Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Therapist Types: The Rescuer

This type is also very common and has several sub-types.  The rescuer may be male or female but is more often female (as mental health workers are predominately female anyway).  The Rescuer often projects a maternal or maternalistic feel.  Typically if her client is compliant than she is maternal, but if her client is non-compliant she becomes maternalistic, meaning she knows what best for the client.

Like the Narcissist, the Rescuer also likes dependent relationships.  But, she is less intolerant of antagonistic clients.  She may see the difficult client as a challenge to prove herself as a carer.  It goes with the whole maternal thing, after all.

The main identifying characteristic of the Rescuer is she does-for the client instead of teaching the client or challenging the client.  She takes on the problems of the client and does her upmost to fix them, or failing that, to protect her client from anything that might cause distress or pain.  She may go to extraordinary lengths to do so, such as giving the client access to her on a 24/7 basis.  In the business we call this poor boundaries and it results in . . . you guessed it . . . dependence on the therapist.

Protecting the client from distress or pain includes protecting the client from the natural consequences of his or her own choices and behaviors.  Rescuers will not confront their clients about their problematic behaviors or distorted thinking and they will resist any attempt by others to do so.  This comes from the belief that to do so will cause too much emotional distress to the client.  There may be a secondary rationalization that the client is being victimized by the judgments of others, and therefore is not responsible for his or her behavior.

The Rescuer feels good about doing-for.  It gives her the feeling she is helping and that’s why she became a therapist.  Her motivation is pure, and Rescuers are typically good people at heart, but, unfortunately, they are blind to the harm they do.  Because their motivation is “good,” they run on the belief that their intuitive values trump counseling ethics and best practice.  As a result they may resist or ignore supervision.  If she is allowed to practice like this unabated, she will often create a large clientele of child-like dependents who go to her for their every need.  That is when the Rescuer feels at home—at least, that is, until she gets burnt out and has to quit and abandon all her infantilized clients.

The Rescuer Symptom List:
  • Manner: friendly, good eye contact, touchy, huggy, minimal personal space.
  • Clothing:  lose-fitting casual clothing, often with beaded accessories and, of course, sandles.
  • Speech: every phrase is framed in the positive with no negative, critical or politically incorrect words spoken.
  • Resists challenging the client on beliefs or behaviors, sometimes to the point of reinforcing and even advocating for the client’s rationalizations and denial systems.
  • Continually in motion in the service of clients.  Looks like frantic activity, multitasking, advocating, interrupting therapy sessions to give crisis counseling to another client with a hangnail (for instance).
  • Does not set limits on availability to clients.  May give out home number or cell number.
  • Does not set limits on what she will do for clients.  May provide many non-therapy services such as giving rides, taking shopping, helping with chores, paying bills, etc.
  • Actively and assertively advocates in the community to prevent the effects and consequences of the client’s behaviors from having a negative impact without making any attempt to prompt a change in the problematic behavior.

The Wounded Healer
This is a sub-type of the Rescuer.  It is a commonly held maxim that psychologically wounded people are drawn to work in the mental health field.  This may be so, but not everyone displays their wounds on their sleeves—the Wounded Healer does.  She is more often female than male, but not exclusively so.

In the simplest form, she uses her personal history for therapeutic illustration.  In her worst form, she uses her personal material to create empathy from the client toward the therapist.  The Wounded Healer is a deeply empathetic carer toward clients who have a similar profile or history to herself, but she often has trouble understanding or empathizing with clients who do not.

Problems develop because (1) she cannot distinguish between her own issues and those of her clients, and (2) her divulging of her personal material puts an emotional burden on her clients.  She is motivated to connect with others who have suffered similarly to herself and, in some cases, may seek an empathic reaction.

The Wounded Healer Subtype Symptom List
  • Talks openly of her past psychological trauma in a manner that seeks an empathetic reaction or acknowledgement of a special condition/status.
  • Drawn to work with a special type of client that matches her own profile or history.
  • Has difficulty understanding or working with clients who do not share her issues.
  • Becomes emotionally enmeshed with clients and may misunderstand clients due to projecting her own issues on them.
  • Clients become emotionally burdened or alienated by the therapist’s needs.

The Alan Alda
This is another sub-type of the Rescuer.  This is specific to men who came of age in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Many men of this generation accepted the belief that men of previous generations were the source of all social ills through patriarchy, racism and violence.  To counter-act this, they were drawn to caring “feminized” professions where they could actively heal the wounds caused by patriarchy.

In character, they are beneficent and generally non-violent in word and deed.  The concept of non-violence may be so prominent that he is unable to make any comment that could be viewed as even remotely critical.  Because of this, this type is not able to effectively deal with entrenched denial or poor insight in a client.  They may even encourage denial in order to avoid the perception of conflict.  The exception to the rule of conflict avoidance is if he has a client who reports being a victim of injustice, especially sexist or racist injustice, then this type will become a fearless advocate and activist regardless of actual facts.

The Alan Alda Symptom List (symptoms in addition to the Rescuer symptoms)
  • Ponytail
  • Good listener
  • Mostly non-assertive.  In instances where he is assertive, he will be passive-aggressive and condescending.
  • Will inexplicably develop a spine and argue for the rights of his client if triggered by he perceives social injustice against his client.  This will be done with no attempt to actually verify the facts.


  1. Excellent! I appreciate you telling the truth and standing against the gale of the psychology industry. Keep writing!

    I am putting a link to your blog on mine.

    Jeanette Bartha
    "Multiple Personalities Don't Exist"

  2. Hi there,

    I am sure there are therapists like that, because I have a mother who is a Nurse who is similar. My therapist does think, from what I have told him, that there is a very very good chance she has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (despite what/how the DSM says/describes about/it these days)...

    I do find that I also have picked up a few bad habits from her, and learned from my enabling father as well, because I tried for a lifetime to fix my mom, and to be passive and shove down my emotions. You probably have heard this story before somewhere, blah, blah, blah.

    Anyway I am trying to be mindful of being "helpful" when I don't need to be, and also not to be a pushover and try to be honest about things without worrying about what the other person might think of me...

    If anything, I suspected my mom was a wounded healer (Carl Jungian term, no?) and suspect I might need to become more of a healer type than a wounded healer... 8P Here's hoping... I speak in past tense of my mom because I don't talk to her anymore. Had to untangle myself from her to find me and my sanity.

    Currently in a Facebook Group for ladies recovering from N moms, and if you don't mind I'd like to use your link in there for reference... 8)

    Thanks for the great article.

  3. Very interesting and can see many people I have worked with there.Ponytail made me laugh.

  4. What's wrong with loose fitting clothes and sandals? Would she be a better therapist if she wore tight fitting clothes and heels?

    1. Of course, nothing is wrong with loose fitting clothes. I was admittedly writing of a stereotype that is not always true, the stereotype that hippie aesthetic is correlated with poor critical thinking. I admit a bias here, but that doesn't mean the pattern isn't true.

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