After spending an entire decade in therapy of all kinds, testing with various therapists and psychiatrists, documenting my own life and conditions and staying permanently informed about therapeutic methods, I’ve put together a list of 20 most common things a therapist should never do in relation to their client. This list is not exhaustive, but it’s based on my own and my friends’ experience, clinical support studies and advice from good therapists I have met.
1. They can’t or refuse to give you information about the type of therapy or method they use.
This is actually the first question you should address a psychotherapist at your initial get-to-know-each-other session. They should be able to introduce themselves thoroughly from a professional point of view and explain their work method and type of the therapy they specialise in. First sessions are not just an exchange of information between the patient and the specialist, but also the negotiation of how the therapy will be assessed, how long it may last and what are the expected results based on the addressed goal. If your therapist can’t or won’t disclose such basic information, you should rather book a couple more appointments with other specialists and decide afterwards who’s best for you. First encounters in therapy are like job interviews, where you are the client and the therapist is your service provider. Make sure you know well who you want to hire!
2. They talk too much.
The focus in therapy is supposed to be on you – the client. You’ve reached your therapist’s office to seek advice, help, to understand or better yourself as an individual. A therapist should know when to open a different topic, how to guide you through a difficult emotional situation, and mostly, when to shut up. Unless they’re giving you important information about your treatment, progress or are asking more relevant insight from you, they shouldn’t be making the session about themselves.
3. They don’t keep a file or they forget important information about your case.
Naturally, therapists are humans and with the dozens of patients they see each week it’s normal to sometimes forget this or that. However, if your therapist makes a track record of forgetting crucial information about your situation, you should ask them whether they keep a file of your case. A patient file is mandatory and relevant in the sense that it contains all the important information about your past and current situation along with the progress your sessions make. If they don’t keep such journals, it’d be advisable to look for a therapist with a greater degree of organization.
4. They give unsolicited advice.
This is code red for leave, now, and it’s the one thing psychotherapists should never, ever do. Giving a patient life advice is unethical. The whole point of therapy is to become aware of your own thoughts, emotions and needs, and to be able to make decisions by yourself, no matter how difficult it is or how long it takes to reach that level of awareness. Seeing a therapist who acts like the sympathetic friend or parent who always knows what’s best for you to do is not only completely counterproductive, but can be dangerous if you’re on unsteady ground/don’t know what’s best for you.
5. They get too close to you…
…be it physically or emotionally. The relationship you develop in therapy should respect healthy boundaries. If your therapist touches you, hugs you or initiates other types of physical contact without having your consent, you are right to wonder if that’s okay, especially if you feel like they’re pushing too much into your personal space.
6. They make sexual advances to you
Run. Now. Or call the clinic they work with and tell. This is under no circumstance acceptable and your therapist should not even be allowed in his field of work.
7. They are late. Constantly.
Being sometimes late for a good reason is human, but if your therapist makes you wait for them constantly, and don’t offer extra time in the sessions, consider finding an alternative therapist who respects their clients.
8. They don’t talk at all.
Therapists don’t do much talking in general, because the focus of the sessions is on the patient. However, a mute therapist can be confusing and infuriating for most people. If they refuse to answer any of your questions, make no input and simply leave you to talk endlessly without any kind of guidance or attention, you may consider fishing for a different approach.
9. They abuse you, harass you or insult you.
I once saw a therapist who said my tattoos are an ugly way of trying to make myself special, and that they remind him of the iron stamps put on cows. While I was about to burst into tears, I stood up, kept myself composed, told him he’s an embarrassment to his profession and elegantly left. If something like this ever happens to you, know that you are not there to be judged upon your body, life choices, sexuality, health or general decisions. You are there to learn about yourself and heal with the help of a professional who is not allowed to hit you when you’re at your most vulnerable. From that experience, I learned I always have a choice, and my choice was to leave and never look back.
10. They don’t respect your personal point of view.
I used to be in therapy with this lady who liked to make recommendations for my love life. When I told her I am seeing someone new and that I’m not yet sure how the relationship will evolve, she leaned back on her chair and blurted the infamous “Well, you should date more people then”. Your therapist should never question your decisions or try to influence them, unless you are hurting yourself or thinking about suicide. She couldn’t seem to relate to my desire to date monogamously out of respect for my partner, so we parted ways.
11. They constantly avoid to talk about your progress in therapy or lack thereof.
Your therapist should be able to talk openly to you about your progress. If they refuse to debate on such matters, or keep you in suspension, be sure you can end it. Knowing your own progress is crucial to functional therapy.
12. They suggest they are the best therapist for you.
No one can tell you that. Period. If you are unsatisfied with the therapy, or you want to look for a different opinion, your therapist should be able to discuss this with you and assist you in making your own decision. If they threaten you, or say you won’t find anyone like them, you are very right to leave.
13. They don’t answer/return your calls.
If you’ve agreed that you can contact your therapist on their phone between sessions, they should be able to answer or reach back as soon as possible, especially if your case presents great attention or if you’re in the danger of hurting yourself. If they simply don’t return your calls or emails repeatedly, bring up the issue in your following session. If the issue persists, you know what you have to do…
14. They say your struggles are not real or undermine your problems.
Oh, Lord. How I like these scenarios. Basically, when a therapist says something like “Your struggles are not real”, they not only fail to understand you in any way, but they essentially fail at their job. A therapist is trained in determining the gravity of your issues and in finding the best solutions for overcoming them. If they say something like that, fire them mercilessly.
15. They focus only on the cognitive/emotional side of therapy.
Therapy is a process that in its very essence helps connect the rational and the emotional. While some therapies rather focus on one of these aspects, they should never eliminate the other from the therapeutic equation.
16. They don’t protect your confidentiality.
Therapy is confidential according to law in most countries. You should be signing an agreement with your therapist/clinic when you begin working together on your case that states everything you present the therapist with will remain confidential. They’re not supposed to give away information about your case neither to family members, your employer, or other people or organizations. Should they wish to discuss or collaborate on your case with another specialist, they should have your permission.
17. They criticise your statements or decisions.
A therapist is not your parent, friend, or any other random person you meet on the street who might have something to argue about your choices or remarks. They may ask you why you consider a certain decision – but never tell you that you’re wrong, because their mission is not to influence you, but to support you into taking the right decision for yourself at a certain time.
18. They want to befriend you.
In my early days in therapy, my then boyfriend suggested I could see one his friends for counseling. I did, but inevitably, with time, our relationship went sour and my confessions in therapy to his platonic girl friend from school altered their friendship. Eventually, she stopped talking to him because she was angry with the way he treated me. Friendship between a client and therapist is completely non advisable and a good therapist should always refrain from taking in a patient whom they know in real life. This is simply because the therapist must be able to assess your situation objectively, without any external influences that can interfere with the therapy. Steer away from being friends with them on social media or in real life, for your own good.
19. They make you feel worse.
This is widely common in therapy, but it’s more difficult to determine. Therapy means exploring bringing to surface deeply hidden or unknown emotions. This can result into you feeling more depressed, worried or anxious, as purging repressed feelings is often a painstaking process. However, you and your therapist should be able to assess the effect of therapy after the first 5-6 sessions. If you’re constantly feeling uncomfortable, inadequate or anxious about therapy, bring this up to your specialist. Unfortunately, if there’s no conciliation or satisfactory outcome, you may have to look for a different professional. Therapy is not your key to happiness and it definitely doesn’t mean you walk in there, leave your problems and then feel instantly healed – but it should make you feel more relaxed, confident and in touch with yourself after a couple sessions. If what happens there doesn’t make any sense to you, consider opting out.
20. They won’t admit whether they can help you or not.
I once had a therapist who sighed whenever I asked her if she thinks she can truly help me navigate my anxiety. This gave me the creeps in the beginning, then it made me feel much more nervous and insecure. I started to wonder what was I doing, whether she was refusing to answer on purpose or because this was a therapy technique, and why do I keep paying her. Ultimately, I gathered the courage to ask her upfront why she avoids answering. She replied she has yet to determine that. We were on our 7th session when this happened and back then I didn’t know so much about how therapy should happen or what a therapist is required to do. Now I know: they are supposed to discuss this with you in the first session, and if they determine they can’t assist you along the way, they should tell you so. Not all therapists might specialize in your situation, but you have the right to the best service and assistance, and a therapist who just keeps you in limbo to cash in more money from you or says they’re undecided is briefly playing with your time and health. Stay informed, and don’t shy away from asking anything you’d like to know. It’s your right.