Updated on 8/1/2021
Some signs of a bad therapist are easy to spot. If your therapist insults or shames you, it’s time to find someone new.
Others are more difficult. The therapist might encourage you to blame others or become overly defensive about a criticism. These issues may not hurt your feelings, but they hinder progress in therapy.
This guide will help you spot all the signs of a bad therapist. That way you can avoid bad therapists and find the quality therapy you deserve.
To make the guide comprehensive and inclusive, we included all of the mediums for psychotherapy. This is crucial because some red flags only apply to in-person therapy but not online therapy. Think about how a therapist eating during an in-person or video session would be rude but would not matter for texting therapy.
- Signs That Apply to All forms of Psychotherapy
- In-Person Therapy Only
- Video Chats Only
- Phone Calls and Audio Messaging
- Text-Messaging Therapy Only
A Quick Note of Consideration for Your Therapist:
It’s important to catch warning signs, but remember to cut your therapist some slack. They are only human and are bound to make some mistakes.
If you only see one of these signs and it doesn’t bother you too much, consider chatting with your therapist about it. The two of you might be able to work on it. If you like your therapist, it would be a shame to quit over something you could reconcile.
Think about whether the therapist is a good fit for you. Signs a therapist is bad are different than signs he or she isn’t the right match.
Signs That Apply to All Forms of Psychotherapy
1. Not Listening or Responding
This is the most obvious one. Therapists need to listen and respond to what you’re saying. If they are clearly not making enough effort to understand you and provide guidance, it’s time to bounce and find someone better.
2. Judging You
Judging clients in a way that shames them is hurtful and hinders progress in therapy. You should not have to experience this.
3. Telling You What To Do
It’s OK for therapists to share their thoughts and opinions if you ask for advice, but they shouldn’t be ordering you around. Therapy is supposed to empower you and give you the cognitive skills to make great decisions. Telling you what to do defeats that purpose and is an ethical grey area.
4. Imposing Religious, Spiritual, Political or Social Beliefs
Therapists should respect your religious, spiritual, political and social beliefs. That means not imposing their beliefs on you.
If a therapist is opposed to abortion for religious reasons, for example, he or she has no right to raise that during treatment or use it as motivation to advise a client on issues related to an abortion.
Even if you sought a religious counselor so you could discuss religious issues in therapy, your therapist should not impose any belief. A religious counselor is only someone who is more likely to understand a religious perspective.
5. Not Being Sensitive to Your Beliefs or Background
Therapists need to respect differences between themselves and their clients. Their guidance should account for your beliefs.
6. Breaking Confidentiality
A therapist is legally bound to protect your privacy. He or she should only share confidential information if it is necessary to save a life.
7. Encouraging You to Blame Everyone for Your Issues
You want a therapist to be on your side, but they won’t help you if they encourage you to blame all your issues on others. Therapy is supposed to empower you to take responsibility and live a better life.
8. Shaming Mental Illness
If you have a mental illness, your therapist should accept that part of your identity. They shouldn’t treat it like something to be ashamed of. Here’s an example of a therapist doing that by telling a person with bipolar disorder he should not disclose it to anyone:
“In a manic state, promoting bipolar would be like gays promoting gayness at Mardi-Gras. Weeee, which is OK if you are in New Orleans, but real risky anywhere else at other times of the year. That’s not education, that’s in your face.” – Mike Leary, Psychotherapist
He’s also a bigot who hopefully doesn’t work with gay clients.
9. Talking Too Much About Him or Herself
It’s OK for therapists to talk about themselves a little. Sometimes it helps build a strong therapeutic alliance that increases positive results in therapy.
The vast majority of therapy should be about you, though. That’s what you’re paying for!
10. Pushing You to Talk About Something You Don’t Want to Talk About or Aren’t Ready for Yet
You’re paying for therapy, so you should decide where it goes. Therapists need to respect that and be patient with issues. They can guide you, but they shouldn’t push an issue if you tell them to change the subject. If it’s too important to ignore, they should wait and gently, gradually guide you back to it.
11. Rushing a Diagnosis or Overdiagnosing
Not every problem needs a clinical label. Sometimes rushing to diagnose someone can result in a false diagnosis or overdiagnosis.
It can be dehumanizing, too. A therapist should treat you as a person first, then your mental health issues. Unless you ask for a diagnosis immediately, it shouldn’t be the first part of your therapeutic experience.
12. Becoming Overly Defensive About Feedback or Criticism
If you tell your therapist he or she has made a mistake or needs to fix an approach to an issue, he or she should respond calmly and maturely. On the other hand, bad therapists will lose control of their emotions, become overly defensive or criticize you.
13. Pushing Therapeutic Approach Too Much
Therapists shouldn’t put everything you are dealing with in the context of a therapeutic approach. If you pour your heart out about a childhood trauma, your therapist’s first response shouldn’t be, “Let’s see what Freud would have to say about that.”
14. Trying to Be Your Friend
Your therapist should not ask you to hang out as friends. It can interfere with being objective during therapy.
Signs That Only Apply to In-Person Sessions
15. Checking the Clock Too Much
Once is OK, but several times is rude. You shouldn’t feel rushed out the door.
16. The Therapist Is Constantly Buried in Notes
Eye contact and body language are one of the main benefits of face-to-face therapy. You’re missing out on this benefit — one you might have paid a lot of money for — if your therapist spends the vast majority of the session scribbling in a notebook.
17. Eating, Grooming, Primping or Checking Phone
These are rude and there’s no excuse. Lunch breaks exist for a reason.
18. Inappropriate Touching
A therapist should not initiate any form of physical contact other than a handshake or pat on the shoulder. Anything else is a grey area or unethical.
19. Not Giving You the Time You Paid For
If you’re on time to your session, you deserve the amount of minutes the therapist is charging you for. A therapist might need to start late because the client before you was late. That’s OK. But if you start a 30-minute session at 4:35 p.m., it should finish no earlier than 5:05 p.m.
Signs That Only Apply to Live Video Chats and Video Messages
20. Looking or Clicking Around Their Desktop or Phone
During a video chat, you can see a therapist’s eyes wander constantly if they are multitasking while chatting with you. It’s a sign of disrespect.
21. Too Much Background Noise, Not Enough Privacy
If there is a ton of background noise during your scheduled live video chat, it shows the therapist didn’t care or wasn’t organized enough to find a quiet space for the chat. Environments like this risk other people hearing what the therapist is saying. This can violate your privacy.
Signs That Apply to In-Person and Video Chat Therapy
- Not Giving You the Time You Paid For
- Checking the Clock Too Much
- Eating, Grooming, Primping, Etc.
- Constantly Buried in Notes
- Checking the Clock Too Much
Signs That Apply to Phone Calls and Audio Messaging
The signs are the same as the video chatting ones: lots of background noise that shows the therapist didn’t try to find a quiet space, eating while talking, etc.
Signs That Only Apply to Asynchronous or Live Text Therapy
22. Taking Forever to Respond
If a therapist consistently takes a more than five days to respond to each one of your messages, they aren’t trying hard enough. Responding that slow defeats the purpose of text therapy.
23. Their Messages Are Too Short
When you send a therapist a huge paragraph with important thoughts, their response should be more than a word or two.
24. Not Trying to Convey Tone
Therapists need to write more during text therapy so they can convey tone. If they don’t put in that effort, the therapy might feel incomplete.
25. Tons of Typos
If messages are riddled with typos to the point where you can’t understand what the therapist is trying to communicate, it means he or she didn’t take the time to edit the message.
Signs You Are Ready for a New Therapist
If you have encountered some of these signs, don’t worry. There are good therapists out there who will fit your needs and preferences. If you still want to improve your mental health, you’re ready for a new therapist.