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Q: During difficulties in our relationship 10 years ago, my then-partner and I consulted a therapist together and I also saw him separately. His method of exploring my personality and past was interesting, but I soon realized that my main issue was a need to break up with my partner.
Two months later, the therapist called saying he needed to discuss an unpaid bill with me and to meet him at his office when I finished work. I’m a busy person yet didn’t question this coming from a professional (though it turned out to be one of the shared bills my partner hadn’t paid).
When I arrived at his office, the therapist said he was starving and we could talk in the restaurant downstairs. Again, though it was less professional, I knew he started work at 8 a.m. to accommodate working patients, so I thought it was harmless and no reason to refuse if he’s that hungry.
To my surprise, he ordered wine, asked if I wanted some (I didn’t accept), and in a circuitous way basically said he had been very attracted to me and thought we should start dating. I was stunned!
During therapy, I’d shared very private matters with him, including some of my sexual history and very personal revelations about my family. I stood and left. Never heard from him again. I later learned he passed away from a severe illness two years later.
I don’t want to expose his unprofessional approach by naming him, but I wonder why that incident still bothers me so much. He didn’t touch me physically or pursue me after I left him without a word. Yet I still feel sullied and shamed because he knew my secrets, from childhood to adult intimacies, and felt he could take advantage of that knowledge.
I’ve been in a happy marriage for eight years. Why do I care about this passing incident with someone who can never contact me again?
A: For those who don’t get what #MeToo has been about for many still-suffering women and men, this exemplifies how, even without sexual assault, someone’s belief that they can manipulate you through their power, status, or professional rank can leave a long-lingering feeling of shame.
As if you led him on, when you didn’t. As if he only probed your past and current life to know your secrets. And desire to use them, somehow. As a therapist, his professional mandate is to respect a patient’s revelations and work with that person to improve their self-image and approaches to personal problems.
Every registered psychologist, therapist, social work counsellor, etc. belongs to a professional association that calls for zero tolerance of abuse and of sexual involvement while in the therapist-patient relationship. Discretion is sometimes given if a relationship begins two years after the professional one and there is no incidence of exploitation or coercion (not easily possible to disclaim).
Had he still been alive, I’d suggest you report him to his professional association because he crossed a line, luring you into a social dating atmosphere and suggesting a dating relationship with him. Some readers might suggest that you still report him, so that, if other patients complained, they could be told they weren’t alone, and that their complaints had been justified. But that would keep you focused on this past event which you handled well, and which can’t happen again.
You did nothing wrong. The shame was his. He knew it when you walked away.
Regarding the flabbergasted woman whose husband first sneakily bought another house for himself and his daughters without discussing it with her, then asked her to move there with him:
Reader: Don't move! He wants you to move into his house and sell your shared home. When it's sold and he gets his share, he will kick you out of his house and divorce you.
Ellie: A clear possibility, though her good relationship with his young daughters might have her consider giving the move a chance (while holding off selling their current house).
Regarding the husband who’s expecting his wife to cheat on him just as his past girlfriends had done:
Reader: What I’d add to your advice to Wrongly Accused is that, if her husband keeps up with his lack of trust issues, he may drive away his wife and give her a good reason to leave him.
Ellie’s tip of the day
#MeToo reveals the pain of someone trying to use and abuse you.