How to Spot a Bad Therapist

Making the choice to go see a therapist can be hard.  It’s an incredibly important and personal decision to admit you need professional guidance about some aspect of your life.  You feel vulnerable, maybe a little excited at the opportunity to change your life, and scared about the prospect of processing life events and moving forward.  I think a big reason why people don’t go to therapy is that they feel therapists will judge them.  It’s scary to admit to certain things and when you feel your secrets will be met with judgment, scorn, criticism, or blame; it can be used as a deterrent to going to work on your underlying issues.

Choosing the right therapist is part of the process of making sure you get the best help available.  However, many people don’t know how to “shop around.” When you go see a therapist, you put a lot of trust in their abilities to guide you or your family on the path to wellness.  However, this blind faith often goes unchallenged even when intuitively you feel the therapist is “off” or you don’t feel like there’s much progress being made.  After having been to some bad therapists myself, I thought I’d help others out with the process of selecting the best therapist.  When you don’t know what to look for, you can be at a disadvantage.

Here are some warning signs the therapist might not be for you:

  • They don’t talk about their confidentiality policy and emergency protocols, nor do they have you sign anything.
  • The therapist does not specialize in your issue.  Make sure you ask beforehand if they do.
  • They talk a lot about themselves.
  • You feel emotionally unsafe, judged, criticized, blamed, or ashamed.
  • They talk more than you do.
  • They “put on” you their beliefs and values.
  • They tell you what to do for a major life decision–like divorce–instead of having you come up with the answer yourself.
  • Therapist gives you frequent unsolicited advice (they are “preachy”).
  • You feel worse after the session than before–on a regular basis.
  • Your therapist has a hard time dealing with your anger.  You should be able to get as angry as you want without being chastised or shamed for the intensity of your emotions.
  • They don’t remember important things about your background.  The little things?  These can be forgiven, but those big issues that have affected your life should be remembered.
  • The focus isn’t on you.  Instead, they fall asleep, they are talking on the phone, etc.
  • You feel like something is “off.”  Trust your gut!  Pay attention to your intuition.  Do you feel “icky” after you leave?
  • Your life does not improve after going to therapy.
  • You don’t laugh (sometimes) in therapy.
  • Your therapist is mostly negative and does not see things in a positive light.
  • The therapist can’t admit they’ve made an error or they’re reactive when confronted with feedback.

Part of having a great therapeutic experience is to also bring up your concerns about your therapist to your therapist.  Pay attention to how they handle your concerns and questions.  How do they react?  Do they get defensive?  Do they raise their voice?

I’ve been to several therapists over the years and they’ve ranged from great to lousy.  One was one of our children’s when we were dealing with Parental Alienation (PA) and the therapist didn’t know what PA was.  Another thought her way of parenting was better than mine and would constantly give me advice on her way, put me down, and yelled at me in front of my children.  One talked more than I did and was so preachy that I never went back.  One of our client’s therapists told the client to get a divorce.  Another client’s therapist told the client to “back off” when they asked their partner if they were having an affair and they said they weren’t (turns out they were and this undermined the client’s self-esteem and intuition).

Going to therapy is a huge step for many people.  To get the most out of your time, effort, and money, make sure you have the right therapist for you.


6 thoughts on “How to Spot a Bad Therapist”

  1. I go it all right with my first therapist. She is absolutely wonderful and I still see her even though she doesn’t take insurance anymore. That’s how much I love her. Followed you from SITS. Have a blessed day.

    1. Good for you–She must add a lot to your life if you pay out-of-pocket. A good therapist who is a good fit for you is hard to find but can mean a world of difference!

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