Therapists are human, we are fallible, and we make mistakes. Most therapists mean well, and are willing to take accountability for their own actions and emotional “stuff”. A good therapist should be open to discussing and understanding your concerns. Should you notice any of these red flags, the first step should be to bring it up in session to discuss your concerns. But with that said, there are some things that might make you want to reconsider your therapeutic relationship.
The Connection Isn’t There
Sometimes that spark just isn’t there. The most important catalyst for change in therapy is the therapeutic relationship between the client and therapist. The therapeutic connection can be the biggest predictor of success in counseling. If you don’t trust the therapist you are working with or you don’t feel a connection between you, the likelihood of you sticking with therapy when the going gets tough, is slim to none. It is okay to “shop around” for someone that is qualified, specializes in what you need, and you feel a connection with. After all, you will most likely be sharing your inner most thoughts and feelings with this person. That carries some weight!
They Aren’t Fully Present
I have heard horror stories about therapists eating in the room with clients because they “haven’t eaten anything all day”, therapists falling asleep during session, and even answering their phones or emails. YOUR time is IMPORTANT AND VALUABLE! You are paying these professionals for their skills, their attention, their time, and their insight. This is YOUR time, and not only is this rude, but it can be hurtful as well. If you find that your therapist is having trouble paying attention, you might need to find a new therapist.
Oversharing- When You Become the Therapist
There is a great clip from comedian Amy Schumer about this very topic! You can watch it here: http://on.cc.com/1FAbefw
Does your therapist cry all time? Do you find yourself having to take care of your therapist’s feelings in session? Do they overshare or talk about themselves in a way that is not beneficial to the therapy process? These habits and behaviors are unacceptable and can feel uncomfortable. You don’t have to put up with that, after all, you have your own feelings and emotions! The therapist should be able to hold these feelings for you, be able to sit with uncomfortable feelings, and help YOU manage your emotions. How can you learn how to do this if they don’t know how to do it for themselves? But if you can’t seem to get a word in edgewise and all your therapist talks about is themselves and their “stuff”, maybe you should see a new one. Now, sometimes your therapist may show emotion (shed a few tears, etc.), especially if you have a difficult story, it is a side effect of empathy and completely normal. It is in opportunities like this that growth can happen. Don’t be afraid to bring it up in session if it becomes an issue.
There are a few golden rules of law and ethics that every therapist should abide by. Your therapist should NEVER make sexual advances toward you or try to initiate a sexual relationship. Some uncomfortable boundary stories that I have heard from clients included therapists hugging them after every session without their consent or trying to be their buddy outside of the therapy office. Sometimes there can even be a grey area of whether or not a therapist has crossed a boundary. You can always consult other professionals if you feel uncomfortable or just want to ask questions.
The Therapist Does Not Have the Appropriate Training (your problems are outside their scope of practice)
Most therapists market themselves as specializing in one area or another. Yet, many therapists claim to work with a variety of issues, and that may be true, but if your therapist is not equipped to handle the issue that you want to work on, you may want to seek a specialist in that area. Specialists have had extra trainings, workshops, and education on a specific area and with specific interventions that may be more helpful.
The Therapist is Not Interested in Your Goals
I’ve experienced this one first hand. I went to a therapist that did not want to work on the underlying issue of panic attacks and wanted to treat the symptoms only. This was infuriating because every time I would bring up the root of the anxiety he would refocus and talk about the physical symptoms, essentially ignoring me. You are an expert in your own life; therefore a good therapist will work WITH you to establish goals, often letting you lead the process. A therapist should help you identify and understand the underlying causes for the issues at hand. The therapist should consistently check in with you and be open to feedback.
Therapist is Judgmental or Critical
We all have our own personal beliefs and opinions. Therapists are not allowed to push their belief system on their clients. This does not mean that you can’t explore things like spirituality, but that we cannot force our value system on you. Therapy is supposed to be a safe place to express and evaluate your thoughts and beliefs. Feeling guilt or shame because you are doing something or have done something that conflicts with your belief system is a very normal situation that can be worked on in therapy. A therapist should be able to explore this without shaming the client or making him them feel bad about who they are as a person. If you are constantly feeling judged by your therapist, this may be your sign to find a new one.
In the end, trust your gut. If you get a bad vibe from a therapist, try looking for another one. However, if you have bad feelings about all your therapists, there might be an underlying issue there worth exploring. A good way to get an accurate reading on a therapist is to just ask questions (it’s okay to ask about their experience, theoretical orientation, how they might work with you and your goals, etc.)