8 thoughts on “Can a Psychotherapist Brainwash a Client?

  • October 8, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    This entire column reflects the very brainwashing it purports to explore. First, it presupposes therapists CAN label or uncover the source of experience an individual has, that somewhere, somehow, in psychological or psychiatric labels there’s an answer. Hokum. People can struggle with all kinds of things that may or may not have “oedipal” or other theoretical roots. Maybe the woman in this story was struggling with how her father represents a patriarchal religion that stands by and allows women to be oppressed.

    I believe the “disorder” model and DSM are the tools of brainwash. If what may be a healthy awareness is passed through the labeling sieve, a person can be completely disempowered and start using that model to label themselves, take drugs as prescribed and bow down to the disorder model.

    I invite Dr. Shoenewolf to examine how education may have brainwashed an entire profession. With kindness as an intention, clinicians can and do impose beliefs that infantilize people and make them drug dependent. Perhaps psychologists and psychiatrists could look at the need to constantly validate their own belief systems at the expense of their clients.

    • October 9, 2014 at 8:02 am

      Wow, ellen. That’s an extreme response. I definitely think that the world needs therapists and the DSM and medications. I know lots of schizophrenics that would be homeless without these things.
      I personally experienced a false memory when I was young. I did suffer some slight sexual trauma, but I projected the icky feelings onto my oldest sister and blamed her for years (just to myself) for something she didn’t do. (I didn’t have a dad).
      It can happen with or without therapy. It is written in our history and our news stories. Rape and incest happens, we learn that and we begin to worry that maybe that’s why this or why that.
      Anyway I could go on, but the point is, therapists can be very beneficial, as long as they don’t influence their patient’s perception of the truth unless they have proof.

      • October 10, 2014 at 1:24 pm

        Yup, my comment sounds heavy handed. To clarify, I’ve had a wonderful therapist who helped me through childhood trauma and its effects. She also referred me to a psychiatrist who so loaded me up with drugs ($1000/month) I became permanently disabled. After 13 years of that, I’m slowly coming off the drugs. Permanent brain damage has been done. My future earning potential is bleak and I live in poverty. My current rage and grief over this (after all it was MY life, not theirs) will subside over time. I get they had good intentions but did no research beyond what validates the medical model. Fortunately, I found a psychologist who studied under Stanislav Grof (supervising professor for her doctorate). She and I will work on what I experienced in my altered state and on the medical model trauma that followed. I believe clinicians in that model are probably well-intended, but the “brainwashing” prevents them from looking beyond what validates their training.

        My new therapist has a floor to ceiling bookshelf FULL of sand tray figures–toys, a way to work on the issues the subconscious presents for our growth. There is no DSM anywhere in her office, not visible anyway. I can’t tell you how refreshing this is. I’m not painting all clinicians with a broad brush. I’m saying pedagogy is rampant in the field.

        About “schizophrenics” (human beings who experience altered states and non-consensus reality), choice, informed consent and an exit strategy for drugs that were never intended to be taken forever would be more responsible clinical “treatment”. I worked in a peer run program with people misdiagnosed and/or prescribed drugs that did permanent damage (as was done with me). Many of these people were homeless. Economics was the common denominator. Struggling for survival and hypervigilance produces and feeds despair, delusion and altered states. The most damaging thing to do to someone is take away the human being first concept by calling someone a diagnosis.

        Does this explain my comment better?

  • October 8, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Reminds me of Richard Kluft MD and Colin Ross MD and their obsession with repressed memories,leading to family breakups.

  • October 9, 2014 at 7:05 am

    Earlier this year I ‘fired’ a psychotherapist I had been seeing for about 11 months because I did persistently feel I was being brainwashed. I believe the therapist was entrenched in a very rigid therapeutic model and was absolutely incapable of seeing past this. Everything I said, she interpreted in terms of this model which, for me, was inaccurate and unhelpful. She was unable/unwilling to take responsibility for how her own behaviours and attitudes towards me created self-fulfilling prophesies. In response to my concerns, she would say that the very criticisms I was making were evidence of how right she was (as she was determined to see everything in terms of my resistance and unconscious transference).

    One reason I stayed in therapy for so long, and doubted my own perceptions, was that it did seem that the therapist was genuinely *trying* to help and had good intentions. The extreme arrogance she displayed didn’t seem to be part of her own personality so much as a it was a feature of the approach she had been trained in. I think it’s important to note that the ‘establishment,’ and the institutions in which psychotherapists work (in this case, a specialist outpatient unit) reinforce attitudes that are damaging towards the patients. I suspect that individual therapists are under great pressure to do things ‘by the book,’ and this pressure perhaps comes from supervisors/managers, public funding providers, or just a general sense of ‘how things are done.’ Therapists need to find the bravery to overcome the ways in which they, themselves, have been brainwashed.

    • September 5, 2018 at 4:55 am

      Yes, why are therapists so often extremely arrogant? They must get used to feeling so powerful sitting in a chair for decades with patients being the only ones to be vulnerable. The power imbalance of the situation must attract people with many narcissistic traits to the therapist role. Their focus on ‘resistance’ is also a win-win for them – If I agree with you you’re right, if I disagree with you I’m in denial.

      I have experience of a highly narcissistic therapist. Even when she was confronted with evidence of her poor practice, she would just respond with silence, lies or denial. She consistently had to demonstrate her supposed superiority, boasting in sessions about things like the size of her house. It was quite sad really. I ended up losing respect for her but the arrogance must have been covering some deep feelings of inferiority.

  • October 9, 2014 at 7:58 am

    I agree with a lot of what Ellen says and I think psychotherapy can have a lot of limitations, but I have found it helpful on and off during my life. But the article did resonate with me. I was working with a woman therapist for a number of years and there was a strong sexual transference and counter transference and we eventually had a sexual relationship, with devastating consequences. For me it triggered incestuous feelings of powerlessness. t turned out she had a lot of rage towards her own father and men in general. Between us we were exploring the idea that I had been sexually abused by my father and this I believed for many years because it seemed the only explanation for my sexual history. But the belief was reinforced by her acting out my original trauma. But what I did notice was that all her clients eventually came to the conclusion that they had been sexually abused, often in ritual cults and it left me very confused, because either the world is full of paedophiles where ritual sexual abuse is the norm ( and I am not doubting this exists) or there is a lot of contagious hysteria around it. As the article says my belief gave me a reason for my anger. This is in no way to invalidate those who have been sexually abused. But as time has gone on I have begun to wonder whether I was sexual y abused(since I have no memory of it)or whether something else happened at a critical time and I have latched on to this as an explanation. So the article made some sense to me. Also I noticed as my friends recovered from their depressions, they also abandoned the idea that they were sexually abused. I found it easy to build an identity around being a survivor of sexual abuse and I wonder how much of that was a need to belong and to feel that my pain was validated and certainly there was a lot of real pain and trauma in my childhood but I am not certain any longer if it was sexual. It may have been. I may never know. I know the relationship with that therapist was a sexual trauma. Anyway it is just something that I often do wonder about and there are no easy or clear answers!I wish there were. I do think therapists can have an enormous influence over clients, sometimes good, sometimes destructive.

  • December 13, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    “At the same time, clients can and do sometimes accuse therapists of thinking, saying and doing things they did not do.”

    How invalidating of clients. Is the therapist an absolute authority? This reads like an intellectualized vent about a client or clients who weren’t sufficiently submissive and idolizing.

    Mental health professionals forget how “brainwashed” they are. As demonstrated above, they not infrequently regard themselves as True North, possessing the sole definitive and correct narrative. They construct an entire treatment system upon unvalidated fable, that specific behavior arises from a specific trackable genesis.

    They forgot Freud’s constructions were no more than the cocaine-fueled notions of an accomplished showman. They dismiss that falsifiability is essential for any valid scientific statement as they claim to codify complexities of the human mind.

    Psychotherapists somehow convince themselves they have the power to understand another being’s life, to interpret events they never witnessed with tools that have no more substance than hunches.

    Setting aside the parsing of “brainwashing,” therapists seem to forget that when a client enters therapy she’s inducted into a thought system: submitting to a parent figure grants autonomy; fixating on victimhood brings freedom; a remote, pathologized review of behavior grants a happier life.

    The psych health worker uncritically dives into his fantasia, dragging the distressed and the vulnerable with him. The client, seeking relief from life’s distress, pliably collaborates.

    Before a practitioner scolds another skeptical client, I challenge him to examine his own delusions.

    To reiterate Ellen’s great quote: “Perhaps psychologists and psychiatrists could look at the need to constantly validate their own belief systems at the expense of their clients.”



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