My therapist is hawking awareness training

I was uncomfortable with his suggestions, but he persisted.

Topics: Since You Asked,

Dear Cary,

Two years ago my therapist, whom I’ve been seeing since mid-2001, recommended that I participate in a well-known LGAT (large group awareness training).

So since I trusted him, I paid the $400 or so and did it. I took some good things away from it, but I was also fairly troubled by some other aspects, not the least of which was the incredibly hard sell to get us to shell out $1,500 for the next level.

After completing the program, I was honest with my therapist and told him that it was a mixed experience for me, that I’d gotten some good out of it but had no interest in going on to the advanced level. He only asked about it once, then let it go. But a month or so later, he brought it up again.

It made me so uncomfortable that after my next session (where I asked him not to talk about LGAT anymore), I took a several-months break from seeing him.

The ethics really bothered me (and still do), even though he claims to not get any compensation or reward for referring people to the program.

Fast-forward to my session two days ago, where out of the blue, he brought it up again. Well, not quite out of the blue; I was talking about feeling “stuck” and unmotivated, careerwise. He asked what did I think would help me feel “unstuck,” and I said I wasn’t really sure. He said that if I took the advanced training, it would be the best thing I ever did, that I would come out of it “ABSOLUTELY not stuck!” (he can’t know that), and that I should seriously consider going. And also, did I think that my sister/husband/best friend would benefit from doing the introductory course I had earlier completed?

Um, no. We went through this already. I told him two years ago that I wasn’t going on with the program (and that hubby wasn’t interested), and after he mentioned it again, I said no again, and said that I wasn’t comfortable with him bringing it up. All was fine for almost two years, up until two days ago. I wonder if the graduates of this program are being pressured to bring in more sales or something.

And thankfully — or not, depending on your point of view — it’s not just me he’s doing this to. A friend of a friend is also seeing him and also did the basic program, and she is getting the same pressure to go on to the advanced program, to the point where she told our mutual friend that they’re seriously considering an intervention for the therapist to get him to stop pushing this LGAT at people!



This bothers me on many levels. On a personal level, it looks like I really do need to find a new therapist now, because my trust in this one has eroded. It upsets me because, professionally, he’s obviously an intelligent person and has been a good therapist; he has helped me quite a bit in the time that I’ve been seeing him. But I worry for his other clients who may not be as resilient or strong-willed as I am. And I’m pissed off at the fact that “no” didn’t mean “no,” when it always should.

After four years of “tell me about your mother,” and some real progress with how I see myself and the world around me, I’m ready to do some goal-oriented work. Cary, you’ve said good things before about cognitive behavioral therapy, and I’m in the process of finding someone locally who does that.

But how do I say “Goodbye, good luck, and please stop pimping this LGAT” to my current therapist?

Dazed and Confused

Dear Dazed,

Well, it was nice to hear from you subsequently that you ditched that therapist and have embarked on some cognitive therapy, which you report is going really well.

I think that many of us, when we’re looking for some kind of psychotherapy, don’t go and sit in a quiet room across from another person and talk about our lives simply because we want to optimally contribute to the gross national product. It’s because we seek a sacred relationship. Nothing sours a sacred relationship better than finding that you’re a mark. You don’t want a guy hawking pots and pans in there. In that room you want nothing but a regard for the mystery of the self.

What if you walk in one day and he’s got Tupperware lined up on his desk and he guarantees that this set of Tupperware is going to improve your life. Next week it’s Calphalon cookware: People’s lives really improve when they use Calphalon! And next week he says, I’ve got a surprise for you: It’s a brand-new red Chevrolet Camaro in the parking lot and it can be yours for only 2.99 percent interest. Whether he gets a commission isn’t really the point. You just don’t want your therapist selling you stuff.

And how do you tell him? I think you just tell him.

I myself have been searching lately for a therapist who is on the list of therapists that my HMO will pay for, as psychotherapy can cost upwards of $100 per session, which I really can’t afford. And in the course of searching I’ve come across some information about the economic pressures on therapists who take HMO money to reveal your case details to the insurance company. Wow, that seems weird. Because one reason I wanted to find a therapist was because there were some things I didn’t really want to talk about in open 12-step meetings, as I am occasionally recognized as the guy who writes this column and would prefer to be anonymous in that regard. I’d like to discuss my private life in private, if you don’t mind.

As to the sacred elements of the relationship, you may know that I really like this writer named Thomas Moore. Sometimes I just open up some book by him and read something like this: “It’s my conviction that slight shifts in imagination have more impact on living than major efforts at change … I won’t give many concrete, direct suggestions of what to do, because of my conviction that deep changes in life follow movements in imagination.”

I like the idea that what’s needed to become unstuck is more imagination — to view events in a new way. I hope your cognitive therapy is helping you with that. Your therapist, on the other hand, seized upon your being “stuck” to offer you an expensive fix. I feel as though to offer you a crass technology to fix your problem is to deny the power of the imagination, and to deny what is sacred.

What goes on in that room has to do with strengthening your regard for the sacred. So while you don’t necessarily want to stay stuck, you don’t want somebody hawking you an expensive fix for it, either. Because being stuck is, itself, sort of sacred.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

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