Warning Signs Of An Abusive Counselor

By: Gabrielle Seunagal

Updated May 21, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Dutil

Counseling is a form of treatment which people partake in for various reasons. Some people may need someone to confide in; others may be going through a stressful or traumatic period in life and require professional assistance and guidance. No matter the reason why one turns to a counselor, people who work in this profession are generally trusted as reputable sources for those in need.

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Unfortunately, there are instances where counselors take advantage of people who turn to them. These people are known as abusive counselors, and they do a major disservice to the entire field of therapy, counseling, and other forms of professional mental health treatment. One of the worst things about abusive counselors is their re-victimization of individuals who may be already fragile or vulnerable. Counselors who elect to abuse the power which they have been given can do major damage and majorly set individuals back.

Abusive Counseling: What To Look Out For

Abusive counselors are not going to come out and expose themselves. However, there are still warning signs which people can be aware of, in the unfortunate event that they happen to cross paths with a counselor who turns out to be abusive.

Shame, Blame, Degradation Or Humiliation

This is one of the leading warning signs which people should be aware of. Counselors should never shame, blame, degrade or humiliate the patients who turn to them for help. As someone who has become a mental health specialist, a counselor has an obligation to work with you, hear you out, and use their professional experience to determine how they can improve the quality of your life. Never should a counselor abuse their position by tearing down the individuals who turn to them for assistance.

Generally, a counselor who takes part in the behaviors mentioned above may gradually build up in intensity. One thing patients can do to be on the lookout for this is to determine how they feel when their counselor is working with them. Do you feel safe? Do you feel as though your counselor is someone you can trust and confide in, even when you are discussing uncomfortable topics? Always trust your gut instincts. If something doesn't feel right, then it probably isn't.

Talking About Other Patients

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Revealing personal information about other patients is another huge red flag of an abusive counselor. This is a no-no for so many reasons. It is never appropriate for a counselor to discuss other patients' issues with you or anyone else who they may be working with.

First and foremost, this completely breaches the trust which exists between counselors and patients. Secondly, if a counselor is revealing other patients' personal information to you, they are likely revealing your personal information to other patients as well. This is so dangerous for a plethora of reasons; any counselor who engages in this ill conduct should be reported immediately to the professional board of their state. As mental health specialists, counselors have a duty to act accordingly and protect the confidentiality of their patients.

Sexual Attention Or Advances

Under no circumstances is it appropriate for a counselor to come onto their patients or give sexual attention or advances. When a counselor agrees to see a patient, their duty is to work with the patient and help them achieve a better quality of life. Romance, hook-ups and other sexual liaisons are simply uncalled for and not acceptable in this type of professional setting.

A counselor who partakes in those above; inappropriate advances should be promptly reported to their state professional board. There is a certain dynamic which exists between counselors and patients; for the patients to truly heal, improve, and achieve the desired results from counseling, the professional dynamic must remain intact. No reputable counselor with integrity would never initiate or accept sexual attention or advances with patients.

A Lack Of Empathy

Counseling is a field which requires care and empathy from its practitioners. Whenever patients are working with a counselor, there should be no doubt in their minds that the counselor cares about them, their well-being and their betterment in life. If this feeling is lacking, then that constitutes a major problem.

If you find yourself working with a counselor who you believe lacks empathy, you should begin seeing another counselor as quickly as possible. Empathy is a critical trait for anyone who has chosen to go into the field of mental health. Being able to recognize something like this generally comes as a gut instinct. If you feel as though there is something off about your counselor, then you are probably right. Trust your instincts, trust yourself and don't be afraid to work with someone else if you believe that doing so is in your best interests.

Adverse Impacts After Sessions

It goes without saying that counseling is supposed to help patients. For this reason, if you are experiencing adverse impacts, such extremely anxious thoughts or feelings after your sessions, you could very well be dealing with an abusive counselor. The abuse may not be readily apparent on the surface; however, counselors are extensively trained on how to improve the lives of the patients who turn to them for help. If you are feeling negative or if things are worsening right after a session with a counselor, that should serve as a major red flag. That being said; counseling is not always easy and sometimes uncomfortable emotions and memories are brought up at times.

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When a counselor is truly working with you as they should be, you should notice some improvements over time. This may take time, but counseling is all about improving the quality of your life and helping you overcome whatever is holding you back or bothering you. Taking note of what happens after your sessions with a counselor is very telling and will only help you out in the long run.

What Makes Abusive Counselors Abuse Patients?

First and foremost, it's important to note that the vast majority of counselors are not abusive. Countless people have gone into counseling and have made vast improvements in the quality of their lives. However, there still exists a minority of counselors which are abusive, and one of the best ways for people to be protected and prepared is to know the warning signs and take the proper steps to shield themselves.

Power Plays

Sadly, abusive counselors often get off on the power which comes along with their position. There is an inherent power imbalance which exists between counselors and patients. Counselors are being trusted with tons of personal information, details and possible traumas. They are being trusted to use their professional skills to better the lives of the individuals they are working with.

Counselors who opt to abuse this power may be dealing with situations in their personal lives where they feel powerless. Therefore, instead of seeking their own counseling, they opt to abuse the bit of power they can gain in their lives. It's very unfortunate, but in many cases, abusive counselors who are found out do wind up losing their credentials. Nevertheless, understanding the motivations behind the misdeeds of abusive counselors can certainly make a difference.


It takes a special type of terrible person to go into the field of counseling and re-victimize the people who have already been through something. Unfortunately, this is a classic warning sign of a sociopath or psychopath. Individuals who suffer from sociopathy or psychopathy lack empathy, remorse, or regard for the thoughts and feelings of other people.

Many sociopaths and psychopaths do things just to manipulate others. They experiment with the lives and emotions of others and toy with people for their own amusement. People who suffer from these mental health conditions often also get pleasure out of hurting individuals who they view as vulnerable or in fragile states.

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A Final Word On Abusive Counseling

Abusive counselors are very dangerous people. Being armed with as much knowledge as possible and knowing the warning signs are some of the best, existing defense mechanisms against such dangerous people. However, it's also important to know that the majority of counselors are good people who genuinely care about working with and treating the patients they work with.

If you feel as though you might be dealing with an abusive counselor, then you should stop working with them immediately. There are many great counselors out there who can work with you, help you improve the quality of your life and become your best self. Trust yourself and trust your instincts if something doesn't feel right. Remember, it is your counselor's job to be of service to you; they work for you, not the other way around.

If you feel as though you could benefit from working with a counselor, then you have come to the right place. Here at BetterHelp, our ultimate priority is to be of assistance to anyone who reaches out to us. Asking for help is always OK. No matter who you are or what your story is, you are not alone. Don't hesitate to get in contact with BetterHelp; make your life better by clicking here.

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