One of the most cherished explanations for psychotherapy gone wrong is that the patient is ”treatment-resistant” i e opposes the therapeutic process. Originally Sigmund Freud was the one who first put forward this theory, which in fact frees the therapist from all responsibility. I have as yet not found one single therapist who has thought of how this feels for the patient or what consequenses it has for the patient.
I can tell you: The patient can never utter one single word of critiscism regarding the ”help” he has gotten – anybody smiles benevolently and understands that all is his own fault, he has been reluctant and resistent towards any ”help”. The man in the street knows that the fault is the patient´s there cannot be anything amiss in the therapist´s work.
I found an interesting man on the Internet the other day, a man who seemed to understand this dilemma. His name was Allan Abbass. One of the leading names in the ISTDP-movement (Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Therapy).
He spoke so adamantly about the therapist´s shortcomings, that I immediately decided to make a closer acquaintace.
I was immediately sorely disappointed.
”About half of all psychotherapy clients have little to no response—or can even worsen—in treatment. Why? They unknowingly use treatment-defeating behaviors, or resistances, placing all manner of obstacles to prevent emotional closeness and a successful collaboration with the therapist. It is as if they cannot allow treatment to succeed. This can be frustrating and demoralizing for both the therapist and the client.”
The same old song. All is the patient´s fault. The terapist is the helpless victim of the vicious treatment-defeating patient. This is the eternal sacred explanation for all the therapist´s shortcomings. It is never the therapist´s fault.
But no, that is not what Abbass means. He has discovered how the therapist may defend himself.
I remember vividly how my short term terapists pointed their fingers at me and chanted: ”Don´t you see what YOU are doing?” No, I said perplexed. ”You WANT to exclude US!” No, I don´t. ”SIGH! She doesn´t understand what she is doing.”
But Abbass has an understanding word for me. He says:
After these patients had experienced years of childhood deprivation and abuse, the system often re-creates thwarted attachment efforts and adds to their burdens.
Note: The System. Not the patient this time. But this is the only time he says anything in the patient´s defence. After this brief moment of understanding he goes on to explain how the patient must be confronted with his ”treatment resistance”. Helping the patient with the original trauma seems never to be an option.
In my case – after 30 years of hard work to save my sanity, working like a maniac against several therapists in a row – I know that what happened was exactly that: my therapists repeated the reactions of a poisonous and thwarting system once more, adding to my burdens abundantly. And then they explained that I was treatment resistant.
At the time I used to say that their system was just as brutal and ignorant as if they had asked me to put my finger in a candle flame and keep it there. And then when I withdrew they would explain that I was treatment resistant.
I got no help, needless to say. Finally my situation was really dangerous, I wanted to go under the train every day for a very long period of time.
At this time of dire need I found Stettbacher/Jenson about whom I have been writing abundantly. Without their wonderful and precise self help method I would not be here.
It is true, Stettbacher/Jenson work the way Abbass describes: once you have seen and felt the emotions involved in your very real original problems you take a big stride forwards. You understand in depth the dilemma you were in when the original trauma happened. You are back in the reality of the child and you are convinced that you will die.
So to me there is really no reason to ”provoke” anything or question anything. In front of death anybody will flee for their lives.
So I wish you would stop talking about the patient resisting treatment and instead focus on advising the therapists to give the right sort of help. And the right sort of help is not confronting the patient with his resistance. Because the patient must resist as long as his situation is not understood. A therapist who lacks the knowledge required is in fact abusive.
Abuse must be resisted.