Reflections on Being a Therapist


Three-and-a-half years ago I quit my career as a psychotherapist. I’d done it for ten years in New York City and had given it my all. It was a career that chose me, loudly, when I was 27 years old. Prior to that I had been working as a children’s musician but was seeking something deeper and more satisfying. Being a therapist provided me just that. I learned a huge amount from it and I believe I was helpful to a lot of people. It also represented a vital stage in my life. But then the time came to leave. That also came as a sort of revelation.

People often ask me why I quit. To me there are many answers. One is that I was no longer finding the work so interesting. I had been seeing about thirty people a week, and often more, for fifty weeks a year, for years and years. I had developed a strong skill set, but found that toward the end I was no longer learning as much. Yet for the first five or six or seven years of being a therapist I struggled against the learning curve every day. Every day was a challenge, and while not an easy one, I loved it. It was extremely stressful, because often I wasn’t quite sure what to do or what to say or how to behave. I was constantly taking risks — emotional risks — and really expanding sides of myself. This high degree of testing not only engaged me at a deeply personal level, but also really improved me as a clinician. That was gratifying.

But at some point I started to realize I wasn’t getting much better. I had plateaued. I noticed that I wasn’t thinking so much after work about the people who came to me for help. I noticed that I wasn’t seeking out consultation so much any more, either formally or informally. I felt I could heed my own counsel most of the time, and often I didn’t even need that; sometimes I even felt like I was on autopilot. Had I become arrogant or simply just experienced? I’m not entirely sure, though I like to think it was more of the latter and less of the former.

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that if I’m not learning a lot, a real lot — whether the learning is exciting or painful or both — I get bored. And I think I was beginning to get bored as a therapist. It was becoming routine. It was becoming a job. And one thing I stand by is that being a therapist is no job for a person who’s just doing a job. Being a therapist is much more like being an artist. And for those first six or seven or eight years of my work, I strived to be an artist. I was an expanding universe, a surfer riding a huge wave of unknown. And I was loving it. I loved waking up every morning and looking at my schedule book to see whom I would be meeting that day. And I loved seeing as many people as I possibly could. No matter that my brain felt like mush each evening. Every person coming to me excited me; every one. I was thrilled to join them on their journey, and I felt it, even knew it, to be a profound privilege. But then, later, well, it really became more of a routine. At random moments I noticed things popping into my head that I heard other, older therapists hint at: that they wanted to work with people who had milder problems and could pay more. They wanted people who paid cash so they didn’t have to deal with insurance companies. And they wanted to cull out the “difficult” or low-fee clients.

So occasionally thoughts like this started coming into my mind. And I felt sickened by them. I felt they were wrong. Unethical. I had always felt that it was my job to work with anyone who wanted to work with me — any adult, that is. On a side note, I always felt it was questionable to work with children. Although I love children, some deep part of me felt that children didn’t belong in therapy. I felt it sent them a bad and incorrect message: that somehow they, and not the people who hold the real responsibility over their lives, are the problem and they are the ones who need the fixing. Although this may be a bit simplistic, I still felt it is so strongly that I just couldn’t comfortably and in good conscience work with them. So I didn’t. But I did work with basically any adult, no matter what his or her issues or ability to pay, who wanted my services. And that felt right to me. I didn’t specialize. And this challenged me as well. I really got to work with a wide swath of humanity — and not just in English. Occasionally I worked in Spanish as well, even though my Spanish was not-quite-perfect. This challenged me too. I felt it was my job to be challenged.

I also came to realize over time that I don’t feel therapy is a field that should make someone rich. Somehow it never felt right for me to get rich off someone else’s struggle. I feel being a therapist is a job of service, and that brings sacrifice. I was repeatedly sickened when I heard of young clients of mine who worked at coffee shops and thrift stores for ten dollars an hour who had had previous therapists charging them $150 a session. That is highway robbery. Most of these clients resolved nothing in their relationship with these shysters; instead their therapy just added increased financial-related anxiety to their already-present list of stressors. It made me feel good to see people for what they could reasonably pay. That felt fair. Plus I occasionally did work with people who could afford more.

But I think a big part of what made me realize it was time to end my work as a therapist was that I was getting burned out. I have come to realize my mind and body could not soak up any more of the pain I was absorbing. The emotional pain. I heard about trauma all day, every day. I heard about such intense trauma that it really got to me. Not everyone I worked with spoke about trauma directly, but that didn’t necessarily make it easier for me; I felt their trauma anyway. I came to realize that everyone in the world was traumatized, myself included. Some more, some less. But I never met anyone who escaped it. Meanwhile, sometimes it was easier for me when people spoke about their trauma directly; at least it was there on the table. It often took more energy for me to listen to people who were buffering their trauma. Then I had to take in both the trauma and the buffering.

So I swallowed a lot of trauma. And I think it contributed to making me sick. About halfway through my time as a therapist I developed ulcerative colitis. Over time it got worse, such that toward the end my doctor said he thought I might have Crohn’s disease and might at some point have to have my colon removed. Out of fear for my safety I ended up going on a lot of physical meds. In some ways I am amazed that I listened to him, especially considering I easily saw through the fallacy of psych meds. But I was scared and I really didn’t have good enough support. But had I been able to listen more closely to my own body I would have heard all that trauma stored up in me, my own and everyone else’s. It was screaming. It was screaming for me to learn to take better care of myself. To focus more on me for a change.

Interestingly, when I quit therapy I started getting better, and rather quickly. I managed to taper off five years of heavy meds over the course of a year and I watched my colitis improve all the while. Within a year-and-a-half of ending my work I was all well. And only a couple years before that I had seriously wondered if this disease might end up killing me.

Meanwhile, another reason I quit being a therapist was that I was finding other things that I enjoyed, other areas of creativity that called to my artistic side. I started making movies, and people liked them. I started writing songs again and recording albums. And that was fun. I started traveling a bit. That made me happy.

All this helped me realize that I needed more. I needed to break the intense work-work-work cycle. But some people said, “Why don’t you just cut down your practice a little so you can do more things you like at the same time? Live in moderation…”

Although I liked that idea in theory, in reality it wasn’t me. Not when it came to therapy. Toward the end of my practice I found myself getting more referrals than ever, especially after I made my first movie and published a book or two. People in desperation contacted me all the time. Sometimes new people every day. And I discovered that it wasn’t in my personality to say “no” to people in desperate need. And this was made much more difficult for me since I knew basically no other local therapists to whom I really trusted referring people, especially people in serious struggle who didn’t fit into the conventional mental health system. Many of the people I worked with were people whom no therapists I knew wanted to work with or could connect with effectively. Some of these people were scary and aggressive. Some were really “out there.” Some had unpleasant criminal histories. Some despised pills and hospitalization. (I considered this a good sign.) Some were full of rage at the mental health system. (Often this was a good sign too.) And no small number appeared to be brain damaged from psychiatry’s treatments. Yet many of these “difficult” folks, the ones that almost no professionals wanted, I liked the best. So often they had a fighting spirit, and I respected that. I related to them. So I said “yes” to them. Yes, yes, yes. I gave them everything I had. I would have had difficulty living with myself had I said “no.”

Was I a fool? I don’t know. I don’t think so, because again, I felt that by calling myself a therapist I had an obligation to give it my all. To connect. To listen. To relate. To try to understand. Not to turn away. Some may call me naive, and some did, but I didn’t care and still don’t. What I was doing felt right to me. And when I found myself wanting to say “no,” I knew it was time for me to go. So I started planning my exit. And one day I quit. (I did give the people I worked with more than a year’s notice.)

Now it is three-and-a-half years later. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on those therapy years, and I have gained some new insight into them. Perspective. And that is what has really called me to write this essay. I’ve had a lot of wild experiences in and around the mental health system these last three-and-a-half years, just not as a therapist. I’ve now become a world traveler who visits mental health programs and organizations of all stripes and varieties. I’ve made more films on the mental health system and have become a lecturer too. I’ve also become a friend to many who have been in the mental health system in all sorts of ways. And I’ve become a guest in the homes of many present and former mental patients and therapists and psychiatrists and family members of those who have been in the system. And I’ve heard thousands of new stories. It’s been quite a journey.

I want to share a few things that I’ve learned about therapy. One is that even though I feel I was a better-than-average therapist, I feel that a lot of my mental health training made me arrogant. It taught me to feel that I was better than the people I was working with. That I was somehow different. It taught me to feel that I knew the answers and they didn’t. It also taught me to feel that I should know the answers, that I should be a fountain of wisdom and maturity and confidence. Well, what about all those times when I had no clue what to do or say? This was especially difficult when people had super-serious problems that had no simple solutions, especially given the surrounding, broken mental health climate. How was I, with all my training in arrogance, supposed to be an expert when I had no clue what to do? No wonder all my colleagues were shunting these so-called “refractory” people to the hospital and pushing them on meds. They were a threat to “us.” If we were to retain our supposed expertise we needed to get rid of these “difficult” people, and fast. If we actually tried to engage them in human connection they would risk toppling our house of cards.

It took me a while to figure out that my job wasn’t to save anyone. My job, half the time, was just to shut up and listen. For many people I worked with that was more than they’d ever gotten in the mental health field. And when I did shut up and listen I actually learned a lot more from them than I’d ever learned from my professors and supervisors. These people had real experience. And a lot of it was very painful. Even ugly. What amazed me was how strong they were. I cried almost every day as a therapist. And many times I genuinely wondered to myself why some of these people who came to me hadn’t committed suicide long before. Eventually I learned — at least when it felt right — to ask them such questions, openly. And what I found is that most people really appreciated honesty. They took it as real acknowledgment. And it opened doors to conversation.

Then there was another thing that troubled me: this idea that I as a therapist was supposed to be this utterly private person without problems or a history of my own. School pushed that one on me too. I remember in my first year of work, with traumatized Vietnam combat vets in New York City, I co-facilitated with my supervisor, a vet himself, a PTSD group for vets who also had substance abuse issues. A lot of the group members were going to AA. At that time I was going to Al-Anon every day — Al-Anon being the Twelve Step Program for families and friends of alcoholics. My mom was an alcoholic and Al-Anon really helped me for a few years there. I wanted to tell the group that I went to Al-Anon. Sharing this felt like the most natural thing in the world for me. But my supervisor, who had twenty years of experience on me, forbid me. He said that I needed to have boundaries. So I wasn’t allowed to be myself. That really hurt me. Especially because I somehow internalized his message. And it started me on a bad track. And it didn’t help that basically all other supervisors and therapeutic authority figures I knew echoed his same message.

This also damaged my ability to trust myself. In my heart I knew it was fine to share many of the truths about myself. I had loved Al-Anon for that; we were allowed to be our authentic selves there. That was normal. We were peers, no matter what our background. But somehow in therapy everything was different. Somehow being a peer was frowned upon. For reasons unknown there had to be a big mysterious power differential between “us” and “the patient.” I now am really questioning that. And I’m also questioning all that crap about transference — where the “client” transfers all his childhood material onto the therapist and the therapist is supposed to “work with the transference” and at times even be something of a blank slate in order to encourage transference. Gross. I now think transference is something to try to discourage — that is, to acknowledge and to work to resolve. I prefer to have a real relationship between the real me and a real person sitting across from me. Yes, people can and often will project their unresolved stuff onto me, and I can and often will project my unresolved stuff back onto them, but the goal is to make clear sense of my side of this as quickly as possible and also help the person I’m with make sense of their side. And I think too much therapy training and too many of the sacred mores of conventional psychotherapy do the opposite.

Also, I remember at the end of my first year of doing therapy, at the veterans clinic, I was ending my relationship with the wife of a dying vet. She was from Puerto Rico and spoke no English, and since I spoke moderately good-enough Spanish they’d assigned her to me. She just loved me, and I loved her too. As we were “terminating,” to use that distasteful therapy lingo, she said she wanted to bring me a real home-cooked Spanish meal of chicken and rice and beans. In social work school they’d taught us not to accept gifts; it was a big no-no: “bad boundaries.” But I wanted to accept it. So I asked my supervisor. He said “no.” But I thought he was a jerk — and a culturally myopic one at that — so I asked several of the other therapists at the clinic, even one who was Latino, and they all said “no” as well. No, no, no. But I felt that given the power and pain and intimacy in our relationship — the woman said that I had become a son to her — I felt the correct answer was “yes.” Yes, yes, yes. But I told her “no.” I was too scared to go against all my superiors. And on some deeper level, which troubles me the most, some part of me figured they must know better.

She was hurt by this. I tried to explain to her that I wasn’t allowed to do it, and she tried to convince me to do it anyway. She said, “If you’re scared that they’ll see me bringing you food, why don’t you just come over to our apartment for supper? They don’t understand our relationship. My other children would love to meet you, and my husband would welcome you with open arms. We talk about you all the time. They know you are helping their Mami.”

But I couldn’t. All those stupid rules. All my inner fears. My self-doubt. My lack of credentials. My newness. So I stuck by my “no.” And I regretted it. I still remember the look in her eyes. That look of such sadness and disappointment. I felt like a jerk and a coward. And I felt confused.

These last three-and-a-half years I don’t have to play by those stupid rules. I have become a real peer to people once again. And I love it. I am not better than, I am not more special than, I don’t have a fancy title, my fancy degrees and license don’t mean anything anymore and I don’t have to play an externally-defined, state-sanctioned role. I can just be me. Me — someone who trusts myself and allows myself to do what feels right. I still have a lot of boundaries — and I always did anyway, even before I became a therapist — but now they feel natural. Not externally imposed. If it feels right to say yes, I say yes. And I love it that I don’t have to take money from people. Yes, rarely here and there I do undertake some sort of consultation for a bit of money, but I don’t do it my old way. And even toward the end of being a therapist I was operating very differently from how I did it at the beginning. I had loosened up a ton. I allowed myself to be myself much more. And that felt great. I think I would have lost my mind had I continued to play that fake, distant role. My calling in life was not to be fake.

Now, maybe this essay sounds very anti-therapy. Perhaps it’s just the mood that I’m in. But there’s another side of me — a side that does think about therapy. About returning to the work. But how? I would never want to go back to being a therapist like I was, sitting alone in an office and keeping a rigid schedule and living with all that pressure. That doesn’t mean that I now devalue the work I did, especially the private practice work I did, which represents some of the most independent work I’d ever done, because I do value it. I just don’t know that I want to enter into so many super-responsible, longterm, intensive relationships. I don’t know that I could handle that again.

I think I might consider, someday, doing shorter-term therapy. Or maybe not even therapy. Maybe more like consulting. I myself never did well in psychotherapy as a so-called client. Pretty much I hated all my past therapists, or at least I hate them now. At the time I really hoped for them to help me, somehow, and none of them did. And one or two of them really hurt me. Messed with my head badly. Instead what really helped me was self-therapy. Journaling. Living a healthy lifestyle. Surrounding myself with loving, healthy friends. Meditating. Being creative. Avoiding toxic people, including my family of origin. These things were my salvation.

I was very motivated to help myself, and there is some part of me that is now drawn much more than ever to work with people who are super-motivated to help themselves. I don’t care how many problems they have, because to me that is not the issue. The deciding factor in people’s ability to get better, I think, to improve their lives and to learn and to heal, is their motivation to change. Their willingness to grow. Their openness to accepting some outside ideas and trying new things. Their ability to sacrifice their comfort for a purpose.

I value these kinds of people. That said, I still am very empathic and sensitive to those who are deeply stuck, those who have been so beaten down by the system and by life and by their childhoods and by the pills that they don’t know what to do to help themselves. I meet so many people like this on my travels. I often stay at their homes. So many of them are simply lovely. And, as in years past, I often don’t have great answers for them. I may enjoy their company, but I don’t know how to help them untangle their knots. Maybe someday I will know better. But I do see how brutalizing life can be.

And yet what is my role in this world? I am not totally sure. For these last few years I have been making movies and doing a lot of writing. Thankfully the movies bring in enough money to keep me afloat. And that’s good enough for me. It actually makes me happy, because I never went into filmmaking to make a living. I did it instead to spread a message. So it is gratifying to see that message spread. And also I have been having a lot more fun these past years. Enjoying myself. I always told the people I worked with that having good fun was an important part of life. Now I doing a lot more of it myself, and frankly it’s such a relief. I needed it, I need it now and I think I’m going to continue to need it.

So maybe all of this, all that I’m doing, is part of my healing gift. All this traveling, all this exploring, all this writing and sharing and creating, all this visiting and witnessing and listening. All this learning and synthesizing. All this experimentation. But what is this? And who am I? I sometimes have people tell me that I am still a therapist. I usually argue that I am not. “Former therapist,” I say. But maybe being a therapist is something bigger and broader than that which I previously considered. I don’t know. But I am open to the idea.


Of further interest:


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  1. Hi Daniel,

    I love your work as a film maker, and will continue to look for your future documentaries as I feel they are of immense importance to the community.

    I am currently in training to become a humanistic and integrative psychotherapist. As I read your experience I became worried about what I might be in for; but then as I read on I began to question the training you received, and your experience with a supervisor that clearly was not a good fit for a man of your seemingly deeper sensitivities and obvious aptitude (which I feel comes out in your films as well as your sharing here)

    As part of my course reading, I recently read a passage that I think may have relevance here….Margaret Rioch stated “If students do not know that they are potentially murderers, crooks and cowards, they cannot deal therapeutically with these potentialities in their clients” (Rioch, et al 1976). When I first read that passage I thought for days about its relevance, implications, etc for my future work. It also reminded me of Philip Zimbardo’s “Lucifer Effect”, because he showed how all humans possess such natural tendencies.

    I can’t help but wonder in your practice as a therapist if this natural aspect of human nature may have affected your individual personality enough to make you want to leave it all behind and search for other reflections of self? I believe whatever career/vocational path we choose is a reflection of ourselves, and wonder if this was an aspect that you did not wish to be reminded of through the reflection of your clients’ potentialities anymore. I am not even sure how that fits in with your experience, if at all. However, upon reading of your experience, these thoughts surfaced.

    I salute your courage and integrity to question how your work has affected you, when so many therapists who undoubtedly experience the same, just continue taking clients anyway. I am happy that you are feeling healthier because nothing is worth trading in your health. It sounds to me as though your deeper sensitivity to other people’s suffering meant you (like many other psychotherapists apparently) became more susceptible to health problems. To me, this questioning said a lot about your deep moral honesty which is very refreshing. I think you have continued to do therapy in your film making, where you do not have to absorb the intense pain at such a great cost to your health.

    I feel fortunate and grateful that in my training these topics such as the questions you posed {i.e.burn out} is prevalent. As I continue to train and take on clients this year, I will be reminded of and continue to learn from your experience. And for that I thank you for sharing.

    Best wishes,

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    • Is that saying that things like homicide and theft are “natural” tendencies? I know for a rock-solid, absolute fact that NOT all human beings are capable of murder (or other known wrong things!).

      Lucifer is a liar. I thought everybody knew that.

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    • hi NewPC,
      thank you — and i feel you make good points. at the risk of sounding arrogant, though, i’d have to say that i’m pretty aware of my off-beat — and angry, troubled, frustrated, traumatized, “imperfect” sides — and one of the big problems i had with supervisors is that they couldn’t tolerate those “imperfect” sides in themselves. most were only minimally self-reflective, especially if they’d been in the field for a while. most of my supervisors were really incompetent — at least the supervisors i had formally when i had no choice in who to have. eventually i chose people to surround myself with who really were good, who related to me and related to themselves. real people!! but they were few and far between…
      all the best,

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  2. Daniel

    Thank you for your honesty in talking about your experiences as a therapist. I just wish that there were more therapists like you in this world. You remind me very much of the young man who was my therapist for a year. He wasn’t afraid of his humanity and embraced it and therefore is able to truly walk with people in their distress and deep unhappiness. When I was told that I could no longer have individual therapy at the community mental health center where he worked because I wasn’t able to pay enough money to the center, he was going into private practice and offered to meet with me for $25 a session! Joshua is truly a great man and a wonderful therapist and I wish him well wherever he is out there in the wider world.

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  3. Thank you writing this piece, Daniel. As someone who quit social work school and felt very hurt by my own experiences in psychotherapy, I find your piece validating and appreciate your willingness to think openly about your own future with the field.

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    • hi Nathan. thank you for sharing this. it’s sad to say, but two things helped me get through social work school, one bad and one good. the bad one was that i had to lie and hide my feelings throughout so much of my childhood, to survive in my family. it’s a skill — if you call it that — that i retained, and it occasionally comes in useful. the good reason i stayed in was because i was so passionate about my goal, and i wasn’t going to let anything stop me from achieving it. so i just restrained myself from lashing out at my superiors and supervisors as best i could. i really hated many of them — they were unethical, to varying degrees, and also many were very hurtful to me and to the others they had power over — but i just swallowed it, because i knew in our supposedly “open” relationships, where they were supervisors and i was supervisee, if i had done what they said was appropriate and really spoken my mind they would have destroyed me. so i kept quiet…..and bided my time. that hurt me too……but i didn’t know a better way….
      sending you warm greetings — daniel

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  4. “One is that even though I feel I was a better-than-average therapist, I feel that a lot of my mental health training made me arrogant. It taught me to feel that I was better than the people I was working with. That I was somehow different. It taught me to feel that I knew the answers and they didn’t. It also taught me to feel that I should know the answers, that I should be a fountain of wisdom and maturity and confidence.”

    I wonder if you’re the reason I read proverbs today. It fits so well here.

    1.1 THE proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;
    2 To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
    3 To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice and judgment, and equity;
    4 To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
    5 A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
    6 To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.
    7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

    That’s where I stopped reading (from my King James Version Red Letter Edition)

    When you wrote about three years later I thought, you graduated. You grew. The time you spent as a therapist had concluded because you graduated. If it’s worth anything – I don’t think you’re a fool.

    I’m actually crying that you didn’t get to accept the woman’s offering. She was denied her rightful, appropriate happy ending and you were denied your reward. That’s heartbreaking. It makes me wonder how your other stories of closure play out.

    I don’t know who you are. I can only say that I know your name is Daniel and you make me smile. Three weeks ago, on your YouTube video, I wrote: ty daniel mackler.  😀

    You’re a smile maker. That’s a pretty cool role, yeah? It’s better than being me (I light up a room by leaving it!)


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    • hey, Dig it mjk!!! so nice to hear from you again. i remember your moniker of mjk!! wishing you the best. by the way, i cried when i wrote that about not accepting that woman’s meal. it was good to cry about it. i think i wasn’t able to cry about it at the time.
      all the best to you,

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      • I was especially sad to read about your friend who wanted so badly to share her homemade Spanish meal with you as a gesture of thanks for your heartfelt support of her during that painful time. I am so sorry you had to go through that wrenching experience. Shame on your supervisors!
        Love, Dorothy

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        • i agree, dorothy. but a very weird thing happened. i wrote the first draft of this article 3 days ago. later that evening i coming in the door of the building where i stay when i’m in NYC, and i ran into a woman who i knew years ago. she is Puerto Rican, and she is the grandmother of 2 boys who were in a pre-kindergarten class i used to play guitar for back before i became a therapist. they are both 19 years old now. (they were 4 then.) i see them on the street sometimes — they’re tough guys, one is a parent himself, and we still have a great rapport. they always give me hugs on the street. they’ve introduced me to their grandmother. she said to me, “you know, i want to invite you over to our house for dinner. i’ll have my grandsons come over, and i’ll cook us all a really nice spanish meal!” i couldn’t believe it!! and i said…….YES!! it was like magic. so maybe when i get back to NYC next week i’ll take her up on her offer. cool, eh?? i think there’s always a chance for redemption……
          a hug to you, dorothy,

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  5. I love what you shared here Daniel- it is real and honest- like you! We all have gifts for ourselves to enjoy and at times to share with others- yours are bountiful my friend- full of caring and generous.
    Like Dorothy said, your words have staying power, as do your films and all your contacts with people.
    I don’t think there are many days that have gone by, since I met you last year that I don’t smile, remembering you and feeling grateful, knowing you are in the world.
    love, Michael

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    • thank you Ted. Part of me was scared to share this essay, but another part of me, a growing-stronger part, said to myself, “go for it. the real fear is what i’ve been through — not being able to share my real experience for fear of offending….” it’s a gift to be able to write and share. and i thank you. it was a pleasure to meet you last year in alaska. and your story……….wow. just wow. talk about intense. i have such respect for you.

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  6. I certainly agree with what you are saying about “rules regulations and guidelines” and how they are stopping therapists and psychiatrists communicating properly with the person seeking help. It certainly is the case if you are working in the NHS in Britain.

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  7. Daniel,

    I really enjoyed reading this article. I was particularly drawn to your paragraphs concerning the people you may want to work with in the future. I look forward to seeing you later this month at NARPA. I am happy that some folks in CT will get to see some of your great work.


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  8. Hey Dan…thanks for this honest, open, down-to-earth reflection. Having been in the role of counselor as part of my professional work in the past, I appreciate and resonate with many of your comments and feelings. I also appreciate very much what you’ve been doing these past few years. I’ve bought a couple of your movies and have shared them with others. You wouldn’t know me by my posting name here, but we had a couple phone conversations in the past when my daughter was caught in the pernicious grip of a couple involuntary psych hospitalizations. I was happily amazed at how accessible and personable you were. Thanks again, from the bottom of my heart. By the way, that was totally consistent with the things you’ve shared in this article. It’s also in keeping with my general experience of finding those in the “alternative mental health movement” (for want of a better tag) much more accessible, respectful and personable than those in the psychiatric mainstream, who seem to construct barriers to insulate themselves from most real dialogue and interaction with those they purportedly “serve”. So thanks again for sharing. For what it’s worth, i think you’re on the right track.

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  9. Some unsolicited advice:

    1. Find a therapist with a sterling reputation (of course there are many in NYC).
    2. Start seeing this therapist.
    3. When it starts feeling tight in there (and it will), resist the urge to quit (which you will want to do with all your heart — like the times before, you’ll have lots of good reasons for why it isn’t benefitting you.)
    4. Stay with the ambivalence/resistance until it passes.
    5. Go through steps 3 & 4 about 10-20 more times — this may take a little while.
    6. Go back and rewrite this piece.

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    • I hope this response is sarcastic.

      If not, your unsolicited advise sounds like a lot of work, expense, and discomfort just to rewrite an already excellent essay. Especially if Daniel would have lots of reasons why it isn’t benefiting him…

      In more seriousness, viewing psychotherapeutic interventions with a critical eye is important. The therapy industry is large, distressed people put a lot of money into it, and results are often less than stellar (more precisely pretty mediocre at best). Does anyone really think that psychopharmacology would have become so widespread of people actually experienced substantive benefit from psychotherapy for the past century(even if they could pay for it and wait for the benefits)?

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    • hi Gloria,
      well…….hmm…….how to respond. probably the simplest way to respond is to say that i just have found that i’m doing fine on my life’s path and haven’t felt any interest in seeing a therapist. i’ve become pretty good at doing self-therapy. and i have a lot of nice friends. so i’m contented about my life’s trajectory, even if my life is a bit tough at times — but that’s to be expected, all things considered. i have chosen a challenging path — or maybe it’s more accurate that a challenging path has chosen me…

      that said, actually i am curious about what motivated you to write this comment. i’m all ears if you care to share.
      all the best to you,

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    • I’m intrigued by this attitude that psychotherapy is some sort of decreed servitude, a required initiation that un-therapized shirkers must undergo to be fit for society. It equates psychotherapy to a mythical trek to Olympian summits.

      The charm of Daniel’s essay is that he removes the Wizard’s curtain, to hop metaphors. A therapist has no mythic or divine powers, no more Life Wisdom than anyone else. He’s some tee-shirted Joe who went to school, got his degree and hopes he has something to offer the distressed.

      That therapy’s proselytizers mandate it with such fuming rectitude is an ironic indication that no emotional transcendence indeed has occurred here.

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    • An easy six-step formula (September 13, 2013) above illustrates precisely why I have so little respect for the therapy industrial complex.

      So many therapy proponents seem to claim the omniscience that:
      1) They KNOW with absolute certainty how the complex human mind works.
      2) They KNOW more about another person knows himself merely from a few paragraphs of writing.
      3)They absolute KNOW that rejecting therapy indicates the certain need for –more therapy.
      4) They KNOW that finding improvement without subjugation to a therapist is invalid.

      The scornfully-delivered six-step formula never explains its own payoff. But it’s delivered with scornful certainty that author Mackler never previously followed it.

      This six-point prescription for (something?) completely overlooks the principle plaint of the blog post, that so much of psychotherapy training an education in condescension and arrogance, that the therapist so often fakes it, that “difficult” clients are shuttled off to hospitals and on medication after the nostrum of talk therapy clearly has failed them.

      That therapy proponents must defend it with such bile and sanctimony is a living demonstration of its questionable validity.

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  10. Daniel,

    I’ve admired your movies and now admire you’re work as a therapist.

    It’s emotionally draining to (really) empathize with people who are struggling with distressful life experiences; it can give a person ulcers. However, it is exactly what distressed people need; life can be really hard and people often need emotional support to weather a storm. That is why a good friend can often be more therapeutic than a professional.

    Reversing a history of distressful experiences is typically a slow and tedious process; we would all prefer a magic bullet. Unfortunately, there are no magic bullets. Mental “disorders” are not disorders; mental distress is the natural, normal biology of distressful experiences. Please consider the real biology of human psychology and mental distress at

    Thank you again for your community service.

    Best regards, Steve

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  11. Good for you for taking a leap of faith, Daniel. To me, that’s the way to grow, explore, and discover all that life has to offer. I’ve made a similar core shift in my life and its paid off well, most notably by leading me to a sense of peace and fulfillment. From my perspective, the world will benefit more from art and artists than from psychotherapy. Best wishes on your life adventure!

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  12. Hi Daniel!

    I’m a psychologist in Sweden and am moved by your story. I’ve had supervisors giving me different kinds of messages of how to be. Working with ACT and Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP), I share/divulge when it is beneficial for the client. I use myself as a tool, even though it’s BT therapies at the core, in the way that I can benefit the client. Depending on the behavior analysis, I would welcome sharing a meal with a client, even at home. Awareness, courage and love are the leading words of FAP. Yes, not the best of acronyms these days.. So being aware of what it might mean to a client, being courageous by going home and loving in partaking in the gift of a meal, it might be FAP-consistent. Although, a more fine grained analysis might help.

    All the best,


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  13. My mum drinks like a fish, which is a pity as she is a human being. So I went to al anon too. Sometimes it was OK, sometimes it wasn’t so useful. They didn’t like it when I got angry. hey ho.

    Daniel wrote, ” I myself never did well in psychotherapy as a so-called client. Pretty much I hated all my past therapists, or at least I hate them now. At the time I really hoped for them to help me, somehow, and none of them did. And one or two of them really hurt me. Messed with my head badly.” – Ouch, nasty.

    I like the phrase, “So called client.” When it goes well you forget the role you are in, as either client or therapist, you are just human beings caring for each other and trying your best to understand each other in this rather fractured world.

    I found many people useful to me, some were therapists, some not. Some therapists were damaging, some just annoying and boring. I recently gave one the push and got another one who is great.

    These days I tend to hate the say nothing, neo Freudians, especially if they ask me if I am angry with them? It always used to leave me feeling confused. Now I just say, “I am now,” or, “Get over yourself, if I was angry I’d say so and if I didn’t then you wouldn’t be doing your job well.” Recently I met a young man who had therapy for OCD and he chucked the therapist who asked him if he was abused as a child. The guy said it felt like the therapist had read this in a book and it a square peg, round hold situation. I congratulated the young man who seemed to have mainly conquered his problem by reading some self help books and applying their patent remedies.

    Still, anyone who does therapy with people who are very disturbed, such as people who get serious mental health diagnosis, is someone to be greatly admired in my book.

    Nice films too.

    Wish you were here.

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    • dig it john — thanks for your comment. i especially liked this part you wrote: “When it goes well you forget the role you are in, as either client or therapist, you are just human beings caring for each other and trying your best to understand each other in this rather fractured world.”

      right on!
      greetings from new york!

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  14. Hi Daniel, reading this reminds me of what a clinical psychologist colleague of yours similarly arrived at. He quit after many years of practice, because like you he found he preferred to be more authentic in relation to the people who came to see him. He also found that this allowed him to help people much more effectively.

    “Their willingness to grow. Their openness to accepting some outside ideas and trying new things.”

    I like this attitude you describe. The name of this ex-colleague is Marshall Rosenberg, I hope you’ll find what he has to say interesting, you can find him on YouTube. I recommend his San Francisco Lecture/Workshop. Here is a relevant excerpt from a book of his:

    “In this dialogue Buber posits that human growth occurs through a meeting between two individuals who express themselves vulnerably and authentically in what he termed an “I-Thou” relationship. He did not believe that this type of authenticity was likely to exist when people meet in the roles of psychotherapist and client. Rogers agreed that authenticity was a prerequisite to growth. He maintained, however, that enlightened psychotherapists could choose to transcend their own role and encounter their clients authentically.
    Buber was skeptical. He was of the opinion that even if psychotherapists were committed and able to relate to their clients in an authentic fashion, such encounters would be impossible as long as clients continued to view themselves as clients and their psychotherapists as psychotherapists. He observed how the very process of making appointments to see someone at their office, and paying fees to be “fixed,” dimmed the likelihood of an authentic relationship developing between two persons.
    This dialogue clarified my own longstanding ambivalence toward clinical detachment—a sacrosanct rule in the psychoanalytic psychotherapy I was taught. To bring one’s own feelings and needs into the psychotherapy was typically viewed as a sign of pathology on the part of the therapist. Competent psychotherapists were to stay out of the therapy process and to function as a mirror onto which clients projected their transferences, which were then worked through with the psychotherapist’s help. I understood the theory behind keeping the psychotherapist’s inner process out of psychotherapy and guarding against the danger of addressing internal conflicts at the client’s expense. However, I had always been uncomfortable maintaining the requisite emotional distance, and furthermore believed in the advantages of bringing myself into the process.
    I thus began to experiment by replacing clinical language with the language of NVC. Instead of interpreting what my clients were saying in line with personality theories I had studied, I made myself present to their words and listened empathically. Instead of diagnosing them, I revealed what was going on within myself. At first, this was frightening. I worried about how colleagues would react to the authenticity with which I was entering into dialogue with clients. However, the results were so gratifying to both the clients and myself that I soon overcame any hesitation. Since 1963, the concept of bringing oneself fully into the client-therapist relationship has ceased being heretical, but when I began practicing this way I was often invited to speak by groups of psychotherapists who would challenge me to demonstrate this new role.”

    Greetings from the other side of the Atlantic 🙂

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    • Clinical detachment is a myth, and not a very helpful one at that. It’s kind of like saying, “I’m not biased against black people.” There’s no way to be real without being vulnerable and open on some level. Doesn’t mean you bring all your crap and dump it on your client, but genuinely experiencing and at times expressing your emotional responses to the client’s situation seems to me to be critical to real progress being made. Perhaps I had an advantage – I never received any real clinical training until after I became a counselor. (For some reason, people seemed to think an MS in Education qualified me to be a counselor – go figure!) But I was never deluded into thinking I could be fully objective about my “clients,” nor did I try to be. If I was baffled by their behavior, I’d let them know, in a supportive way, that I was struggling to figure out why they were acting the way they were, and could use their help figuring it out. This almost always led to some very interesting and beneficial lines of conversation. Usually, it was the things that baffled and frustrated me that led me and the client to discover what was really going on. If I had not been able to admit being confused or frustrated, and tried to fit the client’s behavior into some preconceived “rational” framework, I doubt I would have been of the slightest help, and would probably have messed them up even worse.

      Thanks for this rational picture of what therapy can be, the good, the bad and the ugly. I hate to throw out the baby with the bathwater, because there are some very competent and helpful folks out there doing therapy, but I’d say most are at best marginally clueless, and some are downright dangerous. The best of them seem like secret rebels in the enemy camp. My hat’s off to them, but you have to look pretty hard to find them in the mass of mediocrity that passes for therapy these days, or maybe in any days, past, present or future.

      And a lot of them aren’t officially therapists, either.

      —- steve

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      • Steve

        “The best of them seem like secret rebels in the enemy camp.”

        You’ve put into words my exact experience. The people in the system who helped me the most were the most non-traditional and humble of people who were able to admit that they didn’t know everything. I had an intern psychiatrist when I was in the hospital and he was wonderful because he worked out of his own human experience. He came to me after our first meeting with the main psych assigned to my case and he shared something from his own personal experience that made me know at once that I could trust him and that he’d never do anything to harm me. He was wonderful, but he was young and a rebel. He used to speak out against the DSM, which angered all the other psychiatrists. I’ve met him a number of times since I was discharged and we often sit long enough for him to ask for my help in sorting things out in hiw personal life. That’s an unusual experience, where your former psychiatrist comes to you for someone to listen to him. I’ve always told him that he’s not a real psychiatrist because he doesn’t pomlpously claim to know everything! But you are absolutely correct, the best of them are rebels and they’re damned difficult to find in the “mass mediocrity that passes for therapy these days.”

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    • hi Marc,
      good to hear this. i have heard of marshall rosenberg and his work with nonviolent communication, but it’s been a while and i really can’t remember if i read anythign he wrote. i’ll have to see what i can find. thanks for sparking some ideas!
      wishing you the best ——daniel

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  15. Are you concerned about the people that you harmed, and the clients’ time and money that you wasted as a therapist? (Let’s not fall prey to the Lake Wobegon Effect and pretend that didn’t happen.) What are your thoughts on the risk/cost/benefit ratio? What about the hypocrisy from simultaneously being a therapist and not seeing the value (and in fact seeing the harm) in therapy for yourself: “I myself never did well in psychotherapy as a so-called client. Pretty much I hated all my past therapists, or at least I hate them now. At the time I really hoped for them to help me, somehow, and none of them did. And one or two of them really hurt me. Messed with my head badly. Instead what really helped me was self-therapy. Journaling. Living a healthy lifestyle. Surrounding myself with loving, healthy friends. Meditating. Being creative. Avoiding toxic people, including my family of origin. These things were my salvation.”

    Perhaps your time might be better spent on educating people about the potential harmfulness of fake therapy relationships and power dynamics — for both the therapist and the client.

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    • hmm…i think there are several assumptions in what you’ve written, Discussant.

      1) that i harmed people. did i? i don’t see the evidence from my essay above. maybe i was not an “optimal” therapist (whatever that might be), but as i see it i gave it my all and i think i was pretty useful to a lot of people. those whom i have had the chance to follow up with (and those ask while they were in therapy with me) said they found me useful, in a variety of ways.

      2) that i wasted clients’ time and money. hmm, did i? i think i made my prices fair (as fair as i could), and that i didn’t want to work with people any longer than necessary. and i think i respect the people i worked with enough to recognize that they could decide for themselves if they were wasting their time and money, and from what i gathered from those that stuck around in therapy was that they didn’t feel they were wasting their time and money. i personally think people got a pretty good deal out of working with me. and no one was forced to come.

      3) that i’m a hypocrite for thinking that the therapy i received was bad and the therapy i offered was pretty good. so is a baseball coach who himself had bad coaches necessarily a hypocrite? i don’t see the rub. i wouldn’t say that i learned about the value of therapy from being in therapy myself. i learned about it in lots of other ways — including from many facets of life itself.

      i guess the troubling thing for me is that you read my essay and somehow determined that i was a bad, harmful therapist. it seems to me that you’ve really read into my essays things that i don’t think are there.

      now i’m going to check out your website. i’ll admit that you haven’t offered the best intro to it for me, but i’ll try to read it with an open mind anyway.


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      • Hi Daniel,

        Thanks for reading my blog with an open mind! Very much appreciated. I did not mean to imply that you were any worse than any other therapist. I believe you had good intentions and that both you and many of your clients believed the therapy was helpful. However, I also believe that you are a human being, and subject to the same cognitive biases and blindspots that other human beings are subject to. There’s more on that in my links section: See, for example, the articles on The Lake Wobegon Effect, Why Bogus Therapies Seem to Work, and some of the ones on cognitive biases that influence what we perceive in the world, e.g., confirmation bias, selection bias, expectation effects, cognitive dissonance avoidance, etc. Given the statistics, which are highly inflated in favor of therapy, we can reasonably infer that you harmed some of your clients, and that you wasted several of their hours and dollars. Nothing personal. But curiosity and interest and concern in the harm therapy can cause is often a first step in taking action to conduct further research to understand the process more carefully, and to possibly learn ways to navigate away from harming as many clients. You know first hand how badly therapists can mess with people’s heads and hurt them.

        Regarding the hypocrisy of recommending therapy for others but not for yourself . . . If journaling, meditation, real unpaid relationships, and healthy living are what you would do for yourself, do you likewise recommend those things to your clients as an alternative to spending their time and money on you? If you are making an exception of yourself, then that is hypocritical.

        Thank you again for taking the time to write and think about these issues!


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        • hi discussant—
          yes, i do find interesting what you write. and i actually agree with a fair amount of it — considering i personally think most therapy and most therapists stinks. i think if therapy can be avoided it’s much better, which is actually why i very rarely recommend therapy. in fact, i really can’t think of situations where i have recommended it, especially in the last several years. i’m a major proponent of self-therapy, and write about it a lot. i think it’s preferable. i have a whole section of my website on self-therapy ( ) and basically no essays that really promote therapy. (though i do make films that speak highly of some therapy.) one essay, though, might be considered rather positive on therapy, though:

          but i do think there are some situations where therapy (with a good therapist) can be very useful and healing for people. but personally i see therapy as much more of an art than a science. that’s why i don’t get into worry much about the statistics about therapy, positive or negative. but like good artists (worth their value) vs. bad/mediocre artists (not worth it), i think good therapists are rare, and bad/mediocre therapists are pretty common….in fact, very common.

          but just because most artists don’t have great talent, that doesn’t mean that a michelangelo can’t occasionally shine through…..

          anyway, good to read what you write — i’ll keep considering it.

          all the best,

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    • Discussant,
      i read the main-page essay on your website and i have mixed feelings about it. i found some of it okay — and good for discussion, but mostly what i felt was that you were accurately describing bad therapy. but i don’t see that what you write necessarily describes all therapy. perhaps, to one degree or other, it describes MUCH or MOST therapy, but not all…

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      • Daniel,

        I find discussant’s argument pretty compelling. I do not see therapy as an art (i read that as “guessing game” mostly) or science, but as ideally an applied, science-informed skilled practice. I do think descriptive statistics about therapy are important for consent process. If you think most therapy is bad, and clients do no know what therapy will be bad for them from the get go, it would be ethical to tell them you are likely to have bad therapy when they start the process, as that would be true, and leave it to them to choose or not to risk it.

        If most therapy is bad therapy, and as a client, it’s not easy to discern much about therapist/therapy early on in treatment, is it safe to say that patients are likely to enter into bad therapy? Is bad therapy potentially or likely harmful/wasteful? How do clients make determinations about helpfulness of therapy(especially when many therapists say you are supposed to feel worse, have lots of negative feelings, more isolated/etc. during much of therapy)?

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        • hi nathan,
          just a quick moment to write. well……..i think it’s pretty hard for people to tell if they have a good therapist or not. i’ve written a fair amount about this somewhere, i think on the web (i don’t know where the link is). the problem is that a lot of people who go to therapy are in a more-or-less vulnerable state, which doesn’t usually place them in a position to be the most discerning about the quality of the therapist they’re sitting with. so it’s pretty much a crapshoot for most people, and many times it seems they just stick with the therapist if they marginally like the person, which tends not to be a pretty good indicator of the therapist’s quality, especially if the therapist is the type to gratify the therapist. and of course there are lots of people who have little or no choice in the therapist to whom they’ve been assigned — take it or leave it… ideally they can spend a lot of time asking the therapist a lot of questions to try to best determine for themselves the therapist’s quality. and getting a referral from someone they really trust and know well helps — but is also far from giving top-notch assurance…hmm……

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      • Re Discussant’s blog post:

        The blog makes the point “The structure of therapy is antithetical to and models the opposite of goals one would hope to achieve in real life/relationships.”

        Please explain how ANY therapy relationship can circumvent
        1) The asymmetry and lack of reciprocity.
        2 Formulas and strictures.
        3) Self-focus/self-absorption
        4) Paternalism, didacticism
        5) An artificial, jargonized world
        6) A removed, abstracted view of life
        7) An emphasis on victimization, wounds and defects
        8) A surrender of privacy and adult privilege
        9) Inaccurate “material” based on distorted memories and recounting
        10) Role playing by both practitioner and client
        11) A paid artificial relationship substituting for real ones
        12) An often performed empathy and understanding. (How well can the therapist REALLY understand the client’s only-described world?)
        13) Simulated friendship or even love masquerading as the real thing

        The “classroom” of psychotherapy seems to remove its students from real life rather than helping them cope in it. It often activates clients most infantile aspects, leaving them regressed rather than empowered. It creates a relationship where clients fixate on their largest incompetences which therapists rewards with catering and coddling.

        And it creates the stage illusion of a mythic transformation, a mysterious rite that submerges into its own reality system.

        I don’t understand how any aspect of therapy leaves the client better able to relate to the real people or her life. Perhaps someone can explain, concretely, how that’s supposed to work.

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  16. I read Discurrant’s blog and agreed that, “There are no scientifically valid, replicated, controlled clinical trials showing that psychotherapy is any more efficacious than talking to friends or life coaches, motivational speakers, gurus, psychics/palm readers, cult leaders, mystics…”

    But the blog seems damning of all these practices where as I have no problem with people talking things over, or spending time with people, and as a result feeling better and their lives improving whereas the author wants to damn the whole lot. The dangerous ones tell you they have all the answers and insist you stay no matter what happens and then tell you in so many words you will be damned if you leave.

    Therapy is based on sympathetic understanding and encouragement, qualities available from many people, not just therapists.

    Damaging cult like relationships come in many forms in many walks of life, not just therapy.

    I read some articles which said three things

    1 in a study there was no difference in the effect of a trained therapist and a university lecturer in helping people in distress. This makes sense to me. I recently trained some volunteers at a protest camp who were running the Wellbeing area. We asked them to talk about when they had successfully supported someone and when someone had successfully supported them. We structured the conversation in such as way as to give people the chance of supporting each other. Most people find the basic skills of counselling fairly easy to learn. The volunteers did the job very well. People usually left the wellbeing area feeling calmer and happier.

    2 it’s the relationship between the therapist and the client AS ASSESSED BY THE CLIENT that’s most important in therapy. Method and training counts for little. Or in other words, if you find the person helpful stick with it, if not, leave. Or as Peter Breggin put it, you should feel each time you see a therapist, counsellor or other professional taking this sort of role.

    3 As time goes on therapists get better at their job, partly due to experience, partly through reading and partly through additional training. Well I’ve been to lectures on working with people who hear voices and training on working in the aftermath of child sexual assault and they has helped me make meaningful relationships with broader range of peoples. So that makes sense too. I’ve also been to Al-anon and listened for many hours to people who have lived with alcoholics, so I sometimes find I have more sympathy for such people than many of my peers. I’m not a therapist, but I take this role from time to time in a variety of settings.

    I think the problem is that therapists as a profession have tended to set themselves up as the font of all wisdom when in fact the basic skills are something a lot of people have and which can be developed. Also, just because I like someone and find them useful to talk to doesn’t mean you will.

    I know someone who talked on the phone to an exit counsellor for people leaving cults and for a few months found it very useful. She had been in lots of religious cults and he had a lot of experience about this. But then she got bored with him. As her gullibility to cults receded he became less useful to her. So she phoned him less and found someone else to talk about her anxieties to. She also talked to her friends and found that useful too.

    Dorothy Rowe, psychologist and author, who also wrote introductions to Peter Breggin’s work and also Jeffry Masson’s Against Therapy, wrote that therapy played a very small role in someone’s life but implied that for some people it could be significant.

    Finally, David Smail, also a retired clinical psychologist, said that therapy, though useful for the reasons I outline above, has a small effect in a society where the malignant use of power is the key cause of mental distress.

    Smail is a member of the Midlands Psychology Group. Here is their manifesto:

    Here is a quote from it
    “Neither drugs nor psychological therapies are magic bullets aimed at specific symptoms: whatever effects they have upon body and mind are quite general. The one reliable finding is that emotionally warm and attentive practitioners are more appreciated and get better results – an observation that applies equally to politicians, salespeople and prostitutes.”

    Which is similar to Discourant’s blog, almost as bitter, but not quite so dismissive.

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  17. Regarding John’s comment “Therapy is based on sympathetic understanding and encouragement, qualities available from many people, not just therapists.”, I remember what Carl Rogers said about how empathy and positive regard are key in supporting people:

    I remember studies supporting this but a quick search right now only turned up this meta-study which isn’t as convincing as I would like:

    Anyway, it seems to me this also applies to Discussant’s concerns.

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  18. Dear Daniel: I SO resonated with what you wrote…Bravo! I am a sophomore at 67 in social work. I wrote about my life of overcoming and won a scholarship. I would like to share my story with you, if you would e-mail me: [email protected]…if you would, put “Daniel” in the subject line so I won’t delete it. I had a therapist who sexualized our relationship; an incredible story. Thank you so kindly, Alice (overcomer, wounded healer, singer, dancer, author, poetess and veteran).

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  19. Hi Daniel,
    That’s a great article! I feel like I could have written (portions of) it myself– or at least a future self, looking back. The only problem is that, I am still stuck in the role of being a therapist (LCSW specifically). I’m 30, and I’ve been in the mental health field for almost 8 years, give or take due to a couple periods of unemployment. (Yeah, I was a little precocious: got my BA at 20, MSW at 22, and clinical licensure at 24). Quite a bit of my “overachievement” (as well as me choosing this profession) can be attributed to an extensive trauma history (i.e. pushing myself to succeed to distact from abuse and to have external validation of worth, and I was already socialized to be a caretaker/parentified child so becoming a therapist just felt natural).
    Well, I’m 30 now, and the more time that passes, the more that I feel the field is making me ill, both mentally and physically. I have always worked in the community/public health sector with adults with mental health and substance abuse issues– mainly outpatient but some experience in inpatient and IOP. Though I had had some kind of therapy off and on since age 15, it was only AFTER I earned my MSW, started working in the field, and seriously delved into therapy that I came to recognize the severity of my longstanding PTSD. Along with the PTSD comes some depression and bouts of eating disordered behaviors. And after a couple years, the migraines, IBS, and chronic unexplained (but at times debilitating) neck/back pain surfaced and continue to exacerbate.
    I’ve “known” for about 3 years now that I do not really want to be a therapist. (However, I have been questioning it throughout my 8 year career and even in the 2nd year of my MSW program.) I question that knowing (and thus, use the quotation marks) because I moved out of state with my now-ex and entered into a series of 3 extremely burnout jobs (ones at places that turned out to have poor reputations for being burnout factories). Thus, I am uncertain if it is the frenetic/illogical/unethical nature of the agencies themselves that have poisoned me against the field or if it is a true desire to leave the field.
    I lost my previous job in summer 2012 after unfortunately being a whistleblower for supervisor-perpetrated sexual abuse at my agency. I remained jobless for many months, due to being traumatized by all of that, to depression and hopelessness, to indecision about career direction. Finally, financial needs prevailed, and I moved back to my home state and took a job with the first agency I ever worked at (which in my opinion was the “best” of my jobs.)
    It has been a hard readjustment to working in a semi-sane community mental health environment again (especially after 3 years of chaos). However, even though the job is significantly better, I am still often feeling troubled by my work. I am supposedly highly “skilled,” as recognized by my supervisor, colleagues, and clients. There are glimmers of moments when I do enjoy the work (which is actually quite often– I am a sociable person and feel good “helping” people), but many more when I feel I am poisoned by it, by absorbing all that toxicity and trauma and pain. I know you aren’t “supposed” to absorb it, but I often do; I feel like a sieve for others’ pain, which is odd being that I am not an outwardly emotionally expressive person. And sometimes the signs of the toxicity doesn’t show up for a few days or weeks later, and sometimes the most rewarding interactions (in that I feel I’ve done the most help) are the most triggering to me. Strangely, the more I engage in my own therapy, the more incapable I feel of doing this work (and this work also prevents me, I think, at times from going deeper into my own healing because I have to be “held together” enough to function at work.)
    A couple friends/colleagues in the field have told me that my problems stem from working with the public sector, that I “definitely need to be in private practice”– like as in 1.) I’m skilled enough to be so, but 2.) I can “weed out” the severe cases (as you’d referenced in your article) and only take clients with “mild” issues who can pay higher rates. Like you seem to, I have ethical issues with doing this, but also, just because a case initially presents as “mild” doesn’t mean that underneath the surface there isn’t something else deeply painful. Also, why would I want to invest the money and effort into privately practicing something that I’m not sure I have any business doing?
    I have some ideas for what I’d do as an alternate career, but these require going to school for a couple more years. I don’t know if I can hang on that long in the MH field, working while going to school for 2 years (starting next fall, so really 2.5 years more in the field). The problem is, I have no skills or experience in anything else. I’m glad you’ve found that you can support yourself through your writing and filmmaking. I have some creative abilities and I am highly intelligent academically, but these don’t translate to getting a job in a different field for which you may be able to succeed but have no experience. I tried to get a job working as an administrative assistant after the whistleblowing event, but I couldn’t even get an interview despite hundreds of applications. I’ve also tried applying at different junctures in my career to aspects of social work outside of MH/addictions (i.e. nursing home, medical, hospice), and I could not get a call back for anything I guess because of my lack of experience. Any advice or suggestions? You can email me at [email protected] if you want or just reply here. Thanks, and best of luck to you.


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      • Thank you for writing this essay. I felt alone feeling that I am not able to be a therapist. I graduated with my masters in mental health counseling about two years ago and finally got a job as an outpatient therapist at an agency about five months ago. I was working as a group rehab counselor before. However, I’ve been feeling like this is not my calling. I have been experiencing burn out already and I just don’t see myself doing this all of my life. I like helping people I just know I won’t be happy in the long run if I stick to doing therapy. I love working with kids though. I want to have some sort of a Christian ministry for children. I’ve considered about getting a teaching agree or some sort. I know that I need to be involved more in the church. I have bills to pay and it’s not easy just to quit my job right now. I was wondering the same what kind of jobs or career choice I should be in to have a steady income for right now. I don’t really have much other experience other than tutoring children and volunteering at church. I wished I had known that I shouldn’t have chosen to pursue in the mental health field way back in college. Anyways I was wondering if you can email me any advice or suggestions? my email is [email protected]

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    • Thanks! I can relate, as well, though from a different angle. My boyfriend has a PhD in clinical psychology, and working in that field brought out the worst in him. Since he’d left I’ve seen a much warmer, more loving side of him.

      Best of luck to you.

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      • I can relate, as well, though from a different angle. My boyfriend has a PhD in clinical psychology, and working in that field brought out the worst in him. Since he’s left I’ve seen a much warmer, more loving side of him.

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  20. Daniel,

    I just read your article. I agree with much of what you say. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in practice for the past six years. I often end my day debating with myself whether or not I did anyone any good. I also sometimes question, as do you, the validity of the psychotherapy industry.

    On the other hand, I am trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, an empirically supported treatment for PTSD and other forms of trauma that is based in questionable neuroscience.

    I also do a lot of mindfulness work (e.g., breath control, relaxation technique, and guided imagery). What I like about all these techniques is that clients mostly use their own minds to heal themselves, rather than me giving input.

    As for your comment about therapist fees, I will just say that having put myself through graduate school on student loans, after six years I still make less money than a fast food manager with no college. I personally think counseling and clinical social work should be at the bachelor’s degree level and reduced in stature from clinician to technician, and working under the supervision of a psychologist or psychiatrist.

    …just my two cents.

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  21. I wonder if part of your sense of the inequality and “arrogance” of the therapeutic set-up stems from the fact that you were not able to find therapists and supervisors who could genuinely meet you, hold you, help you and grow with you. This is a pretty big imbalance in the bigger therapeutic ecology around you, and it sounds like it left you alone, unnourished, and in the position of one who had to teach/parent without ever being appropriately taught/parented. Your felt experience really was that it was a one-way street.

    It doesn’t have to be that way.

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      • Mm, maybe. I know a number of independent thinkers who have been able to grow in helpful, respectful therapeutic relationships. But it often seems to take a lot of work and willingness to find the right people and negotiate satisfying relationships with them, and a lot of *trust in the value of the process itself*. If you only have that trust of therapeutic value for other people, and not for yourself, it seems very likely that this unbalanced situation would arise.

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        • Having said that, trust doesn’t come out of nowhere – unless one is a child, I don’t know that it’s possible to just acquire trust without having an experience that engenders it. So I’m thinking – if you ever DID consider going back to therapy work, perhaps Task 1 might be to find an experience that convinces you of the value of therapy *even for you*. Without that experience, I suspect you will always find yourself in a stance of inequality with your clients, and at the same time, lost for resources when their experiences overwhelm you. Two sides of the same coin.

          I get that you don’t like to be prescribed to, though. I’m writing by imagining myself into this situation. FWIW.

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  22. Hi Daniel

    You sound smart and well meaning so I’d appreciate your opinion. I’ve been seeing a psychotherapist for almost 2 years now. I’m 32 and suffered from depression since a child. The thing is I don’t know if my therapist helps or if he is just a bad guy scamming me. 2 months ago I came off my anti depressant meds and have survived without them so far. I needed them for 4 years so on the one hand I think we’ve made progress. However i am still unemployed, too scared or paralysed with fear or something to move forward with a career. I’m always unhappy and I blame my therapist directly. I expected to pay him and he’d directly inuence my happiness i.e. I’d have a more positive outlook, stop thinking of suicide, become successful and financially well-off. I expected him to make me happy. I lost my job, which I hated (call centre in a bank) 2 months ago. Shouldn’t I . .. I dunno, shouldn’t I have it all together by now? I ask him for answers, he doesn’t have any though. I just want my mind to be under my control: no more mood swings, crushing depression, shyness, lack of confidence etc. I want to be rich and successful at whatever I do and able to identify what it is I should do. Is this not his job? There’s more to this than I can write here but basically that’s the gist of it. I’m not who I want to be, im not happy, the therapist should have made that possible by now. Opinion?

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    • hi martin,
      i don’t know if your therapist is good or not — i am skeptical of therapists in general. this could be an issue of your therapist’s quality, but it might also be the effects of the antidepressant and/or drug withdrawal. i’ve seen people who come off their medication (you were on it for a while too) and had withdrawal effects that lasted a lost time, and can be really debilitating — similar to some of the things you described.

      here’s a website you might find helpful:

      meanwhile, while i can’t speak with assuredness about quality of your therapy, i still have some skepticism. i actually just recorded a couple of self-interviews for youtube on this subject. i put one up a couple weeks ago — you might like it.

      all the best

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  23. Thank you for your insight, Daniel. I’m a 39 year old college freshman, hoping to become a therapist by the time I’m 50 (if I’m lucky). Your perspective is human and dynamic. The very challenges you faced and recounted are the ones I am excited to navigate….doesn’t that sound sick? What I mean is that I have been longing for a career, something to engross me (for better or worse), for a long time. Throughout the years I’ve simply had a series of jobs. I do wonder what the future will hold, and if my investments in this new journey will be worth it, or if I will suddenly look around and say “Wow, that was dumb.” My gut feeling is that won’t happen. But I do accept that life is fluid and not always linear, and though I don’t believe that any experiences are a waste of time, I might reach the point you did and walk away. Time will tell…I’m only just beginning.

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  24. Daniel, thank you for your frank exploration of the arrogance that being a therapist often fosters. That idea leans toward psychotherapy’s ultimate contradiction– the shamanistic authority figure hawking wisdom, by eyedropper, by the hour, to the idolizing supplicant in service of “empowerment. ”

    The undertone is the inevitability of the client as the hopeless inferior. I’ve yet to see a therapist confess that he’s essentially an actor role-playing, that the relationship is contrived, stern distance masquerading as intimacy. Dependence and regression are sold as the path toward autonomy. Its obsession with wounds, defects, anger, sorrow and helplessness might even habituate chronic depression and self-absorption.

    Like many, I was once in its thrall. Now I feel like world’s biggest sucker for buying the magic elixir. I suspect even bigger suckers were the therapists deluded they had “treated” me.

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  25. Is the most immediate way to start change to have patients seek out help via video and phone with people outside the US not bound by the same rules of our associations? Should we start to recommend work internationally to people who can meet with US clients and provide treatment in another way? Perhaps the loss of being in person can be made up for by the benefit of being able to divulge personal details, meet in group therapy, etc.

    Daniel, is this a project to undertake? 🙂

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  26. Hello Daniel,
    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and insight. I came upon your essay when browsing the internet for information on being a counselor/ therapist. I just got through my first semester of nursing school and through the process realized I truly have an interest in pursuing a career in mental health. Reading your essay has helped me find the courage to take this big step so that I may begin looking into a career that I can really feel passionate about although I may not exactly know what will happen! I hope you continue to care for yourself and find joy in the various work you do! 🙂

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  27. You said everything I, as a “former” therapist could’ve said myself. Even though my story is a bit different since we are all unique ant there can’t be two identical stories, but some major struggles with my chosen profession and my moral objections to how it’s being practiced are exactly as you described them. Unfortunately, I am not a filmmaker and haven’t found another way to make a living. I still chose to discontinue practicing for the reasons you mentioned and for some other reasons too. I have created the website that is trying to tell the public what it doesn’t know about our mental health system. I am planning on continuing to write about this and I may go back to practicing in a different role, as a consultant, not a “therapist”, because even the word “therapist” is not a legitimate term to me when it comes to dealing with spiritual and psychological life struggles. The word is too medical to reflect the reality of this practice. I just want to say that it’s amazing how the same ideas, like the one of changing “therapy” into consulting and doing it only with motivated people, come to different people. I had been thinking of this idea for many years before I came across your article.

    Anyway, thank you for speaking out publicly. It’s very validating to me because I thought I was the only one with these kind of “grudges” against the profession and with the same kind of visions. Actually, I have more other thoughts about the subject, but that is the story for another day. I will, hopefully, be able to express them all either on my website or in my future books. Thanks again.

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    • Hi WiseMonkey, liked your post. It’s a sad indictment that the people with the most insight into therapy are often the people who leave the field. I also left the field three years ago for all the reasons cited by Daniel. It’s sad to leave something that you feel inspired to pursue, so I hope you find an avenue to express that part of yourself. I agree that “therapy” is probably the opposite of what most “therapists” actually do, but most therapists are just not aware enough to realise it. If somebody asked me today whether they should go into the field of psychology I would say a resounding “NO”.

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  28. Daniel,

    Great post, I appreciated reading it. I realize this is over a year old now but I was wondering a few things after reading your piece. Are you saying that the stifling boundaries contributed the most to your stress and dissatisfaction with being a therapist? I have often thought about becoming a therapist myself, but for the time being I’m just another kind of professional and a therapy client. I’ve found the relationship with my therapist to be very taxing. First, I think my therapist is amazing, he is great at his job and helps me to help myself. At a minimum he is a treat to talk to once a week and takes my insurance, I also come from extremely poor parenting and I feel like he’s helped me to feel normal (which I am) and lovable, like I should have always felt. But, I find the boundaries and “fakeness” of the relationship that you mention to be very painful at times. I’m not severely mentally ill, in fact I don’t think I’m mentally ill at all, I know he needs to have a life and boundaries, but knowing that he has to maintain this air of professionalism around our relationship irks me. I want to know the real him, to see his faults, to hear about his neurosis, to eat food together, essentially to just be “normal” with our relationship even if only here and there. I wonder if you are saying this feeling can be mutual on both sides of the couch? Truth be told, I love my therapist. It sounds incredibly pathetic, and it feels that way but only because I think it is my real feelings for someone in a “fake” situation.

    It’s good to hear that self determination pays off. I’ve seen that for myself, and life does seem to improve bit by bit all the time. You’re lucky to have found a spot in life where you can follow your dreams.

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    • greetings petra. having the boundaries the way i did it was tough — i’d probably be somewhat looser if i did it again. but also i needed some boundaries, and couldn’t just be regular friends with people. some formality was necessary, at least for me, especially just to help me organize my time and optimize the focus of the work. but it did make it kind of artificial, for sure. but i also think it’s kind of artificial to sit for forty hours a week and listen to so many people’s problems and healing processes — so maybe some of the artificial structure reflected that…hmm……not sure…. daniel

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  29. What I’ve learned from my experience being harmed in therapy is that boundaries don’t have to be an artificial concept while the work itself is certainly artificial. In order for the boundaries to come naturally, all the therapist needs is to get clear with him/herself on what their role is and what it is not. That’s all. Boundary will come from that clarity, and since different people may define them differently, boundaries will be different with each therapist, but they will not feel artificial if they come from a deep understanding of the purpose of the work.

    I am saying this because the lack of those “artificial” boundaries was exactly what harmed me in my last therapy. My therapist did become friends with me, and, trust me, it didn’t help me. Didn’t help me at all. What he was seeing as his natural “humanity” and “being real” with me was, in fact, his selfishness and his desire to get his own emotional needs met, which he did big time. This is not to say that the therapist should not be real with his/her clients. Not at all. I hate this artificial “neutral” stance too. But being “real” can get easily misinterpreted and people can get hurt because of it. That’s why it is crucial for a therapist to clearly define their role and to always know what they are doing.

    This all is not to dispute the main point of the article that psychotherapy, as a healing practice, is pretty flawed.

    Thank you for responding to my previous comment.

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    • Hi WiseMonkey, I have to wonder if it’s not the very premise of therapy that is really flawed. Perhaps if our friendships and community could provide for more of our emotional and social needs, therapy would be less needed. I think our society is what is making us unwell. I wonder if most clients are looking for a relationship they cannot create or sustain in the real world, and thus most feel unsatisfied with the inherent falseness of the therapeutic relationship. I felt like a fraud personally, like I was selling something I had no intention or ability to provide.

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      • Hi Oice,

        Thanks for your comment. I didn’t visit this blog for some time and had no idea someone responded to my comment.

        Yes, I absolutely believe that the premise of therapy is, well, actually, not the official premise which presumes that we, as professionals, are supposed to consult people on their difficult situations or, better say, to give our educated opinion on what’s going on with them and what could be a solution to whatever they struggle with. If the official premise was actually being followed in practice, I would have no problem with it because it has a clarity which leaves no room for deception, meaning that both, a professional and a person receiving a service, are clear about what they are doing what a professional role entails.

        That simple premise, however, is not communicated to students, trainees and interns during their training years. What IS communicated to them is a lot of different opinions from their teachers and supervisors and some of the textbooks on either how to “fix” the client in various ways depending on the teacher’s/supervisor’s personal beliefs. As a therapist, you are suggested either to foster a “holding environment” for clients to blossom or to create a “healing” relationship with them where the illusory “intimacy” will magically heal their old wounds while simultaneously holding our “boundary” when they try to “push” them. At the same time you are supposed to “work through” their transference if you are of psychodynamic persuasion or give them homework and basically tell them what to do, which is basically treating them like kids, if you are a CBT practitioner.

        Only someone who is either a) highly ignorant or b) highly arrogant or c) both can believe that the above methods can truly heal someone. That is not to say that the theories behind those methods have no merit. I think they do. But just trying to use a theory and calling it a “method” is delusional at best. None of our “methods” have been scientifically proven and, yet, we continue to insist that they work precisely as we claim they do.

        That all being said, what psychotherapy practice essentially comes down to in the end is offering people a poor and unhealthy substitute for real friendship, community, belonging somewhere, being involved in things that unfold their creative potential and so on and so forth – all that we naturally need to be healthy on all levels. And, YES, absolutely, it is very unfortunate that our culture, our society doesn’t provide necessary conditions for people to be healthy and to live fulfilling purposeful lives. If such conditions were provided, therapy, as we know it, wouldn’t exist because no one would need it in this shape and form. In fact, it wouldn’t be called therapy at all. Instead, there would be times when people would consult occasionally with professionals, get their take on what’s going on in their life and then do with that information as they please. This would have nothing to do with healing and it would be simply called “psychological consultations”. A relationship with a consultant would be much less emotionally dependent and much more egalitarian than the relationship with a “therapist”. A consultant role is just to give his educated opinion, not to “heal” and for that reason a long-term consulting is never needed. A consultation is rather an occasional event than a continuous regular process.

        If someone truly experienced mental suffering, in that case, there would be specific scientifically established procedures used to help that person to alleviate distress, the procedures that are very specifically defined, the mechanics of which are well-known and the outcomes are reasonably predictable (something like neurofeedback, EMDR, somatic experiencing etc). Those would be much closer to genuine medical procedures than the so-called “treatments” that are currently used in talk therapy.

        Ok, the rant is over. I do go on rants on this subject because of my personal history being in therapy and my professional history of being disappointed by how the profession operates and how cowardly my colleagues are for not speaking out about it. Frankly, I haven’t seen so many disturbed people in any other profession, which is another dirty secret that professionals have kept for many years. It’s time to get out of denial and to face the truth that a significant number of professionals are mentally disturbed and aren’t fit to practice and yet another big number of them would serve themselves and the public better if they chose other occupations.

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  30. Hello Daniel,

    I googled, “I don’t want to be a therapist anymore” and your article appeared. I think my encounter with your work has changed my life already–in only a day or two of knowing about you I have read almost all of your work, watched your youtube videos and thought deeply about your thoughts and experiences.

    I too am a young therapist who has been in the field for 8 years. I specialize in children and was especially struck with the reasons for which you do not see children. I appreciate your perspective and stance. I feel the same way, however, I chose to be a child therapist (play therapist!) because it was an hour in a child’s week where they could escape from being the target of their parents’ problems/rage/anger, etc. I wanted to create a space where children can be respected, honored, and given an equal voice. And I did. And I do.

    However…that has come at great personal cost to me. I have recently identified my own feelings of being “numb” in my work. Not allowing myself to feel anything from the neck down in my work with clients. I see people throughout the lifespan, but specialize in children and adolescents. I’ve come to identify that I fake it at work. I’m fake. I pretend. And it has sucked my spirit out of me. If I didn’t have $150K more in student loans to pay off, I’d walk away and never look back. Right now I’m going through career counseling with an amazing therapist trying to figure out my life and what’s in store for me next.

    Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for being courageous with your life. As I get to know myself again, I will join you on your brave and captivating path. Onward!


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  31. Hi Daniel, I don’t know if you are still reading these comments, but here goes. I loved this piece. I have also watched all of your movies and felt very inspired. I get a sense from you of someone of great quality of mind and spirit and giftedness. The ironic thing is that the therapy world needs people like you, but often what we care most deeply about is also our greatest vulnerability. I too am an ex-therapist who quit for the exact same reasons you did, with great sadness. All of your ideas resonate deeply with me. I’m glad that you have found another avenue to make an impact, as I do believe the mental health system is deeply sick and flawed and perpetuates “mental illness”, and indeed profits from it. I will continue to look out for your work, and I’m glad your voice is out there. Bless you.

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  32. Hi Daniel,
    Thank you for your insightful article. I am actually going to start my practicum in a couple of months and I’m kind of apprehensive. I have wanted to be a therapist, psychologist since childhood…mainly due to many of the childhood traumas I experienced and the therapists I saw who were clueless and unable to recognize signs that I was being abused. I decided to go into the field because I’m a complete empath and want to genuinely help people. I am also against over medicating clients…my master’s thesis was on the over diagnosis and over medication of ADHD in children. It is appalling how that is the go-to diagnosis and I am passionate about not making swift and careless diagnoses in my future practice. I also believe that therapists ought to prioritize self-care to avoid burnout and I feel badly that you had so many health issues while you were a therapist (by self care I’m not necessarily implying therapy but I plan to visit a masseuse regularly and exercise a lot to let go of the client’s stress which I already anticipate I will be carrying). It sounds like you helped so many and I’m glad that you are still doing what you are passionate about without a lot of the restrictions. And I’m glad you had that Spanish meal. 🙂 Best wishes to you and stay intrinsically motivated.

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  33. Hi Daniel,

    This article hit home for me in a lot of ways. I’m 30 years old and I’ve been in the behavioral health field since 2006, and have been practicing as a therapist for the past five years. I entered this field out of an intellectual pursuit and a desire to help people. I’ve loved every minute of it up until the past six months or so. I’ve grown tired of listening to people’s problems, the politics and bureaucracy of agencies, and I get a sense of guilt when I think about how I’m making money off the most vulnerable people in our society. I’ve also developed gastrointestinal issues, and had to have a colonoscopy a few weeks ago. I’m 30 getting a colonoscopy, and they still can’t figure out what’s wrong! Like you, I attribute it to all the hurt I absorb from others day in and day out. Part of me wants out, but I make a good living, and even though I’m still young I feel pigeonholed. I’ve considered pursuing another degree as a way to escape (MBA, JD, something…), but I don’t want or need anymore debt. Behavioral health is all I know. I’ve dedicated my life to it, and feel I have no marketable skills that can translate into a new career path. Can you offer any advice?


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  34. Daniel you hit the nail on the head. I have searched and searched for others who feel this way online and can’t find any who are school counselors feeling the way you have explained. This made me feel even worse because then I felt like maybe there is something wrong with me to feel burned out. I have a masters in School Counseling but really it should be in therapy because there is nothing school about the counseling I am doing. I work in a very low economic area and although the students should be attending sessions through the free government agencies the parents do not trust the system and therefor I am counseling students who need more help than I can provide. Many would say what does a school counselor have to complain about but when you are dealing with suicide and threat assessments on a daily basis it becomes crisis counseling very fast. I have been in this career for 6 years and have done it alone at my school with a population of 900 students and all I can say is that when you start having panic attacks when another child is referred to you it’s time to get out. I’m great at my job and I am very strategy focused but I’m running out of strategies. I love what you said about we can’t solve them all and sometimes just listening is the best. It gives me peace about it when I think about it in that way. This school year I have dropped down to part time and I have picked another career for myself for the other part of the time. I am opening a dog grooming business which is artistic as well and where I can actually do something with my hands, finish and see my final product unlike counseling in the school. We all have to know our limitations and stop while we are ahead. I know that now. Hoping to go full time with my business after this year. Oh and as far as being personal with your clients I go against the grain as well and always share my own stories with the students if it relates. It forms a connection and makes the counselor a human too and one which can empathize which this is what this business should be based on. Love to hear from anyone on this topic.

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  35. Hi Daniel,

    I’m a UCLA student majoring in oboe performance, and I’m deciding between a double major in Psychology or music education. I’ve been considering becoming a psychotherapist for a long time, but I’m always told that there is a difference between helping friends with disorders, and helping people as a career. That I have to find my own personal reason to pursue it as a career. Do you have any advice with how to know for “certain” that this is something I want to do? I know I have a passion for helping people, and that I’ve been glad to help and be there for many people in my life personally with serious disorders. Also, a few more questions. I know how draining the therapy you provided was after a few years, do you think a helping profession, as a psychotherapist or psychologist, is not one that is meant to be pursued for many years then? Are there only certain people capable of such? And lastly, I know you are wary of therapists in general. If I go in and commit myself to becoming a therapist, I want to know that I actually will have the knowledge possible to help others after my training. Do you believe therapy is actually helping those with serious problems, even at those times like you said, when we don’t know what to say? Or should I just stick to helping others as a friend and companion instead?

    If I commit myself to the route of helping others as a career, I want to know that my profession is one that actually is capable of helping. I don’t wan to be like those therapists you said that actually end up doing the reverse for their clients. And I also am wary of being pulled down emotionally because I feel like I’m not prepared to help others. I know these worries may be addressed in grad school when I actually study it, but that’s 3 years away and I have to decide my major now, so any advice would be appreciated for helping me decide if being a therapist is for me 🙂 Thanks Daniel! Sorry for the trouble! This is something that has been tearing me apart for a while, I really want to commit to a decision once I make it!

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    • hi aminaoboe — greetings to you. thanks for you comment. at the risk of sounding cliche or simplistic, i would have to say follow your heart!! i was called to be a therapist — a calling from within — and my leaving being a therapist was a calling also……..a calling to a different life, which i’m still exploring. meanwhile, i think it’s great that you play oboe. what a wonderful instrument. i spent my day playing guitar and singing 🙂

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  36. Thank you Daniel for that insight. I have just quit therapy after 3 years. I just felt like it wasn’t working for me and I was wasting money. I tried to bring up quitting with my therapist a few months ago but she said ‘on average’ people need a years worth for every 10 years on earth which in my case means 5 years. However, she has had 7 years of therapy despite only being 40. And also although I said I couldn’t afford it, her answer was that I couldn’t afford not to keep coming which I interpreted as an implied threat that I would somehow lose it if I didn’t keep coming.

    So I told her last week and it was terrible, telling me I needed at least 3 more sessions for ‘closure’ for both her and me. I explained I was really happy with my decision and I saw it as a positive development. I think she was really hurt that I wanted to leave and told me she felt she had been fired! I don’t think I have ever felt ‘transference’ to her, but it seems like my therapist has transferred feelings onto me, is that possible?

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  37. Daniel,

    I just wanted to say a big thank you for writing this article. This article has helped me in a lot of ways. I had been working as a Psychologists for 6 years and had faced many similar problems to the ones you have mentioned, it was such a relief that I wasn’t alone or had something wrong with me (which the profession made me feel on many occasions)! I had faced really bad bullying and unethical behaviour from seniors and “superiority” of other Psychologists who thought they were better than both their clients and other therapists. However, I feel that is what is expected in this field, that you are meant to have a big ego and to prove that you are this amazing indestructible human being that is worthy of the title of a “psychologist”, which is impossible. I too faced huge amounts of stress on a daily basis due to therapy and the lack of support within the industry, which lead to me becoming very ill and also being diagnosed with CD (I wonder if there’s been research looking into the link between therapy and illness?). Although it is drilled into therapists that they are meant to have an emotional wall between them and the client, I think it is impossible and in the end you end up absorbing the client’s trauma and somehow experience that trauma yourself to some level. Leaving therapy has been the best decision for me, although I miss it immensely sometimes and feel as though it was the only thing I could do, I am now re-discovering myself including other ways of thinking, my creative side and a sense of freedom and happiness.


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  38. Hi Daniel,

    Thankyou ever so much for this brilliant piece of writing. Two years later – you still have people dropping in! It’s rather refreshing to hear someone telling the facts as it is rather than sugarcoating it. Being a graduate straight out of uni, I was browsing for any reflections and that’s how I came across this. I got a question for you which is something I have been quietly fretting for some time. I’m 22, and I am only going to start seeing clients in a couple of months time. I am very much dreading this for two reasons. Since I am quite young, I fear that people may terminate their sessions early and would not take me as seriously, because let’s face it – they don’t want to be seeing a therapist who is a ‘baby’ I can be on top of my research, be utterly welcoming but I feel like many clients may have a preconcieved notion as to how a therapist should ‘look’ like and since I dont fit this bill, they may not even give me a chance. My second main concern is that … what if I actually don’t know what to do? I can listen to them woleheartedly, support them, but what if I actually cant help them? I know I’m probably overthinking as what lies ahead of me right now are uncertainities as I am only start my internship. However, I have a great deal of passion for being a helping hand and if I can atleast touch the soul of one human being – I would consider that to be a great reward but I feel the fear of failure is hindering me in embracing these challenges. Do you have any words of wisom for a budding psychologist?

    Kind regards,

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    • hi becky
      i haven’t read my article in a while, so i don’t know if i said it there, but when i became a therapist at first (when i was 27) i was terrified of the things you mentioned. i also looked very young, younger than my years. and i was working with people older than i was — vietnam vets then in their 50s. i used to get down on my knees before sessions (early on) and just pray (i didn’t even believe in god) that i could make it through a session and keep my wits about me. then i’d just plunge in. there’s no way to get over the fear other than just doing it. that’s my experience. also, one thing i came to realize over time is that the people who are coming in for help, to talk, to reveal themselves and their deepest problems, are much more vulnerable, in most cases, than we are as therapists. so i think when we can empathize with the inherent anxiety that most people go through coming to a new therapist — so stressful — it can make it easier for us to calm down, be in our own skin, and listen to them…and be there for them. just thoughts… oh, by the way, don’t know if i said in the essay also, but i did from time to time have people comment that i was too young, and sometimes i got fired by clients over it. but others liked me looking young. they felt safer. also, i know some older therapists who get fired for looking too old. so it goes both ways. all the best! daniel

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  39. Hi Daniel,

    I would appreciate your comment on my situation since you said you didn’t seem to be getting much benefit out of undergoing psychotherapy yourself.

    My problem was that I was bored with my monotonous job (IT, same job for last 9 years) and in spite of being 34 years old (now) I was still single and starting to feel lonely and afraid I might be stay single for the rest of of my life.

    I’ve been in 4 psychotherapies in the course of last 5 years, each one lasting 4-8 months. They never helped, caused me to overthink things even more, made me more self-concious and I became less spontaneus and less sure of myself.

    Friends started to ask me why I was so sad. The psychotherapists kept saying that it was normal to feel bad before one feels good. But I never felt we made any progress in spite of 8 months in psychotherapy. Nothing changed externally in my life, or even internally in the thoughts I would have in my head on a daily basis.

    Am I not crazy for thinking that if psychotherapy is not benefiting me after 4-8 months in itthen it’s probably not worth it? I really do feel that this whole method of psychotherapy is putting me down and nothing constructive comes out of it, but it seems that everyone calls me a quiter and impatient.

    Would be curious to hear your perspective on this, Daniel

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    • Hi Martin — it’s hard for me to know what the case is. It’s possible that they’re right (that you have to feel worse before you feel better) but it sounds unlikely to me. Maybe your therapists aren’t any good — or maybe they’re just a bad fit for you. Maybe there’s a good one out there for you. Or maybe there’s something else that you need to do that would be more helpful than therapy. I don’t know what that is. I thought I was a pretty darn good therapist but I didn’t help everyone I met. And I know things other than therapy helped me, and continue to — it’s just a question of finding out what those things are…. all the best, Daniel

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  40. Hi Daniel,

    I am reading this 3 years after you wrote it. I found this article/essay of yours doing an internet search during a time in my own now 12-year long career as a “clinical psychologist” and psychotherapist when I find myself at a crossroads, questioning what I am doing, why and how. I went through a development in the way I approach my work about 6 years ago and increasingly wonder about the field of psychology in all its traditional forms. I have done my best to educate and develop myself outside of traditional systems and take those formal and informal experiences with me into sessions with the people I provide a helping service to. I, too, have had frustrations with the traditional systems of educating psychotherapists and psychologists as well as the traditional mental health system of diagnosis and treatment that places a huge amount of pressure on the socalled “expert” therapist to provide all the answers and the cure. One of the books I came across that have been useful for me is Beyond Therapy, Beyond Science by Anne Wilson Schaef.

    I am from South Africa, but work in The Netherlands now since I moved here 3 years ago. In SA, I tried to diversify the work I was doing by doing what was called “community work”: taking counselling, therapy, supervising, mentoring and training to people living in places where poverty and illness were rife. This work opened my eyes and mind to the possibilities of life and the possibilities of healing, as I found myself humbled time and again by hearing and also witnessing the stories of courage, faith, perseverance and resilience lived by people who ostensibly have very little, but who are rich in wisdom.

    I believe there is a different way to be of service and it sounds to me like you have found your way of making a difference and being of service that fits for you. I hope I shall find my own way of doing this. I already work with as much of my full, whole, vulnerable, real me in sessions. I already do and say things that the traditional mental health profession would balk at. And yet, I feel, there is more to this stuff of being of service in the world than what I am already doing. Your words are an inspiration and serves to affirm and clarify some of the pieces of where and how I currently find myself. Thank you and much strength and kindness to you 🙂

    P.S. I liked the Project Open Paradigm video and also enjoyed the snippet of the group of girls dancing in the background – delightful!

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  41. Daniel-
    I was scouring the web for something to help me respond to the following, “Thank you so much for sharing your experience with me and being so open. Please stay in touch and let me know how I can support you-personally and professionally.” It sounds nice, right? Too nice. A running generic theme almost.

    I just completed a training in crime victim advocacy. As a survivor of incest, childhood sexual abuse, and domestic violence, with ZERO academic degrees in psychotherapy/counseling, I had no clue what I had really signed up for. I simply want for others what wasn’t available to me as a teenager. An advocate. Support from someone who could help me. But my idea of help as a teenager and even now is, “Just be honest with me.” The training I recently completed triggered a silent freight train of PTSD I never saw coming. And it crushed me. By the time, I realized what was happening the training was two weeks from being over. HA! Okay, fine.

    What drove me nuts in this training were all the freaking therapists and licensed counselors who were SUPPOSED to be there to become victim advocates! Along with peons like me. My animosity and honesty about my feelings of the superiority within their profession was…wait for it…analyzed and profiled by my therapist classmates as basically my PTSD talking. And maybe it was? But at least I was honest about it. APPARENTLY, they’re all problem and trigger free.

    Anywho, when I found your featured blog post, I hit solid gold! I attached it to the email in response to the nice remark made at the beginning of this rambling comment that is already Harry Potter novel long. Sorry! But THANK YOU for writing this essay. It was HONEST. Everything I wanted to convey in my email, which I copied and pasted at the end of it. I hope she reads your reflections and perhaps opens up or gains another perspective from one of her own peeps. Or former peeps.

    Dear ****
    How can you support me (and others) personally and professionally?


    That’s it. I’ve been praying and talking things through with people I trust in my support network (your suggestion-thank you-I heeded great counsel). What has driven me bonkers since my first encounter (age 14) with a psychotherapist is the brick wall of academic degrees and professional arrogance between therapist and client. Contrary to popular psychotherapy belief in all of its superiority, we (clients) are not these vacuous, stupid, idiotic animals to constantly analyze, prod, and profile. We’re there to get help. We’re human. Just like therapists are trained to see through people, their behavior, etc, um…as a 14 year old, it wasn’t exactly mission impossible to see through the therapists/doctors who were evaluating me. Because I did, suddenly I was a “difficult” patient. PUH-LEASE.

    Like me, they had issues. They’re human. That was never my problem with therapists. It was their pretending and exceeding arrogant condescending. It was nauseating. It was the antithesis of helping. How in the world am I expected to be vulnerable and honest with therapists who had either consciously or unconsciously refused to do the same? Help people with honesty. Or don’t help at all. Because it’s not helping anyone. I love this guy’s reflections in the post below. Finally, a psychotherapist, admits that my feelings as a teenager (delusions & projecting- according to the psychotherapists) about therapists were absolutely valid and true. I wasn’t any nuttier than the person sitting across from me with all the degrees. I hope you read his reflections when you have time. And I hope to meet *her name* sans any brick walls. Because she’s already awesome to me. Bricks and all. (Smile.) Of course, I took the liberty of accenting the reflections in bold or bold red that hit the mark…at least for me.

    The End. (You can clap out of sheer relief, Daniel. My comment was super long.)

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  42. Good afternoon Daniel THANK YOU for sharing your story. I’ three dyadic classes from completing my doctorate in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, and your story resonated with me especially as a new and budding practitioner. I know how easy it is to lose one’s self in your work. I’m also a retired Naval Administrator, and here too it’s not uncommon to lose sight of the big picture. Sad truth is I lost sight of who I really was and in 2008 the vicious preverbal treadmill I was on collapsed and I lost a 26 year marriage. As tough as the experience was it was my enlightenment, and YOUR story reminds me to remember where I’ve been, keep pace with my authenticity, and embrace/cherish, and never let go those who love you and who you love God speed.

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  43. Hi Daniel,

    I just read your article and most of the comments and many emotions surfaced.

    Some of my emotions about therapy are vey mixed but only because of the recent trauma of my therapist who I was very very attached to getting diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s.

    I personally dropped out of social work school for some of the same reasons you and other independent thinkers did. But mainly because I was too emotionally overwhelmed and deeply engrosed in my own “healing processes” through therapy.

    I loved my therapist and think and feel that he was one of the few good ones out there. Someone who relates humanly. Who shares and connects in a real way.

    But some ideas that I related to on this blog post and its comments make me sad. For example ” therapy relationships being a crutch because society isn’t able to give the needed relationships people in deep pain seek” or ” being dependant and infantile will leave people feeling chronically depressed and worse off ”

    To me if someone is in such a desperate situation; for example someone who is self mutilating or having panic attacks. There is no where else to go but to a therapist.

    Reading your articles, which I like, because they are so real, also make me feel frustrated because those people in such pain can’t take the “higher level ” steps such as finding creative outlets and maintaining great friends. They are feeling worthless and pitifully need or unworthy and need a therapist because they don’t even feel like they belong in the universe. I agree, that they sure aren’t in good luck because the world doesn’t have many good therapist, but it has some. And part of trusting in humanity which can come from a good therapist is to trust a therapist in the first place.

    Sometimes walls people built are so intense and they will only allow them to be broken down in the safety of a ” therapeutic relationship” because the person’s trust is a main force in healing and trust that they can be themselves and experience all their emotions. For once they don’t have to worry so much about how much of a burden they are to others and find favor and belovedness in the eyes of someone they may be trusting since thier early childhood when they only trusted others in order to survive

    I now feel compelled to be enraged at the dependency that therapy left me with but that is only because my therapist is now struggling with his life shattering changes of EOA. But deep down I still believe that the dependency was good and healing even though I’m regressing a lot because of how painful it is that my therapy which I made my life is being ripped away from me.

    And I don’t blame my therapist for making therapy my life, he always left doors open and encouraged me to have fun and to work hard in my outside relationships. I was the one who made therapy my life because of my deep childish needs. Because I did feel like and infant, and a starving one at that, and therapy filled that craving tremendously.

    I feel torn about condemning therapy now only because it was truamticaly ripped away from me.

    Any reaction to my ideas would be appreciated. Thank you for your though provoking articles!

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  44. Hello Daniel,

    I accidentally found your article while searching for opinions on psychoterapy after a series of confusing sessions I had recently.
    I’m suffering from anxiety/panic since I was a kid and unfortunately find it hard to get any relief beside taking ADs (which were first prescribed to me when I was 15, still I would recommend to avoid them whenever possible).

    I wanted to thank you for your honesty and wish you good luck in what you do. I think we all need more people like you around.

    Best regards

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  45. Hi Daniel,
    I have to admit, when I first started reading this I thought you were going to be an arrogant self serving biased person. However, after a few paragraphs my hypothesis was proven wrong. I commend you for what you have done in your life, and the lives you have changed. We need people who truly understand what it means to be real, and to live life. Not living life by being held down to a job for money, with little to no care in the world for others. I am currently in school heading towards a long goal of being a therapist. Like all of us, I have had my demons and my battles and I wanted to share with people that it is possible to win and move past our demons. After reading this though, I have become somewhat concerned. I want to share my story with others if it can help them, or at least let them know they are not “wrong” or “broken”, because everyone has battles and we need to help each other. For someone going into this field do you have recommendations? Is it possible to be a therapist that maybe isn’t tied down to ridiculous rules about “boundaries” or letting the therapist be a human being? What advice can you share? Thanks again for this post!

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