Abusive individuals who appear abusive: This is the most easily identified of the four types of individuals. According to Foster, these folks are honest about their pathology. They look weird or act weird and people take notice. They get their kids removed from their custody (but of course, after they have abused them …) Foster says, “One does not have to be a clinical wizard to know these folks have problems. They are bad, everyone knows they are bad, and no one has much problem deciding how to handle them.”
Abusive individuals as therapists: Foster says, “This category includes dishonest therapists (consciously or unconsciously) who may appear healthier than they are.” Foster believes some therapists in both private and public practice and some cops and social services workers fall into this category. He cites stories of certifiably ill individuals who passed themselves off as therapists, such as Ted Bundy who claimed to be a psychologist (and did earn a BS in Psychology). But he went on to say that, unbeknownst to the general public, many disturbed people actually aspire to become therapists. He says it isn’t usually the top achieving, Wally Cleaver kind of kid who chooses a career in social services, law enforcement or mental health therapy. Foster believes that because of difficult and less-than-ideal childhoods, many folks enter professions that combine law enforcement and child protection—two arenas that provide power and control. Now I just have to add here … how many families like ours have dealt with social service workers who are incredibly hung up on power and control? Thankfully, I have seen far fewer therapists that fall into this category than I have seen state social service workers who fit this description. Foster states that in this law enforcement/child protective role, individuals can release their own rage in a more socially acceptable outrage.
Good therapists who never appear abusive: Foster says, “In this category are all those from non-codependent backgrounds and solid childhoods who go into the helping professions.” Foster hastens to clarify that he is not saying that all therapists or social workers who spring from troubled backgrounds become abusive adults; rather, he is saying that folks who were fortunate enough to experience relatively normal and happy childhoods do not have to overcome or work through negative experiences in their journey to become an effective therapist. These always-healthy individuals can trust their instincts and their responses. Foster states:
Such people show empathy easily without sympathy, are kind without being “hooked,” and because of their own solid backgrounds can easily maintain the professional distancing that, coupled with genuine love, makes being a therapist fairly non-traumatic.
Foster concludes this section by stating these folks rigidly adhere to the “do no harm” rule and wouldn’t dream of doing anything that intentionally upset their clients.
Good therapists who may appear abusive, but are not: Foster described this category by quoting a therapeutic parent: “It’s a darn shame that all the things that work on these kids are things you don’t want to have to do!” He points out that therapists who are willing to confront their clients would much rather do the “usual” type of therapy. I know a therapist who, although he is quite knowledgeable about how to treat attachment disordered kids, resolutely refuses to work that hard, or those long and unpredictable hours; instead, he much prefers his 8 to 5 hours. He willingly donated funds towards our conference but wasn’t interested in advertising in our conference brochure. No thanks–don’t send me any more of those kids!
Next up I’ll share Foster’s suggestions on how to differentiate a good therapist who appears abusive and an abusive person who works as a therapist …