In a profession that increasingly sees its task in terms of how best to mother people, we are not surprised to see that some therapists are just too damned nice. So says therapist Kimber Shelton and we agree.
Of course, most of today’s therapists are women. And most of them are caring and nice people. And yet, Shelton asks, what if your therapist is too nice? (In passing, I would note that Shelton uses the pronoun “they” in the singular throughout her article. Her prose becomes clanky and discordant, thus showing us why no one should use “they” as a singular pronoun.)
A female therapist might be too nice because she wants to offer a better mothering experience to your regressed self. And she might believe that mothers offer their children unconditional love. She might want to repudiate the harsh male tendency to set rules and to judge behavior. She might want to treat your soul and not worry about how you conduct your life. She might not know about how the world works, so she falls back into an emotional soup. If your female therapist is not going to help you to overcome the pernicious influence of patriarchy, what good is she?
Shelton describes the bad therapy offered by overly kind, overly nice, overly solicitous, and overly weak therapists. Bad therapists tell you what you want to hear and always make you feel that you were right.
In Shelton’s words (excuse her politically correct pronouns):
Does your therapist agree with you all the time? Do they shower you with compliments and praise? Do they smile and nod a lot? Do they always let you lead the session? Have you noticed you invariably leave sessions in a good mood? These could be signs you have a supportive, caring, and empathetic helper—or they may be signs your therapist is too nice.
If your therapist always agrees with and never challenges you, there is a good chance they’re not being objective. Objectivity is often a reason individuals seek counseling in the first place. Does “I want to talk to someone who doesn’t know me and won’t just tell me what they think I want to hear” sound familiar?
As it happens, a therapist who merely echoes your thoughts is feeding your narcissism. Remember the name of the nymph that loved Narcissus: Echo! Shelton recommends that you seek a therapist who can look at a situation objectively, who can offer different perspectives and who can guide you toward different actions in the world:
It could be refreshing to hear your therapist state, “Here is another way to consider what happened …” before you make a major decision or change. Or, depending on your personality, you might respond well to a therapist being as forward as stating, “I have to challenge what you just said. I think something completely different is happening.” In subjective or too-nice therapy, such challenges are less likely to occur.
Getting practical steps for building social confidence, being provided with strategies for managing physical symptoms of anxiety, and practicing newly acquired skills in session demands a high level of involvement and direction from your therapist. A therapist can certainly ask you what you think you can do to improve your social skills, but it’s probably nice to also hear, “Here are some steps we will take to help you build relationships.”
I concur wholeheartedly. Clearly, Shelton has identified a significant flaw in the way much therapy is practiced. And she offers suggestions for how to overcome it.
Addressing herself to patients, she recommends that they tell the therapist how they feel. One cringes at such advice but one also understands that therapists who are too nice and who are offering too much unconditional love will feel threatened by a suggestion that they are mistreating their patients. Wouldn't want to hurt their feelings, would we?
But then, Shelton offers an inspired solution to the problem. If your therapist is offering up too much empathy and agrees with everything you say, you would do better to find a new therapist.
Credit for Shelton for criticizing the way many of today’s therapists practice. It takes courage to do so. After all, most of the time when you tell a therapist that you do not like her approach to treatment she will tell you that this can only mean that you have a serious problem... you are resisting the truth.