Bad therapists happen. It is a fact. There is no screen in grad school that weeds out the therapists that shouldn't be therapists. Now, if you don't like your therapist - that can happen and in fact can at times be normal. I believe that when you enter my office, we engage in a dance, a dance that you have done over and over. My job is to help you see the dance steps that aren't working for you, that keep you from the life you want to live. But, that means, I have to learn to dance with you. So, yes, if you find out that you burn a lot of bridges with your relationships, you might try that with me. That isn't so much what I am talking about. I am talking about bad therapy - therapy that ends up doing more harm than good. So how do you know that you are getting bad therapy? Here are some pointers:
- The therapist talks more about themselves than listens to you. Every therapist has an opinion about what to share and how much to share of their personal life. That's cool, until the session is all about them. Nothing is worse than a therapist that shares because they need to get something off their chest. This is about you. The sharing should be to help you.
- They want to hire you, befriend you, or have sex with you. These all break the ethical guidelines of our profession. There is great information on how to report a therapist that has had a sexual relationship with their patient, just click here. Any type of relationship outside the therapy room is called a "dual relationship" and must be avoided because it impacts your therapy. Hard to get good therapy when you are hired to do some clerical work for your therapist. The roles get too confusing.
- You say something isn't working and they don't listen. One of the characteristics of a good therapist is being open to changing the way they work with someone if what is currently being done doesn't seem to help the client. If you speak up (kuddos to you for owning your time in therapy) and share that something didn't feel helpful, the crappy therapist will either ignore you, demean you, or be completely offended.
- They give advice. I have heard this time and time again. Therapists making suggestions on how to handle a legal or financial matter. I didn't go to law school, and even if I had, as a therapist, I am not acting as a lawyer. I can provide referrals, but I cannot advise on matters outside of my expertise.
- They don't value your time. If they are always running late, forget your name, can't find the file you need, then they probably are too consumed with other things and not valuing your time or your presence. Sure, we all make mistakes and forget things. But I am talking about long standing patterns.
- You have been going a long time, but nothing is changing. This goes back to what I was first saying. Sure, it could be that you don't want to be in therapy in the first place so you are determined to make it fail, ok, but a good therapist I would hope would acknowledge that elephant in the room if it is at all obvious. Therapy works! I believe in it! If I don't see improvement or change in my clients - I ask them about it. We work together to figure out what can be done differently. I think it is sad to keep taking their money because they are willing to give it to me, knowing that the therapy isn't working or that I am not a good fit. Part of being a good therapist is knowing what you are good at and when to refer out.
So, now that I listed a few tips, do you think you have a bad therapist? What should you do? You have several options, but most importantly, don't stop therapy. Don't sacrifice your joy, your potential freedom, and happiness because of this. Find another therapist, they often offer free consults. If you think that therapy isn't right for you, try life coaching or spiritual direction. There are people out there that can help you, don't give up!