WHEN THERAPISTS MAKE MISTAKES
i.e. all the time.
We double book and forget appointments.
We double charge and forget to charge. We miscalculate the tax or misremember amounts outstanding.
We make mistakes with names - your significant other and even the client themselves.
We cancel your appointment on a week when you really want to see us.
We misattune and say that absolute wrong thing at the wrong time.
In couples work this happens even more often - the wrong turn of phrase directed at one person has a disastrous impact on the other.
This is actually really good news.
It means us therapists are human just like you.
And it gives clients the chance to get angry, get worried, get panicked - in other words - feel.
There is a very young part of most of us that wants our parents, teachers, and therapists to be perfect.
If all goes well, as children we learned little by little that even though our parents don’t always get it right they are always there for us.
This is a developmental process.
In many of us it gets disrupted. We aren’t soothed when we feel dropped. Or we are criticized for our feelings which our caregivers experience as criticism.
Thus because we weren’t helped to bear the imperfections of our parents we can’t bear imperfection in others including ourselves. Mistakes are felt as abandonment.
When your therapist makes a mistake do you feel: disappointment? contempt? fear? anxiety? anger?
The gift of exploring this is to understand what is happening for us in this relationship.
The adult in us most likely knows that the therapist is human and will make mistakes sometimes.
But what about the other part with all the feelings? That part is giving the therapy a gift of emotional information.
When your therapist shifts your appointment around do you worry she is unwell? Overworked?
When your therapist confuses your best friend’s name with someone else do you feel she is phoning it in - not really interested in you?
What interpretation are you making? What do you feel exactly?
The answers to these questions are important. They are the story of how you relate to people who you need. People that you rely on to care about you. They tell us something of the story of your earliest years. Which you now replay as an adult - in many different forms.
So when your therapist makes a mistake perhaps it is an opportunity.
Your therapist will almost certainly want to talk about it with you.
My view is that when ethical therapists are working with good intentions - there are no mistakes.
The unconscious brings the work to bear in its full form.
I’ll end with this: if a client is sensitive to my mistakes it is certain I will make more of them.
Both of us are working towards healing.