Your therapist may make you angry or upset sometimes. In many cases, talking it through in therapy helps — and other times, it may be a sign to switch therapists.
You may not always agree with your therapist. This is typical for many people. But the most important part of whether psychotherapy works is the therapeutic alliance (the relationship between you and your therapist).
Your relationship with your therapist is more important than any type of therapy they may use. If you don’t have a good alliance it can be hard to trust your therapist — and without trust, you might have trouble working on the real reasons you’re in therapy.
There are various ways your therapist can hurt you or make you upset. Maybe your therapist has said something you weren’t ready to hear, or they’ve crossed an ethical boundary. It could also be that you and your therapist don’t have a strong therapeutic alliance and it’s hard to feel like they’re helping you.
When conflict arises there are some things you can do to ensure you’re getting the most out of therapy. What you do when your therapist hurts you may depend on your therapist’s actions and how comfortable you are with them.
Conflict in the therapeutic relationship is unique from other relationships because there is an inherent power difference between the therapist and the client.
Your therapist may get to know you more intimately than other people in your life, and you may know little about theirs, which means that conflict with your therapist can hurt you more than conflict in other relationships.
Many types of conflict can occur in therapeutic relationships. Two common causes are transference and countertransference.
Transference is when a client projects their feelings or desires about another person onto their therapist.
For example, a client’s relationship with their therapist might remind them of how their mother treated them in childhood — therefore the client responds to their therapist as they would respond to their mother. This can mean they project anger and hurt onto their therapist when really those feelings are intended for their mother.
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Other times, transference can be hard to move past and may be a roadblock to establishing a genuine relationship with your therapist.
Countertransference occurs when the therapist projects their feelings onto the client. In many instances, countertransference can be damaging to the therapeutic relationship.
Some examples of countertransference may include when the therapist:
- has poor boundaries
- is inappropriately self-disclosing
- develops romantic feelings toward a client
- treats a client like they would a friend
Countertransference can be a tricky line, and if you’re noticing these qualities in your therapist, it may be a sign to take action.
Other causes of conflict
In research from 2019, clients reported several factors that caused conflict in their therapy, including:
- the therapist ignoring their culture
- the therapist misusing their power, such as pressure to undergo specific treatments
- the client’s experience not matching their expectations
- negative relationship patterns, such as feeling your therapist is detached or impersonal
- therapy goals not being met
- lack of professional knowledge
These perceived negative situations can bring up a lot of anger and hurt for clients.
If you find yourself having conflict in your relationship with your therapist, how you react may depend on what your therapist did that brought up the anger. Here are some tips for what to do when you’re angry with your therapist.
1. Evaluate your expectations
You may come into therapy with expectations of what it will be like, only to be pleasantly surprised that it’s not like you expected.
It’s not your therapist’s job to provide advice or tell you what to do but rather to help you make your own decisions and support you in navigating through your challenges.
Anger may occur if you wish your therapist would provide the answers or a “magic fix,” but that isn’t realistic. If you have questions about what to expect in therapy or your therapist’s role, it’s okay to ask them. A skilled therapist can clearly define what is within their role and scope of practice and what isn’t.
2. Bring it up in therapy
If you feel comfortable enough, one of the best methods for dealing with anger toward your therapist is to bring it up with them. Part of being in therapy is learning how to express thoughts and feelings in a healthy way, and when you’re able to do this with your therapist, it shows you that you can be assertive.
Being honest about what’s happening in therapy can help you and your therapist get on the same page.
For example, expressing your feelings may look like this:
“I felt angry in our last session when you were pushing to discuss my childhood; I didn’t feel like I was ready to talk about that just yet.”
A good therapist can hear what you’re saying and change course if necessary.
3. Ask for a referral
If you are angry at your therapist because you aren’t getting what you need out of therapy or you have been unable to establish trust with your therapist, it may be time to consider a new therapist.
You can ask for a referral to a new therapist at any time. It’s your therapy, and you should get the most out of it.
If you don’t feel comfortable asking for a referral, you may prefer to find a new therapist on your own.
If your therapist is engaging in inappropriate or unethical behavior or you don’t feel like you’re being listened to, this is a clear sign that no longer working with them may be your best option.
For more information about switching therapists, consider these resources:
- 8 Signs a Therapist Is a Bad Fit for You
- How to Change Therapists: 5 Steps
- How to End Therapy the Right Way
- How To Find the Right Therapist: 10 Tips
- Psych Central’s Understanding Therapy resource page
4. Report your therapist to the state licensing board
There are some cases where your therapist may engage in unethical or inappropriate behavior that can cause anger. In these cases, reporting your therapist to the appropriate state licensure board is an option you may consider.
Some cases that may require a report to the state licensure board include if your therapist is:
- trying to initiate or engage in a sexual relationship with you
- practicing outside their scope of practice
- misleading about their credentials
- exploiting you in any way
- violating your confidentiality
Where you report your therapist depends on their license type and the state they’re licensed in.
If you are having trouble deciding whether your therapist is right for you, you may ask yourself these questions:
- Does my therapist represent their scope and practice accurately?
- Do I feel understood when I’m with my therapist?
- Does my therapist actively listen to me and challenge me?
- Is my therapist practicing ethically and keeping appropriate boundaries?
- Do I feel like my therapist is giving me what I need and focusing on what I want?
If your answer to most of these questions is yes, it may be a good sign that your therapist is right for you. On the other hand, if you’re answering no to most of those questions, those are red flags of a bad fit and may signal that it’s time to take action.
Getting mad at your therapist isn’t uncommon, and the specific conflict can determine your course of action.
Common conflicts in the therapeutic relationship include transference and countertransference, which can rupture the therapeutic alliance.
If your therapist activates challenging emotions and you come out of your sessions mainly feeling angry, there are many actions you take. Addressing it with your therapist may be helpful. However, if you’re in a situation that doesn’t feel comfortable or appropriate, terminating therapy or reporting your therapist may be a better option.
You can always change therapists or stop therapy if you aren’t getting what you need. Even if your current therapist isn’t working out, you can continue to seek the care you deserve. Therapy is like any relationship — it can take a few tries to find the best fit.