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Dogma Shrink
You may find that a therapist is intellectually married to some theory that doesn't resonate with your worldview. For example, I just don't believe in the classic Freudian approach, with its deep faith in concepts like penis envy. (My favorite incident on this topic occurred when a friend's 3-year-old daughter reacted to her first glimpse of a naked baby boy by commenting, "Gee, Mom, he's lucky that thing isn't growing on his face.") If your therapist seems more interested in some sort of academic doctrine than in what you're saying and feeling, leave. Remember, theories don't heal people; people heal people.

Captain Distracto Shrink
This type of therapist is so preoccupied that you'd do just as well to simply stay home and think. I once visited a shrink who not only took but returned personal calls—and I mean very personal calls—during our sessions. Listening to one side of her conversations provided me with excellent material for a novel but not much for my mental health.

Roundish Flatworm Shrink
The roundish flatworm is a very primitive organism from which all animal life is descended, and I use the term here to mean a person too unevolved to understand complex emotions. An example is the psychologist who told one of my clients, a firefighter, that he should deal with the trauma of carrying dead bodies out of burning houses by "growing up and getting used to it." Trying to get someone this clueless to understand you is like trying to teach a slug to juggle. Don't waste your money.

Just Plain Nuts Shrink
This may be the therapist who takes up 40 minutes of your costly little hour telling you how to avoid alien abduction, but it may also be the creepy shrink who rigidly insists on ideas that feel wrong or dismisses your deepest feelings with an indifferent chortle. Sessions with a good therapist can stir up your emotional waters, but you'll still have an underlying sensation of mental clarity and emotional support. If you feel crazier, less important, and more despairing after you've spoken to a therapist than you did before your session, don't go back.

The Cardinal Rule


You can steer clear of all these nightmare counselors by remembering Goethe's phrase "Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live." Rely on this truth at every stage of the therapeutic process. Trust yourself when your aching heart tells you it needs a compassionate witness. Trust yourself when your instincts warn you that the therapist your mother or minister recommended isn't giving you the right advice. Trust yourself when, sitting in a relative stranger's office, you suddenly feel a frightening, exhilarating urge to tell truths you've never known until that very moment. Psychotherapy is about listening to someone who knows exactly how you should live your life: you. A good therapist will always end up giving you back to yourself. I can tell you from long experience, it's a gift that keeps on giving.

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