For the last two years, I have been battling severe trust issues when it comes to therapy. My legitimate expectation from my therapist of ensuring a safe space and ethical conduct was repeatedly breached. Until this day, I have only mentioned it to my closest friends and the therapist who came after them. I tried suppressing the episode, but the pain burst open recently when my former therapist publicly trolled me.
Let’s start at the beginning. I reached out to the said therapist for the first time in March 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was in the aftermath of a severe trolling I was subjected to on social media for criticising some of the government’s policies in handling the pandemic.
I reached out to the said therapist for the first time in March 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was in the aftermath of some severe trolling I was subjected to on social media for criticising some of the government’s policies in handling the pandemic.
A few days after beginning therapy, I saw the therapist engaging with my tweets. By now, I was sure it was them and it became a huge red flag for me.
I wanted my therapist to be someone I can meet in a professional setting every couple of weeks, converse, share, and then not see again until the next appointment.
A couple of days later, I saw their request to follow my private Instagram account, which I run using a pseudonym.
Recently, they again crossed the line by critiquing my politics publicly, drawn from a conversation I was having with someone else. I was appalled. Is this professional and ethical? Clearly no
When Red Flags Appeared
Being in public life for the last decade had somehow inured me to social media trolling. However, in this particular instance, the intense trolling severely impacted my mental health. Though I did file an FIR with the Delhi Police, I didn’t feel normal. For days, I was depressed and limited my interactions even with my family members. Seeing my terrible state, my friends suggested I see a therapist and recommended this therapist as they were available online (this was when the world was still figuring out Zoom and remote work).
So, I reached out to them and got an appointment. Knowing how protective I am of my personal life, my friends had suggested that I should break down my walls and open up as much as possible if I really wanted to heal. Armed with all the pep talk about trust and safe space, I went for my first session and unloaded my vulnerabilities. I was as forthcoming as I could be, in the first session. I won’t get into the specifics as that’ll be a breach of confidentiality. But they listened and I felt heard. They also suggested things I could do in my own time, and I did that. Up until this point, there were no red flags.
After this interaction, I saw them on my Twitter feed. They had liked one of my tweets. I wasn’t even sure if it was them, and I ignored it. I went for one more session and opened up myself even further. I thought they really got me. I was happy to have found a good therapist. But my elation was short-lived.
In the following days, I saw them engaging with my tweets. By now, I was sure it was them and it became a huge red flag for me. I had no desire to interact with my therapist socially. I have friends for that. I wanted my therapist to be someone I can meet in a professional setting every couple of weeks, converse, share, and then not see again until the next appointment.
I expected them to understand and respect the professional boundary. Naturally, when they popped up on my social media, I tried to ignore their existence.
Why I Swore Off Therapy
A couple of days later, I saw their request to follow my private Instagram account. This was a huge shock as I didn’t expect them to hunt down my private Instagram, which I run using a pseudonym. It’s a window into my private world where less than 100 people get to see me being myself, without judgment. I even went to the extent of using a pseudonym so that it’s not easy for people to find me. But my therapist somehow found it. I would not have been so traumatised had they followed my public Instagram account. But this broke my trust completely.
I was shaken. I swore off therapy. It took me months to even consider going back to therapy despite how badly I needed it. The next therapist I met had a lot of work to do on me. The first thing I asked was, “Are you on social media? If you are, do you promise to not engage with me there?” They assured me that it was unethical and that they would never do it. But it was hard for me to trust them again. I stopped sharing intimate details about myself. I was there just for the sake of it. It all felt pointless. It was only after months that there was a semblance of trust in our therapist-client relationship.
Even now it’s so difficult for me to let a new mental health professional help me. When everyone around me suggested seeing a grief counsellor after I lost my mom, I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I was scarred badly. Whenever tweets of my former therapist pop up on my timeline, it becomes triggering for me. I have consciously ignored their existence.
Standing Up For Yourself
But there is no escaping. Recently, they again crossed the line by critiquing my politics publicly, drawn from a conversation I was having with someone else. I was appalled. Is this professional and ethical? Clearly not. Therapy is a sacred space. Every client has a reasonable expectation that the therapist will uphold basic ethical and professional conduct. To not be trolled by your therapist is not asking for the moon. Yet, it seems it is a high ask for some people.
Now that I have come full circle from going-to-therapy-for-trolling to being-trolled-by-your-therapist, I wish I had stood up sooner.
I still don’t know what the right approach to handling such a situation is. But I’ve received some good suggestions, and I am sharing them here for everyone’s benefit: discuss rules of social engagement with each other, set boundaries, don’t breach each other’s space, if they breach your space then confront them, and trust your gut. I wish I had known these sooner.
(Angellica Aribam is the Founder of Femme First Foundation. She tweets at @AngellicAribam. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)