Sometimes a therapist just isn’t that into you. After all, a psychotherapy relationship isn’t just about teaching cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques, or analyzing dreams. It’s about a human connection between two people — one person in need, and the other person who is there to act as a wise guide, teacher, and supporter through a process of change.
Most therapists are pretty good at what they do. But even a good therapist may not always be the right fit for you. It’s similar to when you interview for a job where you feel like your resume is a perfect fit for the company, yet you don’t get the job. Perhaps the interview didn’t go as well as you thought, because the employer isn’t just looking for the best candidate — they’re looking for the person who will be the best fit for the team at the company.
Therapists aren’t always self-aware enough to acknowledge that sometimes they may see a client who isn’t the best fit for them (and bad therapists will never acknowledge such a thing). Hey, they’re human and sometimes they miss their own signs.
So here are five sure signs that it may be time to dump your therapist, and find one where the fit is better.
1. They don’t remember key facts about you or your life.
The average therapist has a caseload that can be anywhere between 25 to 45 patients each week (yes, some therapists often schedule more patients than they have time, since inevitably a few will cancel or reschedule). But no matter how many clients a psychotherapist has, they should not be forgetting key details about you or your life.
This includes the basics (are you married? have children? go to school or work full-time?), as well as other important things (a traumatic event you’ve already told them about; an upcoming event or situation that’s causing you stress or anxiety). That’s ostensibly one of the reasons a therapist writes a progress note after the session. But if the therapist needs to scribble a few notes during the therapy session, that’s fine too. As long as they use those notes to remember who you are and what you’re there for the following week.
2. They take sides (triangulate) in couple’s therapy.
Couple’s therapists are trained to do to counseling with two people at the same time. Usually it’s to work on communication skills — helping each person learn to really listen and hear what their partner is saying, as well as to open up and share one’s own feelings and thoughts in a non-judgmental environment. A good couple’s therapist will work hard to mirror things being said and ensure each side is really hearing the other — the emotional, nonverbal content as well as the message.
Therapists who do marital or couple’s counseling shouldn’t ever get in the middle of an argument or fight between a couple. They should, in effect, never take sides or work to triangulate the relationship. This is Couple’s Therapy 101. A couple’s therapist who does this with you should be dumped faster than a hot potato.
3. They look at the clock more often than they look at you.
As I noted two years ago, clock watching is not only an annoying habit, it’s a sign of a therapist who is more interested in how much they have to go with you than what you’re saying. Sure, therapists have to keep track of the time and glancing once or twice at the clock as the session is getting near the end is not uncommon.
The therapist who is looking at the clock 5 minutes after you’ve started session however is sending a clear signal — you’re boring them. This is not a good fit for either therapist or client.
4. They regularly start their sessions with you late, but end them on time.
Most psychotherapists see their patients for 50 minutes (not an hour, see rant below). If that’s the agreement between you and the therapist at the start of therapy, that should be something you hold them to as therapy progresses. If you notice your therapist is showing up later and later for each appointment (first 2 minutes late, then 5 minutes late, then 7 minutes late), that’s a clear nonverbal message. Especially if they expect to end the session on-time (since their next appointment is also waiting).
A good therapist will stick to their schedule. Sure, they may be running late one week here or there, but you shouldn’t be penalized for their scheduling snafus. Professionals expect this from one another, and so clients should expect it from their therapist.
As an aside, I don’t know who came up with the phrase “the 50 minute hour,” but it’s about as nonsensical as the “low calorie, great tasting dessert.” An hour has 60 minutes. Not 50. Not 45. Not 40. Therapists should stop talking to people about the 50 minute hour. No other profession pads its time in this way to explain the other 10 minutes is devoted to “paperwork” for the patient.
5. They suggest you meet outside of therapy for social reasons.
While there are situations where meeting outside of the psychotherapy session is warranted — such as offering to help with a legal situation, court date, or even a hospital visit — they should all be directly related to your life or treatment. Any situation that suggests primarily a social component — that is, the therapist just wants to see you and talk to you (or engage in some sort of liaison) — is verboten.
Professional therapists do not meet their clients for coffee or a drink after work, because therapists aren’t your friends. It is a professional relationship that often has a strong emotional component. This emotional component can lead to a therapist acting in inappropriate ways that are both unethical and inappropriate.
6. They suggest touching or taking off your clothes is a part of treatment.
You’d think I was kidding about this last one, but sadly, I’m not. Every year, psychotherapists lose their license for acting inappropriately in session, including for inappropriate touching (usually involving sexual behavior) and disrobing. These are not components of legitimate, recognized psychotherapy techniques.
If your psychotherapy suggests one of these things, not only should you dump them, you should also seriously consider filing a complaint with their state’s licensing board. Psychotherapy primarily involves talking, and virtually nothing else. There are some notable exceptions, for instance, for children, play therapy is a recognized treatment, and when practicing relaxation exercises, you may be asked to close your eyes and focus on imagery or your breathing.
But taking off your clothes or having a psychotherapist touch you is generally not a recognized form of psychotherapy.
What signs have you noticed that it was time to dump your therapist? Share them below!