When people come in for therapy, they’re not at their best. No one comes for counseling when everything is fine. People come because their lives have gotten out of control, when they’re hurting, confused, anxious, depressed, or scared.
In the midst of finding a therapist, scheduling a first appointment, and meeting this person who you entrust with the deepest part of yourself, you may not think about your rights as a client or patient.
As a therapist, there are certain things I believe you are entitled to. I’m sure there are things I’ve left out or that some therapists may disagree with. But this is my attempt to empower you to have the best, safest, and most helpful counseling experience you can.
- You have the right of confidentiality. What you say in the therapy space should stay in the therapy space. A competent therapist will not discuss you over coffee with her friend, with her spouse, or online. Exceptions to this are therapists who are under supervision, who consult with other therapists about your case (but does not include your name or identifying details), and if the therapist believes you may cause significant harm to yourself or others.
- You have the right to not be judged. You should be able to talk about your religion, political beliefs, sexual preferences, and inner thoughts without worrying that your therapist will be offended.
- You have the right to a competent, well-trained therapist. Check out your therapist’s licensing board to verify their certification. This can usually be done online. Ask your therapist about his training, his theoretical orientations, how he keeps up with new treatments and research. You’re spending a lot of money and time for therapy. Make sure your therapist is licensed and in good standing with their governing board.
- You have the right to quit therapy. Many therapists ask that you come in for one last session or two to process the ending with you and to allow you to have closure. But they should never demand that you come, or threaten you in any way if you decide to quit.
- You have the right to honesty. Your therapist should never lie to you. There may be things she won’t answer (especially personal questions or questions that don’t relate directly to therapy), but flat out lying is should not happen. You should be able to count on this.
- You have the right to safety. You should never feel threatened or intimidated by your therapist. You shouldn’t be yelled at, called names, or emotionally abused in any way. You should never fear for your physical safety. Your therapist should not throw things or physically intimidate you.
- You have the right to be heard.Your therapist should not fall asleep when you’re talking (and yes, I’ve heard of clients whose therapists have nodded off). They should try and understand what you’re saying. They should not use the session to talk about themselves or their own issues. They should recall important parts of your history.
- You have the right to ask questions. You have the right to ask any questions. Your therapist might not answer them directly if they aren’t relevant to your treatment, but they should explain why they’re not answering them. If you’re wondering where your therapy is going, ask. If you are concerned because your therapist always starts the session late or ends early, bring it up. Nothing is off limits.
- You have the right to not say anything. I always tell my clients during the first session that I may ask things that they’re not comfortable talking about yet,and request that they let me know. You should not be forced to talk about anything you don’t want to. Your therapist may want to discuss why, but again you don’t have to answer.
- You have the right to be respected as a person, as an adult, as an individual with your own hopes, feelings, and aspirations. Your therapist should not attempt to mold or shape you to what they think you should be. You should be encouraged, not conj0led; empowered and not forced.
Therapy can be a critical, life-changing experience. If something isn’t working for you, say something. Your therapist may be the expert in psychotherapy, but you are the expert on you. A good therapist will understand and uplift you, encourage dialogue, and not abandon you for bringing up tough issues.