Myth Madness: ‘The Therapist Will Interrogate, Blame, and Shame Me’

close-up of a man in a suit pointing

Myth No. 8: “The therapist will interrogate, blame, shame, and condescend.”

Reality: We can thank Dr. Phil for this. Not going to dance around it. He is probably single-handedly responsible for the prevailing belief that therapists take sides against clients and belittle, blame, and shame. If I could be granted three wishes, one of them would be to erase the programming taken in by those who watched Dr. Phil.

If therapists don’t blame and shame people into acting differently, what do they do? There’s no easy answer here, as there are many different kinds of therapy approaches and many different kinds of therapists with different relational styles.

I can’t speak to what other people do, but I can tell you what I do in therapy and what most of my closest colleagues do. We teach people how to have compassion for themselves, and as part of this process of staying curious and open-hearted, people learn and feel things about themselves which allow them to release the constraints and burdens that have kept them from feeling good. Most people come to therapy hating a part of themselves, or at least wanting to get rid of or change some part of themselves. The therapist’s job is to help the person separate from his or her fear, dislike, judgment, and other reactions and feelings until the person is able to be curious. Through the process of listening to the parts of themselves that brought them to therapy, people begin to understand why the parts have been feeling or acting certain ways. This learning process leads to self-compassion, and when the trailhead is followed to its depths, the origins of the drama can be found and attended to in a way that helps the person make not just intellectual breakthroughs, but tremendous emotional and somatic shifts which change his or her life forever.

Whatever the process, regardless of the type of therapy, healthy therapy NEVER includes blame, shame, and condescension. We are all doing the best we can based on both nature and nurture. Indeed, people do horrible, destructive things to themselves and others, but if we truly listen to people without prejudice, we learn that everyone has drama, everyone is still, on some level, just as vulnerable as they were they day they were born, and everyone has a painful story behind the curtain of protection. Only compassion can help undo this suffering.

Editor’s note: For more articles examining common myths and fears surrounding psychotherapy, please click here.

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  • Polly

    October 14th, 2013 at 10:51 AM

    I guess I can see where this kind of fear is coming from because let’s face it, most of us are pretty hesitant to air our dirty laundry, especially to someone who is for all intents and purposes a stranger to us. But I think that if you take a minute to step back and remember that this is going to be a person who has your best interests at heart then you will see that shaming you is not something that will at all be a part of the treatment protocol. You might feel ashamed but really you shouldn’t. Therapy is the absolute safest place to spout out all of your worries and fears, in a place that is never going to make you feel like you are being shamed or condescended to.This is about making you feel good about yourself again.

  • bryant

    October 15th, 2013 at 12:23 AM

    this is so true!what’s shown in that series is degrading to the clients if you ask person is going to pay to go to a therapist who blames and shames them, then somehow makes that work in a good way.that is hardly if ever going to happen.blaming and shaming a person in therapy may be too big a mistake for all we know.

  • julia beth

    October 15th, 2013 at 3:48 AM

    How is a therapist supposed to know what problems you are dealing with without asking questions and talking to you? I don’t believe that it would be interrogation style, but there does have to be some questioning to get a sense of what is bothering you and what directionth e sessions will go.

  • Rhodes

    October 15th, 2013 at 10:23 AM

    There is going to be some hesitation and I get that, but some of these excuses seem like just that- excuses- and I think that they are all being made up by people who just aren’t yet ready to go to therapy!

  • Theresa

    October 15th, 2013 at 1:15 PM

    I just lost my mother and started seeing a therapist. (My 15 year old daughter too) For two hours with my daughter in the room, she told me what I was doing wrong as a parent and what I need to do differently. She then gets mad because I told her I don’t agree with her. The way she parents is totally different from me .

    I go and see her today and she loses her mind throwing her pen down at the computer. She is raising her voice saying WE ARE DONE, we are done. We are not a good fit.. All because we got on the subject of parenting and she didn’t want to hear the way I feel. The doctor told me she was doing behavior modification with me. I told him I am her for the loss of my mom.

    Does anyone know where I can make a complaint and who with??

  • fred

    October 16th, 2013 at 1:19 AM

    Ive had my share of experiences with therapists, and let me tell you any therapist worth his job will not shame you as a client! while it is possible that some people may find a few questions a little offensive, know that a therapist is asking that to try and help you, not to shame you and drive you away. it doesn’t even make sense financially for the therapist to do that, think about it.

  • Logan

    October 16th, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    I agree with Fred. Do you know how many licensed therapists there are oth there? thousands!! So if the one you end up with happens to make you feel like you have done something wrong believe me, there are dozens more who I know can help you see that no, you can and are doing something right with your life.

  • Brenda

    November 15th, 2013 at 7:31 PM

    Hello Theresa the advice from Fred and Logan is very accurate. I would just add that negative thinking will just harm you rather than heal you. Obviously what you perceived as criticism made you angry and started the blame game to kick in. Move on to a new Therapist. But be prepared for hard questions and don’t forget as tough as they are, they are being asked in order for the Therapist to offer you the help you are seeking.

  • Val Campbell

    May 16th, 2014 at 5:51 PM

    Thank goodness I just read this article. I just finished watching several Dr. Phil shows and I always come away with the same question. Why would anyone go on his show to be yelled at, and embarrased, and made to feel like an idiot. I have never been to therapy because I thought that’s what they did was tell you how horrible you are. Thank you for saying Dr. Phil is a terrible therapist. I feel better about myself already.

  • Roxy

    April 21st, 2015 at 9:59 PM

    I don’t know what is worse the direct shaming of Dr. Phil or the more passive aggressive blaming, shaming many other therapists use when patients have difficulty using the so called “evidence based” cookie cutter therapies. : “this therapy has been PROVEN to work when patients do the work” maybe you don’t want to get well” or worse making derogatory comments in clinical notes.

  • Not a Soccer Mom

    September 18th, 2016 at 6:02 AM

    I had to call TELL becuase I experienced therapy abuse. They mostly talk to people who had sex with ehir theapistsbut were compassionte and helpful speaking to me. He treid some shame, it did work for him. He was very condescending. He obviously needed a theapist. He wasn’t kind and most of all he was not compassionate. He was aslo judgental. Never knew why he became a therapist. Maybe he just was working on healing himself through his clients. I pray I will avoid terds like him.

  • Sara

    May 11th, 2018 at 3:20 AM

    It is vitally important for anyone seeking therapy to VET a potential therapist prior to embarking on sessions, otherwise the client could end up further traumatised by a therapist who seeks to control or who means well, but lacks insight and knowledge. Any therapist who you feel is trying to shame you does not deserve your time or energy. There are plenty of compassionate therapists out there but using your intuition is vital. Does the therapist make you feel comfortable and validated? Are they open and receptive? Ask them about their qualifications and how long they’ve been working as a therapist and which area of expertise. Don’t assume that every single therapist out there knows their stuff, has empathy and knows what’s best for you just because they hold the title of ‘Therapist’. There are many people in this world who abuse their positions and a Therapist is no exception. Some people may wonder why a Therapist would seek to blame and control (and sometimes rant like a lunatic because their client isn’t agreeing wholeheartedly with the therapist’s so-called wisdom) if it means financial loss. In other words, surely a Therapist wouldn’t behave abusively towards a client if it means a loss of money. Well, it’s not always about money with an abusive therapist. It’s all about maintaining power and control over their client. If their client leaves due to the therapist’s abusive behaviour, the therapist feels an enormous amount of FUEL. They’ve succeeded in traumatising or re-traumatising their client. Job accomplished!! So for anyone seeking therapy, please – for your own sake – VET your potential therapist and remember that YOU know yourself far better than anyone!

  • Rale

    June 19th, 2021 at 7:11 AM

    Therapists don’t blame clients, they call it “resistance”. I guess, some therapist should first hand see or, even better, experience “classical penetrator”, to check their resilience. Don’t blame therapists if they scream in horror after that, it is normal human reaction. Instead, call them non-resilient and cherish their lack of resistance. And in case you wounder what classical penetrator is, it is Roman gladius, preferably Hispaniensis or Meinz type, great for thrusting, great for cutting, it can cut forearm with single blow. People in general lack any significant resistance to it, even if it is blunt. And there are few other ways how you can hurt or kill person, quickly and easily with things most people would never think of, even pathologists. And for them too you can make nice sounding expressions like “perpendicular cross guard cortex mutilation”.
    I have been accused of this and that (my so called dysfunctional behaviour) by very same therapist I was seeing for many years (psychoanalytical type). So my lack of ANY meaningful progress was just my fault and my resistance. For me, the very moment when therapists mention the word “resistance” I know he or she: a) have no clue what to do; b) blames me. Here are opening sentences from paper “Resistance or Rationalization?”: The concept of “resistance” is probably the most elaborate rationalization that therapists employ to explain their treatment failures. Think about for a moment. Beside resistance, there is giving of unwanted advice, some of them without any contact with reality with remark “you can try”. Well, try to to politely ask to avoid paying taxes and try to guess what answer you will get. Sure, you don’t gave anything to lose, except to look like an idiot. Very therapeutic.

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