abusive therapistsI am a psychologist and had lots of psychotherapy myself. I have to come to the conclusion that, overall, the mental health system in this country is severely flawed. As to whether individual outpatient psychotherapy is helpful or harmful, I think one's experience totally depends upon the spiritual/emotional/mental state of the therapist. Therapy is only as good as the therapist. It is true, I believe even documented by research, that persons who enter into one of the "mental health" professions often do so as a way to heal themselves, although this desire may not be in their conscious awareness. That said, therapists who take their work seriously and work on themselves by being in their own personal therapy and an ongoing supervision/consultation relationship (where the therapist consults with a more senior therapist on a regular basis for difficulties encountered when working with clients) can often be or become very good therapists, because they've "been there." On the other hand, therapists who have narcissistic or sociopathic traits-and they are out there-usually think they don't need therapy or supervision.
It is important to keep in mind that there are many ways to become a therapist. I worked for an online university that granted PhD's in psychology and they accepted everyone who applied! Even traditional universities, which are more difficult to get into, rarely "kick" out a student. In my program (which was accredited by the American Psychological Association) a student had a sexual relationship with one of her clients and essentially nothing happened to her. She's out there practicing today (and living with her client).
As someone else said, like in any profession, there are some great practitioners and some incompetents. Unfortunately, psychology is no different-even though people's hearts and souls are on the line!