If you’re wondering whether your therapist is working for you, you can check out these tips to see if they’re the right fit.
Solid therapists practice with their clients’ best interests in mind. If you’re in therapy, you might wonder whether you’ll get your goals met or when you’ll feel better. Not every therapist is ideal for you. And not every therapist is exceptional.
- unethical behaviors or actions that “walk the line”
- loose with confidentiality
- lacks emergency protocol or contingency on their voicemail
- makes experimental recommendations
- lack of specialty
- disregard for your values
- disregards your questions
- frequent self-disclosure
- leaves you feeling worse with no action items
- judges or shames you
If you look at this list and ask, “But how do I know I’m not misreading them?” you might begin by trying these approachable tips:
- Speak with your therapist about your feelings.
(Start by asking “what do you mean by that?” to questionable actions or statements.)
- Reevaluate your goals.
- Vet another therapist if necessary.
If you want to ensure you’re not misreading the signs, here are some agreed-upon don’ts from several licensed therapists.
Each mental health professional has a code of ethics to follow. Being unethical can take a variety of forms.
Dual relationships or laxed standards
A therapist should not take on a client who’s a friend, family member, or someone with whom they have a close personal relationship. This limits the therapist’s ability to practice objectively.
Marriage and family therapist Jenny Wright of Roseville, California, explains that “when a clinician starts to make exceptions to these standards, that’s an issue.
“Accepting gifts, making exceptions for their ‘favorite clients,’ oversharing, or becoming too friendly with clients are just a few examples of a clinician being unethical,” she says.
Wright adds that clinicians’ personal standards aren’t discussed enough and should be. “As a clinician, you should never do your job impaired by substances, perform therapy when you are not emotionally capable to, and you should be mindful to take care of yourself and your needs.”
Bypass confidentiality and emergency protocol
Generally, what you say in session has to stay in session unless one of the limits of confidentiality applies or you give your explicit consent for information to be released to others (usually with a release form).
A therapist has a legal right to disclose information if:
- You are a harm to yourself or others.
- The therapist suspects there is abuse of a child, older person, or disabled person.
- A court-ordered subpeona is issued.
- You are a minor (parents are entitled to information about their child’s care).
If a therapist doesn’t have this informed consent signed or confirmed verbally, they’re not doing their legal and ethical duty to inform you of the therapy process.
Take you as a client if they don’t specialize in your issue
Therapists have a variety of specialties. For example, one therapist might work with clients who have substance use disorders. Another therapist might have a background working with people who have a significant history of trauma.
If therapists advertise themselves as specialists in an area yet have no experience, they’re likely practicing outside of their scope. This is a red flag.
You have a right to ask questions and understand what training and experience your therapist has. If they don’t specialize in what you are bringing to therapy, they should tell you.
A good therapist would provide appropriate referrals to a more specifically suited therapist.
Overshare about themselves
It’s understood among clinicians that self-disclosure should be rare and always for the benefit of the client.
“Self-disclosure is a difficult thing to gauge,” Wright says. “Some clients respond extremely well when they believe that their therapist ‘gets it.’ However, there are other clients that will not find self-disclosure therapeutic.”
If a therapist repeatedly self-discloses unprompted, and you don’t find it helpful, this could indicate they’re not right for you.
Leave you feeling worse after your session – regularly
There are many reasons you may feel worse after therapy.
Clients can come away feeling crummy due to issues brought up or feeling the work done in the session was not effective enough or irrelated, explains Adam Hewitt, a licensed clinical social worker in Lamar, Missouri.
But sometimes, he says, it could be because of the clinician themself.
“…There is, of course, a risk that the client’s poor post-session feelings are due to the clinician not being attentive or helpful. Sometimes this can absolutely be due to being a poor fit between client and therapist, or even have more to do with the therapist’s limitations or lack of boundaries.”
Hewitt adds, “Either way, it needs to be addressed, hopefully by a therapist that’s picking up on the fact that their client may not be gaining anything from the therapy.”
Make you feel judged, shamed, or emotionally exposed
The therapy outcomes are primarily based on the therapeutic relationship of trust and collaborative work, not competing approaches.
Hewitt offers this insight about therapists who shame their clients, “Objectivity is difficult but necessary in ensuring that we’re staying client-centered and not allowing biases or judgments to guide our practice.”
He adds, “staying true to best practice approaches, practicing humility in regards to one’s own skills and limitations, and using adequate consultation when the therapist’s objectivity may be questionable are reliable ways to not fall into the trap of projecting our own attitudes onto our clients.”
Ask you to repeat or remind them of what you’ve said
A good therapist is an active listener. Therapists learn how to listen for themes and patterns and don’t just listen to respond.
Asking for clarification, for you to repeat, or remind them of a detail or the point of a story you’re recalling is OK. The therapist may want to see how you rephrase a detail or use it as a tool to demonstrate disorganized thinking.
But not remembering why you’re seeking treatment could be a red flag.
Counselor Jennifer Thurman of Springfield, Missouri, shares, “If a clinician can guide me back from my rabbit trail, that’s how I know they’re demonstrating active listening.”
She adds that you can tell that a clinician is actively listening when “they ask follow-up questions to what is said.”
Disrupt the session by divided attention
It would be best if you had your therapist’s full attention in session. After all, you’re investing in them to help you make changes.
Sometimes there are complications to this, especially with telehealth. For example, a poor or faulty internet connection can disrupt a session due to potential problems with reliability.
If a clinician anticipates any disruptions beyond their control, they should inform you of that and articulate a backup plan.
If a therapist continues to divide their attention between something else and your session, this is a clear sign.
You just don’t feel “right”
If you get an uneasy feeling about your sessions with this person, trust your gut. While it’s true that sometimes you have to work through some challenges if your overall feeling about therapy is negative, it may be time to reevaluate a particular therapist if you just aren’t getting positive vibes.
Research that examined a variety of literature regarding clients’ experiences in therapy suggests that there are different factors that a client may find unhelpful. Some of these experiences include a therapist’s lack of knowledge, lack of cultural diversity, and unmet client expectations.
You can check out these resources to double-check if the partnership you have now is the best fit:
- How to Vet a Therapist
- Things to Expect (and Not!) in Your First Therapy Session
- Cultural competence in How To Find the Right Therapist
If you notice any of these red flags with your therapist, know that there are some steps you can take. If you feel safe enough, you may consider having a conversation with your therapist. It may be possible that you two are just not on the same page yet.
If your therapist is practicing unethically, you can report them to a supervisor or state licensing board.
You may also consider terminating therapy with that particular person.
You may check out this article here about what to do with negative therapy experiences.
Remember, you deserve a competent and knowledgeable therapist. If you aren’t getting help, you can advocate for yourself and your needs.