Gary Direnfeld / bullying, inappropriate, unprofessional
I sought out an appointment with Gary Direnfeld as I was engaged to a man with whom I had a 10 month old baby, and various anger management issues, etc., had gone beyond what I could manage on my own (since the birth of my son), and I had seen Gary on TV and had appreciated his calm, forthright manner with the couples. My son's dad and I had already been to counseling but the therapist's reaction to my significant other having hit me on 2 occasions was: "Are you going to do it again 'Joe'?" ...no..."OK, then he said no, do you think you can move past this so we can move along Jane?"...that was it! ...and along with other trivializations of what we went through, hence my hopes in another therapist, Gary.
I paid an exorbitant amount of money (almost $400) for 90 minutes, out of my maternity leave pay as I was so desperate for something that would be worth our while as I wanted answers for my son and I...whether it was advice on how to stay together with his dad or to part ways - I was willing to hear it.
The emotional trauma of that 90 minutes has never left me, ...after listening to what I'm certain was no more unusual that many couples' issues of insecurities, lack of coping skills, anger management issues (I would find out years later that my ex had been brutally abused as a young child by his mother, abandoned by his father, and had left home to live with 'friends' at a young age), hence many of his issues which greatly exacerbated after I had my son. Anyway, after very little listening, Gary proceeded to rant at the two of us, in a way I have never seen other than perhaps on 'Judge Judy' or something of the like...it was like an angry, mean, cruel version of 'Dr. Phil'. I was stunned silent and gutted at the things he said. He went so far as to say that we should have never had a child, that we didn't deserve our child, and that if we "were decent people, we would give up our child for adoption"!!! Now, I can imagine that being advice that's reasonable for some horrible, abusive parents somewhere out there in the world, but this was so off-base it was absolutely flabbergasting. Our child was loved, adored, well-cared for, by us and by my whole extended group of loving family and friends. Yes, we were not getting along, and we did not belong together as a couple, but we both loved our son and are (and were always) loving and doting parents to him. He is the very center of our lives.
He really went off on my ex as well, and while I probably didn't mind (at that time) my ex being told that "There would never be enough 'tools in his toolbox' for us to work it out", to this day I don't see where the therapeutic value was in much of what he said.
In hindsight I have to wonder if he was going through his own issues or something else was going on to affect his judgment and demeanour...but either way, I will never forget that comment that I should give up my child for adoption. I cried myself to sleep for weeks. I would intermittently think of this for months and years to come, and wonder what it was about me (and my ex) that we should be told by someone so 'expert' and 'trained' and celebrated, to give up our child??? I am so like my sisters, cousins, girlfriends, etc., in my mothering, nurturing and love for my child. I'm a health professional and a smart, caring, kind one... and a volunteer in society and I sit on boards dedicated to child welfare issues as one of my interests...how could giving up my child be something he could say to me???! (of course he didn't know any of these things about me, or what kind of mother I was).
I imagined that maybe he thought we were a couple of people that he could just get away with this, and wield his 'power' over our vulnerable state, project his own anger at whatever (?) onto us, or whomever was unlucky enough to walk into his home that day...I will never really understand. But this has sat in my heart so heavily for so long. I always wanted to relieve myself of the burden of his cruel suggestion, but didn't know how, couldn't understand it.
Well, I did leave my ex a month later, just because I knew it could not work without my ex choosing to deal with his anger against women, and it wouldn't be a great environment for my son to grow up in. My ex is a much better person, and a happier, better dad around my son since I left him almost 5 years ago now. Becoming a father helped him in many ways, and although I know he still struggles in his relationships with women, at least my son isn't there to be witness to it for any length of time. His dad lives a few hours away and so he visits him for all long holiday periods and long weekends, but is primarily with me and his step-dad.
My son is the happiest, smartest, most engaging child, and continues to be the center of my whole world. And I am a wonderful mother and I shouldn't tear up when I hear this from my son, or my husband, or my mom, or my friends...but I do, because this horrible fear and judgment sat with me so long...and I guess still lingers despite the fact that it doesn't seem rationale.
I will never be able to guess at why Gary said those things, and I get that people are human, they have bad days, and aren't always right at the top of their game...but in his field, there is no room for such a breach in ethics and duty to care.
I know he has knowledge and has had great successes; but I hope there isn't even one other single person like my ex and I who suffered at his judgments like we did. If he could make 2 educated professionals who love and care for a child wonderfully, feel so absolutely gutted as parents (and when we went to him for help with marital counseling!), what effect could he have had on those with less esteem, education, family support, etc.? I hate to think of a single other parent taking his harsh words to heart, while in a vulnerable state. I think Gary's ego can get away from him and yield him recklessly cruel, and this could put his patients/clients at risk.
I personally think maybe he has compassion fatigue and should stick to books and acting out his therapy on his reality TV show, where people can't be subjected to his unprofessional, acrid and off-base judgments.