Is it useful to see more than one therapist at a time?

This is a question I’ve been asked many times, by clients who come to me and on Quora.  Here’s my answer:

I don’t recommend seeing more than one therapist at a time.  In fact I won’t see a client who has another therapist, they have to choose.

There is the obvious reason that the two therapists are different people with different ideas and may disagree or take the client in different directions, which could be confusing. But a deeper problem has to do with transference:

If the client had a parent who was abusive or just inadequate, that same parent was probably occasionally functioning well as a parent also. The child, to deal with this uncertainty about what they are going to “get” from the parent often does that the psychiatric community calls “splitting.” In the child’s mind (s)he divides the parent up  as “the good Mommy” and “ the bad Mommy” even though the parent is one person. So if the client starts having a negative transference with one therapist that one becomes the “bad Mommy” and the other the ‘good Mommy” which makes it very difficult if not impossible to help the person work through the negative transference. Working through transference problems is often the most important work of therapy.  Allowing two therapists is a  set up for “splitting,”and it is totally counterproductive to that person having a successful therapy experience. I think it is a bad idea even with clients who appear relatively well; the “walking wounded” successful adult who comes in with a minimum of problems. An exception can be that the primary therapist encourages the client to go to a specific kind of therapy for a specific amount of time for a specific reason,  and it is something that the primary therapist doesn’t offer. Examples might be joining a group or going for EMDR therapy.

There are sometimes particular reasons for a client to want two therapists. One not so good one that I have encountered is that  having 2 therapists  keeps the client from getting close to either therapist. That might not even be conscious for the client, and that avoidance of intimacy won’t be dealt with if they are allowed to have two therapists.

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