3 Signs of An Abusive Therapist

Have you felt uncomfortable, exploited, or abused by your therapist? Dee joins Anne to share her story of finding safety from her abusive therapist.

Therapy not working like you hoped? Some therapists aren’t healthy and can cause a lot of damage. Here are three signs your therapist may be abusive.

This episode is Part One of Anne’s interview with Dee
Part One: 3 Signs of An Abusive Therapist (this episode)
Part Two: It’s Not a Trauma Bond: It’s The Manufactured Relational Tether

When Dee went to her therapist for intense anxiety, she expected to feel better. Instead, she was gaslighted, groomed, devalued, and discarded. Victims of unethical and abusive therapists often experience debilitating shame and guilt – and may have difficulty identifying the fact that they are victims rather than complicit in an inappropriate relationship.

Dee, a member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community, joins Anne to help educate victims about the five signs of an abusive therapist.

An Abusive Therapist May Cross Physical Boundaries

One way to identify an abusive and unethical therapist is to understand that they may cross physical boundaries with clients.

Dee’s therapist laid on the couch beside her, held her hand (calling it a “hand hug”), touched her hair, commenting that it was soft (and later denied it), and more.

Any physical contact with a therapist is cause for worry. If your therapist has:

  • Touched you and then later denied it
  • Had any degree of sexual contact with you
  • Initiated any physical contact that made you uncomfortable
  • Justified physical contact with you
  • Asked you to keep physical contact private

You may be the victim of an abusive therapist.

An Abusive Therapist May Use Gaslighting To Confuse You

Dee’s therapist used gaslighting as a means to keep her unsteady and confused.

When he touched her hair in a session and commented on how it was soft, Dee was uncomfortable. She brought it up with him in the next session. This is how he gaslighted her:

He said, “I didn’t touch your hair, I said it looked soft.”

And I said, “No, you were touching my hair, and you said it felt soft.”

“No, I didn’t touch your hair. I just said it looked soft.”

I had no question in my mind of what had happened. I knew what had happened. I was very confused as to why he would try to tell me it didn’t happen.

Dee, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community

If your therapist denies or twists reality, he or she is gaslighting you. Gaslighting is a method used by abusive people to avoid accountability. You can be sure that if your therapist is gaslighting you, that you are a victim of abuse.

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Shame, Isolation, Rejection, Confusion

If you are feeling shame, rejection, confusion, and a desire to isolate yourself from others after seeing your therapist, consider that you may be a victim of therapist-abuse.

Dee’s therapist used tactics like gaslighting, devaluing her, intermittent kindness, and boundary-crossing to abuse Dee and silence her.

When victims experience emotions like shame, it’s a clear indicator that something is wrong. However, women who are seeking therapy are often in a vulnerable position and are understandably willing to place trust in the therapist – even if what the therapist says or does violates the victim’s code of ethics.

It’s important for victims to understand that even therapists can be abusive.

BTR Is Here For You

At BTR, we understand the embarrassment and shame that can accompany abuse – especially when it is perpetrated by a trusted therapist.

BTRG is a safe place for women to share their stories, ask questions, make strong connections with other victims, and process trauma. Join today and find the community that you deserve as you begin your journey to healing.

Full Transcript:

Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.

Before we get to today’s episode. BTRG is our daily support group; we have 21+ sessions per week for you to choose from. You don’t have to wait for an appointment, you don’t have to leave your home. We are here for you. We’d love to see you in a session.

For everyone who has given this podcast a five-star rating on Apple podcasts or other podcasting apps. Thank you so much. Every single rating helps isolated women find us. If this podcast has helped you, when you rate it, you help another woman find it.

So, your ratings make a big difference. Here is a five-star rating that we recently received. She said: I’m so grateful. The sexual coercion/sexual abuse is so accurately addressed and was such a dark portion of my abuse that I feel and felt like I couldn’t find help with. Finally, somebody gets it. I’m, wow, just so validated right now.

Thank you for that five-star review, and now to this week’s guest.

Dee, Betrayal Trauma Recovery Community Member

I have a member of our community on today’s episode, we’re going to call her Dee. She’s 39 years old and she’s been married for 18 years, she has two children who are 8 and 10 years old. She’s a mostly stay-at-home mom but sometimes she works as an art teacher to kids at her church.

She’s taken up cycling as a form of exercise and it’s been really helpful for her to be outdoors during this journey of healing. She also enjoys yoga and reading. She has struggled with anxiety and depression since a young age, so she started therapy in 2018. Initially, she went to a mental health hospital for intensive outpatient therapy because her anxiety had become so debilitating.

When Your Therapist Abuses You

There she met an abusive therapist and was his client in his private practice for 10 months. She was his very first client at his own practice and she’s going to talk about her experience with this abusive therapist a bit today.

So, a lot of women who follow BTR or who listen to the podcast have gone to therapy for help, but when they went to therapy it made the situation worse and sometimes they didn’t recognize it for a long time. In Dee’s case, it was 10 months.

So, let’s talk about your story. You go to this therapist. Did you know that you were his first client at his private practice?

Dee: Yes, I did.

Anne:: And what made you at the time think, this is a good therapist for me?

Dee: When I was at the mental health hospital, we had a substitute therapist come in one day. It was a group therapy dynamic, and our regular therapist was out that day, and he came in as a substitute. I had a side conversation with him during a break.

I appreciated his response and felt like he knew where I was coming from. And so, you know, whenever we left that program, they wanted you to be set up with a therapist outside of there so that you know you could continue your care. And he had mentioned to me that he was starting his own practice.

How It All Started

When our regular therapist came back the next day, I was talking to her about trying to find someone. I was considering going to a Christian counselor because I felt like that might be the right fit for me. She kind of discouraged me from going that route; she wasn’t really sure if that would be the most helpful type of therapy for me. I don’t remember her reasoning now, but I do remember saying to her, well, this other person that came in said that he’s starting his own practice and she said, yeah, I think he would be a good fit for you.

At that moment, I was still really struggling in where I was at, and it was really hard to just pick a person off of a list who I’d never seen, never talked to, and I trusted her opinion. I know that she was coming from a good place. I don’t think she had any idea what I was stepping into. I just didn’t even feel equipped to make certain decisions at that point and I really trusted her opinion on that matter.

Anne:: Well, especially, you’ve been in intensive outpatient therapy so you’re in a very vulnerable place at this time.

An Abusive Therapist Will Take Advantage Of Your Vulnerability

Dee: Yes, absolutely. I’ve dealt with anxiety, but it became, and when I say debilitating, I mean, I was barely sleeping. I had stopped eating even the last few days before I finally got into their care. It was just to a breaking point, and I knew that. I knew I needed help.

I didn’t know where to get the help and I had heard of this place that was pretty close to me. And I decided that I had to do something and that just felt like the most reasonable next step. I trusted that anybody that they had at their facility was somebody that I could rely on to be a safe place.

Anne: Yeah, because why would you think any differently? That makes sense. In that first meeting, because your decision was based basically off that first meeting with him on the side conversation and then also her recommendation. Would you characterize that now, looking back, as grooming? When I say grooming, I also am wondering if the things he said to you, like narcissists.

An Abusive Therapist May Seem Like A “Perfect Fit”

You know, I can’t diagnose him because I’ve never met him, I’m just talking from your perspective, but they’re very good at reflecting back on what people are saying. So, a lot of women who are dating narcissists or who meet them feel like, oh, this is my soulmate, right.

They really understand me. So, when I say grooming, I’m also asking like that side conversation where you really felt like, whoa, he really understands what I’m saying. Do you see that part as grooming?

Dee: Maybe not so much as grooming. I think, later on, I questioned if I was targeted for some reason, which is a difficult question to ask yourself because then you are asking yourself, well, what would make me a target, what would make me an ideal target for someone? Did he see something in me that, you know, he thought he wanted to exploit? And I don’t know the answer to that but that’s something I definitely have asked myself.

It’s Not Your Fault If Your Therapist Has Abused You

Anne: Yeah, and that’s also a sort of a victim-blaming type question right. Like you’re like well, wasn’t it about me that made him target me, and I don’t think that’s ever the case. I mean, just because you were in an outpatient clinic, and just because you were vulnerable at the time, doesn’t mean that someone has the right to target you.

It’s still not your fault. A normal person wouldn’t exploit that. They would have empathy, right, and want to be helping you rather than exploiting you.

Dee: I wanted to feel validated because I know a lot of people that you talk to are coming out of a marriage or maybe still in a marriage or a relationship that’s abusive, but I didn’t have to keep going back. I didn’t. I wasn’t forced to have him as my therapist, and it’s not to take away from anybody else’s situation because I understand a lot of people do, you know feel guilt and shame.

But I think there’s, for me, that’s such a big part of what I’ve struggled with is that it feels like it would have been easy to just leave if something didn’t feel right at one point, and instead of leaving at that first sign, I kept going. And it’s hard not to feel like I played a part in it, for a lot of reasons, but that being one of them. You know I wasn’t living with this person. I’m not married to this person.

I don’t have children with this person. I’m choosing to have them as my therapist and go back week after week and pay them.

Have Self-Compassion If You Are A Victim of An Abusive Therapist

Anne: Listening to the stories on the podcast of other women who have had really difficult and traumatic experiences with a therapist, has that been validating for you?

Dee: I think it’s hard when it’s not a carbon copy of what I experienced. Because I tend to just feel like my situation is different, and that their situation is valid for its own reasons, but maybe mine isn’t because I just feel a lot of responsibility for what happened.

So, I tend to feel like other people are more valid than feeling traumatized in therapy.

Anne: Hopefully by the end of this podcast, by the end of this episode you can feel the love of all of the listeners, letting you know that your trauma with this therapist is just as valid and that it is crazy traumatic to put trust in someone to help you, and have that turn into destruction and chaos and pain.

So, let’s actually talk about what happened, and maybe you want to define that first moment when you were like something’s not right, even if at the moment you’d weren’t able to verbalize it or you weren’t able to like process what it was. When was the first time you recognized something is not right here?

An Abusive Therapist May Gaslight You: Pay Attention To Your Gut Feelings

Dee: So, this is one reason that it’s hard to recount what happened because I feel like there were different aspects. Some of it was physical. Or maybe there was gaslighting that was going on. And so these things sort of overlap, and it’s hard to give you a concrete timeline of when each thing happened, but they were happening sort of interchangeably and so it all leaves you feeling so distorted.

And when I left, I said it felt like I had been in a tornado, and things were just swirling around me, and it felt like pure chaos, and I didn’t understand what was happening. All I knew is that I was in a lot of pain.

I think the first time that I can see, I now see it as part of the larger picture, at the end of the session he put his hand up and had me put my hand up to his and he kind of wrapped his thumb around my hand and he said something cheesy like, oh, it’s a hand hug.

And I remember my next session saying to him, I was surprised he made any kind of physical contact. I don’t remember what his specific response was, but it was just sort of, oh no, it’s fine, you know, there’s nothing wrong with that. And I thought oh, okay, I guess my idea of what therapy is is very rigid.

I’ve never been to therapy before, so you know the only therapy experience I had was at the mental health facility, and I had never been to therapy otherwise, so I didn’t really know what was okay and not okay and what their view looked like.

I mean, there’s a lot of terms that I’ve come to learn since then, and if I had known then maybe I would have left sooner because I would have had more of a definition for what was happening, but I didn’t even have those terms yet.

Shame, Secrecy, & Isolation

Anne: It’s not only the terms. I mean, all of these victims, they don’t even have the context for it.

Dee: Yes.

Anne: You have this sense that something’s not quite right but then when you ask the abuser, hey this feels weird to me, and you get gaslit and said oh no, this is fine. This is what happens. This is normal. This is what happens in a marriage, this is what happens in therapy. Then you think, okay, maybe it’s me. So, you weren’t telling anyone else what was happening during these sessions?

Dee: No, there was a lot of shame that I felt, and I just think that compounds the secrecy of it all. You know, it makes you feel like you can’t talk about it because you’re ashamed of what’s happening and that’s very isolating in feeling that you know you can’t share with others what’s going on and that you’re confused about something.

In some ways, I feel like that’s part of why it continued because I wasn’t talking to other people about it. Not until right before I left his “care”, as I put that in quotations.

Anne: So, we’ve got physical crossing of boundaries, it sounds like during that session you were gaslit. Are there more types of physical crossing of boundaries?

I Didn’t Know What Gaslighting Was

Dee: Pretty soon after the session where he had touched my hand, I was emotional a lot in therapy. I think I cried in just about every session, and I was upset about something that we were talking about and was emotional and he got off of his chair and came and sat next to me and he put his hand on the back of my head as he was talking to me.

I remember he stopped what he was saying, and made a comment that my hair was soft, and I remember feeling really kind of nervous about that, and I started babbling off about something about, about my conditioner or something. It was just this really awkward response that I had, but it was just so out of the blue.

And I remember he just kind of stopped me and I thought oh, okay, just take a deep breath, you know. In a following session when I brought up that that had happened, he said, I didn’t touch your hair, I said it looked soft. And I said, no, you were touching my hair, and you said it felt soft.

No, I didn’t touch your hair. I just said it looked soft. I had no question in my mind of what had happened. I knew what had happened. I was very confused as to why he would try to tell me it didn’t happen. And, again, at the time, I didn’t know what gaslighting was. I just thought it was something really bizarre that he was doing. In the larger scope now it makes more sense, but at the time it was just weird.

An Abusive Therapist May Attempt To Alter Your Perception of Reality

Anne: Did you ever think because he was your therapist maybe he had a reason?

Dee: I put a lot of trust into his discretion of, you know what was okay and what wasn’t okay. I think in that situation instead of drawing a boundary like I normally would have, I don’t sit alone with men having conversations about personal things, you know.

I’ve been married now for 18 years, and I’ve never felt like I would put myself in a situation where I could potentially violate some, you know, part of the sanctity of my marriage, you know.

And so, I think being in therapy, and in sitting in that sort of bubble that you have there. It just felt very disconnected from my actual life, it didn’t feel like here’s a man crossing a boundary, and me being a married woman, and me, you know, needing to say no this isn’t okay.

If that had happened outside of that room, I absolutely would have recognized that and again wouldn’t have even been in that situation to begin with. I wouldn’t feel like that’s appropriate to be having these intimate conversations, but I mean that is the dynamic of therapy is to go and sit and talk about what you’re struggling with and having these really personal conversations.

So, I think it just kind of happened without it really striking me as something that shouldn’t be happening.

Can You Relate To Therapy Abuse?

Well, I think our listeners can relate because we usually tell, I mean we do tell therapist abuse stories, like when the therapist doesn’t understand or they don’t validate or, you know other therapist horror stories and also clergy horror stories on this podcast. In this context, all of our listeners can relate because that’s how they felt in their marriage when they’re thinking, well, this is my husband.

If another man that I met on the street if he screamed and yelled at my face or if he lied to me about something I knew was wrong, then I’d be like, that guy’s crazy or whatever. But in this, when it’s your husband or when it’s someone that you trust or when it’s someone that you’re supposed to have this safe trusting relationship with, it’s very confusing. You can’t wrap your head around what is actually happening at the moment. Now that you’re looking back, what should therapy look like?

An Ethical Therapist Feels Supportive & Safe

Dee: I’ve been to therapists since then, and things that I don’t feel are confused. I don’t feel hurt by my therapist, I don’t feel like they’re ever lying to me, or trying to make me feel bad. I feel supported. I don’t ever feel like they’re trying to cross any boundaries with me. I always feel like there’s this extra kind of sense of your safety is my priority.

There was also just this really weird sort of issue for me with therapy when I was seeing him where I would feel really, really good the mornings that I would go, almost like I was on a high. It was just the sort of this anticipation of going and being in this place and feeling really good. And then when I would leave, I would feel really really down, and almost unable to wait that week until I could go back.

An Abusive Therapist May Be Unpredictable

I had no idea the chemicals in my brain were such a big factor in that because when there’s this sort of intermittent reinforcement going on, which did happen, you know, you would get this surge of adrenaline and all these hormones that make you feel good in that situation. And then when they’re taken away you feel really, really low, and you just want to get that back, and I didn’t realize that I was going through that storm.

I just knew that I wanted to be there because I wanted to feel good and sometimes it did feel really good and sometimes it felt really bad, and it shouldn’t be this back and forth of good and bad. What am I going to get today? Am I going to get the nice therapist who’s validating and makes me feel good, or am I going to get the one that makes me feel guilty like I’m a bad person?

An Abusive Therapist May Exploit Your Need For Physical Affection

I was talking one day, and he just came in he sat next to me, close enough that our arms were touching, but that was it. Just sitting next to me. And then, you know, a couple of sessions might go by where there wasn’t any crossing of the physical boundary.

Then I remember he came over and he wrapped his arms around me. You know he was sitting behind me, and he kind of laid back on the couch, because I would sit on this small little couch in his office, and he wrapped his arms around me and held me. And I did feel an immense sense of comfort in that. And at the same time, he’s telling me that this doesn’t have to happen, we don’t need to do these things in therapy. Okay, I’ll do it this one time, but you know this isn’t really something that you should be needing from me.

So, I had a lot of guilt, there’s a lot of shame in that. And again, maybe a couple of sessions go by, and one day I’m just sitting there talking, and unprovoked he comes and sits on the other end of the couch. I just continue to sit where I’m sitting, and we’re kind of facing each other from opposite ends of this little couch, more like the size of a loveseat probably, and after a few minutes of me not really responding in any way he said, you know, why don’t you come lay next to me.

I did. And it was in the following session when I brought it up, that that had happened, and he said that he had felt manipulated by me. And when he said that, you know when someone says that it made their head spin, it literally made my mind just spin in circles because I thought, how did I manipulate you? I didn’t ask you to come sit next to me, I didn’t ask you to lay next to me. You asked me to do those things, and yet somehow he’s telling me that I manipulated him.

I Remember Being Extremely Hurt

He made a comment that he cared more about me than his other clients, maybe a little bit more. And then he took that back and said well, no, I just said that to make you feel better. I remember being extremely hurt.

I don’t use language, usually, I don’t cuss, but I remember when he said that to me, I told him, you don’t lie to me. And that’s not the wording that I used, but I just remember being extremely hurt and angry. And then, as we’re talking, he kind of settles things back down and he’s back to saying, well, okay, no I do care more about you. I’m just trying to invalidate myself because I shouldn’t feel that way.

That’s why I said that. I do really care more, but I need to sort of deny that to myself to keep myself in check.

I Wish I Had Already Walked Away

You know, I’m on a roller coaster. I told him later on I said, how am I supposed to know what’s true and what’s not true when you’re telling me one thing, and then the opposite? You’re telling me you feel manipulated. It was so confusing.

I wish at that point I had walked away, I wish I had already walked away, but it’s really hard to want to start over in therapy when you’ve laid all that groundwork and you’ve gone through some sessions where you maybe talked about some specific things that are really hurtful and I remember there were a few sessions in particular that were really hard to get through.

I know that one, I felt an attachment to him and two, I felt like I didn’t want to start over. I don’t want to go to someone and have to do that all over again. I just want to go forward with where I’m at and I kept telling myself that it would be okay, and it just kept getting worse.

Anne: You’re in this vulnerable position with an abusive therapist. Did you ever wonder to yourself, rather than is he abusive, right, which was the correct way to perceive it, did you ever consider like, I’m having an emotional affair with my therapist?

Dee: Oh absolutely.

Anne: Okay, so talk about that for a little bit.

An Abusive Therapist Will Cause You To Feel Shame & Guilt

Dee: You know, I would come home and just feel like I had this really bad secret. We’re crossing boundaries and I feel really shameful and guilty about that. And I remember trying to sort of dance around it and talk to my husband about it because I knew I was hurting, but I didn’t really know how to get help for it.

Sort of emotionally isolated, like I wasn’t really being understood, and instead of just really spelling out what I was feeling. I think because there was a lot of shame, I wasn’t able to really communicate to my husband what I was feeling and what I was needing. And I think that just kept that cycle going.

Anne: When did you start to recognize this was abuse?

An Abusive Therapist May Give You His Or Her Personal Contact Info

Dee: I think it’s important to mention that early on as a client I did have his personal number because that was just the number that he used as his business. It was his personal number and his business number, and I was able to text him a few times when I was struggling and could reach out to him, and sometimes he would respond, and sometimes he wouldn’t. He told me, you know, kind of be okay with it either way. If I respond, lucky you.

If I don’t then you have to accept that. I remember that was kind of the attitude of how that would go. I remember early on there were a couple of times where it was later at night, and I was struggling with something, and I would reach out and get a response.

A couple of times, in particular, we ended up talking back and forth for a while and it became more conversational than therapeutic. And after one of the times when that conversation had gone on for maybe even an hour, he told me to delete the text, and hello red flag.

I wish that I had known how inappropriate that was. And I did, I deleted it. And then it happened again, within a couple of weeks that happened again and at the end hey, delete this text, and I did.

That Felt Almost Like A Rejection

And there were comments made when I was in sessions. I remember him making a comment about his sex life, which is absolutely something that he should have never been talking to me about. He told me some personal things about his family, very personal things about his family, his parents in particular.

Again, things that were not relevant to my therapy, and never should have been coming up in therapy. He started letting my sessions go on longer than the allotted time. They were supposed to be right at about an hour or just under an hour, and it became normal for my sessions to be at a minimum, an hour and a half, two hours was pretty typical.

We had one session that was about four hours, which was the longest, and I was only charged for an hour each time. I remember telling him, I don’t have my phone out, I don’t know what time it is, so you tell me when our session is up and I left that up to him. I left him as the person to tell me, hey, okay it’s time for us to end, and again, it became very normal for my sessions to go over an hour by quite a bit.

And come to find out because I have since read the code of ethics for therapists, and that is completely unethical. I didn’t realize that at the time, just how damaging that actually is, as a client.

Also, again, confusing because some days if he would come and say hey, I only have an hour and a half today, and he would say it kind of in a cold way. I remember in those times that felt almost like a rejection, sort of this cold comment that he was making at me of I only have this much time for you today. I was just sort of at his whim.

An Abusive Therapist Will Take Advantage of Their Position of Authority

He told me multiple times that he was an empath, and I was not. He said he’s an empathetic person, and I am not. It took a very long time to find myself as an empathetic person, sometimes to my own detriment. I feel very tender-hearted, and that’s one of my core strengths, I think.

To sit there and have a professional tell you you’re not an empath, but I am. It really stripped me of part of my identity, of something valuable that I see in myself. But again, as him being this kind of authority in a way, I thought maybe he was right. I put a lot of value and trust into what he was telling me, and he also would make comments about, I’m the expert see my diplomas up there on the wall. You don’t really know what you’re talking about kind of comments.

Anne: We get that a lot. I’m a therapist, and so this isn’t abuse. Either I’m not abusing you or your husband’s not abusing you. This is just a communication issue or something. It’s a story we hear a lot around here. I’m a therapist, so I know better kind of idea, but in this case, it was really used to keep you confused to kind of throw you off your gut feeling about it.

It Was Devaluing Me

Dee: I think it just reaffirmed that he knew more than me. There was this air of, you know, I’ve been educated on this, and you haven’t. And that played into other things too. I remember us talking about my job in education. I have a bachelor’s degree, and I was talking about my teaching job teaching art, and he said well, as he’s making a note in his little journal, you know where he was keeping notes of my sessions.

He said well, I’m going to write down art facilitator because you don’t have a teaching degree. It just seemed so unnecessary and hurtful, but I feel like there were a lot of times where there were just these little cut downs, of again with the comment of he’s the expert. It just, I guess it was devaluing me and maybe trying to keep me in a place of feeling like he was the All-Knowing authority. Who am I to question the expert?

Anne: But also, seemingly, not just about therapy or therapeutic things, but giving you the impression that he’s also the authority and knows more about your life and knows more about what you need or how you feel. Do you know what I’m saying? Is that sort of the feeling of it?

Why Was He Telling Me That?

Dee: Yes, yes. There’s even something very specific and this is pretty personal. I remember talking to him about a specific encounter that I had had in college, that was pretty traumatizing, and here I was 19 years later, sitting in his office just crying like barely able to tell the story because it was a traumatizing situation.

The aftermath of that was extremely upsetting and traumatizing to me and was talking to him about that experience. At that moment, he told me that my response was mean. He told me once that he didn’t know if he’d ever had sex with the lights off.

Like what, you turn the light off when you have sex? And I said well, yeah usually. And he said I don’t know if I’ve ever had sex with the lights off. Why was he telling me that?

Anne: So, your therapist was a sex addict. That sounds pretty typical of a sex addict. You had a serious abuser/porn user on your hands there.

Dee: It’s just hard to picture him in that way.

We Need To Be Really Gentle & Empathetic With Victims of Abuse

Anne: That’s how the wives are feeling about their husbands, right. Where they’re like, what? No, he wouldn’t use porn at all. And I’m like, well, all the things you just told me he said, are like classic, classic markers. I think one thing that’s really hard for wives of abusive men to wrap their heads around is that the women with who they are having an emotional affair with, for example, or the women that they’re having this flat-out affair with are also victims in many ways.

Because here you are, I would say, accidentally participating in an emotional affair, but not quite wrapping your head around what’s going on, and trying to tell your husband about it, not knowing where to go for help. Continually asking your abuser, wait is this right?

This doesn’t feel right, I’m confused and him gaslighting you and telling you it’s fine and this is what’s good for you. I think it’s helpful for all listeners to understand that we need to be really gentle and empathetic with all victims of abuse, whatever form that comes in. And in this instance, I’m bringing that up because he very well could have been married. He was not, but he could have been, and he could have still been participating in this type of abusive behavior.

Dee: Definitely, I feel like more often than not, of the stories that I have heard, usually, they are. And he did bring it up when I confronted him, and I would like to tell you about that confrontation. I remember he got kind of a little emotional and upset when he said, “Imagine if I had been married.” And I thought, well, I am married, you know, and just for him to say like, oh, just imagine if I had a wife and I was married.

It Is The Therapist’s Responsibility To Be Ethical

Anne: Yeah, well imagine if I was married because I am. Yeah, the lack of empathy and understanding is astounding. So, essentially, your story is a really tricky one because he manipulated and abused you and now you’ve been through this abusive experience, and you are a victim.

But on paper, and I’m not trying to invalidate you in any way shape or form. On paper, it’s like an affair with your therapist, more or less. So, I think that’s why like it’s so traumatic for you, and it’s like you’re processing what happened and how did this happen to me and all of that.

Because there’s all these, as you said, crazy guilty like I should have walked out. Why did they keep going? I’m a family person, I had no intent or desire to do this with someone who’s not my husband. So, on this particular podcast it just makes it very tricky, because an abusive man might say, well, what could I do, she just manipulated me into kissing her, as an excuse.

It validates you and validates other women who have been abused into or I would say coerced might be the right word, but basically coerced into a physical relationship that was totally inappropriate, that they didn’t feel comfortable with, that they didn’t necessarily consent to, but they’re like finding themselves in it. It’s almost like a form of rape.

An Abusive Therapist May Spend Extra Time With You

Dee: It’s hard not to feel a lot of blame on myself. I want to tell you too about an organization that I connected with that should be mentioned on the podcast. You know, they told me it was never my job to make sure the boundaries weren’t crossed and that’s been a really hard thing to accept.

That’s really hard to accept because I take a lot of responsibility, and I continue to. But one thing that an unethical therapist might do is scheduling clients at the end of the day so that you’re the last one there. And maybe the office is empty, and also going over your allotted time.

If you’re scheduled for 50 minutes or an hour you should only be there for 50 minutes or an hour. But I also knew that because I was one of his first clients, he had a lot of extra open time, and I guess I felt privileged that I was being allotted extra time and not being charged for it, and not realizing that that really isn’t appropriate.

Another thing is making physical contact, and that one’s kind of, you know, the lines are a little bit blurry when it comes to handshakes and maybe even hugs, because I’ve even had a therapist since then that likes to give me a hug at the end of our session, and I was comfortable with it.

You know, she was a really sweet woman and I always felt like her intentions were pure, but you know even that’s kind of a gray area as far as if that’s appropriate or not. But particularly if it starts out as one thing, and you start seeing it progress over time.

An Abusive Therapist Will Groom Victims Slowly Over Time

So, for me, that was initially just touching my hand and I felt like he knew that if that was okay. Then I thought, well, okay, then that is okay. I put a lot of trust into him, but that progressed to him sitting next to me, him touching my hair at one point, him sitting close enough for our arms to touch, and then at some point him putting his arms around me and him asking me to lay down next to him.

Unfortunately, on a couple of occasions, even going beyond that, in the physical sense. Looking back, I can see how they were these sorts of tiny incremental steps that didn’t scream out at me, and obviously, you know, these things were not okay. When they’re happening, little by little over months at a time, it just, I don’t know I think it’s easy to sort of excuse each step forward that it goes.

You know, it’s not like I walked in and at my first appointment he was sitting next to me, that didn’t happen right away. There were steps that even led up to that.

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Anne: What were you saying to yourself at the time while he’s grooming you and it’s slowly escalating over time but not escalating like, so it was really obvious? What were you thinking in your mind?

Dee: I think there was a big part of me that just felt like I had a certain privilege that other people didn’t have.

Anne: We are going to continue talking with Dee about her experience with being abused by a therapist next week, so please stay tuned for that. If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. Until next week, stay safe out there.


  1. Anonymous

    This article provided a lot of insight on how people are groomed to accept situations that eventually are dangerous to them.

    • Anne Blythe

      I agree. I would say that they’re actually dangerous from the very beginning – they just don’t realize it.

  2. Helina S

    I was asked on my intake appointment with a young attractive marriage therapist “what exactly is your issue with your husband’s porn use?”… everything!!! She claimed to be a Christian counselor too. I was traumatized all over again by her.

  3. Kirsten

    I had a therapist who I consider abusive. I believe he was overly invested in the outcome of my marriage, as it directly reflected on his ego as a healer of marriages.

    As time went on and I became stronger and learned more about boundaries, patterns of abuse, and started to pull away from my then-husband, this therapist became more desperate to try and control the situation. He downplayed my pain, belittled my experiences, shared supposed conversations he’d had with other therapists at the practice about me with me, told me I lacked compassion, and was being too angry.

    He called me at home and had a very inappropriate conversation with me, he lied to me about things he had said to my spouse, he played my spouse and I off each other to manipulate the conversation, and when I told him I was going to find another there he said there was no one who could help me like he could and refused to make a referral.

    • Anne

      Wow. That’s awful!?! I’m so sorry!

  4. Mary M

    I would be interested in talking to you about the therapeutic abuse I was put through at the hands of my husband’s CSAT. In addition to recommending “healthy masturbation” after a whole 6 weeks of sobriety, a year later she tried to have me involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital.

  5. Bee

    wow what an awful scenario. Anne I’m wondering what tells you he was a sex/porn addict from that one liner? like what are the red flags? thank you!

    • Anne

      Hey, Bee, what tipped me off was when she shared a her vulnerable feelings, he accused her of being “mean” and focused on the issue of the lights being on or off during sex (like why does he care if she likes the lights on or off?) Anything where they’re brining their own sexual preferences or putting a script on sex – like it has to be done this way or that way, anytime they focus on the details of the sex or want to know more details about the sexual act or acts would be VERY red flags that he’s a sex addict or pornography addict.

    • Anonymous

      My therapist said, “They don’t know me here” meaning, he was new to the practice. Which also meant he changed practices a lot. He said he wanted to meet my family because it would help me “therapeutically”. In several sessions, he stared at me with this weird blank stare. I ended up in the psych ward twice for on suicide watch. He used covert innuendo and belittling, and then when I stopped going to him as a therapist, I dated him for 2 years. I have panic attacks every day. I filed a complaint with licensing, but haven’t heard anything. It’s been horrific.


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