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Talking About Abuse In Therapy and Feeling Out of Control

by Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I’m in therapy with a psychologist, and I’ve been having once-weekly sessions with him for about 8 months now. I was referred to him by a counselor at our university’s mental health center – this counselor was particularly helpful, but can only see students for a limited time. I was also in group therapy co-led by that university counselor for a year, although that program has been canceled for funding reasons.

I went originally to the health center seeking help for anxiety issues, and eventually decided it would be very helpful if I could talk about the history of rape and abuse I’ve experienced. I followed several referrals that didn’t seem like good ‘fits’ until I found my current therapist.

I’m starting to talk to him about some of the incidents that have happened to me, even though, and I’ve told him this, I don’t feel -safe- in his office pretty much at all ever. The doors are thin, I can hear people through them (and while I admit to having young-person acute hearing, I mean that I can hear them breath or cough through the door, not just vague muttering. If they’re talking, I can hear exactly what they’re saying).

I’m also having problems feeling safe because I don’t think he knows what my reaction to his questioning is like. In the last session when he continued to question me about what a particular incident had been like, I got quieter and quieter. I felt helpless, like I was re-living the event, and I didn’t move or make any eye contact with him. I tried to stay as quiet as I could so that he would stop asking (and go away?). And then I went home.

I’ve talked with him later about the fact that, when he’s asking these questions and I’m feeling more and more -in- an event, I can’t ask him to stop. I’ve tried, I just can’t do it, any more than I could do it then. I’ve asked him to focus a little more on how I’m actually doing in the room, but he always seems to forget. My university counselor was very good about checking in with me about this, and I don’t understand why this therapist doesn’t ever do that – ask how I’m feeling, what it’s like right now, and all that, trying to sort-of ‘bring me back’ from wherever it is I’m at.

I’m not sure what to do. I know that some of my not-wanting-to-go-back is because we’ve been talking about some really intense issues/incidents, and I tend to want to avoid those as a general rule. And I’ve told him before that I really, really don’t like what happens when I talk about this stuff. I’m worried that I’m going to leave his office sort-of in a daze, if I let myself get too far gone, and … I don’t know. It’s not very safe for me to leave like that, and I’d rather avoid it. Traffic alone causes me problems when I’m like that – and I ride the city buses home!

I’ve been trying to talk about finding someone else who works a little differently, but the conversations I start with him about that always get turned around. I’m just not sure what to do.

You have asked some very important questions about your therapy. In your current situation you are feeling uncomfortable with the line of questioning from your therapist. He may be asking these questions to determine information about your situation so that he can best advise you about how to proceed. It’s helpful and necessary for the therapist to know all of the details about a client’s particular issue. That may be what he is trying to accomplish with his questions regarding the rape.

Keep in mind that therapy is usually not a comfortable process. There will usually be times when the things discussed in therapy are unpleasant. That is the nature of therapy. People are attempting to deal with very difficult and complicated personal issues. Ultimately, the goal is to heal but the process of getting to that point can be emotionally painful. That might account for your negative feelings.

It’s important that you report your uncomfortable feelings and experiences to your therapist. He needs to know this information. Maybe there are some therapists who would be more attuned to your feelings or perhaps not. It’s your job to make him aware of your feelings. It is important to therapy and it may be important for the healing process. You need to be fully honest with him. You may also want to ask him if he would change his line of questioning or at least put off his questions about the rape until you feel comfortable providing answers. Again, this requires that you have an honest and open conversation about how you’re feeling.

As I mentioned above, the best thing to do is to be honest with your therapist, but if you feel you can’t then consider another therapist. You seem to like and trust the university counseling center therapist. She may be able to refer you to a different counselor. Consider talking to her about your dilemma. She may be able to advise you about how to handle the situation. You can also ask her if she would be willing to see you for a few sessions. I understand that the university counselors cannot see their students on a long-term basis but a few booster sessions with her might be very helpful. Thank you for your question.

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