others personal space. Throughout the session she was very animated when she spoke and on three occasions put her hand on my knee squeezing it reassuringly (I think this was her way of emphasising what she was saying but I was far from reassured by it). On the third occasion right at the end of the session I told her how uncomfortable I was and that I did not like being touched and asked her to refrain.

    Looking back I should also have mentioned the seating dynamic because in our second session it was the same and for the whole session I was ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’ and as a result on edge and somewhat distressed. I couldn’t believe it when right at the end of the session she touched my knee again.
    I was quite frankly incredulous and felt disempowered and unable to say anything.

    I spoke to my previous therapist about this and she reassured me and suggested that I give it another try, especially as it was due to be the start of the hypnotic aspect of the therapy. The first two session being background and relationship building.

    I attended the third session with some trepidation but willing and hopeful because of the assurance of my previous therapist. I lay down on the couch and tried to relax but the therapists office was at a busy road junction with traffic lights. As it was during morning rush hour the sound of cars, motorbikes, lorries and police sirens coming through the open window were severely distracting and put paid to any chance of me achieving a relaxed and conducive state of mind.

    I didn’t feel able to discuss this with the therapist rationally, especially as she had ignored my request not to be touched, and as a result I simply left the session in a highly agitated state.

    The next therapist I saw was a clinical psychologist and in our first session, after about 20 minutes, he basically told me that I was just going through a mid-life crisis and should buy myself a sports car and date younger women!. (For information I had told him that I had recently escaped an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship that I had been in for almost 18 years). This person was apparently n expert police witness!!!

    I am still in therapy and have been for over five years now, but these experiences have left me jaded and sceptical, causing me to be mistrusting of the profession as a whole.

    I am brutally honest about my thoughts, feelings and emotions in sessions, but I think that fundamentally I am unable to engage in therapy with the desire and enthusiasm that I once had and as a result use it as a means to simply survive everyday life rather than with any hope or expectation of recovery.

    For me trust was like a glass bowl that once dropped was shattered and could never be put back together the same way.

    kind regards,


    • July 16, 2015 at 9:43 am

      Hi Rod,

      Thank you for sharing you story. I sympathize with it, and I’m sorry that you endured it. Although you aren’t attending therapy with the same enthusiasm as you had prior to seeing these two people, I am happy that you are still attending.

      I know how difficult rebuilding trust is. Your analogy of the bowl is a good one.

      All the best to you Rod,


  • July 16, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    When I was a teenager my mother was in a bad head on collision and suffered from a brain injury. So she had been seeing a therapist to help her to come to terms of what her new life was. She had tried for months to get me to go to a session and talk things out. Finally I agreed as it was really difficult to learn how to live with this stranger in our house, I was a kid and didn’t know how to deal with the emotions I was dealing with. However as soon as we sat in the office and the door closed they both jumped on me and berated me for not being a more supportive daughter. The session wasn’t to help me deal at all, I was ganged up on and backed in a corner and made to feel like a horrible human being.

    This impacted me so greatly that it took 25 years for me to agree to go to therapy again. I suffered with my depression my entire adult life with little help, its a wonder I survived. It took me being in a very bad state before I agreed to give it another go. I really like my current therapist, we click quite well. However I quite often struggle with finding something to talk about at times so I usually take breaks at that point until I have another melt down. My breaks rarely last more than two months.

    Love ya

  • July 18, 2015 at 9:29 am

    It has now been almost 2 years since I experienced a violation of my counselor/ patient relationship. I still don’t have a counselor and continue to feel as if my personal experience in the matter was never understood for the gravity it held for me.

    I was in a graduate counseling program and was required to have counseling while engaged in the program to deal with issues the program would cause to surface. My graduate advisor suggested a counselor from the schools counseling department and I started seeing her once a week late in the first month of fall classes. It was late November when I had my first notion that something was wrong. She asked to hug me at the end of a session and it was slightly inappropriate. The first red flag started to fly. This brought back an experience of sexual abuse I had experienced as a child with a babysitter. As that child, I was often violently beaten by a father who drank too much. The babysitter was very gentle with me during the her abuse and I actually remember her abuse as one of the least violent experiences of my childhood.

    The abuse by my counselor was the same. She was very compassionate and empathic in how she approached me and opened up the possibility of a relationship. She shared with me her abuse from her current husband and the demands of her children upon her. My desire to help and even save her, was overwhelming. The relationship was paused as I left for the Christmas school break and I took a planned break several states away. It was enough time to realize how personally and ethically wrong the relationship was. When I returned to school, I ended the relationship but decided not to say anything to prevent her from losing her job and her income. Then I had a call from her saying she had told her supervisor.

    I decided to tell my advisor. I went straight to my advisors office and asked to speak to her. I shared the whole experience and my advisors first response was to ask me how If I felt the same about the counselor as she felt about me. I felt a red flag fly. It turns out, they were very good friends. I was told to get another counselor and that the situation would be dealt with. I was contacted by the supervisor of the counselor who I had been in relationship with and was told she wanted to counsel me instead. I went to see her in a counseling session next door to where I had had counseling sessions with the other counselor, I had red flags flying again.

    I found out that the woman counselor I had been in relationship with was one of the star students of my counseling program and all the professors had been close to her. One professor stopped speaking to me. One accused me of traumatizing my peers in my classroom practice counseling sessions because I was bringing my trauma into the room with me. I was dropped down to two classes by the department. I asked to meet with all the professors to see if we could come to an understanding but I felt even more isolated afterwards. I contacted the state ethics board and an investigator was sent out. After interviewing everyone involved, I was interviewed. the investigator was understanding and said he felt my experience was poorly handled by the school but the ethics violations were not violations of laws. All that could be done, had been done.

    I decided to end my relationship with the school. I asked for my tuition back and was told it would be considered. I fought for another two months to get my tuition back and while they would never say no, they were not sending a check either. I finally wrote a letter to my peers informing them of my experiences and feelings. A day later I was given a check for about three quarters of the semesters tuition. I cut my losses and left the town.

    I shared this story with a few family members and a couple of friends, not to mention a few counselors. My usual response has been somewhere between… Well, you are a man and she was a woman, that shit happens?… and, How does that make you feel? (sorry, I am a bit flippant here I suppose because it still hurts, but this is very close to reality).

    If you have read this far, then I thank you. I know this is my point of view in the matter and there are many sides not heard, but I am only asking for a little empathy and compassion for myself right now because I feel that is what has been missing for me in this matter.


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