It took me over 25 years just to start to see the manipulation and control my narcissistic husband had been using over me since the very beginning. When a therapist starts seeing a couple (usually a narcissist will never seek out therapy individually), it will generally take some time for them to understand the situation and diagnose it correctly. That being said, when my therapist told me that she believed my then husband was a narcissist, she said she saw the signs from day one because his behavior and words were so obvious. So, CAN a therapist actually see through a narcissist?
As a general rule, with today’s knowledge of narcissism as a personality disorder (not traits of narcissism), therapists are much better equipped to see through a narcissist and identify their behavior. Agencies that train their therapists on narcissistic behavior have become very adept at recognizing even the most covert narcissists. This is especially true when they come in for therapy with a spouse that shares their experience with the narcissist.
Some barriers to seeing through a narcissist can be identified, though. The biggest is when the therapist is a narcissist. Unfortunately, there are plenty of those around because narcissists gravitate toward exercising power over others in service-oriented industries. Also, when therapists are not trained well in narcissistic behaviors, they are unable to identify those behaviors and could find themselves sympathetic to the narcissist’s act and lies.
There is a lot more to the story than just the simple answer given above. Let’s take a closer look at how therapists see through narcissists–or in some cases, totally miss the cues.
Table of Contents
When Therapists see Through Narcissists Immediately
When we finally went to counseling toward the end of our marriage, it was because he was dragging me there to force me to “obey” his every desire. After six months of couples therapy, my therapist recommended I come in alone. It was actually my birthday. And I thought that this was it. I was going down. My husband had won.
That was not what happened though. That evening, my counselor sat me down in her office and said that she knew almost from day one what was going on. She said that for six months now he had commanded the room, talking over everyone including her. He controlled the narrative. And his narrative was all over the place. But she had noticed my story was always consistent. And she noticed that as long as he was in the room, I was never going to speak out. That is why she chose to counsel me alone that night and going forward.
Because she knew she wasn’t going to get through to him at this point, she passed him along to another counselor. It was a man who was a pastor as well as a counselor. And he had been in the Navy, like my then-husband was. She felt if anyone could make a connection to him and get through, it would be that counselor.
The new counselor also saw things for what they were immediately. In fact, the three additional counselors as well as the owner of the agency all did, because they frequently had training meetings, allowing the therapists to stay up to date in what they needed to know.
Finding the Right Agency
This is not unusual in the industry today. Most, if not all counseling agencies understand the ins and outs of narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder. But you do need to be careful. You can’t just walk into any agency. You must do your homework first.
There are some Christian counselors out there that do not believe in divorce, even for Biblical reasons. But yet they will tell you they do know the Bible. These are pretty easy to identify in that they are not licensed or certified as counselors with the state they are practicing in. The reason for this is because they don’t believe that the science of psychology can function in harmony with the Bible. They only use the Bible as their authority and throw away everything else. In the end they are missing a whole lot of healing and emotional well-being.
When the counselors started calling out my ex husband for his narcissistic behavior, he immediately told them all they were unbiblical. He was fine. The problem was them. Because of his accusations, our church leadership met with our counselors (the two already mentioned above) for 3 hours to grill them on their knowledge and understanding of the Bible. And they passed with flying colors!
That was not good enough for my ex, who had been an elder of that church for close to 15 years and had attended it for over 25 years. He moved on to a church that encouraged the oppression of women for the sake of “saving the marriage.”
They had recommended counselors that were “Biblical Counselors.” This is the name for counselors that believe in only using the Bible to counsel. It is different from Christian counselors, those who balance the secular psychology science with Scripture. I have to say I was amazed at how well the science of psychology lines up with God’s Word, even among psychologists who are not Christians.
You may want to read my article on why therapists and church leaders need to collaborate.
My Experience With “Biblical Counseling”
I have to put quotes around “Biblical Counseling” because it is referring to a type of counseling that is truly NOT Biblical. Let me explain my experience with it.
My church of 26 years was working with our counselors to try to heal our marriage and family. It finally got to the point that church discipline was imminent for my then-husband. He knew it and moved on to another church, citing his need to “find a more Biblical church.” This new church (OPC–Orthodox Presbyterian Church) was made aware of our issues by our leadership when the pastor of the new church reached out before approving his membership there.
The pastor of the new church agreed to allow my then husband to become a member but promised my church leadership he would proceed cautiously with him and fully cooperate with our church in holding him accountable in spite of the fact he had abused and abandoned his family.
He was assigned a “Biblical counselor” that was affiliated with that church because of some misconduct at our church when he switched over. He had emailed a letter to every member of the church except me, the pastor, and the elders. In it, he blatantly lied about his family, the church, the denomination (PCA–Presbyterian Church in America) for not taking his side in charges against the church, and his own bad behavior. He totally made himself the victim and everybody else the oppressor.
His counseling consisted of being forced to write a letter of apology to the church. And then tell them that he had repented and would not write any more letters to the church or its members. Then they told me that I needed to let him move back into our home. But they hadn’t even addressed the abuse! My church (and I) said there was no way we were letting him move back in when the abuse had not been worked through. Letting him back in would have been dangerous for our family! Yet, my ex’s counselor and church said they couldn’t work with his issues until he was back in the house. It was so nonsensical.
They also insisted on couples counseling rather than helping him work through his abuse issues first. He had previously used couples counseling to further bully and abuse me and my church and counselors knew that and explained it to them. But they still insisted unless I was willing to make myself vulnerable to my unrepentant abusive husband, they would not do anything to keep him accountable to the healing his previous church and counselors had prescribed.
They did not work with our church leadership and counselors in the end, and in fact, encouraged him to divorce me and encouraged him to marry the next woman just 6 days after we received our divorce papers. He is still a member in good standing of the daughter church of that original church. And they don’t believe he needs to be in counseling anymore, in spite of the fact that he is still a narcissist abusing his family from a distance. Fortunately, as time goes on, he has less and less contact with us and the abuse is slowly fading as his time with us lessens.
I have heard stories from his current wife and he has included us in some of his “games” with her. I do wonder how long it will be before she realizes what is going on. Right now, she is in the “he would never do that on purpose” stage.
When it Takes Some Time for Therapists to see Through Narcissists
When Therapists Don’t Understand Enough About Narcissism
Sometimes therapists will be able to see the narcissism but don’t really understand how to handle it in the best way. They may be scared of crossing the narcissist. That puts everyone in a holding pattern at the mercy of the narcissist, who continues to run the show.
Or they may just want to make everyone including the narcissist feel good, which only makes the narcissist feel good because he is still holding everybody hostage for the sake of keeping him appeased. They just don’t understand that the narcissist will manipulate everything and everyone until people take back their own control. As a general rule, the narcissist isn’t interested in healing, just in getting themselves to their next goal.
Sometimes the narcissist will use the therapist’s words and counsel to pretend he’s healing. He will learn the right words to say so people will think things are getting better. And that allows the narcissist to get back things he has lost. Once he has those things back, the “healing” goes out the window. That’s because it was never about healing, but about doing whatever it takes to get what he wants.
I was very fortunate that my first counselor knew all of these things well. So every time my ex feigned healing, she would always sit tight to see if his actions matched his words. They never did. And after a few months he realized he couldn’t fool her or his counselor. So he told them they were unbiblical and refused to go back.
While it would seem like a loss when the counseling didn’t go well and kicked off the end of the marriage, it was actually a blessing in the long run. I knew that I had done everything I could. The counselors did everything they could. And our family is now so much better off because we are no longer walking on the eggshells of living with a narcissist.
When Therapists Fail to see Through Narcissists
There are still some (although I would think very few) therapists out there that do no see through the behavior of narcissists. I only ran into one in my experience. And fortunately, my ex didn’t like her either. She was part of a court order to make sure that my youngest son and ex did everything possible to repair their broken relationship.
After a few sessions, it was obvious she was not going to do any work toward healing. She was more interested in forcing court ordered visitation. When I spoke with my ex, surprisingly, he was very willing to change counselors as well as agencies. I think his reason was because he had been charged wrongly by the agency and was glad to not have to deal with their poor billing department. Whatever the reason, I was glad that my son was not stuck in that holding pattern.
When therapists fail to see through narcissists, the narcissists pick that fact up very quickly. And they manipulate the hell out of it. They will control everyone in the room. Every time. Because the therapist is not able to make any progress, anything that comes up in the counseling session will be fodder for the narcissist to take it out on his family once he gets home and back behind closed doors. Things will end up way worse than they were before the therapist.
One of the worst experiences of therapists that fail to see through narcissists is that they fall for the lies, gaslighting, and manipulation of the narcissist. They end up perceiving the narcissist as the victim and the victim as emotionally immature. And they will heap more abuse on the true victim because they have no idea the narcissist has completely turned things around on them. These therapists will go out of their way to make sure the narcissist gets all of the sympathy and understanding, while barely acknowledging any of the hurt or experience of the narcissist’s victim. It is a dark place to be in.
When the Therapist is a Narcissist
This may be the most disheartening situation of all. Just like the church is supposed to be a safe place from abuse and judgment, so the therapist is supposed to be a safe place as well.
Unfortunately, narcissists can be found in therapist circles, just like any other service industry that they can have an influence over other people. It is important that you understand the tactics of narcissism so you can recognize when your therapist is a narcissist.
The problem is that if you aren’t familiar with narcissism, you can’t know what you are up against. I had no idea that my ex husband was a narcissist until 8 months into counseling. And I had googled the issues to death to find a solution but never did!
If you are reading this article, you are way ahead of where I was! I have another article that talks about what to look out for in narcissistic behavior. Feel free to check out all of my other articles here so you can read the ones that speak to you.
Additionally, reading some great books on the subject will be invaluable to your experience and healing. The best one I have read is The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick. I have recommended this in several of my other articles. It is that amazingly good! This book alone is worth several good counseling sessions, especially if you work through her CORE principles! Check it out here:
Will a Narcissist go to Therapy on Their Own?
A narcissist will never go to therapy on their own. It has to be either court ordered or because the narcissist is dragging someone else to counseling with him. He will force people to go to therapy because he thinks he can manipulate the therapist into believing him and making the other person “obey” him. That is exactly what happened to me.
He convinced me to go to counseling with him to save the marriage. He agreed that whoever the counselor found in the wrong would right their behavior. And I naively agreed. What neither of us realized was that everybody has stuff to fix.
I worked very conscientiously with the counselor and learned a lot. I was not as emotionally healthy as I thought I was. But I grew a lot!
My ex did not. A couple of times the counselors were able to make some slight progress with him. But the second he felt any vulnerability, he would clam up and any progress would be gone instantly. Nothing ever got better for him. And the more he was called out, the deeper he spiraled into the more anger and narcissism.
Why You Should NEVER do Couples’ Counseling With a Narcissist
The quick answer to why you shouldn’t do couples counseling with a narcissist is because the narcissist will use it to further harm their family. And they will literally abuse their spouse throughout the counseling session.
I do want to qualify this. I started out in couples’ counseling with my ex. At the time, I had no idea he was a narcissist. And I thought that it could save our marriage. But what happened once we got to counseling? He took over the dialog. And he ruled the session. Over time, my counselor put a stop to it, once she was sure of what was going on.
So, in the vein that we found out what was really going on and able to get me and my kids to a safer place, it was a good thing. If one of us (or both of us) had gone to counseling alone, it would have been so much harder for the counselors to figure it out. They wouldn’t have seen our dynamic.
So in the case of initially going to couples’ counseling, I think it’s a good idea. To keep on doing couples’ counseling with no healing in sight and the narcissist controlling the narrative would be incredibly harmful to everyone involved.
So, to quickly recap, in the majority of counseling settings today, therapists see through narcissists pretty quickly and effectively. They generally can’t restore the relationship in most cases. In the case of a narcissist that is low on the spectrum the chances are greater.
In my case, finding the counselors we did was a win-win. They correctly diagnosed the narcissism and even though we weren’t able to save our marriage, the kids and I are no longer walking on eggshells and afraid to say or do anything for fear of his wrath. Life isn’t perfect. But it’s so much better!
There are still some cases where your counselor may not be trained properly in narcissism, or there are cases where the therapist is a narcissist. You must make sure to research well. And if things are not what they should be, find another counselor! You have to find a counselor who works well and resonates with you!
How are things for you? Did you see a counselor? How did it go? How is life now? I would love to hear your story. Feel free to share in the comments below. Or if you feel unsafe to post publicly, you can reach me here.
Blessings and hugs,
If you found this article valuable, I think you will also find the following articles valuable:
- How Narcissists Use Religion to Control and Manipulate You - December 26, 2023
- Do Flying Monkeys Ever See the Truth? - December 16, 2023
- Flying Monkeys Spying: Understanding and Dealing With It - September 21, 2023