Dear Amy: I have recently started (online) therapy.
After only a few sessions I feel comfortable with her and hope to establish a good relationship in order to work through some old traumas.
During our last session, she suggested I read a recent self-help book and follow the exercises.
The author of the book relates her beneficial experience with feeling energy fields, aura balancing, past lives, premonitions, and literally talking to your soul and hearing it answer you.
I consider this pseudoscience, or just plain nonsense. I think the modern term is “woo-woo.”
I don’t think I should try to fake “talking to my soul” in order to complete an exercise.
Do you think I should tell my therapist that I reject such hokum, or find another person to tell my troubles to?
— No Crystals for Me
No Crystals for Me: Be honest! Tell her that you are resistant to this particular approach and ask if she has a different recommendation. She will likely ask you to talk about your reaction, and this conversation might lead to insight.
In my experience, there are occasionally nuggets of truth hidden in the “woo-woo,” but if that doesn’t work for you, you have no need to apologize. (c) Ask Amy
I didn’t blog about this letter originally, but I’m intrigued by today’s follow-up letter from the same letter writer:
Dear Amy: You recently published my question in your column. I signed my question: No Crystals For Me. In my question, I told you about my frustration with my therapist, who suggested a book for me to read that was full of soul-gazing, crystals, and an overall approach that I described as pseudoscience and “woo-woo.”
It was good therapy to even write the letter to you.
I thought about how very often the advice given for many situations was to speak up for yourself. That does seem to be hard for many people.
I did as you suggested and took my honest concerns to my therapist.
I asked her if the book was representative of the core of her approach to therapy, because if it was, I could not benefit from it.
Well, it turned out that the book is not important to her therapy. We both used this as an opening to a good discussion.
By causing me to write down my concerns, you helped me even before you answered my letter. Thank you.
And to all those that commented that I should just immediately drop the therapist, I say, “Y’all sure are impatient.”
— No Crystals for Me
No Crystals for Me: In my response, I wrote, “Be honest! Tell her that you are resistant to this particular approach and ask if she has a different recommendation. She will likely ask you to talk about your reaction, and this conversation might lead to insight.”
Based on what you say, this is what happened, proving that your therapist is skilled at using information you supply to help you. She’s listening.
I appreciate that you mentioned that the very act of asking me the question helped you to arrive at the answer on your own. This, too, is “good therapy.”
I… don’t agree. I understand the letter writer’s concern. I personally love New Agey stuff, but if it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing. The problem I have is that these sort of overly assertive discussions are awkward, painful, demoralizing, uncomfortable, and completely avoidable.
I’d wager anything that the therapist lied when asked if the book was a cornerstone of her beliefs. It’s just a hunch, and I could be wrong; but if I were a therapist, I wouldn’t distribute New Age content without expecting it to directly reflect upon my belief system. I’d never recommend a book to anyone for any reason unless the book itself spoke to me. (If I recommended a book I haven’t read, I’d clarify that. “I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard good things.”)
There’s a subtle difference between speaking up for yourself and putting the other person on the spot. If I were this therapist and my client said, “I can’t read this book. It’s woo-woo crockery,” then I’d feel humiliated. Maybe I’m too sensitive, and maybe it’s a blessing that I’m unemployed. I don’t know. But I think that speaking up can have a very bad effect of hurting people’s feelings.
Because what if the New Age book was core to the therapist’s beliefs? After being told that her client wasn’t taking the book seriously, there’s no way that the therapist would honestly say, “Yes, this book is true to my core belief system. What, you don’t believe in the power of topaz on women born under the sign of Aquarius?”
I think there’s something to be said for deciding that someone’s not a good fit for you and parting ways. I say this as someone who’s more than capable of speaking up for herself. (Just take my word for it.) Not counting when I’m hellbent on revenge, I never want anyone to feel embarrassed or ashamed of who they are. I wouldn’t put the therapist on the spot the way this letter writer did. I could, but I’d choose not to. I’d either work around the book issue by subtly inquiring about the therapist’s beliefs, or I’d find a new therapist, or something else.
In other words, speaking up for yourself can be overrated. However, I understand that a lot of people won’t agree with me on this. But as per my own inner code of ethics, I wouldn’t bring it up with the therapist.
It wouldn’t matter if the school of thought had a good reputation, but unfortunately New Age beliefs have a lot of naysayers who scoff at it. If I were to say, “Sorry, but I’m struggling to read Dr. Freud’s original works,” that would be different. But with the scorn heaped upon the New Age movement, it’s worse than that. If I were the therapist, I’d only recommend such a book if I’d carefully felt out the patient and hoped that the book wouldn’t be rejected.