Comments on
When Your Therapist Gets Depressed


What happens to your therapy when your therapist gets ill or depressed?

You’ve been seeing him/her for a long time and gradually it dawns on you that although your therapist is doing an excellent job there is something you intuit telepathically that things are not as they seem. 

15 thoughts on “When Your Therapist Gets Depressed

  • July 5, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    It’s worth recognising that therapists do undertake clinical supervision for their work and part of this encompasses ‘fitness to practice’ and this is also an ethical consideration.

    Reply
  • July 6, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    Almost all therapists have some sort of mental health problem, often the same problems that they specialize in treating. While I wouldn’t want a therapist who is severely depressed, I think it’s good to have a therapist’s who’s dealt with similar problems that you are facing. It may even be a good idea for therapist to disclose that info. My therapist admitted to me that she has the same disorder that I was in treatment for. I appreciated her openness and felt like her advice was more believable because it wasn’t just “book knowledge.” She also frequently talks about her own insecurities, anxieties and cognitive distortions and while I wouldn’t want her unloading on me, I think it does help the therapeutic process.

    But again, some clients might want or need the therapist to be “omnipotent and immortal.” It depends on the situation.

    I also think that any therapist who get depressed should immediately seek help themselves and perhaps reduce their client load is possible so it doesn’t get worse.

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  • July 7, 2010 at 8:27 am

    Christine– not all therapists undergo that much of this, and if they have been practicing for many years, they don’t always stay up on their own mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, bipolar etc can develop long after training. Requirements for undergoing therapy in many programs are even slimmer, and most of who have been in therapy for a long while know that a requirement of something like 20 hours is pretty laughable.

    Sonia, I think you bring up such an interesting issue here, and it is one that therapists need to absolutely look at. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who spends most of the day counseling others NEEDs a therapist, and many people don’t get this or don’t take it seriously, which then creates an issue where through countertransference, the client may be seen as the means to ending the therapist’s depression. That is way too much responsibility for the client to bear (and makes it questionable about who should be paying who for each session).

    However, the therapist that occasionally shares his/her own struggles or feelings gets to assert with the client his/her own humanness– and part of any good therapy should be moving the client out of the space where the therapist is idealized. The occasional mood distortion, common in any relationship, can serve the therapeutic relationship if it can be openly discussed.

    Anyway– great piece!

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  • July 7, 2010 at 9:34 am

    I’m not sure if any of my therapists were depressed
    but I do know that 2 out of 4 of my, most recent therapists (and I’ll explain why I have had four therapists!) have been physically ill and both times were sad, sad situations. My 1st therapist was a woman who, like me, was a chain smoker and we
    both talked about quitting, and I know she was having a hard time trying to put those ciggies away
    forever. Well, I stopped going to her, b/c it was 7 years, and frankly I was all talked out. I started seeing my son’s, past therapist, a guy who was dealing with a serious movement disorder, possibly ms but I wasn’t sure and I never asked. It
    was he who told me that the woman therapist I used to see, died of lung cancer! She never quit. It never worked. That awful disease of cancer took her
    life. It took a few years but my guy therapist left
    the job and worked out of his house, until he passed away two years ago.. I read about it in the newspaper. During that time, I was seeing another woman therapist, and we immediately clicked. She had a bad back, but I didn’t think it was bad enough that it would take her away from her job. It
    was one of the best patient/therapist relationships I’ve ever had. Then she was gone like
    the wind. Then I started seeing another therapist, a woman from Russia, whom I hardly understand! But I see her only b/c my pdoc makes me go to therapy if he gives me meds. After 25 yrs. of therapy, I am
    so done talking!

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  • July 7, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    My therapist went mad – but it wasn’t my fault, honest!

    He became bi-polar and delusional and the sessions became all about him. He thought Satan was attacking him through his printer and that he was Joseph, his wife Mary and their son Jesus. He was told to take lithium, but he said he was just going to take Kalms (a mild herbal over-the-counter remedy).

    I didn’t tell on him. I felt I should maintain confidentiality. Then he left to work for the Ministry of Defence. He was a nice man though.

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  • July 7, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    A paranoid, delusional therapist working for the Ministry of Defense? That’s scary! As for not reporting him because of confidentiality I would think it would be important to report him. He could be a danger to his patients, emotionally if not physically.
    A question I have is what about responsibility of self disclosure on the part of the therapist? I had a psychiatrist who had a break down, and I was acutally one of the last patients he saw. I noticed he was very different, and in a joking manner to a discussion we were having said ‘Hey, which one of us is the patient?” Two days later I got a form letter from him stating that he was giving up his practice. I was really ticked off that he didn’t have the guts to tell me during the last session. Not only that it left me in the lurch, but the fact that he couldn’t trust enough to tell me ( I was working in the Mental Health field at the time). It wasn’t that I was looking for more info, but I think just a statement during the last five minutes of the session. I have had other medical and mental health providers who had illnesses, and they were up front and told me so, which is I believe the way it should be. In our state there is a required 90 day notice to patients before closing a practice. This doctor helped me through some difficult times, and unfortunately I lost a great deal of respect for him because of his lack of honesty.

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  • July 7, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    I guess if I had to sit in an office everyday..long hours at a time..listening to at least 8 people whining about their problems a day. .I would be “depressed” too.

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  • July 8, 2010 at 2:45 am

    Jess,

    It can be uplifting listening to people getting better as well. When clients suddenly or gradually gain insight into their condition and life it can be a gratifying experience for the therapist, not to say the client.

    Therapy is not about whining. It’s a collaboration between two people to solve situations or increase the living skills of another.

    I asked my therapist the other day whether she still liked her job and she said she was very happy (and lucky) to be able to work at a job she loved.

    In all the time I have been seeing her on and off for many years, I have detected many emotions in her, including what I felt was mild depression, but burnout and cynicism not amongst them.

    Regards Sonia

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  • July 8, 2010 at 3:26 am

    “client” said “Almost all therapists have some sort of mental health problem..” I’m sure that is not correct, hopefully an anecdote rather than a stat. I believe all Therpists should educate their clients along the lines that they are human, have foibles and that clients have a right to good service for the money (whoever pays it) that they should audition their new Therapist before gettng involved. This is the way I approach my new clients, believing the pedestal to be counter productive and ultimately, counter therapeutic.
    :o)

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  • July 9, 2010 at 8:41 am

    My T never seemed to believe that I could sense changes in him. He thought he was so good that his affect would not be visible to clients? Or I’m the only one who was looking back at him?

    While not depressed, there were times when his “stuff” would intrude into my therapy. Last fall, when the center director changed, he was pretty agitated about how the overall delivery of care would change. I finally sat in his chair, put him in mine, and said “I understand you are having some challenges at work, why don’t you tell me about it?”
    We got past it.

    However, this spring I noticed he was not himself during April and May. I could not figure out what was going on, but there was something. He mis-communicated about a major change in the therapy and we were derailed for weeks. Then in June he announced he was leaving the center at the end of the month.
    So, then I knew. He’d been in job hunt/negotiation mode. Distracted.

    Dear therapists – if the client “calls you on it” when you are out of sorts, for whatever reason, please do not deny it. When I sense that something is not right between us, and I find the courage to bring it up, please do not lie about your status. See, we are trying to trust our instincts about relationships, and when you are untruthful then we lose faith in our gut instinct. And we figure it out that you lied, so then we lose faith in you.

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  • July 9, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    What a good point Eloise. The client’s intuition is be encouraged, so if the T then hides from it…
    how dumb.
    Best to all

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  • July 27, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    Yes, Eloise, I agree. Communication is very important.

    Ralph…you are correct. Therapists are simply human beings too. They don’t have all the answers. They have lives and responsibilities outside of work.

    Jess…the tone of your comment bothers me. I’m not attacking you, but I can’t really tell what you’re trying to convey here. If you’re just kidding, then I apologize.

    As Sonia said, that is not what therapy is about. Some people need help in dealing with life. Some people should not become therapists if they don’t have an open mind. I would not want to see a therapist who is of the opinion that I am “whining” about my problems. That kind of attitude has no place in therapy.

    It is not helpful to the client in any way.

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  • August 11, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    I have never found it helpful for a therapist to discuss any of their own issues of psychiatric problems. After all I am the one paying them $200/hr!I think is is “unprofessional”.

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    • June 20, 2019 at 6:46 pm

      Made me laugh. Yes, exactly. Agree 100%. Tricky navigation though for a professional in the field that realizes they are depressed beyond the normal “fix it” behaviors and can not exactly run into work declaring they are “depressed” when working with the depressed.

      Reply
  • December 31, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    what are the professional protocols for a therapist who is depressed or suicidal? what does the apa say and do?

    Reply
 

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