therapist's sexual innuendo

This is a very difficult thing for me and I need your thoughts on this. I am a woman who has been in intense therapy with a man and have made wonderful progress in my ACOA issues, PTSD issues from my violent father, and many others. I felt really good about this and feel like I've come a long way and I know he thinks so to. I think he's an excellent therapist and he really has gained my trust.

At my last session we had to meet in another office. He said to make myself comfortable, there's the couch, and joked that I could "sprawl all out over it" if I felt like it. I didn't think anything of it -- he has never in any way been inappropriate. He left and when he came back in I asked him if it was ok to put my feel up (I was sitting with my legs up and to the side so I could lean on the end of the couch but had take my flip flops off) I asked him because I didn't want to be rude by putting my bare feet on the furniture. Well, he answered by saying that that's fine, "As long as you don't take anything else off." I was so floored I just kept looking straight and couldn't even look at him. What I WANTED to say was, "What do you mean by THAT????!", as I was very offended. But I didn't. I felt intimidated and hurt and just shook my head a bit in agreement (but I was really in shock that he said that) and dismissed it. This is what I do when my boundaries are violated and I don't stand up for myself.

It is now a few days later and I am still upset by it. I am hurt and confused. Was this a test, maybe? He did seem to be looking for a reaction after he said it. I felt bullied, frankly. I don't know that I can have the same level of trust again.

I don't want to make this into something it is not and overreact. I think it is a good example for me to actually bring it up and ask him what he meant by that comment and to tell him how it made me feel.

This is: I really liked the progress I was making but I feel like this changes things. Is it me? Am I "oversensitive?" How do I know? I read that therapists are never supposed to inject sex into things, not even jokingly. I just felt so offended. In cases like this in my life where something isn't working, I tend to "run" and just leave. I think this is an important step for me to address this. But yet I still feel like maybe I need to stop seeing this guy if I can't have the same level of trust.

Please let me know what you think. Thanks SO much; I really appreciate your time.

Ben's Answer:

What your therapist said, was, in my opinion, inappropriate; If he was testing you by saying this, then that still doesn't make it ok. But having said that, if this is the first time such a line has been crossed, and this is not a pattern with him, it may be an excellent opportunity for you to assert yourself and confront him. Therapy relationships, especially when they are intense, and deep issues have been worked through, always elicit emotions and issues in us that are unresolved or unconscious. Whether this comment was due to his poor judgment, poor boundaries, or his own Freudian slip, you might really have a transformative experience by telling how you felt about it.

If this is a pattern in your life - running aways when things get difficult or uncomfortable, then all the more reason to see it through. It would be a shame to abruptly end a positive therapy experience with such negative feelings, having never had the chance to express yourself about this. If he's really a good therapist he will handle this in a mature, professional way and will take responsibility for his off-handed remark. This could actually lead to a new level of trust and understanding between you - or at least it could lead to you feeling more empowered and good about yourself.

Just to be really clear here: This is NOT your fault. You are not being over-sensitive. He should NOT have said that, for any reason. And this may be a test that "Life" has given you - but it should not be a test that your therapist is giving you. Telling your therapist how this made you feel may be the most beneficial thing that comes out of all your therapy with him. It's not without risk though; if he can't handle this or gets defensive or tries to make it all your issue, you might feel even more upset - and rightfully so. But chances are, you will reach a positive outcome and he will hear your feelings and respect you for confronting him.

Thanks for your question.

I wish you the best,
Ben Schwarcz, MFT
Santa Rosa Psychotherapist

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Aug 19, 2010
Author again
by: Anonymous

Hi All,

I forgot to report that I did bring this to the attention of my therapist at our next session, and, while awkward, it went very well. He did validate that it was in no way 'me' or anything I said or did and took total ownership -- he said that sometimes he "forgets what hat he wears" and also that he can be "flippant." He said it was the end of the day, and he just wasn't thinking; he'd say the same thing to a guy. He apologized profusely and we went on with the session.

The whole experience was really beneficial for me to be able to confront something unpleasant without choosing to either block it out, get secretly angry and offended, or just end the relationship. It does in fact change our patient-therapist relationship I think though, and I do wonder if deep down he's a little more cautious and maybe resentful because I brought to light something that he did do wrong. I know the logic in this -- the "it's not my fault" but I am just being frank about it; I just know human nature and we don't like to be reminded of the fact that we screwed up. I'm just sensing a bit of a tension or reserve on his part in our sessions now, but I guess we'll work through it. Obviously, it was getting too familiar and nonprofessional anyway.

This is all a good lesson too in that I see that he too is human. I wanted so much to trust, to learn, to heal, that I put him on this god-like pedastal and was really thrown for a loop when this all occurred. It has taught me to stop the black-and-white thinking and I've moved a little step toward overall effective conflict resolution. I think it was all organic, in some strange way...

Thanks again, Ben. :)

Ben's response:

Excellent insights! Great job!

Jul 24, 2010
Thanks, Ben!
by: Anonymous

I am the author of the above comment. Let me say, I just caught my own Freudian slip in there when I wrote "feel" up instead of "feet." It is quite funny. But that is what I tend to do too: make a joke out of an important thing to get away from being uncomfortable about it...

Thank you, Ben, so very much -- I agree totally with your advice and am going to take it. I absolutely have fear that he may get defensive, etc., but I am going to do it for my own growth and leave his reaction on him and he must own that.

I am scared, as this is new territory for me, but I feel good about the decision. I will post the results next week.

Ben's Response

You're welcome... and I noticed that Freudian slip too. :)
It's good to be able to laugh at ourselves.

Have courage and do what you need to do!


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