Signs Of A Bad Therapist: When to Move On

Updated October 4, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

You finally mustered up your courage to see a counselor but aren't seeing much progress. It may leave you wondering why so many people seem to get so much from counseling or if you're just such a mess that a counselor can't help you. If you don't see much progress, you might have a counselor who is not a good fit. Knowing some traits found in an unprofessional or unhelpful counselor will help you figure out if it's time to find someone new. Remember, a therapeutic alliance with your counselor is essential, and if you don’t find that your self-esteem is improving, or find that therapy sessions just make you feel worse, it might be due to a toxic therapist or a poor fit.

How Do You Know When To Move On From Your Therapist?

Therapist Red Flags & Inappropriate Therapist Behavior

So, what are the signs that supportive therapy isn’t happening? Identifying unconscious conflicts with your counselor can be difficult. After all, they’re supposed to be providing you with adaptive skills and helping you take direct measures to improve your everyday life. What happens when your thoughts and feelings aren’t taken into account? Here, we will discuss some red flags you might notice in appointments with your counselor.

They Aren't Listening

We're all guilty of it – but when you're at a therapy session, you need a therapist who is listening. Few people do well when therapists ignore them or change the subject when they’re talking. If they have that blank stare in their eyes as you're pouring out the details of your feelings, anxieties, and details of difficult situation, then why would you want to continue? An experienced therapist knows how to listen to you without getting caught up in the details of the words you're choosing. They are looking for the underlying message and signs behind what you're saying. And they should be able to pick up on unsaid signs and ask the right questions to get you to the next level. Overall, they should show address your concerns with interest and insight while being supportive.

Positive changes come when you feel validated and cared for. Your thoughts and feelings are an important element of the treatment that you’re getting, if not the only element. If you are attending a psychotherapy session with a therapist that doesn’t listen to your feelings, it might be time to find someone new.

You Leave Feeling Embarrassed Or Ashamed

You should never feel judged by your therapist. Judgment signs are a red flag and indicate that you might need to find another one right away. During therapy sessions, you are expected to give details about your life and your thoughts that you might not have shared with any other person. It's not the therapist's job to judge the things that you're saying. Instead, they should be looking for signs to understand what you're saying, where it's coming from, and where you need to go from there. If you leave feeling like you've been judged, then consider searching for a new therapist.

During therapy sessions, a therapist should accept you and reinforce accomplishments, but will not punish or judge you for specific behaviors that you are ashamed of. If your therapist focuses on only problems and seems to imply something about you, get away fast. Therapists should be trained to provide psychotherapy treatment that is problem-solving-based and validates your feelings. A good therapist focuses on making positive behavioral changes to support your issues. Here are some examples of what a therapist should not say:

  • “You’re not a good parent if you do that.”
  • “You just need more self-sufficiency; you’re too lazy.”
  • “Your self-destructive behaviors are just for attention, and you’re not hurting.”

Things Seem To Be Getting Romantic

When you are working with a therapist, you are putting yourself in a very vulnerable position. If you get the first sign that your therapist is starting to take advantage of that position, you need to find yourself a new therapist immediately. You should be able to get help from your therapist without having to worry that they are going to use their position to turn the relationship in a different direction.

If a patient sees their therapist trying to turn the conversation around to different light, they should report the therapist to the state board. Less direct measures should be taken so that the therapist does not know you are reporting them. The patient’s steps should be as follows:

  • Let the therapist know you are going to leave early. Do not tell them why.
  • When in a safe location, the patient’s concerns should be reported to the state board. The patient’s history of non-professional experiences with the therapist can be reported.
  • After reporting the non-professional psychotherapy provided, look for a new therapist and make sure to take measures to take care of yourself.

According to the APA, romantic dual relationships with a client are not allowed unless two years have passed since treatment. Even if you consent to one, it is seen as unethical and therapists are aware of this through their training. If you feel your therapist is steering the session of the course in subtle ways, showing interest in you as a romantic partner, or making sexual advances, you should report them to the licensing board.

No Progress Is Being Made

It's normal to leave the first therapy session feeling like no progress has been made because it's more of an information session. However, if you've been attending for more than a few sessions and you aren't leaving feeling any different than when you started, it could indicate signs that your therapist is not the right fit for you.

However, remember that it isn’t always the therapist’s fault if you’re not making progress. Even if a therapist is giving advice, sometimes the patient’s beliefs about themselves or their capabilities can make it hard for therapy to help. For example, if a therapist gives their patient relaxation techniques for anxiety that fits his or her goals, they should be practiced or at least tried.

The patient’s feelings about the practice are also important, but it’s essential to understand that psychotherapy is most helpful when the patient understands that their therapist is a professional in mental illnesses and has seen studies on what works best in psychotherapy.

They Talk About Themselves

When you attend a therapy session, you are paying money to have a professional help you with your situation. If they spend part of the session talking about themselves, that's usually not the professional you want to work with. However, it can sometimes help a patient’s self-esteem if a therapist relates to them through personal experience. Especially in the case of trauma, a good therapeutic alliance may be made through a therapist connecting to a shared experience with their patient, as long as it remains professional. Limit setting is still very important, and if you wish your therapist wouldn’t talk about themselves so much, you may want to try someone new.

You Think Countertransference Might Be An Issue

In supportive therapy, countertransference is when your therapist is treating you a certain way because they are associating you with another person. It could be that you remind them of their child and lead them to take on a parenting role toward you. Or it could be that you remind them of a friend, so they start to treat you as a friend. You might even remind them of other clients and they could start making comparisons.

The warning signs of countertransference in therapy depend on what your therapist is experiencing. It could cause them to be extremely critical of you, share too much of their own life, or even uncover awkward feelings during your session. Pay attention to whether the therapist gives too much information outside the scope of what’s relevant to your session. You must react to this with behavior reversal. Remind your therapist that you are not there to make friends but simply to get advice and improve self-esteem issues. A therapeutic alliance should not be like a friendship. You are not friends with your therapist but have a professional, supportive relationship.

Unresponsiveness

This applies more to online or telephone counseling like texting services. If you aren't getting any answers or a timely response from your therapist, then you are likely to grow frustrated. You may need to consider looking for a different therapist who is more responsive to your communication. Supportive therapy sessions involve healthy communication. However, it’s also important to remember that even though your therapist offers these concrete services in psychotherapy, they have their own life as well, and they cannot attend to your needs 24/7.

You Aren't Being Challenged

Good supportive psychotherapy will challenge you. If you never feel like you're being challenged or gently nudged forward, you probably aren't making the progress you could make. Your therapist should be able to give you constructive feedback to help you benefit from your therapy work. A therapist of experience will know how to challenge you without pushing you too far. They will know your adaptive capacities and will help you through graded exposure to your fears and challenge you to learn more.

Messages Are Full Of Errors

If you are using the texting or email counseling option of BetterHelp and find that your therapist is sending you messages that are full of typos or grammatically incorrect, then it’s a safe bet that they aren't putting a lot of effort into your counseling sessions. You want a therapist who is taking the time to read all of your messages and respond to you. If you aren't getting that, then you are wasting both your time and your money.

Social workers who partake in supportive psychotherapy know that taking the time to care for their client’s needs is essential to a healthy therapeutic alliance.

If You Have Any Reason To Believe Your Trust Is Being Broken

Therapist confidentiality means that your therapist should not be sharing any information about you unless they think you are an immediate danger to yourself or someone else. If you have any reason to believe that your therapist is not maintaining confidentiality, you are unlikely to be comfortable enough to open up the way you need to make the progress you need to make. Even if they state that it’s due to relapse prevention or sharing information with the primary care office so that you can get better help, your therapist should never be sharing information that you did not consent to.

How Do You Know When To Move On From Your Therapist?

When To End A Therapist Relationship

If you recognize any of these signs in your therapist, then it might be time to break up with them. Remember that an appropriate therapist/patient relationship is professional and that you are paying for help. If your therapist isn’t upholding their end of the professional arrangement, then it's time to find someone who will.

If you aren't comfortable breaking up in person, you can do it over the phone or through email. Don't be afraid to explain the reason you are interested in looking for a new therapist. If they didn't realize they were causing a problem or acting unprofessional, it could help open their eyes to what changes they need to make. Remember that they are a person just like you; they aren't perfect, and they aren’t abstract entities.

If you’re worried about how to break the news, try role-playing what you’ll say with a friend. This may help you avoid defense mechanisms if something goes unplanned. Those who practice supportive psychotherapy rely on honesty and communication to understand where you’re at, so make sure you let them know instead of ghosting them.

Finding A Therapist Who Is A Good Fit

There are many strategies you can use to find a good therapist. The first thing you can try is asking for a referral. If you know of a friend or family member that has gone to therapy, you can ask if they could make a recommendation. You can also ask your doctor if they have a mental health professional to whom they refer patients.

If you like group settings, see if you can find therapy groups in your area that deal with the issues you want to focus on. Supportive psychotherapy groups can be just as healing as an individual therapist and can help you increase your self-esteem.

If you are involved with a church or religious group, consider asking if anyone can make a counseling recommendation. There might even be a person within the group, such as a priest or minister, who offers counseling sessions. If you have health insurance, you can check with your provider to see if they cover mental health services and if there are counselors to whom they refer their clients.

If you are a college student, there's a good chance that your college or university has a department for mental health or at least a counselor on staff that students can talk to. The Reno School of Medicine has these services available. If you go to the Reno School of Medicine, speak to your advisor about these services. The same is true if you are in middle school or high school. If you have a child in elementary school, there will also be someone on staff who can make referrals if needed.

Online search is also an effective way to find a good therapist. Make sure you check the credentials of anyone that you are working with. They should be a member of the American Psychiatric Press (APA). Compare and contrast therapists to see which one is most likely to be a good fit for you.

Get Help Today With A Good Therapist

If you've had a bad experience with a bad counselor, don't hesitate to call it quits with them. Just because therapy with one person doesn't work does not mean that there is a problem with you. Not every counselor is going to be the right fit for you. It can be discouraging when you put yourself out there to get help and don't receive what you expected. But there are good therapists out there. Don't let one bad counselor ruin your opinion of therapy as a whole. Be encouraged to look for another one, and don't give up until you make a great connection with a therapist that can help you improve your life for the better.

You might consider trying online therapy. Research shows that electronically delivered supportive therapy from online therapists is as effective as traditional face-to-face counseling, which makes it an incredibly convenient option. This study, conducted by Brigham Young University researchers, found that technology-based therapy provides other added benefits too, including, “lower cost, no travel time, no waitlists, and clear progress.”

If these perks are attractive to you, consider choosing an online support therapy solution such as BetterHelp. The professional, licensed counselors at BetterHelp can provide ongoing daily support via email, chat, or video conferencing, which means you can select the best format for you. Here's a look at what others had to say about the assistance they received from the counselors at BetterHelp.

Real BetterHelp Therapist Reviews From Our Clients

Therapist Liany Pacheco

“Liany is the best therapist I have ever had. She makes me feel heard and gives me tangible ways to manage my anxiety, even though we only have 30 minutes together each week. She is so accommodating of my schedule and understanding, not to mention incredibly knowledgeable. Whether it's a book recommendation, a coping mechanism to try, or just affirmation that I am enough and am doing enough, Liany always meets me where I am at. She is a wonderful human who cares about her clients.”

Therapist Cindy Rounds

“Cindy is hands down the best therapist I have had out of my 8 years of trying different therapists. I was very fortunate to find someone during the pandemic who was well versed in the issues I was facing. She inspires me and pushes me to do better for myself.”

Still, wondering what the signs of a bad therapist are? Reach out today. Supportive therapy doesn’t have to be hard to find. Online therapists are ready to help.

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