In an earlier post, I talked about how clients sometimes feel anger and hatred for their therapists; I believe this is inevitable on occasion and appropriate. Today I’d like to discuss how therapists may respond when they’re hated, and how much it can help the people we treat if we’re able to tolerate them and not retaliate in kind.
Often these clients, especially severely troubled individuals, need to express their hatred. They need to feel they can show what they actually feel and still be accepted. One of my long-term clients, a man in his early 30s, would scream at me during session after session. He’d vent in the most vicious tones, week after week, accusing me of any number of crimes even when I might have said very little. For me as his therapist, it was extremely painful to be in the same room and feel his hatred — hard to be the object of his hostility but also to feel his pain. (See my much later post on countertransference issues in treating depression). I knew he suffered from profound shame and that venting his hatred was a desperate effort to ward off that shame and hold himself together (see my earlier post on the ways in which hostility can function as a kind of psychic glue).