science of us

What’s the Most Memorable Thing a Therapist Ever Told You?

Photo: Caiaimage/Rafal Rodzoch/Getty Images/Caiaimage

I went to a therapist for the first time recently. People had been encouraging me to go for years, and therapy had always sounded like a great idea — for other people. But then life got away from me, and therapy began to seem like it really couldn’t hurt. And then, of course, the therapist I met with was funny, warm, and thoughtful, and I loved it. I went for broke in our first session, trying to squeeze in my whole life story. The things she said throughout were direct and refreshing, but a few turns of phrase stood out to me. Among them: “I hope you’re hearing what you’re saying” (I was), and “this isn’t the life you want for yourself.” Also: “It’s arrogant to think that no one else could make you laugh.”

Our session gave me new tools for thinking about my own life, but it also made me curious about the things that other people’s therapists have said over the years — the turns of phrase that linger in mind long after a session is over. I put the question to Twitter: What has a therapist said to you that still stands out in memory? From the serious, to the strange, to the uncategorizable. Here are my favorite responses.

“We give what we want.” I’d heard the phrase before, but at that particular session I was ready to hear it. So that’s why my husband gets so annoyed with me for not celebrating him on Facebook, which he does for me! So that’s why I feel unappreciated and unloved when no one sends me a heartfelt note, even though I always do! He gives (public praise for me) what he wants (public praise from me). I give (the note) what I want (a note). This insight has helped me understand my own feelings and better appreciate what motivates others. Look at what they give. It’s what they want. —Linda F.

After many years of seeing the same therapist, she called me on lying. It was about a guy I was seeing who was, no surprise, not good for me and totally addicting. She said “I feel I am not getting the full and true story,” and she was right. It blew my mind. “Full and true story” is now part of my personal mental screen about truthfulness. And more important: It was transformative. She was right, and I changed because of it. —Siobhan O.

“Sex can die out of a relationship long after the communication does.” —Caroline F.

“You live your life by a strict set of rules, but you don’t trust anyone else enough to show them the rulebook. And then you get mad at the injustice, but the person upsetting you doesn’t even know they’re breaking the rules.” —Chris M.

Maybe not what you’re looking for, but an old therapist once told me that her husband’s name was Michael, and that her daughter and son were Michael and Michaela. I really questioned her judgment after that. —Trudy C.

My first therapist kept using pop culture references to contextualize my friends and family, and it drove me crazy. He would say, “This friend sounds like the Kramer of your group” which made what I was talking about feel trivial but also bothered me because I didn’t have a “group,” per se, and I didn’t know why he would refer to it that way. Did he imagine me in a coffee shop with fun regulars poring over the day’s details? Why didn’t he realize that he was inadvertently pointing out the fact that I didn’t have a sitcom-esque group to support me? Also, he would say it in a slow, seemingly thoughtful way, like a therapist on the verge of saying something profound like, “Hmmm … your friend … your friend sounds a bit like the Kramer of the group.” It made it all the more annoying. —Ricky C.

A stern Ukraininan therapist who always wore five-inch stilettos said to me, totally deadpan, “You like the computer too much.” —Katie W.

A therapist once told me to read The Da Vinci Code. —Brian S.

When I am dumbfounded and annoyed by my husband’s behavior: “You need to be curious. There is a reason, and logic alone won’t explain it.” —Mare M. 

Once I was anxious about some sexual preference, and my therapist’s response was to ramble about a documentary about orthodox Jewish men struggling with being gay. The movie was about them questioning what it meant for them to be gay, and how could they express it and still love g-d, etc.? And I was like, “So what does that have to do with me and [redacted]?” And he said, “Don’t overthink what you like.” Then he made all these caveats about preferences that might hurt other people in a nonconsensual way. But the potency of the original advice remained. —Jen V.

My therapist said I didn’t have to stay married. That one was a real mind-bender, especially since I’d already been divorced once. I felt a lot of shame around it happening again, but she said that that wasn’t a good enough reason to stay in an unhappy marriage. —Lianne J.

During an intro session for postpartum anxiety/depression: “So how many children do you have?” Just one. She takes a deep breath, shakes her head and chuckles. “So you’re feeling overwhelmed and you only have *one* child to take care of?” Continues chuckling. —MacKenzie K.

My therapist told me that the difference between someone you know and a friend is that the latter reaches out to you. I had been initiating all my social encounters at that point. To this day, I feel an immense gratitude when a friend touches base apropos of nothing. On the other hand, if I’m always the one to say hey, it helps me gauge when someone just isn’t interested in me. —John T.

An uber-trippy therapist who was really into energies (and who had only seen me and my husband a few times) told me that some people are planners and others just float through life. She told me I was a floater. I took great offense. I am a Virgo.  —Leah B.

When I described to my therapist some self-harming actions as “my intuition,” she corrected me and said, “Not your intuition, your habit.” This distinction, and the mistaking of a bad habit as intuition, is one I think about often. —@thirteenpints

“And what was it about Gladiator that you liked so much?” This being one of the few very specific questions my therapist has ever asked me. I was floored. —Lauren F.

I went through several psychiatrists when I was in my early twenties (I’m 43 now). I only had one appointment with the worst of these, and here’s why. At the time, I had long pink hair, most of which I had stuffed under my Kangol. She noticed a strand hanging out and, thinking it was attached to my hat, asked if it was something symbolic. “Oh, no, it’s just my hair,” I replied, taking off the hat. “Oh, I see,” she said, and began to write in her notepad. And continued to write. And didn’t stop writing for a good two minutes, which definitely did not make feel awkward or judged at all. I wrapped up our session minutes later and earlier than scheduled. She made no attempt to stop me. —Nate C.

“I’ve never heard of Vanderpump Rules.” —Nancy M.

Not a phrase, but she fell asleep. (Sitting across from me. As I was talking. Well, I mean technically, I had momentarily paused.) —Laura J. M.

It was horrible at the time, but now I dine out on this therapy nightmare a whole bunch: My former therapist got engaged while I was in the middle of a protracted breakup, which I was taking especially hard because I had talked about possibly marrying the guy (a bad, bad idea in retrospect, but whatever). She brought up her engagement frequently, once wondering aloud in a session if her fiancé and my boyfriend knew each other (they had similar jobs). She came to another session directly from a hair & makeup test for her wedding (like, aggressive eye makeup and a fancy updo), and when I was settling up on bills after I stopped seeing her, she asked me to “make note” of her new, married name. —Jenny R.

She said: “Therapy (and self-improvement more generally) is like a spiral: You go around and around, and hit the same points and topics again and again, but each time you encounter them, you’re deeper into the issue.” —Anonymous

I had been seeing the same therapist weekly for two years, but he was moving to another city, so we essentially had to break up. At my last appointment, I went all in and basically asked, “So what do you think is wrong with me? Like what are my issues?” And he very immediately said, “You don’t trust men, which makes a lot of sense because many men in your life have treated you poorly. You have distinct episodes of depression and anxiety, and sometimes your mood swings are so severe I’ve pondered if you’re bipolar, but I’ve concluded you are not.” Like, wow! Why aren’t they this direct all the time? It was wildly refreshing. —Kaitlin M.

“I, too, watch The Bachelor.” —Annie S.