There is no doubt in my mind that you have to be extremely mentally tough yourself to be an effective therapist for others. You hear all of the worst parts of humanity, sometimes in an hour’s span, and you have to keep it together for the person who has suffered firsthand.
That said, I imagine it can be a bit hard to shock them, or really get to them at all – which makes these 14 moments all the more memorable (not in a good way).
14. It takes a lot out of you.
Every time I’ve had to call cps or 911 I’ve needed a breather. Any crisis situation like that takes a lot out of me.
It’s hard to be so nervous inside but looking calm on the outside.
13. What a sick individual.
Had a (adult) client whose evil dad would buy them a pet (they were a kid when this happened), and then proceed to torture the animal in front of them or would set it free in the middle of a field just to hurt them.
12. There are no words.
I had a patient who was psychotic and believed their ex-spouse had been molesting their child. This person went into graphic detail of examining the child’s rectum for signs of abuse despite my attempts to get them to stop. I had to go to the door to my office and tell them they had to leave or I was going to call security.
For the record, I never asked them about this, either, despite being aware of it from their crisis evaluation. I’m an activity therapist and my assessment with patients is all about their lifestyle and activity. I was asking them about chores, housework, etc and their basic routine and this was apparently something they did multiple times a day.
DCF removed the child from their care. The patient eventually cleared from their psychosis (which was substance induced by mixing Adderall and alcohol) and recanted on their belief their spouse was molesting their child, but denied the “examinations” ever happened.
11. Hard to fathom.
Not a therapist, but I’m a first year school counselor.
I’ve listened to a lot of heavy stuff, but probably one of the worst was a 4th grade boy telling me about how his s*%thead dad beat the crap out of him and his younger siblings and poured hot sauce in their mouths.
I kept it together in front of the child but wept in the car on my way home. Sometimes it’s impossible to fathom how monstrous and evil some people can be.
10. A rollercoaster of emotions.
I worked with a young woman once who had been sexually abused her entire life, starting from when she was around 5 years old. Hearing those stories sucked. But what was worse was one session where I learned some guy from her work had asked for a ride home, then forced himself into her house and raped her.
Following that he just decided that they were kind of dating (she had pretty intense learned helplessness so she didn’t fight it in order to keep herself safe). During that session she told me that her plans for the night were to just go home and be there all night because that’s where he was right now waiting for her.
We made eye contact and both knew what was going to happen that night and it just broke my heart. She told me that she would be ok, which made me feel even worse and more helpless. My partner was traveling at the time so I got home that night and got very drunk (unhealthy I know) to try and drown out what was happening at her house.
Fast forward to now and she’s stayed single and away from dangerous men for awhile and is doing much better. The roller coaster of emotions as a therapist sure is fun.
9. You never really know anyone.
I’m no longer in mental health but I was a mental health professional in a big city jail for years. I had a few moments where I needed to take an extended “bathroom break” to compose myself (breaks were not allowed outside of lunch).
I had one person admit to molesting his very small children and tell me he thought it was what they wanted, had another confess to a brutal murder ( every greystone detail) with a straight face, another who would routinely dig up his mother’s grave to put her in different clothes, and one who murdered his abuser.
That job was nuts and made me realize how you never really know anyone or why they do anything. I was so burnt out I left the field altogether.
It sucks because i know that’s my calling but I’m too old to go back to school for a master’s now.
8. A bit shaky.
Not a therapist but my first night on air as a talk show host I got a call from a frantic woman. She told me she had just found her brother hanging in the garage and didn’t know what to do.
I organised police and ambulance to her address and kept her on the phone until they got there, it was so sad.
Had people ask me later if I had arranged her to call to get ratings!! Would never pull s*%t like that.
It left me a bit shaky for a while after as have lost several people to suicide.
7. Be sure you want to know.
My wife friends are a couple of therapists – he works at the prison ward, she works in emergency (handling cases such as somebody trying to kill their family during an episode and she helps to negotiate with the person and defuse the situation). I once made a mistake to ask how their day at work was and it was all like this thread but in one week.
Suddenly my job doesn’t sound as bad anymore.
6. Hard to forget.
I’m a psychiatrist. The hardest one for me was a young woman who was sex trafficked when she was 16. She was essentially forced to take heroin until she was addicted and then forced into prostitution. I didn’t actually leave the room when she told me the story, but it was hard to forget
The only times I actually had to leave the room was when I was doing inpatient work and I was seeing floridly manic patients who were saying things that were, quite frankly, hilarious and I started laughing.
5. She never recovered.
Not a therapist but social worker who works with traumatized children.
We got this underaged girl who was raised by a mother suffering of Münchhausen-by-proxy Syndrome which essentially means the mother pretends that her child is sick to get attention and the pity of people. This goes as far as poisoning her own child or even mutilate it to have a reason to seek doctors.
The mother in question was incredibly abusive even when her daughter got taken away from her. For some reason officials never took child custody from her which made it easy to have influence on her daughters live. She specifically used it to tell her daughter that she loved her and she will always be there for her, but everytime shit actually hit the fan and she needed to be there, she wasn’t.
One day her daughter got pregnant but the child died within a few days so an abortion needed to be done asap to prevent pregnancy poisoning. All she needed to do was granting permission by E-Mail but although I called her several times and she assured me she would send it, it just never came.
Her daughter was forced to have her dead unborn child in her womb for 3 days for the sole reason that her mother just didn’t do anything. We finally reached out to CPS and got permission through them but her daughter was deeply traumatized by this and just never recovered from it. Seeing her like this was my first “I need a minute” moment.
4. That definitely requires a moment (or two).
My professor had a client who was a farmers wife, that caught a bovine STD from her husband who was having sex with the calves.
3. The most brutal call.
I’m a therapist-in-training (in my last year of grad school for counseling, seeing clients) but my job before school was working on crisis lines, including the veteran’s crisis line. One evening I took a call from an older fellow who wanted to verbally process trauma (which is usually a no-go, because talking about trauma without any way to regulate the nervous system reinforces the neural pathways associated with the trauma and makes things worse) but this man could not persuaded to discuss current life stressors.
He got himself into a flashback of time spent as a POW in Vietnam and described to me in graphic detail the horrors he endured, like what it was like to eat cockroaches to avoid starving to death and the torture he suffered. Also went through his moral injuries of killing soldiers and a child accidentally.
He then went on to say that some time ago his wife and adult child died in an accident together and he believed it was his punishment for what he did in the war. This went on for an hour. I offered as much support as I could and tried to work with him to do any kind of self-soothing but he just kept on switching between processing shame/guilt and processing trauma.
I couldn’t get his name so I couldn’t get him connected to the VA contact for urgent mental health appointments, and he wasn’t actively suicidal so there was nothing more I could do. The despair and resignation in his voice was haunting.
Definitely hung up after that call and went straight to the bathroom and sobbed. I needed…many minutes. Easily the worst, most brutal call I ever took.
2. A haunting mistake.
I once worked in a suicide/crisis intervention service.
A 38 year old mother of 2 called me up… saying she was planning to hang herself. This was nothing new for the client… this happened around once per month, usually when she was refused contact with her two young kids due to her douche of an ex. Usually, I would call 999 and the police would arrive at her home and take her neck out of the noose. She would always kick the stool away when the police were within 20 seconds of rescuing her. I kept her on the line and kept her calm as I contacted the cops. They were there within 5 minutes. She heard them come up her stairs, so jumped from the stool.
However… she forgot to unlock the security lock on her heavy fire door. The two cops first on scene were two small females, thus were unable to break the door down.
I heard her choke and gargle on speakerphone… I could hear her breathing. It took around 20 minutes for the cops to break though… I heard her make her last sound after 5 minutes. This still haunts me.
1. Calm in the moment.
I had a client bring in a blade, pulled it out, and talked about thoughts to harm self. Asked for the weapon, called receptionist, and made arrangements for client to be hospitalized.
Spazzed out after the client was en route to nearby ED.
I don’t know if I would be able to handle things like this on a regular basis. It’s just heartbreaking to hear firsthand how awful people can be to each other.
If you’ve got a story from the therapist’s office you want to share, our comments are open!