the practice of claiming to have [professional] standards or beliefs to which one's own [professional] behavior does not conform; pretense.
Many of you know me as a coach who is passionate about teaming up with my therapist clients in order to support their goals with focus and determination. Most of my blogs are centered around supportive tips and practical tools in order to extend encouragement and information.
Today I am stepping into a new topic and writing on a sensitive subject that has been coming up in my coaching sessions more and more...professional hypocrisy.
I Never Saw it Coming Either
I have been very fortunate in my clinical career. I have lovely relationships with other therapists; I have collaborated on projects with some of the best and the brightest; and I have had the opportunity to publish, speak nationally, and connect with truly beautiful healers all over the globe. I am one grateful gal.
Back in the days of my clinical internships and my certification process, I had amazing supervisors, and to this day, each one holds a special place in my heart. I have endeavored to surround myself with men and women of integrity, grit, humor and professionalism. In the decade that I have been practicing, I have often experienced a sense of deep gratitude that there were only two or three negative experiences in my journey. And, the greatest joy has been the wonderful relationships with colleagues all over the US and abroad, many of whom I now call friends.
Like each of us, I had heard the horror stories from other therapists on traumatic experiences with a supervisor, a partnership, or with a colleague that had gone south. I have compassionately supported my coaching and CSAT supervision clients who have experienced this - encouraging them along as they healed their professional pain and continued moving toward their goals.
Until last year I had felt pretty darn lucky never to have experienced some of what I have witnessed and heard about. And then sadly, I learned first hand exactly how hurtful this kind of experience can be. It took me months to wade through the confusion and pain of being collectively snubbed by a group that I had been a supporter of for years.
While deeply hurtful and confusing at the time, today I am grateful for that opportunity as it now allows me to empathize vs. simply sympathize with my coaching clients who have experienced this.
So, as the saying goes, the pen in mightier than the sword. If I can take my hurt and turn it into an instrument of healing through this simple blog to help other colleagues, then that is what I call a gift in the wound.
The Dirty Secret
Professional hypocrisy within the clinical world happens more than you might expect. And, it is a topic that comes up with my coaching clients more than I would have anticipated. Clients sometimes share with me that part of their fear of moving forward in building their private practice is because of professional trauma and hurt due to another therapist, supervisor, colleague, or coach (s). Their trust has been broken, their confidence undermined, or they fear retaliation.
One of the most important aspects to owning and operating a small business is honesty, expertise, authenticity, and extending respect and consideration to every single person, employee, and client we come into contact with. Top on the list, at least in my book, is that our professional public face matches our professional private face.
Yet sometimes the professional mask we view and interact with when it comes to other professionals doesn't always match the behind the scenes experience. Sometimes the mission statement is in opposition to what is really going on behind closed doors.
When Professional Words and Actions Do Not Match
Many therapists have shared with me that at some point in their journey toward building a successful private practice, they had a relationship with a colleague, coach, supervisor, or organization that, on the surface, seemed to have it all together. Professionals or organizations who espoused the importance of valuing self, of valuing others, of valuing our time, charging our worth, treating others fairly and with respect, who speak on the importance of ethical business practices, a healthy tribe, integrity, and so forth. And, at the start they got pulled in...hook, line and sinker (and check book).
I've been there too. We may think, "Wow! I really like their message. The testimonials seem to be very positive as well. I think they will provide the service or information I need to move forward. Sign me up!" However, when we move into a deeper relationship (perhaps we attend a training, a workshop, a conference, or we team up and work with them on a project or event), suddenly the mask slips and a very different face is revealed.
A persona emerges that stands in opposition of the carefully crafted public facade. More and more money is charged, and we are being "up sold" to over and over again as they waive their latest and greatest carrot. Their fees are not even close to being affordable for most, yet they manipulate others into giving freebies, or they do not pay for a service.
They do not publicly acknowledge or thank colleagues who have been supportive. They snub those who they perceive as a threat, their boundaries are all over the place, fees increase at a dizzying rate, they are not honest about affiliate relationships, their expertise or experience is actually fairly minimal, or they are a jack of all trades and expert of none, they employ 1099 when, in fact, these employees are W2 - and then encourage others to do this, they do not practice what they preach, they treat other "team members" poorly behind the scenes, they can't hold on to an assistant, their brand continues to change, they penny pinch everywhere while discussing the importance of charging what you are worth, people attend workshops and webinars and conferences over and over again in a frenzy to keep up with the latest trend, technology or tribal chant.
And so the story goes with these folks.
Though I am happy to report that this has happened very rarely in my experience (likely because I am nearly 54 years old and have owned and operated two other successful businesses in the past and have had years of experience in corporate America), unfortunately, I have experienced this as well, and I know first hand how disheartening it can be. When a person or team that we have put our trust in betrays us, or uses and then discards us, it can be more than a little heartbreaking - especially if you had greatly respected, admired, or had invested and supported that person or organization over a period of time.
12 Ways to Move Forward after a Professional Betrayal
If you are reading this blog, you have likely had this experience as well. If so, my heart goes out to you. It can be such a challenging season of hurt and confusion and I hope the following information will support your own healing. My best and most compassionate advise if you have been burned by a professional relationship or organization is as follows:
1. As hard as it may be, extend the benefit of the doubt. First lead with grace and do not assume the worst. Perhaps it was a simple misunderstanding. We all make mistakes after all!
2. Approach the individual (s) and/or organization professionally and with respect. Let them know what your experience was. Use non-blaming words to share your experience.
3. Then allow space for a response. Seek first to understand their position, while honoring that your experience was valid as well. If you are met with silence try to reach out one more time and then, depending upon the circumstance, move forward, learn what you were intended to learn from the experience, and focus on your healing.
NOTE: If you were badly burned, then perhaps seeking legal counsel is wise. This would be a very last resort however (unless what has happened truly crosses legal boundaries). If what they have done crosses ethical boundaries...it is best to decide how much time you are willing to invest in engaging any further. Sometimes the best gift to give yourself is to move forward.
4. Be responsive vs. reactive. They may respond negatively. They may refuse to take ownership. They may bob and weave, they may gaslight you. If so, take a deep breath. Give it some space. Then respond reasonably vs. react in anger. If no apology is offered, or silence is used as violence, as hard as it will be, choose to be the wiser person and re-focus on more important things.
5. If ownership and an apology is offered, accept this graciously and move forward. The best relationships are usually the strongest when a rupture is quickly addressed and repaired. If only one person within that organization takes ownership and makes an apology, the person who was wounded will usually go on to be the biggest cheerleader of the organization.
Conversely, unwise people and organizations who refuse to mend a fence that they have intentionally or unintentionally kicked down are short sighted. Instead of making amends, they sweep this under the rug there by allowing unhealthy energy to grow. When I hear about this kind of behavior it is a sure sign of inexperience. It demonstrates poor business practices and a stubborn inflexibility. More importantly, the offending person or organization misses a beautiful opportunity to not only practice humility and growth, but to create a loyal customer or colleague for life.
Remember: There are no perfect people. Everyone of us will need to own a misstep at some point in our professional path. And anyone who believes they are exempt from extending an apology as a business owner (including this business owner) from time-to-time is rather...well, foolish.
6. Do not demand. Do not threaten. Do not in engage in hostile back and forth communication. Be the bigger person if they decide to take it to that level. It they attempt to escalate, simply disengage.
7. Do not gossip. If no ownership is taken, if no apology is offered, if your experience is minimized and your pain ignored, then seek good counsel with trusted supports. Find one or two safe people who will hear your hurt and offer support...or just lend a listening and empathetic ear. Humor is also a great tool for healing! And, don't be surprised if the feedback you receive validates your experience. Where one person has been treated poorly by a person or group, likely others have as well. Sloppy business practices on the inside will show up eventually as looking sloppy on the outside. And, on this note, don't spread gossip either, especially if you are not the person who was burned.
8. If the offending person (s) refuse to have a healthy discussion, then let them know your door is open should they be willing to have a healing conversation in the future. Set good boundaries, keep your chin up butter cup, and move forward with your shoulders back. Remember: Their refusal to understand your experience and repair their side of things is not about you. We are all in a process of learning and growing, and those who refuse to accept this will learn the lesson at a future date.
9. If the offending party or organization suggests that there is something wrong with you, refuse to be shamed or manipulated. This is a form of bullying and you need not be a victim of this. I have had colleagues share that they were labeled as, "Entitled, Borderline, Narcissistic, etc." by supervisors, coaches, colleagues and organizations. When I hear about this kind of traumatic abuse within our field, I am disgusted to my core. It is the worst kind of manipulation and power play. The insidious traumatic impact is that the wounded party is afraid that they will be labeled as the, "crazy one, the difficult one, the unreasonable one, or the negative one." If this has happened to you, my heart goes out to you. Try your best not to let this type of character assassination interfere with your decision to move away from a toxic professional relationship or organization.
Remember, stand in your truth, and know that the way you have treated others over time - with respect, kindness, and support- will be the firm foundation you stand on. It matters not what an individual or two have to say about you if you have demonstrated yourself to be a person of ethics and professionalism to everyone else. Therapists are generally a pretty kind and savvy bunch, and it won't be long until others begin to catch on to the real story.
10. Refuse to be bullied. If the offending person, parties, or organization threaten you in overt or covert ways privately or via social media (i.e. You will be banished from the tribe, we will refuse to acknowledge you, we will sue you, we will subtly let others know that you are not a healthy person, we will drop hints or little jokes about you being difficult, etc.) refuse to be bullied. You do not deserve to be further traumatized via social media or email. Stand firmly and with dignity in your truth. And keep on truckin'!
11. Remove yourself from triggers. If you are in a social media group and they continue to market, engage and post, you can either choose to ignore their posts, or you can simply remove yourself. I realize this can be a difficult step, especially if you see the person or team advertising, or posting "feel good" memes that fly in the face of what you have experienced. Especially if people you respect, trust and care about are cheerleaders for this person or group. Take a deep breath, roll your eyes to yourself if you must, say a prayer, do not refer to them or endorse them (and if asked, state simply, "My experience was not the best, and I am not comfortable giving an endorsement, but perhaps you will have a different experience"), be the bigger person, get out in nature - find a tool to deal with the trigger. As a last resort, you can also block them so that you don't have to see anything they are posting.
A gentle reminder that may help: Eventually, groups that are being run by inauthentic, controlling people with an agenda, or "leaders" who lack insight or ownership, or those who have carefully crafted a great outer mask, will begin to implode on themselves. Small cracks will eventually be revealed, they will burn other people as well, and pettiness will happen within the ranks. It may take years, but it will happen. It always does. How they treat others is indicative of how they will treat one another eventually. It is a house of cards waiting to fold.
12. Their reputation will eventually proceed them. Perhaps 10, 100 or 1,000 people are cheerleaders of this person or company. Perhaps these cheerleaders are even friends and colleagues of yours. Perhaps they are leaders in their field. Perhaps you feel shame or uncertainty about how these cheerleaders will treat you if they find out you are not a fan. Fear not...eventually others will catch on and eventually it will become evident that "the emperor has no clothes." Instead of focusing on when that will happen, just focus on moving forward with dignity.
In closing, if you have experienced this as well in your professional journey, you are not alone. I truly hope this blog article has been healing in some small way. I stand in support of you not allowing someone's lack of insight or integrity, their arrogance, refusal to take ownership, unethical behaviors, jealousy, or their stubbornness in offering an apology derail your dreams of moving toward accomplishing your professional goals. Instead, let that past pain and their unkind behavior be the gas in your tank that fuels you to being the very best you can be!
Moving Forward - You got this!
Achieving your dreams and aligning yourself with a healthy, supportive tribe vs. a scared, competitive herd is the best way of healing past hurts while being the bigger person. Don't let someone's hypocrisy be the reason you stopped.
If you have been hurt in this way, without naming names or organizations, you are welcome to share your experience in a safe way below. You will not be judged, you will not be labeled as unhealthy, you will not be diagnosed. You will be heard and you will be supported on this forum - without any hidden agenda.
Kindly and in support,
Mari A. Lee, LMFT, CSAT-S