Helping by Not Helping

As a psychotherapist, I've helped many clients deal with this dilemma, but being in this field has also put me in this quandary myself, and I'm sure it will happen again.

There have been times when I've had to make the difficult, frightening, and often sad decision to let a client know that it was in their best interest that I no longer “help” them. It has been for a variety of reasons in the past, and there will be new reasons that I will probably need to do likewise in the future.

But the central moral dilemma is the same: I know I've been helpful to that person, sometimes it's been for years of seeing them, yet circumstances have changed such that I have to acknowledge that what I have to offer is either no longer sufficient, and/or has become detrimental to their further growth. In those situations where it has hit me that this is the case, it's been a painful process of acknowledging my savior wishes and rescue fantasies, then override them, then have to find ways to gently yet firmly explain to the client that I can no longer work with them, and help facilitate getting them to more sufficient help – not an easy process at all!

I had two such cases at the same time about a year ago, and that was how I got to know Ofer, by reaching out to him for ethics consultations. He was so incredibly helpful in navigating those muddy, emotional waters. In both cases, the clients went on to thrive in ways that would've been impossible had I stubbornly, pridefully continued to try to “help” them.

I have to admit though, that I struggled afterward with a bit of, “Really? I was holding them back that much?” It was a bit of a blow to the ego (humble pie may not be tasty but is sure can be healthy), but well worth the profound satisfaction in knowing that I'd truly helped them by not helping them anymore.


— Laura L.

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