Therapy can be transformational and life-changing.
It can also be stressful, confusing, and counterproductive.
In many cases, it depends primarily on your therapist themselves. If you know the biggest signs your therapist isn’t right for you then you can avoid wasting time and money on therapy that actually leaves you worse off than when you first walked in the door.
You may have heard that “you get out what you put in” and there’s certainly something to that, but it’s also a fact that you aren’t going to make progress if you’re being led by someone who’s not really on your side.
An empathetic and engaged therapist can be a powerful changemaker and bringer of clarity; a disengaged and judgmental therapist can make your challenges even worse and leave you mired in a swamp of negativity and self-doubt.
For a highly sensitive person (HSP) the importance of having a high-quality and dedicated therapist is even higher. HSP individuals absorb sensory, emotional, and intellectual details on a more intense level than non-HSP individuals and they tend to fall into guilt and self-blame.
A therapist who encourages the self-destructive tendencies of an HSP who is dealing with mental or emotional challenges can be a deeply negative force who feeds into patterns of self-limitation, disempowerment, and self-sabotage.
What I’m saying is that bad therapists should be strictly avoided – especially by highly sensitive people.
The truth about bad therapists …
I’ve been to a number of therapists in my time, primarily to deal with depression and behaviors I’ve struggled with as part of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
The therapists ranged from alternative to mainstream, serious, and professional to jokey and “youth camp leader”-ish.
But at the end of the day, I can tell you that what I learned is that a bad therapist partly depends on your situation.
It also depends on what you’re walking into. Some therapists are exhausted and emotionally burned out. They are going through the motions.
Others are intelligent and brilliant but they are simply not a good match for you in terms of personality or what they specialize in.
At the end of the day, the important thing is to find a therapist who can help you successfully approach and resolve challenges you are having.
For that reason, there are important signs your therapist isn’t right for you that you should watch out for …
Here are the top 15 signs your therapist isn’t right for you.
1) Signs your therapist isn’t right for you: they aren’t on your side
This is number one because if your therapist isn’t on your side then there’s really no path forward with them.
What I mean by “on your side” is not that they always agree with you or are never critical.
Some judgment and even criticism can be a necessary dose of the ugly truth in therapy that can help you break free of self-damaging behaviors and beliefs.
Being “on your side” means the fundamental relationship between you and your therapist is one of respect. It means that even when they challenge or disagree with you they do so in a way that moves forward rather than a way that makes you feel insufficient, broken, or stupid.
If your therapist talks down to you, smirks, does other work on their phone or computer while you talk, or generally seems to believe themselves to be better than you or see your problems as unworthy of recognition then they are not the right therapist for you.
2) They behave in overly casual or unprofessional ways
Having a good rapport and being comfortable with your therapist is crucial.
But one of the signs your therapist isn’t right for you is if they behave in overly casual or unprofessional ways.
One hilarious example can be seen in the comedy program After Life starring Ricky Gervais. The main character’s therapist often jokes about his sexual exploits in derogatory terms and gives terrible, idiotic advice that would be disastrous if followed.
Of course, this is an exaggeration, but if your therapist is becoming more like a buddy or someone you’d sling back drinks with after a long week then they’re not a good fit for seriously tackling what you’re facing.
If they even start chatting with you about their issues or treating you like an old college friend then you have to start tapping the brakes ASAP.
You’re paying a professional to help you move through challenges you’re facing. That professional should be providing structure, guidance, and insight. You’re not paying them to be a friend or to be a sounding board to vent about whatever random topics are on your mind on a given day of the week.
3) You’re scared to move on and try a new therapist
This is one of the clearest signs your therapist isn’t right for you: you stay out of blind loyalty and fear that moving on will hurt or offend your current therapist.
You try to push down the growing feeling that they aren’t a good fit for you and that you’re not making any headway and you stay because it’s more comfortable and it will avoid any awkwardness or confrontation.
Many HSPs are very conflict-avoidant and will actively try to please others.
This can include their therapist.
Even if you’re not an HSP, you may find yourself making excuses for the lack of progress happening in your sessions or for unprofessional or unhelpful behavior from your therapist.
The key thing to remember here is you are in an employment relationship. If your therapist is offended or irked by you moving on – or dumbfounded and thought everything was going wonderfully – it is not your problem.
The most you can do is politely take your leave and explain to them how things stand from your perspective and your desire to see other therapists.
4) Your therapist tunes you out
It’s common for therapists to scrawl notes or even sometimes note things down on a laptop or tablet.
But if your sessions start to cross the line into realizing your therapist is actively tuning you out then it’s one of the clearest signs your therapist isn’t right for you.
Watch for: eye contact, engagement, useful observations, continuity with the subject you are discussing.
When your therapist tunes you out they will often start the “uh-huh,” “mmm,” and another non-committal grunt routine while breaking eye contact or making it very sporadically to pretend to be listening.
They may start pretending to look pensive or invested as a cover but then be slightly taken aback when you directly ask for input or remind them of what you’re discussing.
That’s because they weren’t actually listening.
You are not in a contest to gain your therapists’ attention. The level of their personal interest in what you’re discussing or the issues happening in their own life doesn’t mean you deserve to be ignored like a chirping mouse in the corner.
If your therapist is tuning you out and giving you the “uh-huh” routine it’s time to find a new therapist.
5) Your therapist is triggered by something you say
This is one of the most glaring signs your therapist isn’t right for you.
As a mental health professional, a therapist is trained and educated not to become personally enmeshed and “triggered” by what a patient says or does.
Naturally, your therapist is going to react if you stand up and flip over the chair or start shouting angrily at them, but if you are engaging in a normal therapy session and they become highly agitated or upset and “triggered” by something you say it is simply not acceptable.
Therapists are humans too and they can’t always control their instinctive reactions.
But if you find that a subject you bring up has caused your therapist to turn into a heaving mess of emotions, anger, or judgmental comments then it’s a big warning sign.
You already have enough to deal with, you don’t need to become a therapist for your therapist as well.
6) Your therapist sees you as a piggy bank
Whether your therapy is being wholly or partly covered or you are paying out of pocket, the process is not cheap.
If your therapist is frequently raising rates or casually mentioning price hikes at the end of sessions it’s time to consider whether this is the right person for you.
Quality generally costs money: true.
But a therapist who looks at you and sees dollar signs is not someone you can really trust to share your personal life with or to open up to.
Whether you’re going to grief counseling, seeing a therapist for relationship issues or dealing with panic disorder, depression, or something else entirely, trust is absolutely vital.
One of the harshest signs your therapist isn’t right for you is when you realize they only see you as a cash cow they can milk by extending your suffering.
This is also troubling because it’s a direct conflict of interest: if your therapist is more interested in getting money out of you than helping you then they have a direct interest in prolonging and avoiding solutions to the challenges you’re facing in order to make more money.
Avoid greedy therapists!
7) You leave therapy feeling deflated and frustrated
Some therapy sessions are inevitably going to be tough. And working through trauma, grief and anger can be cleansing.
But if you find yourself often leaving a session feeling deflated and frustrated it can be one of the most obvious signs your therapist isn’t right for you.
At times it can be hard to put your finger on exactly what’s not working out.
Sometimes a therapist just doesn’t bring you out of your shell; other times the whole environment of a therapist’s office and demeanor can somehow make you depressed.
As an HSP these details are important and it’s vital that you pay attention to how a therapy session leaves you afterward.
If you’re walking out with a knot in your stomach and you just feel like going home to sleep and giving up on life it’s time to start searching Google for a new therapist.
8) Your friends and colleagues warn you about a therapist
This advice can sometimes save you from sinking your time and money into the wrong therapist.
If your friends warn you about strange or negative experiences with a therapist it can be a good idea to avoid that therapist.
Even though your colleagues or friends may have seen a therapist for entirely different reasons than you, it’s important to take their experiences seriously and think about why they disliked a certain therapist.
Sometimes it may be an issue that’s only very particular to your friends or coworkers, but in other cases, it can be part of a pattern.
For all you know a therapist may have hired an online image consultant to scrub negative Yelp and Google comments and make themselves look better.
Where there’s smoke there’s often fire, so tread with caution around therapists who you’ve been told are not a good pick.
9) Your therapist hits on you
This sounds like a joke, but it’s really not. Therapists are not always professionals and they can sometimes behave in ways that are honestly shocking.
Whether you’re a man or woman, having a therapist who’s clearly interested in you and checking you out can be uncomfortable, distracting and creepy.
The fact is that even if you are into it and potentially interested in your therapist, it’s just not the place to be making smoldering eye contact and mentally undressing the person across from you.
You’re in therapy to address and solve personal challenges, not to date.
If you find that your therapist is hitting on you it’s time to head for the door: if you are interested you can always look them up and meet for drinks outside of a professional context.
If you’re not interested you can breathe more easily knowing you don’t have to try to talk about your problems in front of a person who’s more interested in what’s going on under your underwear.
10) Your therapist makes creepy, negative comments
Nobody is perfect, not even your therapist. Nonetheless, if they are making creepy negative comments it’s time to think about hitting the road.
There can be a fine line between sarcastic or dry humor and creepy or negative comments, but as a highly sensitive person, you can trust yourself to know that line.
If your therapist is making odd jokes or comments about your personal life, mumbling strange or negative comments that are dismissive or belittling toward you, or engaging in any sort of bizarre “put-downs” it’s time to think about leaving.
At the same time, it’s important not to be a perfectionist and to understand your therapist will occasionally say something dumb or strange.
The problem is when it becomes common or starts to seriously affect your relationship and makes you realize they’re not right for you.
11) Your therapist constantly compares you to others
For one thing, your therapist shouldn’t be discussing other patients or people with you.
For another thing, being compared and contrasted with other people getting therapy is degrading and often discouraging.
Even if your therapist compares you to others to give you a “boost” it’s unprofessional and uncalled for.
Your situation is your own: why is your therapist grasping at the experiences of others to tell you about your own life?
Another version of this is for your therapist to bring up famous people and act like their lives relate directly to yours: “Yeah, well you know _____ struggled with depression for years and eventually overcame it through the kind of therapy we’re doing. I think we’ll start to see progress soon with you.”
OK, so … if we don’t see the progress our time’s been a dud?
Yes, everyone’s experiences and insights are valuable – I’ve mentioned mine briefly even here – but a therapy session is not the time or place to be on an American Idol of mental health where you feel like you’re somehow competing for seriousness or gravity in the challenges you’ve faced.
12) Your therapist is always in a rush to end your session
If your therapist is a clock-watching type it can be distracting and frustrating.
You may be getting to the “meat” of what’s on your mind just when the therapist mentions there’s “not much time left.”
OK, so, thanks for that. Now you just used up twenty more seconds to tell me there’s not much time left. Much appreciated.
Professionalism and ending appointments on time are fully normal and good practice.
But if your therapist is a clock watcher or cuts you off literally in mid-sentence to end a session then you have a problem on your hands.
You need to respect your therapist’s time and professionalism, but by the same token, he or she needs to respect that you’re not a machine and ending a few seconds late to let you finish a sentence or trade a few words of goodbye until your next session won’t be the end of the world.
13) Your therapist admits they haven’t treated someone in your situation before
There’s always room to grow and learn together, but if your therapist admits they haven’t treated someone in your situation before it can be one of the largest signs your therapist isn’t right for you.
The potential upside of this is that your therapist approaches your issues with “fresh eyes” and an open mind.
The downside is that your therapist approaches your issues with a complete lack of knowledge, naivety, and confusion.
It’s always a good idea to look for a therapist who’s treated those facing your difficulties. It can also be fruitful to ask around with friends, family, and colleagues, and any therapist known for treating your problems well.
If your therapist amidst they haven’t treated someone in your situation before it’s generally not a good sign.
Would you want to go skydiving with someone who only has past experience in scuba diving?
14) Your therapist is overly dogmatic about treatment
Therapists have a very diverse educational and professional background.
Your therapist may be currently reading a book that’s influencing him or her, or may have engaged in training recently that’s strongly shaped their therapeutic outlook.
That’s great and good for them.
But if you find your therapist becoming overly dogmatic and almost ideological about treatment, therapy, and mental health then you need to step back and take stock of your relationship.
You are an individual with a unique situation, and if your therapist is trying to fit you for a “part” instead of seeing you as you are then you can end up moving backward and damaging your own situation.
It’s interesting and often worthwhile to consider different therapeutic approaches, but if your therapist has become doctrinaire about a certain approach or tries to force you to fit in the mold of a theory they’ve become very attached to then it’s time to check out other options.
15) Your therapist is as fake as a three-dollar bill
The three-dollar bill simile only works in countries that don’t have three-dollar bills, but you get the picture.
As a highly-sensitive person, you are attuned to noticing what your therapist is doing and how they are acting.
Inauthentic and phony vibes can start to become really obvious and distressing. In addition to occurring when your therapist tunes you out, acts condescending, avoids eye contact or responds indifferently to what you say, fake therapists will also often exhibit a number of these behaviors as well:
Forced, fake smiles;
Transparent attempts to be friendly that are obviously fake;
Downplaying or reducing your challenges into stereotypes or cliches.
Watch out for these kinds of behaviors from a therapist. If you’re getting fake vibes rolling off them then pay attention to what you feel: this is one of the biggest signs your therapist isn’t right for you.
Not every therapist works for everyone. Even a therapist who could be a super fit for your friend won’t necessarily be the right match for you.
HSP individuals struggle to be understood and find those who “get” them. It’s no different with therapy.
Being aware of these 15 signs your therapist isn’t right for you will help you to avoid wasting time, money, and emotional energy on those who don’t deserve it.
If you’re having difficulty relating to your therapist or communicating with them it’s time to look around and visit someone new.
Even though it can be emotionally tiring, the opportunity to find a new therapist who really understands and respects you is worth it.