There are some circumstances where a client should find a new therapist. And by therapist I mean a mental health therapist. I understand how difficult it is being a client in a new therapeutic relationship. There’s all that talking; bringing up the past, bringing up the present, talking about fears for the future. It’s hard. It’s tiring. And when you think you’ve shared it all… your therapist wants clarification. They ask you questions because in order to understand you properly, in order to tailor a treatment approach to you specifically, they need to know you as an individual. Each person has strengths, weaknesses, and quirks. And your therapist should be very sensitive to those.
Every therapeutic relationship is different. Some clients like a direct, confronting approach; others prefer a casual talk-therapy approach. It all depends on the client. But some therapists make outright mistakes in sessions. Sometimes they’re aware of it, sometimes they’re not. Mostly, therapists stick to their ethical guidelines, seek supervision in difficult cases and keep up-to-date with industry standards. This is a good thing. Regardless, each therapist has their own approach to providing therapy and for you, the client, sometimes you need to make a decision about what kind of therapy or therapist, is right for you.
So to avoid investing all that time into the wrong therapist. Here are some warning signs your therapist is not a good fit for you. Some of these are fun, and I hope you’ll take them as such:
1. Something about your therapist annoys you or distracts you so much that you can’t focus on therapy.
Maybe your therapist has a body piercing, a speech impediment, an accent, dresses too casually, or laughs too loud. Maybe they disclosed to you that they love Lady Gaga’s music and that disturbs you and keeps you up at night. Maybe you’ve developed a crush on them and you can’t stop thinking about them in inappropriate ways; this is not a joke, if this happens you need to tell your therapist immediately. Whatever it is, if your therapist is wearing or doing something that distracts you from therapy, you might need to reconsider your choice. A part of therapy involves personality fit between therapist and client, you might not find a perfect therapist for you, but you can at least get close. If it’s something your therapist can change, like their hot pink hair color, please ask them to change it.
2. Your therapist doesn’t make eye contact with you.
If your therapist doesn’t look at you or hold your eye contact from the first session (except for if you’ve specifically elected for psychodynamic theory laying down) then they probably aren’t professional. Honestly, I wouldn’t see them again. All therapists need basic listening skills. They should have good body language, good eye contact, & use encouragers such as ‘okay’, ‘right’ ‘uhum’. They reflect back to you using paraphrases and summaries. Very basic stuff. If your therapist doesn’t do these things, it might be time to find a new one.
3. Your therapist laughs and jokes inappropriately.
If your therapist laughs at you or makes a joke, and you don’t find it funny, then tell them. ‘I feel hurt when you laugh at me or make jokes about me.’ If they apologize and recognize their mistake, forgive them, let it go. Sometimes therapists get relaxed in their client/counselor relationships, sometimes they’re a little sleep deprived, and in an effort to increase rapport they may overstep the line. This is a sign that the therapist is able to be themselves around you, and that they see your relationship as having a good level of trust. But, if your therapist makes a mistake and offends you, then that mistake should never happen again and the therapist should try to correct the error. If the therapist doesn’t seem to care, it might be time to move onto someone else.
4. Your therapist looks at the time. A lot!
It’s your therapist’s job to keep track of their time schedule. It’s okay if a therapist checks the time once or twice in a session; they need to. But if they’re checking their watch every five minutes, you might want to bring it up. Sometimes, people do things without realizing it. And it might be that your therapist has some emergency happening, or that they’re late for something and it’s distracting them. Regardless, as a client it isn’t your job to manage your therapist’s behavior. Let your therapist know that their time-checking is annoying you and ask them to stop. If it ever happens again, I suggest finding someone else to be your counselor.
5. Your therapist doesn’t agree to see you if your finances change.
Sometimes, in therapy, a client is going through a difficult time. And on occasion this difficult time results in a loss of finance. Now, sometimes therapy is expensive, but if you have been seeing your therapist for three or four sessions and then suddenly find yourself unemployed and without an income, your therapist should continue to see you. If they say that they require payment to continue and refuse to see you, then it’s time to move on. Your therapist needs to make some sort of agreement with you. Perhaps you can delay payment until you’ve found a new job, or see your therapist at a reduced fee. I don’t necessarily think it’s right for clients to have free therapy. I think when clients invest money in sessions they perceive their sessions as having more value. But a therapist should certainly support you through a rough financial spot. After all, that’s their job. If they’re unwilling, find someone else.
6. Your therapist doesn’t ask you to set goals or work towards goals.
The only way we know therapy has worked is by something changing. And we go to therapy because we want something to change. If your therapist doesn’t identify goals to work towards, how will you know when therapy has worked? Or has finished? If you set the goal of ‘I want to manage my stress better’, you have something specific to aim for.
Most clients have about 3 – 10 goals on their lists. These goals should be set at the very beginning of therapy. At least within the first 1 – 2 sessions. And these goals should be revisited, often. There should also be sub-goals that you are working towards each week to achieve the larger goals. For example, if your goal is to cut back on stress levels. A sub-goal might be “Do 30 minutes of exercise a day”. Goals are important. If your therapist isn’t encouraging you to set any, then it might be time to find someone else.
7. There’s no positive encouragement whatsoever.
If your therapist isn’t encouraging you and doesn’t verbalize how well you’ve done in achieving your therapy goals and homework. Then find someone else. You worked hard, you are showing up to therapy, you’re opening yourself up and being honest about all the things you’re struggling with. Your therapist should praise you for that because it’s worth praising. What an amazing thing it is that you have the courage to visit a stranger, tell them the truth about who you are and then work towards improving yourself. Well done! If your therapist can’t share in that, or show you how wonderful that is. Then give them the boot.
8. Your therapist makes you uncomfortable.
Now, we need to be careful here. There’s a difference between a therapist being the source of your discomfort, or therapy itself being the source. If you find your therapist creepy, unrelateable, too stoic or too expressive that you don’t like sessions. Then you might need to find someone else. If therapy itself is making you uncomfortable, that might just be you adjusting to the process, which can be confronting. The therapists jobs is to join with you, and you need to let them know if you don’t feel ‘joined with’. If the therapist doesn’t work to change this, or you keep putting in effort to relate to your therapist, but it doesn’t work, then tell your therapist and ask them to refer you to someone else.
9. Your details are disclosed without your knowledge.
This isn’t just a personality fit. This is a legal and ethical issue. If your therapist discloses your personal information without your written consent, to anyone (without being subpoenaed by a court of law and without suspicion of self-harm or child abuse) then you should find someone else, immediately. You might even want to report them.
10. Your therapist tells you what to believe.
I’m a pretty independent thinker. I know my morals and beliefs. So I’d be able to tell instantly if a therapist was using their own personal agenda with me. But not everyone can pick up on this. In therapy a therapist is the expert. They are guiding their clients towards healthy thinking, and we want to trust them. Your therapist should not tell you what morals to abide by. If you are having an affair and you’ve lied about it to your partner/spouse it is not your therapists place to tell you that’s wrong. If you believe in god, or have religious beliefs, your therapist should not tell you your religious beliefs are wrong, either. If you lied to your mother/neighbor/local police officer, it is not your therapists place to tell you that your behavior is immoral. They may, however, ask you how you intend to develop trusting healthy relationships with other people, if you yourself aren’t acting trustworthy. But they should never cast judgement on your behavior. If your therapist does this, then find someone else.
If you ever have any problem with your therapist. If you do not like something they said or did. Please tell them. Try to correct the issue first. If it continues, then please move on and invest your time with someone who you feel really cares and listens to you and wants you to achieve your therapeutic goals.
Happy therapist hunting.
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Last reviewed: 13 Sep 2012