Warning Signs Of An Abusive Counselor

By: Gabrielle Seunagal

Updated January 27, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Dutil

Counseling is a form of healthcare 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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Think You May Have An Abusive Counselor?

Don't Wait - Get Support From A Licensed Therapist Online Today

Source: rawpixel.com

Unfortunately, there are instances in which 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 incredible damage and majorly set individuals back.

Abusive Counseling: What To Look Out For

Abusive counselors are not going to come out and expose themselves outright. 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 that 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, respect you, and use their professional experience to determine how they can help improve your quality of life. Never should a counselor abuse their position by tearing down the individuals who turn to them for assistance.

Generally, these behaviors build up over time and become more apparent as time goes on with the therapist. 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? Do you feel heard? Always trust your gut instincts. If something doesn't feel right, then it probably isn't.

Talking About Other Clients

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Revealing personal information about other clients is another huge red flag of an abusive counselor. This is a no-no for so many reasons. It is never appropriate, nor legal, for a counselor to discuss other client’s issues with you or anyone else!

First and foremost, this completely breaches the trust which exists between counselors and clients. Secondly, if a counselor is revealing other client’s personal information to you, they are likely revealing your personal information to other individuals 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 clients.

Sexual Attention Or Advances

Under no circumstances is it appropriate for a counselor to make romantic advances on or give sexual attention to their clients. When a counselor agrees to see a client, their duty is to work with the client 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 inappropriate advances should be promptly reported to their state professional board. There is a very special dynamic of trust, vulnerability, and professionalism which exists between counselors and clients; for clients to truly heal, improve, and achieve the desired results from counseling, the professional dynamic must remain intact.

A Lack Of Empathy

Counseling is a field that requires a great deal of care and empathy from its practitioners. Whenever clients 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 interest.

Adverse Impacts After Sessions

It goes without saying that counseling is supposed to help clients. For this reason, if you are experiencing adverse impacts, such as 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 people 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.

With that being said; counseling is not always easy and sometimes uncomfortable emotions and memories are brought. Be sure to differentiate these from your therapist and determine the underlying cause – do you feel off because a tough topic was discussed, or because you don’t feel heard or respected by your therapist?

Think You May Have An Abusive Counselor?
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When a counselor is truly working with you as they should be, you should notice improvements in your mental health and overall wellbeing 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 invaluable improvements in the quality of their lives. However, there still exists a minority of counselors who 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 gain an inflated sense of self and power as they progress in their position. There is an inherent power imbalance which exists between counselors and clients. 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 in which they feel powerless. Therefore, instead of seeking their own counseling and knowledge, they opt to abuse their power to gain a sense of control in their lives. It's an unfortunate situation, but in many cases, abusive counselors who are found out do wind up losing their credentials. A therapist abusing their power and harming clients is a severe offense, and not taken lightly. Nevertheless, understanding the motivations behind the misdeeds of abusive counselors can certainly make a difference.


It takes a certain type of person to go into the field of counseling and re-victimize the people who have already been through something. This can be 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. After all, that’s why most therapists do what they do!

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.

How Online Therapy Can Help

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.

Online therapy is an incredibly useful tool that studies have found to be just as effective in treating a variety of mental health conditions as face-to-face therapy. In fact, a study conducted by the University of Zurich found that online therapy is even more effective than in-person therapy in the medium- and long-term as clients continue to experience improvement long into treatment and even several months post-treatment. Specifically, three months post-treatment, 57% of online clients continue to experience a decline in their depression symptoms compared to just 42% of conventional in-person therapy clients.

BetterHelp is highly convenient and accessible, able to be used anytime, anywhere, whether you live in a city but lack time to go to in-person therapy or you live rurally far away from healthcare facilities. Additionally, it’s a fully customizable experience – filling out a quick questionnaire will pair you with suitable therapists, whom you can chat with to determine if they’re a good fit for you. After that, you can decide which mode works best for you for sessions – video chatting, instant messaging, phone calls, or live voice recordings are all used.

Continue reading below to see reviews of some of our licensed therapists from people who had previous poor experiences with therapy but gave BetterHelp a chance.

“I have found great healing from the support and guidance Cecilia has provided. Her kindness, patience, acceptance, intuition, nurturing spirit and ability to listen well has been a great catalyst in my desire for deep growth and change. I have had bad experiences in the past with therapy and was very nervous to start. I am so grateful BetterHelp paired me with her. She has completely changed my view of how therapy should look. I have a long way to go but am much less intimidated by the process now. If you have any fear towards the difficult process of growth and healing, I absolutely recommend her!”

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