Warning Signs of a Bad Therapist

Whether most people would admit it or not, it is the rare person that could not benefit with psychological counseling or therapy. The basic therapeutic process enables the individual to not only explore troubling issues but also to interact on a deeper level, learn to actually listen and develop the ability to empathize with others. It is a journey of self-discovery that can be one of the greatest gifts we give to ourselves.

That said, while therapy can be extremely powerful and rewarding, the key is finding a therapist that is the right fit. This might mean one that a connection can quickly be established with or who has experience with the particular issues that need addressing. Credentials obviously matter, but a good rapport is critical. There are many competent and successful therapists that are simply the wrong fit, and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that and moving on. What should be avoided, at all costs, is continuing to work with someone who really isn’t a good therapist. This makes it very important to be able to recognize the warning signs of a bad therapist.   

Warning Signs to Watch for That Indicate a Bad Therapist

Knowing what to look for in your therapist can save a lot of time, money and unnecessary drama. Some red flags to watch for include:

Unethical behavior – this can include a wide range, such as sexual advances, violations of confidentiality, offensive comments or financial misconduct

Disregard for confidentiality and emergency protocol – before entering the therapeutic process, intake forms, emergency contact information, confidentiality agreements and rights and procedures should all be discussed and forms signed. It is important to establish expectations and understand the therapist’s requirements under the law about when and why they will be forced to break confidentiality.  

Does not specialize in your issue – lack of expertise in the area a client is experiencing difficulty does not necessarily make someone a bad therapist, but it does make them the wrong one. Claiming experience when that is not true does move the therapist into the “bad” category.

Recommendations do not respect your beliefs – a good therapist will listen and shift her vocabulary and suggestions to match with what is comfortable and aligns with the beliefs and value system of the client.

Improper boundaries – therapists should keep the focus on the client and share only limited personal information about themselves, and then only when the disclosure benefits the client in some way.

Sessions regularly make the client feel worse – it is not unusual to leave a session feeling drained or emotional, especially when it has been a particularly productive one in which significant issues have been discussed. This is not the same as always feeling worse when you leave than when you arrived. This can be a red flag that something is not as it should be.

Feeling judged, shamed or emotionally unsafe – it is a therapist’s job to make you feel safe in sharing the things about yourself that you prefer to keep hidden. Anything that proves counter to that is likely a sign that this is not the right therapist.

Poor listening skills – while no one will ever remember every detail that has been shared, your therapist should remember key information about you, your history and your issues. If you often find yourself having to repeat these kinds of things, it might be in your best interest to look elsewhere for a therapist with the ability to pay attention.

Session disruptions – one of the things that makes therapy so effective is that it is rare to spend time when the entire focus is on you and you have someone’s undivided attention. Anything that disrupts that, like phone calls, texts or inattention undermines the process.

Just not feeling “right” – no therapist is going to be perfect all the time and therapy can be uncomfortable but you will know when the feeling of it just not being “right” is more than that. Trust your instincts and keep looking until you do find the right fit.