THE BLOG
10/04/2013 02:17 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Is Your Therapist an Idiot?

Idiot is a strong word. Everyone makes mistakes. It doesn't make them an idiot. Let's use this definition: "Someone who acts in a significantly counterproductive way."

Has your therapist ever made an idiot move? Most of my therapists have been brilliant. And others... not so much.

I started taking therapy at the tender age of 17. Now 44, I've searched for meaningful "aha" moments to empower my life through many human development modalities, not just therapy. I call orchestrating these epiphanies the Art of Aha. It's a phrase I created in graduate school.

Through the years, and even today, I elect for one-on-one therapy when my emotional state is too reactive for other modalities. Amongst many creative life tools, therapy is my fat crayon -- the one with the paper torn to the nub.

Here's when you might choose therapy. I'm not saying I did these personally (cough), but you might choose therapy, if you...

1) Put creamer in the cupboard instead of the fridge.
2) Run to the bathroom to have a good cry while at a restaurant with friends.
3) Yell at the 15-year-old grocery clerk because she didn't bag your peanuts quickly.
4) Talk incessantly... with the poor imprisoned plane passenger sitting next to you who would rather read.

I've had talented therapists help me learn to make masterpieces from my overly emotional life pictures. Then, there are bloopers, like these:

1) TOSSING COOKIES
Waking up sick begs the question: stay home and fight this germ war with sleep, chicken noodle soup and OJ? Or spread the invaders to family, friends and coworkers? I'm a believer in spreading the love whenever possible, but I loathe germs. So one frightfully cold Chicago morning, I called my therapist to let her know I was doing her a favor and not going to expose her to my sore throat. Next session, she started with, "Well, Michelle. Less than 24 hours notice and I'll have to charge you." I had never canceled. We spent the next 50 minutes arguing about policy. I pointed out, had I known her policy, I would have come in and exposed her tiny body to the war in mine. I felt I was doing her a favor, actually. She disagreed. Fast forward one week. I get a call the morning of my therapy session, "Listen, I know last week we had an in-depth discussion about why it's important to not cancel. This is awkward. I woke up with food poisoning and I can't function so I'm canceling your appointment." Quick on my feet and still a bit annoyed by having to pay for a session not used, I replied, "Oh, so since it's under 24 hours notice, I get a free session for you canceling." [Long pause.] "Uh... no. Sorry. It doesn't work that way," she regurgitated. I felt like I was going to toss my cookies, too.

2) STEPPING ON TOES
Therapy is a dance. Who leads? Watch your toes. Session five. Grief therapy. I had just lost my father. I'm a daddy's girl through and through. By then, my therapist knew I was a publicist. This session, he was especially curious about how I generated publicity for clients. People ask me about PR all the time, so I went into auto mode. You do this. You do that. Then you get coverage. He asked me how I'd publicize couples counseling retreats in our region. Blah, blah, blah. Auto-response engaged. Ding. Oops! We are out of time and your 50 minutes is up. Later that night, still dazed, I told my husband 25 minutes of my 50 minute therapy session covered marketing advice on how my therapist could grow his business. Should I be angry that I paid him for a marketing coaching session with me? My spouse fumed: "Are you kidding me? Of course you should be angry!" Great, not only am I putting creamer in the cupboard instead of the fridge, now I had to step up and speak out about my counselor stepping on my toes when he solicited my professional advice.

3) TRUST FALL!
There's a favorite camp game where you fall backwards into the arms of your partner, trusting them not to drop you on the ground. I guess there's an expectation your therapist has your back. They won't let you fall. Accidents happen. In my 20s, I was seeing a therapist for trust issues. After several months, he let me know his office accidentally released confidential notes about our sessions to my insurance company. Trust fall... fail. I still don't like that game.

So, what constitutes helpful or harmful therapeutic relationships? The process to painting your perfect therapy picture doesn't have to be hard. In fact, successful counselors help you mimic your life inside the safe sanctuary of their office. Trust your gut from day one. Your chosen dance partner in therapy should let you lead, not step on your toes (boundaries) and be professional with you (i.e., policies, credentials and licensing should be written down and given to you).

Here are four questions you can ask before accepting therapy:

1) What are your credentials? Explain where in the spectrum you are: life coach, therapist, counselor, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, etc.
2) What are your payment and scheduling policies?
3) How many sessions will we have and how will we arrive at the goals I'm seeking?
4) What type of information do you keep on me and how secure is it?

There are many crayons in today's tool box to find "aha" moments and create your life powerfully. I explored these four forces in my master's thesis entitled, "The Art of Aha": 1) therapy and counseling, 2) support groups and behavioral change, 3) human development programs and products, and 4) transpersonal (spiritual and indigenous) paths. In future posts, I'll explore all these areas with you so you can create, not react, to life.

Aha! How do you create it? Tell me here.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.