Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Avoiding Abusive Counselors and Support Groups

From time to time, I’ve come across horror stories about counselors and support groups. And it occurred to me that although I have seen many articles that provide lists of "red flags" for identifying potentially toxic and abusive romantic partners, I haven't seen any similar checklists giving advice to autistics (and others with neurological differences) on what to avoid when looking for support and counseling.

People who are looking for a counselor or a support group often are emotionally vulnerable and are at risk of ending up in an unhealthy situation which, just like a marriage to an abusive spouse, will drain away their self-esteem and leave them feeling inadequate and dependent. Here's my list of danger signs indicating when a counselor or support group is becoming abusive (and yes, I've seen every one of these mentioned somewhere; I didn't just make them up. Please feel free to post your own suggestions in the comments, along with links to similar articles if you know of any.)


(1) Instead of being treated as an individual, you are given a lecture about what is wrong with "people like you."


(2) You are advised to make extensive changes to your behavior and lifestyle so as to become indistinguishable from your peers.

(3) When you talk about your concerns, you're dismissed as paranoid, unreasonable, or too sensitive.

(4) If you happen to be unemployed, you are told that you're just a lazy slacker and would have found a job by now if you'd tried harder.

(5) You mention something positive that you've accomplished relating to a special interest, and you get ridiculed or told that you are displaying poor social skills by bringing up a topic that nobody cares about.

(6) If you haven't found a compatible romantic partner, you are told that it's because nobody wants to date people like you and that the only way you'll find a girlfriend or boyfriend is to pretend to be completely different.

(7) You say that you feel dissatisfied with a job that does not challenge you intellectually or provide opportunities for career advancement, and you are told that you should shut up and be grateful anyone was willing to hire you at all.

(8) If you express a positive attitude regarding any aspect of your neurology, you are told that this is a psychological defense mechanism and that it's clear you are in denial about the true extent of your misery.

(9) When you disagree with the counselor or group, you are told that you are being childish and that your contrary behavior is a symptom of your disorder.

(10) If you mention that you have thought about leaving the counselor or group, the immediate response is an outraged tirade to the effect that if you are irresponsible enough to do so, you'll inevitably waste the rest of your life as a worthless burden on your parents and/or society.

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19 Comments:

  • I get this kind of crap from my *family*, although they're not aware of the AS label for why I am how I am.

    By Blogger fledchen, at 5:19 AM  

  • There are actually therapists who say those sorts of things?

    By Blogger James Pate, at 10:36 AM  

  • I think that this list is more universal than claimed. I've never had a counselor do any of these things, but I have endured this type of behavior from friends, colleagues, and family and in (failed) romantic relationships. I am keeping a copy of this list to remind me of what to keep a heads-up about, since, in truth, these behaviors make no sense to me an tend to appear out of nowhere.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:53 AM  

  • How about no mater what you say you want to talk about, you find the entire session is spent talking either about the counselor's kids or the exact thing you keep saying you're really tired of talking about, could we at least try to talk about something else in my life?

    By Blogger Joeymom, at 11:45 PM  

  • Ugh...items (8), (9), and (10) are the main ones I've encountered. I'm incredibly glad to have been able to apply the self-advocacy stuff I learned from various folks online, etc., when a psych. person I used to see went as far as lying to me about whether or not I could access my own medical records, and trying to tell me I couldn't change doctors. It was like she'd decided I was so much of a developmental emergency that lying to me and trying to control me in totally inappropriate ways was somehow justified. Just ugh. This is why helping people learn to self-advocate is so important -- I have to wonder how many people end up in long-term, abusive "therapeutic" relationships because they don't know how to recognize that they're being led down a path into what amounts to "learned helplessness".

    Needing help with certain practical things does not amount to needing someone controlling every aspect of how you live, or handing you a "recipe" for living your life and then telling you there's something wrong with you when you point out that problems with the recipe (or "life script checklist" as we've discussed before).

    By Blogger AnneC, at 6:22 PM  

  • I have had multiple abusive counsellors. As well as all the things you list another 2 I have experienced are:
    If you are not miracurously 'cured' after a time, you are told it is your fault for not applying their techniques properly or for not telling them absolutely everything about your past - no matter how irrlelvant.

    2. If you allude to other issues such as Seasonal Affective Disorder, you are told that the problem is with you not the weather and you are just projecting/externalising. (even though Seasonal Affective Disorder is medically well recognised).

    Another problem is what I call wannabee do-gooders. These people have never had a bad day in their lives and think that this somehow gives them the right to think they have all the answers as to how to 'heal' people who genuinely do have issues or have had traumatic experiences. Such people will tell those who are suicidally depressed that if they think about things differently, they will feel better (or 'get some sleep, you'll feel better in the morning') or that 'we all feel sad sometimes'. Er, depression is a lot more than just 'sadness'. And there are the people that tell you that if you just meditate or breathe everything will be fine.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:06 AM  

  • It's a good, helpful list. However, this type of counsellor will not phrase it like that. They will not use the phrase "pretend to be someone else". They will say "behave appropriately". They will use the phrase "showing consideration for others" to mean "pretending to be normal". Could you make a list of phrases like this that they use?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:55 PM  

  • Could you make a list of phrases like this that they use?

    Good idea for a post... I'll give it some thought.

    By Blogger abfh, at 7:45 AM  

  • I had a support worker actually tell me (when I found out my dad was dying of cancer), "don't worry, he'll be alright... he'll get through it!"

    That was the very moment that I found that she wasn't listening to a single sodding thing I ever said.

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 3:38 PM  

  • Hi David. Glad to see you back commenting on my blog! That worthless support worker certainly needs to be in a different line of work.

    By Blogger abfh, at 11:12 PM  

  • Thanks, ABFH.

    Gonna share an example of her 'work'.

    In Finnish, from an e-mail she actually copied my ex into (!) and then in English, and then my comment:

    "Maksat yhden laskun kerrallaan, siitä se lähtee."

    *You pay one bill at a time, and that's how it goes.*

    Who the fuck died and made her a god of any sort! She's there to support me in my decisions, not the other way round.

    "Muitakin keinoja
    nykyisten tulojesi riittämiseen olisi nyt keksittävä ja otettava käyttöön,
    ennen kuin voit alkaa uutta työpaikkaa havitella."

    *Other ways of making your current income suffice have to be devised and taking into use before you can begin looking for a new job.*

    And who the fuck gave her the right to make decisions on my behalf without first consulting me to see I would agree?! Especially when those decisions were the exact reverse of what we'd already fucking agreed on at a prvious meeting!!

    "Esimerkiksi pienemmät
    asumiskulut eli pienempi vuokra olisi mielestäni ensisijainen tavoite."

    *For example, I think that smaller living costs - that is, lower rent - would be a priority*

    Wrong. Getting work, in order to pay the rent, is an utmost priotity. Finding a cheaper flat would take fucking months... with the same high rent.

    This is just one instance of almost an entire career of incompetence on the part of this person.

    And when a big meeting was held last November, everything was geared to making me feel guilty about her hurt feelings (because I'd reported this breach of confidentiality). Not once was anyone bothered about my feelings about all the shit they'd done to me during the years 2005-7... nearly three years of this crap.

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 12:31 PM  

  • Best of it is this.

    This person actually sat down in one of our sessions and drew a triangle on a piece of paper. I said: Maslow.

    She was surprised that I knew about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs motiviation theory. She is a 'sosionomi', basically - she has a BA in applied social studies. I have a BA-equivalence in psychology (with other subjects, but psychology as a major concentration) and a MEd in educational psychology, and she knows this; and she's sitting there as gobsmacked as fuck that I knew who Maslow was!

    She was trying to use that theory to try and secure compliance with her scheme for my life (which I had not given her the right to plan); but she forgot one thing: that theory isn't about walking before running, so to speak. It's about needs that have to be met before you can concentrate the next level of needs-satisfaction. It never occurred to this woman that the bottom-level needs in the hierarchy have one thing in common: the cost money; and the only way to ensure the flow of money that will take care of meeting those needs is to ensure a supply of work by which to earn that money.

    Fucking ridiculous.

    In the meeting in November, the local provider office manager actually admitted that all that they'd been doing over the three years to then had been 'resusitation'!

    Vittu....

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 12:41 PM  

  • shit.

    resuscitation.

    can't type worth shit today.

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 12:54 PM  

  • In the US they often have the opposite attitude, pushing people to take any random job that is available, without considering whether or not the job is a suitable match for the person's abilities.

    In either case, it shows a lack of respect and understanding for the person as an individual.

    By Blogger abfh, at 10:42 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 11:23 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 11:39 AM  

  • Third time lucky....

    "In the US they often have the opposite attitude, pushing people to take any random job that is available, without considering whether or not the job is a suitable match for the person's abilities."

    Usually, that's what would be happening to me, too; but even that is being denied me... no support at all to get into work. Just "get used to being on a shitty income, David... we don't care, and you don't matter... just comply and we'll say you're a good client... fail to comply and we'll mark you down!"

    "In either case, it shows a lack of respect and understanding for the person as an individual."

    Absolutely. And we have the European Parliament's acceptance in the 1990s of a Charter of Rights for autistic people: I counted the rights that have been violated in my case.

    Nine out of nineteen rights violated (47%), with the rest not directly violated.

    That's not all. I looked at a number of other methods of assessing the practice policy of an organisation. One such method was examining the six DHSS core values for service provisions: five out of six values were violated by the way that the services have been doing things with me (83%).

    Another is to look at the values that drive the service model and rate them in terms of whether they promote quality of life: none of the nineteen values known to promote QoL were observed, whereas there were 13 of the 19 countervalues - known to undermine quality of life - were observed.

    Of the standards of good practice listed in my training materials from Birmingham, 67% of these standards were failed on.

    This is not very encouraging, is it?

    As a result of it all, my most major fears were realised (which fears were actually known to the support worker and disability services people): I have lost my independence; my opportunities for self-determination are gone; and my chances to develop professionally are non-existent.

    This has been the most dis-empowering experience of my entire life.

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 11:43 AM  

  • I assume you're stuck living in Finland because you have to be there to visit your daughter regularly?

    That sucks. :(

    I'll just say that I have a lot of respect for the sacrifices you're making to ensure that your daughter has a happy childhood. You're a good father and a very decent guy, and I'm sure you are building up plenty of good karma for later in your life.

    By Blogger abfh, at 3:03 PM  

  • "I assume you're stuck living in Finland because you have to be there to visit your daughter regularly?"

    Yep... her and Heini too (she and I are wanting to be together as soon as possible).

    "That sucks. :("

    Yep. This is a great country for the nature and indeed most of the people are wonderful. That's unofficial Finland: official Finland (the bureaucracy) is full of shite. Finland has the highest suicide rate in the EU.

    "I'll just say that I have a lot of respect for the sacrifices you're making to ensure that your daughter has a happy childhood."

    Thank you...

    "You're a good father and a very decent guy, and I'm sure you are building up plenty of good karma for later in your life."

    I just wish I could have some of it now... which is really when I need it :(

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 8:59 AM  

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