When I first entered therapy, I envisioned the person and outcome: an intuitive, highly keen individual who would analyze my problems and then — boom — ‘cure’ me by the end of the school year. Unfortunately, I realized that my plan was not plausible. Contrary to popular belief, therapy is often times a long, arduous journey — not just with healing yourself, but with actually finding the right therapist that will accommodate your needs.
At the end of the day, it’s important to understand that therapists are human too, and sometimes you might not click with them. It is also imperative to note that therapy is their job and you are their client. You should always feel fully satisfied with your progress, and, if you aren’t, it may be necessary to consider looking elsewhere. These were some serious red flags that I encountered while in therapy:
1. They don’t remember anything.
Your therapist doesn’t have to possess photographic memory, but they should recall the basic details of your life and the things you’ve discussed. One of my therapists consistently asked me to reiterate events and people, taking up time and leaving me with a sense of frustration. By failing to know their client, therapists can end up hurting their clients with their seeming indifference.
2. They attempt to manage your life.
This one is a stealthy sign, as people can confuse this with guidance and advice. When therapists try to manage your life, they tell rather than suggest, and this is usually coupled with an opinionated tone. If you feel ordered, bossed around or hesitant to tell your therapist that you disagree, than they most likely are attempting to manage your life. Often, you will feel backed into a corner and feel as if you have no choice but to agree — which is not the point of therapy. Guidance and advice, on the other hand, is when the therapist hands you the tools, and you apply them yourself to the real world.
3. They act or seem judgmental.
Ironically, this one is a biggie. The whole point of therapy is to speak openly with someone — that someone being a professional — in a safe environment where you can escape from judgement. Unfortunately, I and others I know have landed one-too-many ‘professionals’ who failed to rein in their judgement. There is a time and a place for criticism in therapy, but only very rarely. That is the parents’ job. Therapists should never make you feel stupid or overly dramatic when discussing mental illness, and they should never openly exhibit rude disapproval about your actions. Overall, you should never feel as though the therapist is against you when their job is to advocate for you.
4. They talk about themselves too much.
Some people prefer that their therapist injects personal anecdotes, which can bring some new perspectives to the client, but there are certain boundaries. If you exit a therapy session with a sense of unfinished business or irritation that you didn’t get to talk enough, it’s very probable that your therapist is someone who likes to talk about irrelevant topics. Even more alarming is if the therapist goes on tangents about their life or if they ask you for advice — which has happened to me. No matter what, therapy is all about you and not about them.
5. They never actually help you achieve anything.
Another major red flag. For my first therapist, she was a kind old lady who wore thick sweaters and talked in a warm, scratchy voice. We had insightful and entertaining conversations, and I ranted a lot during sessions. But did I experience any revelations? Did I leave the sessions feeling enlightened and equipped with new strategies to handle my issues? No, I did not. Our relationship was more of a friendship rather than a therapist-client one, and it took me a while to see how problematic that was. You should always, always be improving with each session, even if in minuscule steps. You are paying hundreds of dollars not to chit-chat, but to heal.
6. They are distracted during your session.
Like I alluded to before, therapy is a transaction despite how soul-bearing and personal it gets. You are paying someone for one hour of their undivided attention, and you have the right to receive it. Of course, it’s expected that therapists might need to run to the bathroom or check their phone in an emergency, but those instances still should occur only occasionally. Your therapist shouldn’t constantly be on their mobile or be immersed in some task besides listening to you or taking notes. For example, one therapist of mine would always be scrolling through her phone and mumble distractedly. She would be so distracted that she wouldn’t even noticed that I’d stopped talking, and I’d have to wait silently for her to put down her screen. Looking back now, I wish I’d seen sooner that it was a big no-no.
Therapy takes two to function. Stay aware of your responses to your therapist as well as their responses to you. Remember, it can often take many months and switches to finally find the right one for you. Most importantly, listen to your gut reactions, because your psyche often realizes things before your conscious mind does.
Photo Nik Shuliahin via Unsplash