The Question of Trust in Therapists, Parents, and Others

I shall not be surprised if my eldest grandson wants to explore outer space. Unlike fake superheroes, he doesn’t need tricks of the camera. His paternal grandmother, Claire, captured the moment. Not yet four when this solo flight occurred, he is a joyous, energetic, strong-willed, and sweet little boy. He was confident enough to make the leap because he knew Claire would keep him safe.

Of course, no undersized man understands the range of dangers in the world. He counts on his parents and grandparents to protect him. Thus his uninhibited abandon and joy are purchased at the cost of delayed knowledge. The guardians are his trusted custodians, those who must recognize the perils for him.

Adults count on lots of others in a similar way. A man who soon will keep some of us alive is forty-three year old Daniel Harding, a symphony conductor of worldwide reputation. His temporary departure from baton-wielding was reported by Slipped Disc:

Daniel Harding, on a farewell tour with the Orchestre de Paris, has told El Pais that he has qualified as a commercial aviator and will be taking a sabbatical to fly for Air France. ‘Since I was a child I dreamed of flying planes, but my dedication to music prevented me,’ he said.

‘In the spring I will join Air France as a co-pilot and in 2020/21 I will take a sabbatical as an orchestra conductor to apply myself to flying.’

Should we trust the Maestro to ensure a trouble-free journey above the birds?

Risky flights and endangered children have long been the subject of storytellers. A Greek myth described here by Wikipedia raises the question of proper oversight by our parents:

Phaethon … sought assurance from his mother that his father was the sun god Helios. She … told him to turn to his father for confirmation. He asked his father for some proof that would demonstrate his relationship with the sun. When the god promised to grant him whatever he wanted, he insisted on being allowed to drive the sun chariot for a day.

According to some accounts Helios tried to dissuade Phaethon, telling him that even Zeus was not strong enough to steer these horses, but reluctantly kept his promise. Placed in charge of the chariot, Phaethon was unable to control the horses.

In some versions, the Earth first froze when the horses climbed too high, but when the chariot then scorched the Earth by swinging too near, Zeus decided to prevent disaster by striking it down with a thunderbolt. Phaethon fell to earth and was killed in the process.

We might say the mom and dad lacked adequate judgment. Wisdom and self-awareness are essential qualities in the trusted one. Any therapist or physician should be dedicated to your well-being and experienced and knowledgeable, as well.

All of them must keep up with research, obtain the training to evaluate it, and adapt as new learning indicates. No less, our health demands them to embrace the humility needed to reconsider a failing plan of treatment.

Our providers need to look after themselves, too: sleep enough and not work so hard they burn out. Avoidance of unethical time on the greasy, narrow ledge of self-interest cannot be assumed. Vacations, despite the dismay of a counselor’s patients, are required.

Add the necessity of making time for family and friends, leading a balanced and loving life, and ministering to their own personal issues. These specialists must walk a tightrope between empathizing with your pain and succumbing to it.

Without such guardrails, a therapist with the best character and motivation in the world is otherwise untrustworthy. Well-founded confidence in those who care for us requires more of them than their willingness to hold a hand or respond in an emergency.

The rest of humanity tries to achieve as much in their own professions. No matter our best effort, some will ignore whatever wisdom we impart, the young in particular.

A few of the latter opt to “live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse” as a portion of every new generation always does. Therapists and physicians contend with these daredevils more than most, including those who do not live fast, don’t die young, and leave the planet on a bad hair day.

Blind faith in an unknown authority is a hazardous undertaking. Even though I won membership in such a respected and privileged group, I question the gray-haired, expensively dressed, mostly male class at the helm of the world.

I’m referring to those who act as though they are immortal, omniscient, and beyond reproach. The same officials who, in government, would use bleach (if they could) to whiten the nation; and an ironing board to “straighten” its sexual disposition.

Age alone doesn’t guarantee anything. To quote a popular ’60s suggestion, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”

Of course, the many who said so are now more than double the age in question.

That can only mean one thing for those of us who repeated the advice:

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The painting reproduced above is Phaethon by Gustave Moreau. It was sourced from Wikiart.org/

8 thoughts on “The Question of Trust in Therapists, Parents, and Others

  1. I was once blamed for someone’s burnout, and I knew that it wasn’t my fault. Eventually, that person bitterly apologized, but not fully. Months later, that same person blamed me for his needing to take medication, for his family troubles, and for his mental health relapse. He had told me a year prior that I had reminded him of a family member who abused him during early childhood, but he wasn’t specific about what that was. Passive aggressive was his forte, and his instructions to me as my superior were elusive at best, emotionally abusive at worst. He projected onto me someone from his past, yet he wanted to work with me to “work things out,” as if I could rectify something in his past by way of his abusing me, using me, and displacing revenge onto me. To this day, I have no idea what that person did to him, or what I could do to quell his anxieties or fix our working relationship. Instead of directly answering me, he placed all the blame on me, my character, my disability, my appearances, my age, and anything that borders just short of discrimination. I was humiliated in meetings, and I was part of his triangulating techniques among other workers. Nevertheless, I tried to keep communication lines open while maintaining some level of production, even though my own health was deteriorating in the process. I sought treatment from not-so-seasoned therapists during this entire process, and many of my providers had told me that I was in both an abusive and toxic environment, and that he was being unethical with me on many levels. But what hurt me the most was that he negated to see that I tried my hardest to improve both myself and our working relationship all this time, and that I wasn’t the person from his past who abused him earlier in his life. It was his responsibility to self-care, and it was my own responsibility to care for myself (not his). Despite our consciously knowing this, we immaturely reached an impasse and terminated our relationship. I quit, but not without making sure that I did my own due diligence of saying something before I left so that he doesn’t do this to another person or continue down this path of blaming others. Over the time I had known him, he’d blame anything that went wrong on those he worked with. He triangulated relationships as a result, in order to get the attention off of him. He negated to take care of himself in the process, and he appeared to take it out on his family by making excuses to them concerning his work (according to one of his last statements he had told me). Although I can be guilty of sharing too much information, his telling me about his family problems and need to take medication again suggested that he was guilty of TMI as well. In fact, during one meeting, he had stated that he was having trouble with one of his teen children and shared with all of us the situation before asking for some advice from the people he was training. Apart from that, confidentiality was thrown out the window because he appeared too desperate for help but negated to find it among trained and seasoned professionals, even though he was a mental health professional himself. Sadly, and awkwardly, I suggested to him that he should seek professional help. If only he could see his own displacement, passive aggressiveness (a form of emotional abuse and behavioral aggression), projection, triangulation, faulty cognition, impulsiveness, mental health relapse, unethical practices, depression, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, lack of self-care, lack of personal responsibility, unprofessional communications, and need for treatment. If only he could genuinely apologize, if not specifically admit to me where he went wrong and fully understand why I had to leave. I never blamed my own deteriorating conditions on him, even though he was the person in power who set the stage that contributed to my own conditions.

    I share all this to say that some well-meaning professionals who are burnt out or blind to their own unresolved issues will eventually harm their clients, no matter what their intentions were or are. They are not even trustworthy to themselves let alone their coworkers, colleagues, clients, subordinates, students, etc. They may think they are strong enough to handle the situation, or they may believe that seeking treatment among other professionals with similar titles will “out” their issues. After all, licensing in certain states requires disclosure of mental health and/or medical issues that may affect their practice, including the ongoing treatments required for them to maintain a healthy and ethical practice. But how many professionals choose to not disclose, and by extension, choose to risk the health of their clients and themselves for this very reason? Many non-professionals also choose to not disclose for similar reasons – and with similar outcomes (but in different fields).

    It takes more than clients trusting their treatment teams; trust must be earned and *maintained*! Earning trust might be challenging, but maintaining that trust once earned is rarely spoken about or mentioned during training – at least from what I have observed.

    My goal for studying psychology used to be to look at iatrogenic effects, therapy abuse (intentional and unintentional), mental health malpractice, and trauma heterogeneity (even in cases of secondary trauma, tertiary trauma, and/or vicarious trauma). Part of my ambitious goal meant that I would not only absorb the information imparted to me from mentors and educators, but also a peek through a different, detective-like lens that combines psychology with victimology – from the perspective of clients as victims. I wanted to challenge the psychological and psychiatric communities with what you have alluded to in your post – this need for maintaining (not just establishing) trust, and why it is important in adulthood and in our own professions. Through my own life experiences to now, I’ve also introspected enough to know when I was bordering on biased opinions or faulty thinking. Nevertheless, the great philosophers and psychologists of old have historically expressed their own personal issues that sparked their interests in investigating and implementing innovative research and clinical practice. Sadly, however, not many of them discussed self-care as part of the profession, and very much connected with maintaining trust with their clients. Instead, training appeared to emphasize ethical practices, maintaining control of the therapeutic relationship, maintaining focus on the goals of treatment or research or training, and what I would think appeared to be constant testing of relationships in all arenas. This “constant testing” is where trust is lost and self-care is negated. Relationships weren’t meant to be constantly tested (or stressed, for that matter). Building trust with one’s self and building trust with others are not mutually exclusive. Self-care includes trusting one’s self enough to understand what is going on and how that impacts others. Self-care also requires taking risks to ask for help – even as professionals. How can a person whose care is in your hands trust you to care for them when you yourself aren’t even caring for yourself? The martyr complex is a known phenomenon, and a dangerous one at that; it comes from a place of benevolent narcissism, and it is neither pleasing to watch nor trust-building. In terms of religion, one must have faith and withstand many traumatic persecutions as either a follower or a martyr, but in the real world, licensed clinicians must not take on the role of being the martyr or worst – being the “victim” (another form of hidden/overt narcissism). Self-care includes caring for oneself and asking for help to care for oneself. Self-care also includes caring for others, but with known limitations.

    This is not to say that people should give up their jobs, dreams, or goals. They need help with training and improving, as we all do in life. Changing careers from music to flying, or changing behaviors all require training, practice, self-care, other-care, and help from professionals and/or good role models who have been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt. I have enough life experience to know that people can change, and to forgive from a distance (in my own non-religious spiritual way). It’s sad when trust is required solely from underclassmen in any arena, and not also the known responsibility of those in positions of power. It’s also sad when trust wanes or completely dissipates when self-care is negated.

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    • Well said, glb. Indeed, even half your therapist’s failures would rule him out as someone worthy of common trust, let alone that required to be minimally competent therapist.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Dr. S. Though, I still wih him well and hope that he improves. I just will not be around anymore to find out. Sadly, however, the myriad negative experiences I have had in life had conditioned me to remain hypervigilant. I have had to learn self-care because it is necessary for my survival, yet not trusting others to help me weakens my self- and other-care. But I am trying to trust. I am just taking a break right now.

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  2. Few would be as generous as you in your attitude to him. Your journey isn’t over, so trust with a well-chosen person deserving of it may still be ahead. Breaks are necessary, the mountain of life is high, the summit always in the distance, but much to savor along the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry to have missed your post, Dr. Stein. Sadly, our trust in those who are in authority or experts in their field is often misplaced.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent article, Dr. Stein.

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