A Request for Input

In response to my recent post about The Self-Serving Lie, I had a very interesting email exchange with a site visitor. An intelligent and thoughtful woman, a strong believer in the value of psychotherapy, she felt that by writing such a post, I was behaving in an unprofessional manner. She felt such personal disclosures devalued the profession and debased my own standards. I’m curious about what other readers might think.

As a response to that exchange, I wrote my most recent post on The Evacuation of Pain — definitely more “professional” in the sense that I focused on certain psychological dynamics I’ve encountered in my practice with minimal reference to my “outside” experience. What I find interesting is how many more reader Comments I received in response to the more personal post. Also to the earlier one on Belonging.

Here is my opinion, and feel free to contradict me. When I write a post like the one about pain, I come much more from the place of professional authority; readers can acknowledge that they have experienced something similar and they can relate their own stories. But posts like the one about self-serving lies or the need to belong leave readers greater room to participate, to join me on a more equal footing, and even to offer me advice. Almost everyone has dealt with self-serving liars. Everyone needs to belong. I find that type of post and reader interaction much more satisfying. In fact, all those responses to my post on belonging actually gave me a feeling of community, even if it is a virtual one.

I suppose I’ll continue with a variety of different post styles, but I’d welcome your feedback. Which type of post do you prefer? Do you think it “unprofessional” to write from a more personal perspective rather than as a therapist offering insight? Please chime in!

Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.

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99 comments

    That is interesting. It did cross my mind that your voice in the self serving lie post was more personal than professional. It made me think about how I felt about it that’s for sure. I prefer your professional posts, I am really interested in psychotherapy and have been in therapy for about 18 months and love to read about parts of the mind and our behaviours that I didn’t understand before experiencing it in therapy or reading it on this blog. It made me feel a little uncomfortable reading your more personal post but after spending time studying myself in therapy I have come to understand that these strong reactions tend to be more about me than the person they are directed towards. My inner child didn’t like seeing you in a difficult situation. I guess my inner child also wanted to imagine you and my therapist (and all therapists) to be of the *non human, never judging, always accepting, always perfect, can make any difficult situation perfect* category that my mind has created… the idolising part of my mind!

    It made me cringe initially to read your post because I couldn’t help but feel my heart ache at the thought of the subject of the post stumbling upon your recount… surely as a friend she will know you write this blog and recognise herself in your words? But I also appreciated an honest insight into your life and your situation with one of life’s difficult people.

    I came to the conclusion that it didn’t bother me too much that you had written such a personal post because it is useful for me to be reminded that you (and all therapists and people I admire) are a human being and you experience all of the wonderfully painful and confusing emotions that I do… it was uncomfortable but it was also useful.

    Thanks for your honesty. The reader with whom I exchanged emails told me she had a “sacred” view of psychotherapy (a view I don’t share) and I think she also wanted to see therapists as “non human, never judging, always accepting, always perfect, can make any difficult situation perfect” (so nicely put). As you suggest, one potentially uncomfortable (for readers) aspect of myself I have revealed is that I do pass judgment on people. I am extremely tolerant, empathic, and accepting of people who do their best but stumble. I can be quite harsh toward people who hurt others in the pursuit of a false sense of self, who lie and blame other people for their own mistakes. In the unlikely event that Peggy were to read my blog, wouldn’t it be appropriate for her to feel bad? Under certain circumstances, aren’t guilt and shame the appropriate feelings to experience?

    In the past I think I would have responded the way she did, I think I would have been angry with you for writing such a personal piece. But as I said, I understand myself so much more now, my motivations, my triggers… I also know not to believe my feelings/thoughts on face value and to look a little deeper at what my un-conscious is trying to tell me.

    I actually appreciate YOUR honesty, you sharing your judgements and opinions. We need more honesty in the world I think!

    To the last point – yes Peggy should feel shame but I think it could just as easily be anger and spite that she feels. I fear triggering these responses in people because of my insecure attachment and issues with rejection and abandonment. I would be scared that she would do something to hurt me in retaliation. I once again know this is ‘my issue’ and I am grateful to see the different ways that other people respond to things.

    The woman who emailed you – I wonder if she has studied her unrealistic idealised view of psychotherapy in psychotherapy? I have and it was intensely valuable stuff! A lot of breaking apart and growing took place!

    I think the posts that I enjoy most from you are the ones that include a healthy mix of professional authority, as well as personal perspective/struggles.

    It has been said that “he who does something gets criticized.”

    I often tell people that in society, things are either done, in the right way, the wrong way or the American way. Not a lot is done the right way.

    You are the professional. You can decide what way you want to present information and I see NO problem coming from a personal perspective at all, if that is what you consider proper and effective at any time.

    Actually the individual who disagreed with you presented HER opinion which she is entitled to but once again, opinions can be right , or wrong, and in this application, I am not onside with her.

    The fact is that you made a judgment call, and presupposing that your experiential perspectives have been gathered over a lifetime, they are more likely to be correct than incorrect and in this case I see them as proper and effective.

    Learning is a voyage, not a harbor, and you have come a long way, observed and developed a “modus operandi” that I find appropriate and effective.

    Criticism expressed with a reason, is worthy of evaluation, but opinions on subjects that the target of criticism is an expert at, are invariably wrong. Thus you get the nod Dr. B. once again from me.

    “The reason I come to this site is because you’re an honest human being who is also a knowledgeable psychotherapist.”

    So said Sarah, and she said it all in a brief, concise and accurate manner, as intelligent women are bound to do.

    The reason she comes here is the same reason everyone else comes here, there is NO substitute for experience which you have much of, making you effective at your profession.

    I am not here much, but this is the ONLY site I take the time occasionally to visit and comment at. Not to say there are not other good sites run by competent behavioral scientists, but I see this one is worth while for sure.

    Thank you for your posts. I am just going through this type of situation with “self-serving lie”. And I’m trying to figure out for myself the motivations of the other individual I find it perplexing. The other individual in my case is doing more harm to herself and her organization by engaging in such behavior. I find your post to be helpful as long as you don’t Point out anyone in particular or identify anybody. I don’t think it’s any problem to point out you’re on personal experiences. However it’s always a habit of myself to try to think about how I’m interpreting the situation and how the other person’s point of view maybe. Unfortunately our brains as one philosopher pointed out -have a “witness protection program” it’s like a little dictator(narcissist) in our heads suppressing manipulating memory and distorting our own points of view.

    People like judging a character more than they like taking the work to understand theories, and more than they like taking the extra work to actually applying this to their lives.

    With that on mind and of course, with *cash* on mind, I’d provide all three and in that order.

    Every post would follow a structure: The title of the post and the meat is a character, “Peggy, the deluded liar”, “Tom, the toxic shamer”, “Anita, the bully victim”; a hero or a villain, their story, their transgressions or their misfortunes. Then a more distant theoretical insight part that offers just “aha!” moments to make the reader feel they’ve got their Peggy figured out; and finally a homework section like you used to have to invite people to apply some of that on their own, with questions or exercises.

    Then I’d make that blog-structured-post into every magazine that would have me, and then all of that into books and movies.

    I believe that both a “personal” observation and a “professional” commentary have their own unique place in this on-going dialog. I would like to believe, also, that we who participate know the difference. We all have our professional opinions and sometimes they may differ from our personal opinions.
    As to the post concerning the self-serving lie I like that you gave it a personal touch. It shows that you experience situations outside the therapy session that effect your life and not just the lives of those in therapy.
    Please continue to do both as appropriate.

    If you were posting in some official capacity, say, on a professional website on behalf of the APA –speaking ex cathedra, as it were — and naming names and issuing diagnoses, that would be unprofessional. Or, if you used a client’s session to tell about your kitchen contractor, which obviously you would never do, that would be unprofessional. Posting about a frustrating experience on your own personal blog and relating it to things you’ve observed professionally by definition cannot be unprofessional.

    Many other blogs are like this. The first that comes to mind is “Science-Based Medicine.” The whole raison d’etre of that blog is to provide good medical info, and the people who run it are doctors. And yet sometimes they include funny anecdotes — or even full-on rants — that relate to the frustrations of being a science-based doctor in a culture that takes (say) Dr. Oz seriously. And even their anecdotes and rants have a point — which always relates back to science-based medicine.

    They are using their professional expertise and knowledge and interests to get information out into the world, and yet it’s impossible to be “unprofessional” on that blog because they are not speaking in their official “professional” capacity.

    “Unprofessional” would be if I went into the ER with crushing chest pain and the doctor started telling me why Dr. Oz is a charlatan and a menace to public health. Yeah, but my chest pain, please!

    Maybe the complainer responded to the fact that in that post you were painting yourself as the “good guy” (in that particular exchange) and the person who worked on your kitchen as the “bad guy” (in that particular exchange — even though you were careful to round her out and to say some other nice things about her, since you knew her in other contexts).

    This is what all of us do. Each of us is the hero of our own narratives. I, too, have a horrible contractor story, and I’m certainly the “good guy” in that narrative, and the guy who ripped me off for $6,000 is the “bad guy” — even though I’m sure he has some redeeming qualities and is loved by his children or … someone, somewhere.

    I had a blog for a few years and realized that you just can’t please everyone. Most people who stick around enjoy it, and a few people will not enjoy it, and they’ll tell you so. Often what they are responding to so strongly has nothing to do with what you wrote (really), but rather something to do with them. Maybe it’s someone who just likes to rattle cages. Maybe it’s someone who used to work as a contractor and had some really unreasonable clients. Maybe it’s the best friend of the contractor you complained about. You just can’t know.

    In the end, it’s your personal blog to do with as you will.

    I couldn’t agree with you more. You might have noticed that another commenter to the self-serving lie post called me a “liar” because I had promised to deliver lessons for my readers that would be applicable to their lives. I responded, rather impatiently, that I write this blog free of charge for my personal pleasure and (I hope) the enjoyment of my readers. This seems undoubtedly true. I’m not selfless. I write about people/issues/experiences that interest me and since it is my personal blog, as you say, I can do with it as I will.

    Still, I do like to hear what readers think. Thanks so much for weighing in.

    The reason I come to this site is because you’re an honest human being who is also a knowledgeable psychotherapist. Posts about personal problems (that of course you use to illustrate psychological concepts-our community’s shared interest) fit into that.

    I see (or think I see) some of your issues when I read your personal posts, and that’s interesting and fun for me (I read autobiographies for the same reason).

    There are tons of professional therapists who have sites. I don’t read any of them regularly. Why? Because there’s bs…there’s always a degree of defensivesness of psychotherapists, a glorification of psychotherapy, denial, a guardedness, distance…there’s a line, a line between the psychotherapists and nonpsychotherapists which is off-putting for me.

    I found an honest psychotherapist on afterpsychotherapy, no bs. Your honesty has been healing for me. I tried therapy with two male psychotherapists and they both fired me. The pain was intense with the last (and final) one. I wrote on many therapist’s sites about that experience and could not get any relief except from you. That’s because you were honest and nondefensive, those are rare attributes. If you were ‘professional’ (distant, guarded, nonrevealing) I wouldn’t be here, and you wouldn’t have helped me.

    Thanks so much. And what you find valuable here is what makes it rewarding for me to write. I have no interest in writing the kind of professional blog that you describe. I like being candid. I like bridging the gap between us. I like using my own difficulties as a means into a subject, rather than dispensing omniscient advice.

    For me it was a surprising post, largely because I have come to value your considered professional opinion. I’d agree with you about the whole sorry mess in Peggy’s post: a similar thing has happened to me with a subcontractor recently and it was disappointing and awful. Painful, even. But I don’t think that’s the thing.

    Well yes she damn well ought – it’s just I don’t know if it belongs right here. Is this an appropriate ‘space’? Does Peggy (I assume you’ve used a pseudonym) really have a right of reply here? And if she was to reply… it would feel like intruding on what I think was a private matter. That said I know how personal a blog space feels, and the dynamic of having a genuine and sympathetic audience is a great thing.

    What a paragon! Snort – if my therapist was like that he’d be a living and I think rather annoying saint. I do hope she wasn’t really advocating that since therapy teaches real relationships, that’s not a real person. My therapist is very real and I very much value and appreciate he brings his whole self to the session. Granted he doesn’t always get it right, he can occasionally frustrate me, and I suspect vikky verky when I’m being difficult, obstruse or blatantly ‘psychologically lazy’. He asks me to work hard, be real and I do him.

    I’m not into Freud’s tabula rasa thing, although I did work for a short time with a very competent psychotherapist who used it to great effect. I could have never bonded with her, but boy! Her interventions were razor-sharp. Ultimately I chose to work with the Whole Therapist, as it were. Not the blank sheet to project on which I know is pure fantasy. This feels to be a lie to me.

    We are real, and that is what I value. Insights, mistakes, judgments – the lot.

    I used to be much more of a blank-screen therapist. It can be extremely valuable, effective, useful, as you say. But I believe personal warmth and genuine affection are so important to healing that I can’t be that way any more.

    Agreed – and I think your clients will sense that.

    I work with my 72-year-old Glaswegian therapist because I know he cares and I know he will work as hard as I do in a session. That and he has an equally black sense of humour. It’s a Scots thing.

    I sense my British reserve at play in my original response when I read others from across the Pond. Interesting, eh?

    I found your post helpful and found relief in the shared experience. I had been beating myself up over having to deal with two self-serving liars recently.

    Precisely what i like about your posts, Dr Burgo, is its personal touch along with the experienced professional interpretation that applies to us all. I have read many ‘therapy’ blogs/ websites and they are all cloaked in the same old text book explanations jargon/ therapy spiel and are all the same because of it. None of them resonate in the same way as yours and i don’t return regularly to a single one of them. This is precisely what makes your posts unique, engaging and, in many ways, so much more effective. Please don’t stop!

    This is your personal blog. What I appreciate about it is the dual purpose. Not only do you bring some interesting stories about being an experienced practitioner, but you also have the insight of knowing how it can feel as a therapy client. You’ve been very clear that feelings still arise and this blog demonstrates how you personally work through them. It won’t be the same for all of us, but you provide a thought-provoking model. That’s invaluable for those of us who fear feelings, so thanks.

    Dear Dr. Burgo:

    Your post did not bother me. This is not your office, and we are not your patients. I see nothing wrong with interacting with readers of your blog.

    I think that there is room for both types of posts and I appreciate both after all you are a human being and a personal perspective doesn’t make you less professional. In fact I find the personal more engaging. So no I don’t feel that it is unprofessional in the least to write posts of a more personal nature nor does it devalue the profession or debase your standards.

    I also believe in the value of psychotherapy too, despite having some not so good experiences and so much of what you write resonates for me as well. I appreciate your honesty and your own unique voice and I wouldn’t bother commenting and following your blog if I felt otherwise. Thank you for what you do and please continue.

    Hello

    I appreciated both types of posts. I went back and reread the The Self-Serving Lie and also tried to remember what my thoughts were when I read it the first time.

    I remember thinking that I agreed with you that in most cases it’s not that the person is bad, but money is very important and can influence us negatively. I liked the way that you separated the person from what was done. I also hoped that I wouldn’t, first, be in a situation where I would choose money over my values etc.,
    and second, that this rip-off type experience wouldn’t happen to me.

    I also felt a bit frustrated for you, in the sense with what you went through regarding the renovating of your property…it sounded incredibly frustrating to me?

    I don’t remember thinking your post was unprofessional, I don’t really read into them that way—they are your experiences, work and personal.

    Another point is that I have been reading your posts for quite a long time so I am used to you being unique in that way [or talking about things direct and transparent].

    I also thought that there are two sides to every story.

    p.s. the link still doesn’t work 

    I will check out the link once again. It was indeed very frustrating, and angering. The most difficult part was her sense of indignation and entitlement, as if we had treated her badly.

    If people want to read textbooks or clinical reports there are lots about, I think they come to blogs to hear from the blogger about their personal take on things. And they prefer posts that include the blogger’s experience.

    Declaration of bias: I think professionalism (not any particular professional) is immoral and impedes healing.

    If by “professionalism,” you mean the kind of distant, untouchable therapeutic approach, I agree. So many people who have commented on this post have stressed the importance of authentic emotional connection between therapist and client. Professionalism makes that almost impossible.

    I consider posts allowing comments about one’s personal life as essential to a psychotherapist’s profession.. It is the job of the therapist to bring insight and to teach. Good teaching always involves authenticity and modeling behaviors. If a psychotherapist fears appropriate, relative disclosure, I would be walking out the door. A good interpersonal relationship between therapist and client is key.

    I find it quite valuable to read your personal perspectives, for a couple of reasons. For one, you always relate it to a relevant psychological theory or phenomenon and I learn a good deal about my own thought patterns and behavior as a result. And, on a less didactic note, I find it somewhat reassuring when you talk about things about which you’re less than proud. Seeing that a respected professional who’s done a lot of therapy of his own can still have issues that come up for him helps me have a little more compassion for myself when I do.

    I might feel differently if you were my therapist and how you write here was how you presented yourself in session. While I greatly appreciate my therapist’s infrequent self-disclosures, I wouldn’t want (and don’t get!) entire sessions of them. But, of course, this isn’t therapy. It’s an informative blog and the way you balance personal and professional discussions is spot-on.

    I promise you that I would never express myself this way during session! While I may on occasion disclose something personal that relates to what a client is saying, I consider that the focus should remain almost entirely on that client’s experience.

    We are all human and all have personal stories which are part of who we are whether we are a therapist or not. This is a blog not a therapy session, so what you divulge is entirely up to you. I personally enjoy and gain some insight from nearly all your posts hence the reason I keep reading them.

    Honestly: I really liked the “belonging” post. I don’t have any problem with you posting “personal” material. In fact it seems like a good thing.

    The “self serving lie” post however made me very uncomfortable to read, and I don’t think it’s because it’s personal material. I think what bothered me was the way you set out the facts, but made no reference to your own feelings. Unless I missed it, there was nothing about your anger or frustration, although they were strongly implied in the tone of the writing.

    I think it’s essential for a therapist to drop his or her guard as it allows patients to see them as human beings and understand their own resistance to the therapy, which certainly happened to me when my therapist expressed her exasperation with the games I was playing with her.

    I actually think that what you wrote wasnt at all wrong by any means. You shred your view and opinion in a very respectful manner. People who support transgender lifestyles tend to be very sensitive on the subject and I think that was the case here. Please dont beat yourself up about what you wrote. I think that it had so much truth in it. I even used you as a source in a conversation I was having (thats how I found your blog)

    I enjoy the mix of both. You’re also an excellent writer and storyteller so while I am interested in psychotherapy, I come back to read for your style and voice.

    We all need our forums to vent, rant, carry on – and more often then not we are justified in doing so. I appreciated the fact that you trusted your audience enough, felt connected enough and comfortable enough with your family of readers to share your personal frustrations that so many other people could relate too.
    My difficulty with therapists in the past has been, I’ll call it – the pedestal effect, where there isn’t enough personal stories, if any, being shared that make me feel okay about myself. I have a new therapist that I really like because he “normalizes” the professional relationship between us by allowing me to know a few of his own stories, acknowledging that he is also human and his life isn’t perfect. It’s a good thing. :)
    Mixing it up once in a while isn’t a bad thing. There are far more professional styled posts that you share with us to keep that professional image in mind, but we also are allowed to see that you are human, you have your own challenges and you aren’t trying to present a perfect image to the rest of us – and that’s a good thing.

    Hi, it did surprise me and I did feel critical of you to be hones. But, I have done a lot of therapy and I believe that when I have a reaction like that to someone/something it means that there is something in me that I need to look at!

    I suppose we got used to your blog as a professional angle on things? so this was a change and perhaps we humans are quite childlike with regard to wanting the “adult” to remain the same and not change!!

    And there might be a fantasy about respectability and not showing your humanness?? I think theres a lot of that in the western world, which doesn’t help I don’t believe.

    I haven’t had time to read the other comments yet, but will do when I can,

    Keep going!

    xx

    In the year or so that I’ve been reading your blog, I have encountered a variation on this line a few times, usually in the comments, and it always makes me pause and wonder:

    “I write this blog free of charge for my pleasure and hopefully for the enjoyment of my readers.”

    I had presumed that you devised the blog, as many similar blogs are promoted, for marketing of your online psychotherapy services and online book sales.

    The blog post on “Liars” could be interpreted as a commentary about being ‘cheated’ out of money, more than an essay about lying. Whatever, it didn’t seem like smart marketing, to me.

    Fascinating, no matter what the intentions!

    I originally began this blog about a year before I opened my practice to new psychotherapy patients, and at that time, I had no intention of doing so. It came as a (pleasant) surprise to me, when readers began asking whether I worked by Skype. My primary goal was to build a platform for myself as a writer, and hopefully to build upon it so that I might write and publish books.

    I was surprised that you had allowed yourself to be taken advantage of, especially so many times. I was surprised that you had not been able to recognize what probably all your readers could see. You seemed on the defensive & unable to step back & (shall we say) analyze what was happening to you. That happens to decent people when they are trying to be fair to the other person & don’t want to be thought of as doing what the other person is actually doing–taking self-serving advantage. It’s difficult to defend oneself from such unexpected aggressiveness. Maybe you responded too quickly to be able to judge the situation accurately. When I read your story, it reminded me that what I never read, & what we all could learn from, is how you should have responded. You must have pondered that question after the fact. We have all had experiences which fall into the category of your story, but why do we so frequently feel as though we had no option except to be on the losing end of someone else’s aggression? I would like to see a follow-up from you as to how one should go about dealing with a determined narcissistic personality. Every time I feel mistreated by someone fighting for his/her own “rights,” I am left wondering how I should have acted in response. Sometimes I come up with an answer, but the same circumstances seldom occur a second time. I have a feeling that this is a silly question, but is there a broad universal way of handling people who fall into the category of narcissist, who cannot be reasoned out of their demands to always have what is best for them?

    Your last question is the subject of my forthcoming book, THE NARCISSIST YOU KNOW (Touchstone, September 2015). The answer is too long for this short space!

    As for what I should have done, I should have refused to give her part of the final installment, stood my ground, and fired her when she didn’t perform. Hard to do when you (mistakenly) believe someone is a friend of sorts.

    I’ve never responded here before, but I want to say that I do enjoy the more personal posts because I appreciate that “experts” also deal with the same things the rest of us do. I think I started making the most progress in therapy when my therapist shared some very touching experiences with me, sometimes with tears, and I’ve always felt like this was saying to me that, as I trusted her, she was trusting me, if that makes sense. Since I think good therapy is about experiencing relationship, the personal sharing adds to that. Of course, it’s always within good boundaries and has never left me feeling with a sense of responsibility for how SHE feels; as I’ve also learned she’s not responsible for how I feel.

    Prefer both, agree with both of you. Her: If you were my therapist, would an entry like this make me fear that you would do the same to me if I were your client, even though you’ve changed the name? Yes. Does this feel unprofessional? Yes – but only if I forgot that therapists are not perfect, never think a bad thought, never got angry, etc. Is there an obvious piece of your article that showed you wanted to offload your true feelings and get validation from a community whose opinions you value….masking it as a teachable moment? Yes. You: This is your blog, write whatever you want. It’s good to be reminded that you’re a real person whose job is to be a therapist and write books. Yes, you totally got screwed – in a unexpected and disappointing way. But you’re human – you have a home, you have to do laundry, when stuff breaks you have to fix it. Go forward with whatever article you want – if we all can’t be honest and openly share our opinions (including you) what’s the point?

    Thank you, Mindy. I’ve noticed that several people have felt supportive once they remember that therapists aren’t perfect. There seems to be a tendency to idealize therapists, and to be honest, there are few things worse than being idealized. It feels so alienating and lonely, to be put up on a pedestal, as if you don’t struggle like everyone else.

    Interesting wording Joe. I remember about 8 months into therapy my therapist said he could feel my attachment style changing because he no longer felt on his own up high on that pedestal I had put him on. At the time I hadn’t noticed what I had done and I certainly never thought about how he might feel.

    I enjoy the personal posts very much. I don’t want to get the impression of dealing with an infallible human being because it pretends that perfection can be achieved which I think is just not true. I am much happier being less of a perfectionist now, hearing about how other people struggle helps me accept myself more.

    I like both types of posts. As some others have said the reason I read your blog is because it is so refreshing to read honest, human thoughts and experiences from a professional. I sympathise with the reader who found the personal posts difficult – up until a few years back I idealised therapists and I also idealised what it is like to be ‘after psychotherapy’. However when you mentioned that a former psychoanalyst had treated you badly I groaned because I guess I still tend to think they behave better than your average person. I’ve heard other stories of psychoanalysts behaving badly and again I’m surprised (where is their empathy?)

    Your blog has really helped me to see that my imperfect life ‘after psychotherapy’ is fine and indeed my imperfect self – many of the personal posts resonate like issues around fear of my own narcissism or fear of others envy. I feel like I’m not so strange to have these concerns ‘afterpsychotherapy’. Oh and lastly I find your honesty about ‘borderline joe’ very brave – I’m guessing most therapists wouldn’t dream of admitting their own issues – I don’t understand why they are so secretive about this – well I do! but in another way I don’t.

    I’m glad you’ve brought us down from the pedestal. I have at times felt very lonely in my profession simply because nobody will acknowledge their own issues. My colleagues too often seem to be trying to look like they are “after psychotherapy” in the bad way.

    I like all of your posts; however, I do feel a sense of connection and “realness” with your more personal posts and a sense of detachment with the posts that are more professional in nature. In fact, my first time commenting on this site was in regard to your “Belonging” post. I was compelled to comment because I so related to what you said and to you as a person and professional. One of the reasons that I really like my therapist and have benefited from therapy is that I feel a personal connection with her; she is real to me. I am new to psychotherapy but that connection seems so important. For similar reasons, I vote for more personalized posts.

    Good Day Dr. Burgo,

    First thank you for the opportunity to express our opinion on a excellent topic for discussion.

    I was a bit taken back by your comment that the site was for your enjoyment. Whenever I have a strong reaction I try to sit with it and figure out why? I felt a good healthy boundary was revealed. The site belongs to you. As long as you are up front with personal versus professional viewpoint, (and to me you have been) I feel a healthy connection. My goal is to find my true authentic self and express it with all of it’s dynamics. It’s the feelings others express that are negative that makes it a vulnerable exercise. I believe finding support and acceptance for being genuine the ultimate bond in healthy relationships albeit professional or personal.

    To be honest, your site is for my personal pleasure as well. Hats off to being genuine. A Manager once said to me that I would be hurt at times for being real but, in the end would have real human interactions that would make it worth the hurt. Perhaps it’s finding affirmation and support, admiration we need for being real people with the plethora of feelings and expressions that involves.

    I for one benefit personally from your very real expressions whether I agree with them or not I appreciate the confort I feel in knowing you are a real person. No doubt many are attracted to you for that fundamental need we have in our relationships with our fellow man.

    Best!

    Many thanks. I expect that your being “taken aback” by my comment has to do with an opinion several others have expressed, that I’m supposed to be selfless. I’m glad you worked that one through and realized that I’ve just being myself.

    “Unprofessional” seems to me a label many folks use when confusing their personal values and preferences with the a profession’s written code of ethics. There’s a very broad continuum of appropriate and useful self-disclosure, although various sub-schools of psychotherapy define appropriate self-discxlosure quite differently. To model and give appropriate emotional intimacy, therapists who use Interpersonal approaches often disclose Much more about themselves than Psychoanalylically oriented practioners.
    There’s nothing written in stone that forbids therapist’s self-disclosure, and every situation/client calls for different degrees of self-disclosure. As long as the therapist clearly understands the therapeutic reasons for a self-disclosure and doesn’t violates their profession’s written code of ethics , “unprofessional” seems to me a matter of personal taste. Dr Bob

    I enjoy your personal posts. Maybe I am misunderstanding the goal of this blog; if it is meant to be purely a professional mental health resource then yes, personal information shouldn’t be shared. My impression of this site however, is that it is about you as a professional and a human, sharing both your professional and personal experiences and feelings about your work, relationships, etc. You aren’t everybody’s therapist, so I don’t see a need to act neutral and professional all of the time. You are a person too, and the nature of what you share is encouraging to many people who don’t need or intend to see you as their therapist but as a person who can speak honestly and openly about certain issues. I am a therapist myself, and I very much value your putting a bit of yourself out there…makes me feel like I’m less crazy :). I do not see anything wrong with your approach to your posts, and I find them very valuable and enjoyable.

    I enjoy reading your blog, and have always learned something new from each post. One of the things I’m learning from you is how to raise my awareness of toxic people and hopefully, respond in more self-protective ways. However, after reading this latest post about The Self Serving Lie, I didn’t enjoy it and I didn’t feel like it was an educational opportunity for me because I felt angry and disgusted with you after I read it, and immediately felt like “unfollowing ” you. I forgot about it until your email today asking for feedback. So here’s mine: I perceived your post as purely vindictive, and under the guise of analysis, a way to exact revenge on these 2 people you wrote about because you described them with too much personal detail (names, boss, etc.) It came across to me as public shaming. If you had just written about their lying/behavior without mentioning their real names, job, position, friend, title, etc., I would have thought the focus of the article was about the behavior, not that particular person. I don’t think you needed to write the real names, etc. to add credibility to your story. I appreciate your monthly offerings of your observations which usually are teachable moments for me, but this article missed the mark.

    Whatever you write, I think you should write it because you want to or feel it’s an important topic (cliché, but true). As long as the privacy of the people in the stories is protected or there is consent in those where it’s not, I don’t see any problem. I expect some posts to be more interesting or relate-able than others, but overall I enjoy this blog.
    I think one of the main attractions to me is to see how a therapist deals with his life-issues. Leading by example is quite powerful, and it makes me feel hopeful that even though we struggle with life-long issues, these can be manageable in such a way that we can live relatively happy lives. I’ll confess that whenever you “disappear” for a while, I worry that maybe you’ve gone crazy; mainly because that means I’ll probably end up going crazy too. It’s as if you going crazy meant the issues end up winning the battle, like a broken steering wheel when you’re trying to keep out of the rut. Maybe It’s due to my own fear of going crazy.
    And there is also a dirty little secret: Much of my motivation to comment is to get you to praise me for my intelligence. If a therapist thinks I’m smart and have a lot of insight and self-awareness, that means I’m a person that can be of value to someone else. It’s one of the bigger issues I struggle with. It seems like I don’t think I have value unless I say and do intelligent things. Being proven wrong is specially painful. I mean, I worry whether or not that semicolon was correct. I used to have an issue where I’d try to explain why Einstein was wrong. Yes, I used to be one of those crank-physicists and I still daydream with revolutionizing physics with a new idea because somehow that means that all the big problems in my life will magically disappear.

    It’s funny that your comment came when I did, because just the other day, I was remembering a session early on in my analysis — and we’re talking 40 years ago — when my analyst told me I had a “fine mind.” I wept when he said it and lived on it for weeks. I understand how you feel.

    Hi Dr. Joe (an attempt to acknowledge both your professional and personal side)!
    Reading the comments above, I agree with most. Both professional and personal posts are interesting and the more personal post created anxiety in me because it messed with the idealized version of you I have in my head (which I recognize as a good thing-I agree, being idealized is horrible). One thing that has not been mentioned is the way you worked very hard and were so intentional about getting closure on the issue with the woman who wrote the comment. THAT is what I also appreciate about this blog is that you care about coming to some understanding and are not afraid to work to get some sort of resolution with people with whom there is some anger and conflict. This part of this whole saga is also a very important learning experience (at least for me). So thanks although I’ll try not to idealize this to much!!

    Hey Joe, haven’t read thru others responses, yet. Just wanted to record my own feelings first. Er, what? You are not my Therapist, was my first thought. Yes, with ones own Therapist, learning too much about their private lives can be a distraction.. Even so, not at all sure how it equates with being unprofessional. I get more concerned when you use patients stories as examples. I’m assuming you seek their approval.
    I sort of enjoy that the man you are is shared here.

    I like the more personal posts but not the post you are writing about there. It felt to me like you were using this forum to have a rant, to feel heard about how unfair the situation was and it felt uncomfortable to me to be brought into a domestic between you and your friend. I suppose, though I understand the posts have often a personal side to them, they generally are to illuminate a topic on therapy. Here, it felt different to that, as if you felt powerless in the situation but then used your online profile to describe the situation to feel more in control or perhaps to get a sense that you had backup in your view that she behaved badly. I suppose perhaps it felt to me that your feeling of outrage were hidden behind the professional description of the self serving lie. There is nothing wrong in any of this but I didn’t take as much from that particular post than I normally do. Thanks for encouraging the feedback, best wishes,

    Marie

    Quick comment without reading all the other feedback, a more vague description of the events would have left some room for anonymity of the contractor in question. Regrettably, sharing so much detail means that she has been outed on a public forum and I’m not sure what need that serves. It left me feeling worried for the contractor, though I did empathize with your plight. I also wondered what life events led to so much chaos in the contractor’s blip in what otherwise, if I recall correctly, had been a positive relationship between the two of you.

    I slightly prefer the personal posts. There are too many psychologist’s blogs out there that are well meaning, but far too self-promotional. The honesty in personal posts sheds mystique and gives the realistic view that counselors are people with their own issues. I wouldn’t want all personal posts – it’s good to have a mix.

    That being said, I would like even more realism – such as in the topic of what psychologists aren’t good for, limitations, etc. In this society there can be a knee-jerk reaction when someone is going through mental health issues to say “you should see someone about that”, meaning a psychologist or psychiatrist. I’m actually offended if someone says that to me and I’m rarely offended. There has been a mystique built up in a sales pitch that counseling is the answer to so many things which serves the guild of psychologists, but leads to much disappointment in people as they find their magical assumptions aren’t valid. One of the reasons I like your blog is that there is that realism and honesty.

    I agree about this mystique that counseling is the answer to everything. Sometimes life is just painful or depressing, loss is inevitable, etc., and having close friendships might be more what is needed — that is, just a friendly ear you don’t have to pay for.

    I’ve been thinking about both the original post on your home-improvement adventure and this follow-up for several days now.
    I too tend to be (too?) trusting of those providing service, especially those I know, and have been disappointed, frustrated, and made to feel a bit of a dupe by plumbers, electricians, painters, insulation guys … the list goes on.
    A few years ago I figured out that I wasn’t going to become less trusting of others, but that otoh I wasn’t happy with the results of home improvement/maintenance efforts. So I changed my tactics for the purpose of self-protection. I signed up with a firm that provides electrical/plumbing services for a yearly fee so I wouldn’t have to start looking around for a new electrician or plumber every time something went wrong. For major work, I now consult our godson’s father, who is a talented amateur home improvement devotee and knows all the best (and most honest) technicians and craftsmen available.
    One of the lessons I’ve come away with from reading your blog is that there may be aspects of our selves that are resistant to change. I’ve found a means of defending/protecting myself against one aspect of my character that isn’t likely to change (too trusting of strangers), and I’m more or less reconciled. It’s not the cheapest solution, but it’s the one that allows me to get jobs done to my satisfaction without self-recrimination and endless second-guessing.

    I like both types of blog posts about equally, I think – I’m an equal-opportunity reader! My one comment is that I wish you would post more often, though I know you’re very busy with other professional and personal commitments.

    That is an absolutely brilliant solution! And I like it becomes, as you say, it takes into account some aspects of yourself that aren’t likely to change.

    I keep intending to write more often but I’ve really run myself down finishing my book. I’m trying to rest up!

    The reason I find myself drawn back to your website is that you put out there what you feel and think as a real human being that I can relate to. Even better you have years of professional experience that you are also willing to share.

    I read the post on lies and felt the hurt and sadness at what you had experienced with another person you thought you could trust. Though I am probably projecting my own feelings here. I don’t think it is possible to have any real communication with someone who lies and your voice is taken away at your expense.

    The personal post is far more intimate. People respond to intimacy. It’s one of the reasons that patients get frustrated with psychotherapists that present as a blank slate. Or even a blank slate with the occasional crack. It’s hard to imagine that feeling of shared experience when the person with whom you’re talking can’t relate even a brief tale of something similar. Therapists shouldn’t turn sessions into a download, of course. But the research consistently shows that therapists underestimate the positive impact of personal disclosures on the therapeutic alliance, even as they overestimate the efficacy of their own work.

    What I think is she has not been reading or paying attention to your blog for long. It’s been written in this semi autobiographical style from the get go. That’s the beauty of it. It’s not dry facts but real life examples that you can vouch for. Blogs are blogs–they exist and are created at the author’s whim. It’s not an instruction manual but a combination teaching tool and memoir. It’s just as well that people know therapists are people and the have judgements. Judgements just define what does and does not work for each person’s needs and preferences. they aren’t intrinsically bad. If you don’t agree with your therapist you are free to find one with whom you have a better fit. But humans no matter the profession are not one size fits all.

    I can think of a very famous therapist I went to once–full of personal stories that really affected my consideration of my personal issue and it greatly helped me clear out the cobwebs of my own thinking. In my humble opinion I wouldn’t last two minutes with someone who wouldn’t share anecdotes, experiences and personal frailties to help clarify a point thinking it beneath the rigors of their professional. Who wants that kind of arrogance sitting across from you imparting knowledge? Keep the stories coming.

    For me, your original post about self-serving lies read more like a chance to vent than anything else. As this is your personal blog, vent as you will. However, it did seem out of tone from the other posts I’d read. I wouldn’t characterize the dichotomy as either professional or personal. In this case, you actually reflected very little on anything personal outside the mechanics of a friend who did a shoddy job and treated you unfairly. The summary of her behavior could have been condensed into a few sentences, opening up the rest of the post for the real heart of the issue: you. Though I am sorry you experienced this and it sounds very painful, there is an opportunity to explore what being on the other end of a self-serving lie is like, how do you care for yourself and your relationship with this person, how do you set appropriate boundaries so the lie does not encroach on your own mental health, what are the consequences of now having her story so twisted that even a neighbor will turn from you.

    I realize this thread is old, and my comments likely unhelpful to this particular situation. I also recognize how difficult it is to put yourself somewhat permanently on display and to be willing to be vulnerable to ask for reflection from a complete stranger. There is more, something that touched me deeply that I am not being able to really articulate. Something about the way you so generously portrayed the conversation you had via email with the concerned reader. Something in the willingness to ask for feedback. Something very personally revealing that I didn’t read in your original account of Peggy and the remodel. Something that is obviously not done percolating in my brain, it hasn’t yet found a place to land.

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