Invalidating Therapists Act Like Job's Counselors

Recently I heard a story about a man who was one of three siblings from a family in which, when the siblings were all young adults, the parents had a bitter and acrimonious divorce. Mutual accusations flew back and forth between the two parents, and the adult children chose up sides. The man in question stayed in contact with both of them, while the other two cut off one parent.Much later, when the man started having marital problems of his own, his siblings both told him immediately that this was all his fault. According to them, his marital woes just hadto be because he was taking after the parent whom they had cut off.This is an example of what I refer to as clustering - family members ganging up on one of the members for breaking a family rule, and pressuring him or her to tow the party line.In an analogous fashion, some therapists inadvertently feed into a patient's problems rather than help remedy them, and in the process invalidate their own patients. Before getting to that, however, I wanted to mention that the man in question likened his siblings to "Job's Counselors." I of course had heard the story of Job, but I had never heard about that part.As most readers will know, the Book of Job in the Bible describes the tale of a pious and righteous man named Job, who had considerable wealth as well as wonderful sons and daughters. In heaven, God asks Satan for his opinion of Job's piety. Satan answers that Job is pious only because God has blessed him; if God were to take away everything that Job had, then he would surely curse God. God then gives Satan permission to take Job's wealth and kill all of his children and servants. Still, Job praises God. Then, God allows Satan to afflict his body with boils; still he remains pious. Three of Job's friends became known as "Job's Counselors:  Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. The friends tell Job that his suffering simply must be a punishment for sin, for God causes no one to suffer innocently. This of course, is the exact opposite of the truth as laid down in the story.So how does this relate to therapists inadvertently invalidating their patients? Well, many therapists focus on alleged defects in their patients and work on such things as "anger management," "distress tolerance skills," or fixing the patient's defective "mentalization" (the ability to accurately assess the intentions of other people). These sorts of interventions presume that if someone is upset, angry, or unhappy with the way the world is treating them, then therefore there must be something wrong with them. Even when they are in fact being abused horribly!Now, in defense of therapists who received reductionistic training, it is true that patients often act as if there is something wrong with them in these sorts of areas. However, as I have discussed in previous posts, there is a big difference in a patient's public performance at a task as opposed to what they are capable of doing.Often the alleged defects are in reality part of one of the dysfunctional family roles frequently described in this blog. People who are exclusively trained in CBT do know about —or if they do they do not accept—the concept of a personaor false self. CBT made a name for itself by attacking its predecessor as the predominant form of therapy, psychoanalysis, and rejected all of its concepts regardless of whether they were right or wrong.Researchers in personality disorders routinely make this same logical error all the time in studies. They look at the subjects' reactions without looking at all at what they are reacting to! It is a bit like watching a movie in which all but one of the characters - both their behavior and their verbalizations - are redacted so that the viewer can only see what one character is doing and saying, apparently in a vacuum. And then asking the viewer to guess why the one remaining character talks and acts the way he does.An excellent example of precisely this appeared in the February 2016 issue of the Journal of Personality Disorders - a study called "Using Negative Emotions to Trace the Experience of Borderline Personality Pathology" by M. Law and others. Research subjects were asked to record their emotions (especially irritability, anger, shame and guilt) five times a day for two weeks, but not the environmental triggers which seemed to create these feelings. The authors came to the shocking conclusion that the subject's BPD symptoms and their negative emotions were intricately related. No sh*t, Sherlock.Wouldn't it have been just a little more informative to have gotten data that would help us understand what sorts of situations were most likely to trigger both the negative emotions and the symptoms of people with borderline traits? Ya think?

 
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