10 Signs of a Bad Therapist

Disclaimer: The information in this video is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained in this video is for general information purposes only and does not replace a consultation with your own doctor/health professional 

Have you ever been to a therapist that you thought would help you figure your life out … but they’ve caused more problems instead?

Therapists help people cope with various mental struggles to improve their lives. While a majority of them do succeed in helping lead people to happy and fulfilling lives, some bad therapists actually worsen and introduce new problems instead.

Take Lily for example.

Lily’s a gentle soul who loves reading detective stories and watching romance films. She’s your typical teenage girl with supportive friends and a great school — up until her father told her something she never expected.

“Lily, bad news. Boss says we have to move across the country for work. We’re set for next week.”

Lily tried to fight back, she had a great life here. But she realized how she couldn’t control the outcome.

Days later, Lily found herself in her new school, with new faces and new hallways. 

It was completely alien and overwhelming for her. Her new teacher called her to introduce herself. 

“Hi,”, she’d say. “I’m Lily, I’m new around her-.”

Suddenly, she felt everyone was staring at her, whispering and judging her. She couldn’t tell what’s real from fake, and she couldn’t speak from the anxiety.

Her fear swallowed whole.

She recounted all this to her therapist.

But little did she know, her therapist had some slight professional problems of his own.

Sign # 1 – The therapist chats as if you are friends

It’s completely normal to talk about lighthearted things every once in a while, especially after diving deep into emotionally heavy topics. 

However, falling back to these casual conversations a bit too much can lead to a delay and stagnation of actual life progress. Remind your therapist that you’re supposed to get the help you need for your personal life, not just to chat about fun topics during therapy hours.

Sign # 2 – They don’t remember anything

Lily comes back for another session the following week. She enters the therapist’s room, where he greets her:

“Good day, Emily.”

Lily looks around, slowly realizing he was referring to her.

“It’s, uh, it’s Lily…” she meekly replies.

“Oh, Lily. Terribly sorry about that.”, he says, scribbling away in his notepad. “Is school treating you well? I’ve heard South High down the block is hosting a sweet football game this weekend.”

Lily pauses. “Uh, I’m actually from East High.”

“Ah, right, right…” the therapist scribbles once more.

Therapists aren’t robots; they do forget things occasionally, and that’s no big deal if it’s just once or twice. 

However, there’s a difference between the therapist forgetting your teacher’s name versus your own. Lily shouldn’t blame herself if her therapist forgot about missing out on these details. 

In these cases, it’s not wrong to put yourself first. If you feel like your therapist isn’t giving you the right attention, you can find another therapist to get what you paid for and deserve. 

Sign # 3 – They are only ever looking at their notes

A lack of eye contact can signal disinterest. This can apply to therapy too. When a therapist only looks at their notes, this can subconsciously send us negative feedback due to us picking up their nonverbal body language.

Not only is looking only at their notes tactless, but it also places a wall between you and your therapist. A good therapist, on the other hand, knows both the importance of note-taking and connecting with you on a human level.

Sign #4 – They make you feel like you have to prove it to them

The therapist replies to Lily’s remark about him forgetting stuff, “Ah, no, I think you told me you’re from South High. I remember clearly.”

“No, I really didn’t,” Lily argued. She would know her school.

“No? You sure about that?” the therapist says, chuckling.

But Lily isn’t so pleased.

If a therapist insists that they’re in the right, that’s a sign of their own fragile ego. They may want to come across as the authority of the room, which no therapist should let their patient feel.

Sign #5 – They don’t listen

Another sign of a bad therapist is if they don’t listen and give affirmative responses to you. If they don’t place their full attention on you, they won’t be able to give you the guidance you need.

Sign #6 – They talk too much about themselves

“Ok…” Lily says, brushing it off and hugging a pillow, “Making friends in East High is really hard for me. I don’t know why…”

“Yeah, I had the same problem a few years back. A couple of people hated my guts at first, but I brought them to this cool new restaurant and… oh yeah, where were we again?” the therapist said.

Lily sighs, displeased. 

According to Ph.D. Sherry Hamby, psychotherapy is not supposed to be like a regular conversation. If a therapist overshares, they’re essentially cornering their clients, making you listening to them, when it should be the other way around. 

Sign #7 – They hastily diagnose clients

A bad therapist is one that quickly labels their client in a box – whether it’s by a wrong diagnosis or a problematic behavioral pattern. 

A wrong, hasty diagnosis can lead to adverse effects, like a wrong prescription. Good therapists take their time in understanding their clients at a deeper level, leading and listening with the right set of questions.

Sign #8 – They are loyal to one treatment approach

A bad therapist is one that is overly loyal with one treatment modality. 

Lily might need Gestalt therapy, but her therapist might abide with reality therapy instead, making it hard for her to grow the best way she can. 

While all types of treatments carry psychological merit, good therapists understand that some approaches fit a client’s needs more than others, and can adjust accordingly.

Sign #9 – Therapist oversteps boundaries

In the following sessions, Lily starts opening up to her therapist more. At first, everything seems fine – she’s even starting to become more comfortable sharing sketches of her favorite film characters.

“That looks wonderful, Lily! You should teach me and my kid sometime”, the therapist says. “Text me when you’re free.”

Lily’s taken aback by this statement. ‘Did he really mean that?’, she thought silently to herself.

While you and your therapist can open up more as you have more sessions, opening up the door for an outside relationship is a no-no. This can interfere with reaching the objectives of the therapy in the first place. When a boundary breach seems imminent, circle back and tell your therapist that you’d rather maintain a professional distance.

Sign #10 Therapist imposes their beliefs to you

Back in the therapist room, Lily was sharing parent problems with her therapist.

“…My mom hasn’t been sensitive to my emotions at all. She didn’t even comfort me when I was crying all night. I despise her!” Lily says.

“Hey!”, the therapist retorted loudly, “Don’t talk about your mother like that.”

Lily, her eyes widened, stares in a mixture of shock and silence at the sudden outburst.

“Kids these days… don’t you have any sense of gratefulness? You should say sorry to your mother.” he continues, crossing his arms.

Lily chokes back her tears. She feels a lump at the back of her throat, and a terrible feeling started to engulf her.

The 10th sign of a bad therapist is when they impose their own beliefs onto you. Therapists may share their opinions when asked, but they don’t have to order you around either. Therapy is supposed to uplift you and bring you to the headspace to make sound decisions. Not the other way around.

If your therapist makes you feel weak and unworthy, you should communicate this and reconsider finding another therapist instead.

Epilogue

After all these red flags, Lily has had enough with the treatment she’s getting. She thanked her therapist, told him that this relationship isn’t going to work out, and looked around until she found a more suitable therapist. 

Now, her new therapist is leagues better than the last: empathic, an active listener, and someone who can genuinely connect with Lily. The journey towards healing may be long, but she feels much more optimistic and hopeful about her future now.

Closing Thoughts

You won’t always find the right therapist the first time. Sometimes, it’ll take you multiple attempts to find the right one for you. And even then, it might take you more than a few sessions to gain the progress you deserve.

Nonetheless, we hope you’ve learned about the signs of a bad therapists. That’s all for now Psych2Goers!

References

Rauch, J. 25 Signs of a Bad Therapist: You Deserve Better. Talk Space. Retrieved at https://www.talkspace.com/blog/25-signs-of-a-bad-therapist-you-deserve-better/

Grande, T. Jan 10 2019 Six Signs of a Bad Therapist (Counselor / Mental Health Clinician). Retrieved at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wfw0OAWwlSA

Morton, K. Dec 27, 2016, 5 Signs You Are Seeing a BAD Therapist! Retrieved at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLNWzFHIxus

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