Would you know when to leave your therapist or the agency where you are receiving counseling or mental health services? For most people, therapy can be difficult to adjust to and good therapists are just too hard to find. Some people get so discouraged with the process of finding a good therapist that they settle. Would you do this? Are you doing this? If so, this article is for you.
This article will briefly discuss a few signs that perhaps your therapy is not going as well as you had initially hoped. This article is also intended to encourage you to examine if your therapy is working or not working.
What do you look for in a therapist or agency where therapy is provided? Most people, and most of my clients, look for a therapist who is not only easy to talk to, but also considerate of their feelings and thoughts in a way that makes them feel accepted, empowered, or listened to. When people seek mental health care they are looking for the support they don’t get elsewhere in their lives. For many of my clients (who tend to be children, adolescents, young adults, families, parents, and caregivers), a therapist does not have to be perfect but does have to understand the importance of their position/job, state laws and ethical standards, and the client’s personal struggles and needs. It also helps if a therapist can either relate to (in some fashion) or understand life’s dilemmas. Simple enough? Sure! But, sadly, good therapists are hard to find.
As a result, I have included 12 things you may want to consider if you (or someone you know) is in therapy. You don’t want to go to therapy and walk away feeling:
- Judged, even when the therapist seems kind: You should never feel judged by your therapist or the staff working in a therapist’s office. You should feel welcomed and cared for. There will be sessions that will challenge you and you may walk away feeling some negative emotion. But therapy wouldn’t be therapy if this didn’t happen from time to time. But if you notice you are frequently feeling negative emotions, mention that to your therapist. Or, you may want to consider moving on.
- Controlled or imprisoned: You should never feel controlled or imprisoned by a therapist or agency providing therapy. Sadly, because mental health agencies or practices are a business, they have to operate like a business which means advertising, seeking funding, billing you for services rendered, providing you with a bill to pay fees or co-pays, asking about your insurance and getting updated information every year, etc. These practices (and many more like this) are okay. But if you are feeling pressured to stay with the business or practice or are feeling you are not being respected or truly cared for, you may want to move on. You should never feel pressured to remain in a business that doesn’t make you feel cared for, helped, or empowered.
- Discouraged or apathetic: You may feel there is no progress, even after adequate time spent in therapy. Therapy is difficult work for both the client and the therapist. Therapy may take a lot of time because human challenges are not easy to work with. Some clients have tons of challenges to work through and staying in therapy may feel like a waste of time. Some therapy may take months if not years to begin to actually work. Some people are too resistant to therapy at certain points in their lives to benefit. There are multiple reasons why therapy may not be working. But if you have genuinely put a lot of effort into therapy and see little to no progress, you may want to explore seeing another therapist or taking a break from therapy.
- Uneasy and can’t explain why: As explained throughout this article, you should never feel uneasy in therapy without reason for feeling this way. We can’t forget, however, that therapy can make you feel uneasy because difficult emotions, thoughts, or events are being discussed or explored. But if you feel uneasy sitting in the waiting area, getting out of the house to go see your therapist, or sitting in the room with your therapist, this isn’t good. You’ll want to consider why you feel this way and examine if therapy is working for you or not working for you.
- Used or spent: You don’t want your therapist charge you way too much for meager services. If you are charged very high fees and are gaining little to nothing in care, move on. Some therapists promise great rewards from their skills and charge astronomical prices. One therapist in my area charges at least $200 per session (for 2 hour) for parents seeking help with raising a child with autism. This is intense work and possibly deserves $200 per session. Sadly, some therapists claim to have specialized skills that clients may not be able to find elsewhere and use this opportunity to charge unethical fees. I suggest you research the therapist, ask around, or call the therapist to ask for a free consultation. Don’t pay for therapy until the therapist can explain why their fees are so astronomical.
- Hounded for money or profit: Sadly, some therapists are so focused on maintaining their practices or keeping up with other therapists in society that they become money-hounds and lose sight of the real reason they are treating patients. If you feel your therapist is always focused on money or profit, move on. In this case, you are for profit only and nothing more. I do need to add that therapists need money to continue to provide their services to the community. So this is something they have to balance with caring for patients or clients. But I am merely pointing out that some therapists only seek profit and you should be aware of this.
- Lied to or taken advantage of: You don’t want to sit in an office where the office or therapist seems “plastic” or “fake.” If you feel your therapist is insincere, move on. No one needs that. You are there to get help, not play games. Sometimes you can discern what therapy may be like in the waiting area. But be careful not to pre-judge based on this alone. You may benefit from being on-guard until you fully understand the environment or the therapist you are working with. You don’t have to hide or pretend to be someone you are not, but it is okay to be a bit reserved if you feel uneasy.
- Your child or teen doesn’t connect: Kids and teens are great compasses. They are able to detect, often before we can, if someone is kind or trustworthy. Most, if not all, of my child and adolescent clients are great radars and have the ability to evaluate whether another person is truly what they appear to be. Listen to your child and take what they are saying to heart. Perhaps they see something you cannot see.
- Manipulated, demeaned, or unlike yourself: Therapy is a “stripping” experience because your thoughts, feelings, and life is now out in the open. You may begin to feel guilty, self-conscious, embarrassed, or even defensive with your therapist. When this happens, you want to ensure you are not pre-judging your therapist simply based on how you feel. But at other times, when a therapist’s interactions with a client triggers unnecessary negative emotions, this is not good. You may want to discuss this with the therapist or leave.
- Your thoughts are being controlled: A therapist, as discussed above, is not supposed to take control of your life. They are there to provide honest and helpful feedback, insights, or suggestions. A controlling therapist may have problems of their own and are, most likely, too unhealthy to work with you. Move on.
- Bullied: Therapists who tell you what to do are on an ego trip. They don’t have the right to tell you “what to do.” They do have the right to make suggestions or challenge/prompt you to consider alternative ways to perceive a situation or behave. But if you have a therapist explicitly (or even subliminally) telling you what to do, leave. A relationship like this is not healthy. A therapist should always take a gentle approach of making suggestions. You are not there to be treated as a child. You are there to ask someone else, who may not be as emotionally attached to a situation as you are, to give you their honest insights and suggestions. If your child or teen is in therapy with someone like this, pull them out.
- Honestly confused: There are times when clients may feel confused because they are being told one thing by the therapist (or being encouraged to consider one perspective) while they engage in questioning their own perceptions or feelings about something. For example, I have made suggestions to clients on how they should perceive something. I found out, down the road, that my client felt confused because she was struggling with her own ambivalence while I was making suggestions. My voice and her ambivalence became a “noisy tempest” in her head. This is often part of therapy and this is okay. When you are in this place you are being challenged to explore what is happening in your heart, mind, and life. However, if you find yourself feeling extremely confused and as if your therapist is extremely off, you may want to bring this up in therapy. You’ll want to make sure, however, that your own ambivalence is not creating the confusion.
What has your experience been in therapy? Are you able to connect or do you find it difficult to find “your home?” Most of my clients come to me with a horror story from previous therapists. One client told me “there are way more bad therapists than good ones!” I’m sad to say she may be 100% correct.
As always, please feel free to share your thoughts and stories below. Looking forward to interacting with you.
All the best