How To Identify The Signs Of Countertransference In Therapy
By: Stephanie Kirby
Updated February 04, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn
If you're like most people, you assume a licensed therapist knows what they're doing and will provide a good experience in which you get the help you need. However, therapists are people too and sometimes fail to meet the level of professionalism one would hope for. One issue that arises is countertransference. This can be detrimental to counseling sessions, so it's important to know the signs of countertransference in therapy.
Countertransference is when therapists transfer their feelings and unresolved issues onto the client. One example can be when the client reminds the counselor of someone from their personal life or past. If you're investing time, money, and energy into therapy, the last thing you want to hear is that your therapist could be negatively impacting your progress. In this article, we'll explore countertransference and how to recognize it.
Why Countertransference Is a Bad Thing
To succeed in helping you, your therapist needs to keep their own experiences out of your sessions. They should not be passing judgment on you or anyone else in your life. If they do, it can exert an inappropriate influence on your thoughts or beliefs.
Therapists who exhibit countertransference are not giving you the therapy you need to address your challenges. If they superimpose their emotions onto you, it only adds to your problems. You can't work through your feelings, emotions, and situations when you have to sort through the emotions of your therapist as well.
You need a therapist who can set aside their life situations, unresolved past, and emotions, and focus on helping you get the support you need. Your therapist is not there to be your friend, your parent, or your judge. When they take on any of these roles, they are not doing you a favor. They are wasting your time and your money and could be setting you back further instead of helping you make progress. But don't worry, you can learn to recognize the signs and take action to address it.
Types of Countertransference in Therapy
There are four types of countertransference that can happen in therapy:
Subjective countertransference occurs when a therapist's personal experiences cause an emotional reaction to their client.
Objective countertransference refers to the emotions a therapist experiences as a reaction to the client's behaviors.
With positive countertransference, the therapist is overly supportive of the client. They can cross the line by trying to be friends with the client and share more than what they should.
With negative countertransference, the therapist is disapproving of the client. It could be that they are overly critical of them, or they try to punish or reject them.
Therapists with less experience are more likely to fall victim to countertransference. That's why it's important they have time working directly under a supervisor when they first start with clients, so there is someone to help them be aware of it.
Signs of Countertransference in Therapy
There are many signs of countertransference. Below are some of the most common signs you should watch for.
- Your therapist is overly critical of you. They seem to be in a bad mood and are taking it out on you for no apparent reason.
- As you deal with difficult situations, your therapist is overly sympathetic to you.
- They provide judgments on situations and people from your life, independent of your opinions.
- Your therapist provides you with advice without letting you arrive at the decisions on your own.
- They give you the impression they want to "save" you.
- You are asked questions and encouraged to provide details that aren't needed for your therapy session and healing.
- They become upset or angry about an opinion or belief that you express.
How to Break Up with Your Therapist
If you think your therapist is showing signs of countertransference, you have a few options on how to proceed. The first is to confront them about it. Let them know what you are experiencing and why you feel that way. This gives them a chance to respond. If you like them and they can correct their behavior, you could consider moving forward. If you'd rather not deal with this awkward conversation or you aren't confident they will change, it's time to break up with them.
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Countertransference, while it might not be intentional, can be one of the signs of an unprofessional therapist. It can also be a sign of an inexperienced therapist. Either way, when you're putting yourself in a vulnerable situation with a therapist, it might be easier to start over with someone new.
How to Find a Good Therapist
Just because a therapist is licensed does not mean they are skilled. You want to do some research before choosing which therapist to work with. Start by asking for recommendations and checking reviews. The internet is full of reviews for therapists and counselors, so you can hear the experience that others have had.
You also want to check their credentials and find out about their experience. Look for what degrees they have and when they were licensed. If they are a newer therapist, you'll want to find out who is supervising them and learn about that therapist as well. You should also look into what type of experience the therapist has. You'll want to find someone who has helped people work through issues similar to yours.
If you're looking for a therapist who can help you learn how to manage anxiety and depression, you probably don't want a therapist specializing in marriage counseling. While licensed therapists can cover a wide array of mental health challenges, it's likely they will be more experienced in some areas than others.
When searching for a therapist, you will also want to consider factors like the cost, location, and availability. Start by checking with your health insurance company to find out if they have any coverage for mental health treatment. If they do, you'll want to look for a therapist in the right network. If they aren't in your network, you can move on to comparing the costs of other options. Make sure to ask if they offer any discounts or sliding scales for pricing. These work to make treatment more affordable by lowering the cost based on your income.
You'll also want to find a therapist that can fit you into their schedule. You don't want to have to wait for weeks every time you need a counseling session. Along with their availability, you'll want to find an office located near you. If you have a busy schedule, the last thing you want is to struggle to make it to appointments on time.
If you don't want to attend therapy sessions in person, you can look into your options for online therapy. These services allow you to have access to therapists without having to leave your home. It allows you to maintain more anonymity because you don't have to sit with others in a waiting room. It can also be easier to get access to the help you need because you don't have to find the time for travel and appointments. Many services offer text or email access, making it easy to stay connected throughout the week.
BetterHelp as an Option
It can be hard to find the right therapist if you have a limited selection in your area. It can be even harder if you've had a negative experience with one in the past. Online counseling, like that offered by BetterHelp, can open up the door to many other therapists. This can help you choose the right therapist from a large pool instead of going off the convenience of whoever is local to you. You can read some reviews of BetterHelp therapists below from people experiencing similar issues.
"I worked with another counselor for over 6 months before working with Arielle Ballard. In one 30-minute session, I got more accomplished in terms of structuring goals, building coping mechanisms, and recognizing thought patterns, than I had in the 6 months working with the other counselor. I'm pleased with my progress and am very grateful to Arielle."
"I had one previous counselor for two months, but I've had 1 session with Brian and a few message exchanges and learned and understood more with him in such a short amount of time than I did with the last counselor. I am so grateful that he was assigned to me. I look forward to working with him moving forward."
Trust Your Instincts
Therapy will be the most effective when you're comfortable with the direction. If you leave therapy each week feeling as bad or worse than when you showed up, there's a problem. This is a good sign you need to break up with your therapist.
The purpose of therapy is to find ways to cope with and recover from the challenges you face. The goal is to improve your life. If your therapist is getting in the way of that progress, a change is needed. Trust your instincts and follow your gut. If things don't "feel" right, then there is a good chance they aren't. It's better for you to find a new therapist you're comfortable with than to continue down the same road.
The right therapist is out there for you. If you are meeting with a therapist and things don't feel right, don't be afraid to find someone new. Your therapy is about you and making the progress that you're looking for. Take the first step.
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