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When Your Therapist Treats You Like a Dog

My therapist, who is a great fan of the Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan, has a dog that she loves very much but when he misbehaves or breaks a boundary he is firmly disciplined and because of this he is now a well-behaved dog.  She is pretty much the same with clients who break important boundaries as well – as I found out recently.

I broke a boundary when I asked her an intrusive question.  Seeing as I am about to embark on a career as a peer support worker, my personal boundary issues have to be exemplary so she thought she would, not unkindly, teach me a lesson; an experiential one and a message I am unlikely to forget.

After the very nosy question, she sprang out of her chair, screamed in my face that she was very angry with me for asking it, chucked a little tantrum dance and sat down again.  It was fifteen minutes before I could speak or look her in the eye.  If I were a dog, my ears would be pinned back with fright, my tail between my legs and I would be slinking out the door and probably dig a few holes in her garden or widdle all over her veranda.

I later worked out (and she told me) that she was in total control of her emotions and decided a bit of steel-belted contrived psychodrama was to be the subject of that day’s session.  We did talk about it afterwards and it ended well enough.  We processed and debriefed the following week and are still “friends.”

You can only learn so much from books, videos and talking.  It was a hard lesson to learn and as I mentioned to her, it could have ended in disaster, but she had trusted me enough not to self destruct over it and I didn’t.  In fact, as far as personal development went, I had an exponential growth period shortly after that.

There is an old Buddhist saying that you do not need to use an axe to remove the fly from your friend’s forehead.  Unfortunately she needed to use a sharp instrument in order to remove the curious cat from her client’s forehead but it did manage to teach this old dog a new trick and like her dog, I no longer have the urge to overstep those boundaries – or chew her favourite pair of shoes to shreds.

When Your Therapist Treats You Like a Dog

Sonia Neale

Sonia Neale was recently awarded the Inaugural Barbara Hocking SANE Australia Fellowship to study and research Borderline Personality Disorder overseas in the USA, Canada, UK and Ireland. Her previous Psych Central blog was called Therapy Unplugged. She is the author of two books, The Bad Mother’s Revenge and Death by Teenager, both published by ABC Books/Harper Collins. She lives in Western Australia, is married with three adult children, has studied psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has a Certificate IV in Mental Health and is studying for a Psychology/Counselling degree. She currently works as a peer support worker in the mental health field.

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APA Reference
Neale, S. (2011). When Your Therapist Treats You Like a Dog. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Mar 2011
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