Counselling Toolbox

The Bully And The Therapist

By Sharon Zucker

Years ago, I watched a comedian mock the song Fix You by Coldplay. He sang the verse “I will fix you” with disdain, then laughed. Now, I don’t know music very well, but this song resonated because, to me, it expressed love, dedication and investment in another. 

Don’t we all want that in a relationship? Why would this beautiful sentiment be mocked? At that moment, in my mind, he became the bully in the playground, picking on the compassionate and gentle child who just wants others to be OK.  And, I, by shouting at the TV, became the rescuer saving this poor, helpless multimillion dollar little band.

Just today, I listened to the song again, but this time, I found myself uncomfortable with those same lyrics that I, as a proud armchair warrior, once defended. I started to think about how it would feel if someone said those same words to me. I am not sure they would be greeted with warmth. 

To fix creates a story of inequality not only because it implies someone is broken but also it erases their agency. As we grow in our profession, so does our understanding of the power of one’s agency. Yet, the concept of wanting to fix still creeps into our sessions, becoming the fertiliser for so much of our own self-criticism.

Close up of a spanner fixing a drawing of a heart

Many trainee counsellors join the profession because they have a strong and admirable desire to help others. Sometimes, wanting to help invites the need to fix because to fix means to end discomfort. 

Fixing is tangible, measurable and gives professional reassurance. However, it is the client’s journey to direct. Their story to tell, not ours, and that means that oftentimes, therapists and clients sit in the grey not sure how things will play out.


The therapeutic relationship can feel counter to the behaviours of typical relationships. With everyday relationships, intimacy and trust grows slowly and in time we feel safe to tell our stories. However, in therapy, only the client shares their story, while the therapist quietly listens. We do this with the intent of good practice and appreciate the level of trust and the vulnerability experienced by the client. We understand the weight of holding that and our responsibility to our client, both of which can feel daunting.

However, as the therapist story remains untold, transference is easily fostered. A client is not only bringing into the room their understanding of relationships but also their understanding of therapy and of you, allowing many things to be reenacted in the room.


Oftentimes clients see therapy as a ‘fix’ and the therapist as the ‘fixer.’ The therapist is idealised expected to have the answers. It is easy to collude when our clients respond positively, but not every situation has a ‘fix” and sometimes in therapy feelings manifest in complicated ways. In this situation, the therapist usually falls from grace because that idealised version isn’t real.

Alternatively, the client may feel that the therapist and therapy are useless, not rooted in the real world. Their inner critic may externalise and become pointed at you, and you may respond by trying to prove your worth or, alternatively, questioning your worth.

We have our own script and learned defences that intensify when we feel vulnerable or under increased stress, which could include messages of not being good enough or maintaining unrealistic expectations etc. I have heard many therapists talk about their caretaker role in the family and this profession being an extension of their script, obtaining worth by making others OK. So, when that capacity, to make others OK is questioned there can be strong negative responses emotionally, somatically, and in our thought patterns and self-beliefs.

Young counsellor with hands on head screaming in frustration.


It is difficult during a session, to navigate and challenge negative messages. The psyche is not measurable so objectively evaluating our work when we feel anxious can be difficult. Oftentimes our inner critic will feel as powerful as the bully on the playground screaming in our ear:

“You are not good enough!”

“You are not helping!’

“How can you expect payment for doing nothing?”


Our interpretations of the books we read, movies we watch, and yes, even songs we listen to, change, so when dealing with the intangible, such as our perceptions of our own performance, our views will also change. It is difficult to ever obtain a clear picture of our work and so we can be susceptible to unwarranted self-criticism.

According to the psychotherapist Kathy Steele MNCS, the inner critic emphasises failures and emphasises comparisons. Emphasising failures is difficult to challenge, even when the session is finished. 

Our memories aren’t accurate and we may be pulled towards a negative interpretation that will continue to loop. With emphasising comparisons, the inner critic will never let us win. There will be unrealistic expectations of ourselves and idealised versions of the other. It will not be an objective reality taking shape in our mind.


As we support our clients, it is important to recognise that we also need support. Supervision allows us a second pair of eyes to explore what is happening in the therapy room.  

Someone to help us develop an accurate reflection and realistic expectations, to honestly assess and create a plan. A voice that reminds us that we are good enough and that mistakes are a normal part of life that can help us to grow. Through supervision, we can explore our own process and gain greater awareness of when and how it is influencing our work. 

However, sometimes, we need to engage in deeper therapeutic work to find our way through. This helps us identify the false messages that can swallow us whole and those outdated defences that slow our progression. 

Woman's hand holding a Be Kind sign

Self-compassion is key

Also, we all benefit from a bit of kindness and holding when we feel overwhelmed. It is incredibly potent to foster self-compassion when challenging those cruel messages from our past to help change the bullying voice to one of friendship instead.

Our work is important and because it is important, it is normal to experience obstacles and triggers along our professional journey. 

It is by working through these vulnerable moments that we strengthen our understanding and empathy for others. And when we clear the mind of these cluttered thoughts, we can just sit back and listen, using that new found free space to focus on the client.

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