To provide a productive therapeutic environment, therapists are trained to "meet people where they're at."
That means accepting a client and their struggle regardless of how alienating the specifics may be. That acceptance allows a safe space to form where the client can verbalize their feelings and responses, and understand their internal states more closely.
But therapists are humans.
Sure, they're ideally well-trained humans especially skilled at noticing certain thought patterns and human tendencies. That said, they do have knee-jerk initial responses to the people around them.
They then mindfully work around those responses to continue to provide good care. But nonetheless, the occasional moment of shock does come about every now and then.
Judging the Context
"Therapist here. To piggy back on what others have said, it is highly unlikely for me to have moments where I judge my clients."
"It happens sometimes, but I'm able to shut down those thoughts quickly in my head and return to being present for the people I see."
"People are so incredibly complex that my judgment wouldn't have any meaning anyway and it doesn't have a place in our work together."
"I will admit though, something that does get me feeling a little salty is when I have a client's parent that attempts to sabotage the therapeutic relationship I have with their child..."
"...or pulling them out of therapy entirely when some of the things we talk about challenges some potentially unhealthy family dynamics."
"I don't feel anger toward the parents, mostly I feel bad for the kid."
Out of His Wheelhouse
"When I was under age, I got caught with a drink on bourbon street and got a minor in possession."
"I was telling my therapist about it, and said that the police caught me with a 'hand grenade' in New Orleans."
"He didn't realize that a hand grenade was a type of drink, and it was funny to watch him try to process that his patient might have just casually told him that he had been caught with a fragmentation grenade."
"He took a big long pause, and said, 'where did you even find a grenade?'"
"I realized the misunderstanding quickly and corrected him. But for a moment he definitely was thinking 'holy sh** how do I deal with this?'"
Sometimes, it's Just Too Much
"I'll never judge someone, especially someone who has come to me hurting. The world is full of a**holes already."
"That said, I found out while I was still doing internships that I'm very uncomfortable working with abusers, so I don't do it."
"It took one recount of a man describing in detail how he was strangling his wife up against a wall and making her look at the beam he was gonna hung her from."
"I got out of the office and told my supervisor I just couldn't do it. (It's worth mentioning, I was just an observer back then, I didn't act as the therapist, my supervisor was."
"She wanted me to be prepared to work not only with victims, but with victimisers as well)"
Don't Get Pulled In
"Actual therapist here. I get moments like that sometimes, but by the next session, I've usually reached a place where I'm more ashamed of myself for judging than I am surprised by my client."
"For example, people with symptoms of borderline personality disorder can really elicit reactions like that for me."
"One day they might be saying that they really value someone's friendship, and the next they might be ready to cut that person out of their lives completely over a disagreement."
"Or they'll be working on expressing more emotions one day, and the next day "I'm never talking about my feelings again."
"My first (internal) reaction is usually 'Dude, what??'"
"But then I take a step back and remember that this type of behavior is the exact problem they're trying to solve. And that there's probably really important experiences that shaped them to respond in this way."
"Okay, real therapist here. I got one. Some of my clients are SHOCKINGLY BAD at giving themselves credit, holy sh**!!"
"Like they might get a nearly straight A GPA in a brutal major while battling depression, or overcome years of phobia and get behind the wheel again, or write a literal novel..."
"...or raise a kid as a single parent with low income, or build new relationships after being burned, or cope with OCD well enough to hold down a job."
"And they'll talk about themselves as if everyone on earth is better than them, as if their accomplishments are worthless."
"And I know it's because of depression or anxiety or another condition, but I'm often stunned by how differently I see them compared to how they see themselves."
More of an Ongoing Concern
"Not a judgment - you kind of train your brain not to judge, because you are seeking to understand and help. When you do those things, you can't simultaneously judge."
"We could all use a little more of that in real life, I suppose."
"I'll share this though. I do feel concerned about this recent phenomenon of young people I worked with self-diagnosing, sharing, and identifying very closely with mental illness..."
"...as if the pendulum quickly swung from 'never, ever share your feelings' to 'OMG, you're depressed? All of us are too!'"
"Life's challenges can be tough and they don't need a scientific-sounding label to be valid and real. You are not your diagnosis. We can find validation and support in healthier ways."
Not Judging, but Stunned
"I'm a licensed psychologist and I'll tell you I've never judged my patients. The world is so full of judgement and it's my job to objectively look at someone who's suffering and offer them empathy and a path towards healing."
"The one thing I've judged is the situations that people survive and continue to live their lives."
"I've worked with torture survivors, survivors of genocide and famine. I've worked with people whose entire villages were wiped out because a war lord wanted the water well that was sitting in the town."
"It always gives me pause in terms of the anguish some people face and their resilience. So if I have one message, it would be in the words of RJ Palacio, 'Be kind for everyone is fighting a hard battle.'"
"Well, I quit my last therapist because I made him cry uncontrollably. He tried not to, but he just couldn't hold it back. I felt guilty and won't see him anymore."
"I think he may have lost a child before. I described watching my aunt grieve over her son's body. I felt so much pain losing him, but was explaining how watching my aunt was dramatically worse."
"The details about her is what made him lose it. I could tell he was reliving something inside his own head."
Want to "know" more? Never miss another big, odd, funny, or heartbreaking moment again. Sign up for the Knowable newsletter here.