Written by Dr. Paul Kelly, January 28, 2024
This article can help you to figure it out.
Learn these warning signs so you can decide.
- Your therapist has the wrong personality.
- They are unprofessional.
- They lack proper skills and knowledge.
What should you do if your therapist has these warning signs?
Go to the bottom of this article for some practical advice.
You deserve a good therapist.
Warning Sign #1: Your Therapist Has the Wrong Personality
Good therapists are kind, caring, and flexible. They inspire confidence. If your therapist has the wrong personality style, you won’t get the safe, effective help that you deserve.
Your Therapist is Too Rigid.
“My therapist was defensive. When I asked questions, she raised her voice and shut me down.”
“I brought in a book I wanted to talk about. My therapist refused to discuss it.”
These are warning signs that your therapist is too rigid. You cannot improve if you have a rigid therapist. Therapy needs to be a collaboration between you and your therapist. When something doesn’t feel right, your therapist should be willing to listen and change their approach.
Your Therapist Doesn’t Care About You.
“My therapist is never prepared for our meetings, barely remembers what we talked about.”
“My therapist doesn’t pay attention. I have to repeat everything.”
These are warning signs that your therapist doesn’t care about you. You deserve a therapist who cares and pays attention. Any therapist can have a bad day, but if your therapist never seems to care, then you need a new therapist.
Your Therapist Lacks Empathy.
“My therapist was cold and distant.”
“My therapist just sat there after I shared my secret trauma.”
These are warning signs that your therapist lacks empathy. If your therapist is too clinical or cold, how can you trust them with important feelings? If they lack empathy, you need a new therapist.
Your Therapist is Too Anxious and Insecure
“My therapist was afraid when I got emotional.”
“It was obvious that my therapist was out of her depth.”
These are warning signs that your therapist is too anxious and insecure. Trust yourself. If your psychotherapist is insecure and anxious, then you should look for a new therapist.
Warning Sign #2: Your Therapist is Unprofessional
Psychotherapists are supposed to act like professionals. You also want them to be human. But, if they are too personal or superficial it can start to feel intrusive and creepy. Check below for signs that your therapist is unprofessional.
Your Therapist is Too Superficial
“My sessions were like a coffee break at work.”
“When I tried to talk about my trauma, my therapist changed the subject.”
These are warning signs that your therapist is too superficial. Some therapists stay superficial because they cannot handle your pain. They try to keep things on the surface. A superficial therapist cannot help you do the real work of therapy.
Your Therapist is Too Informal
“My therapist talked to me like I was her girlfriend.”
“My therapist was too nosy. She kept asking for gossip about my famous cousin.”
These are warning signs that your therapist is too informal. It is okay for your therapist to wish you a happy birthday. But they should respect your boundaries. If your therapist is too personal, then it will be hard for you to trust them.
My Therapist Doesn’t Respect Confidentiality
“I heard my therapist gossiping about me with a coworker.”
“I got a copy of my chart. She wrote down private things I told her not to mention in the notes.”
These are warning signs that your therapist doesn’t respect privacy and confidentiality. You need a safe place to talk about your mental health. If your therapist is sloppy about confidentiality, you should look for new therapist.
Your Therapist Withholds Information
“My therapist avoided my questions about their training and credentials.”
“I asked my therapist how she saw me. She would not give me a straight answer.”
These are warning signs that your therapist is withholding information. Therapy is built on trust. You have a right to know what you therapist thinks about you. What is your diagnosis? What is the treatment plan? Why are they going to use CBT, EMDR, IFS, or some other approach? A therapist may answer in a tactful manner, but they should show you respect.
Warning Sign #3: Your Therapist Lacks Skills and Knowledge
Psychotherapists must have expert knowledge about mental health issues and about how to use different therapy methods. They should also be able to explain their approach without being too technical. Check below for warning signs that your therapist lacks knowledge or therapy skills.
Your Therapist is Too Passive
“My therapist only listens. He hardly says a word.”
“My therapist never challenges me or gives a suggestion.”
These are warning signs that your therapist is too passive. Therapy works better when your therapist is willing to offer some suggestions and guidance. Do they help you see things in a new way? Do they recommend that you try something new during the week? Do they challenge you when you feel stuck?
Your Therapist Lacks Knowledge and Skill
“My therapist could not explain how CBT would help me.”
“My therapist didn’t seem to know anything about complex trauma.”
These are warning signs that your therapist lacks knowledge and skill. Therapists should have knowledge about mental health conditions. For example, they should be able to explain the causes of anxiety, depression, or relationship problems. They should be able to help you learn skills such as stress management, emotion regulation, mindfulness, sleep hygiene, or how to heal from trauma. If they lack knowledge, or can’t communicate, you need a new therapist.
Your Therapist Has No Plan
“My therapist just asks me about my week. The therapy isn’t going anywhere.”
“When I get off track, my therapist never brings me back.”
These are warning signs that your therapist has no plan. Your therapist should talk with you about your goals. Then, they should be able explain their plan. How will therapy help? What will you be learning? How will you know if therapy is working?
Your Therapist Does Not Understand You
“My therapist didn’t listen. They labelled me. They did not understand me.”
“My therapist only wants to talk about my childhood. That was not the issue.”
You deserve a therapist who understands mental health conditions. They should be able to explain their assessment, so you have better insight into your problems. If your therapist does not ‘get you’, then you may need to find a therapist who does.
What To Do If You Find Warning Signs
Other clients have changed therapists because of these warning signs. You may also need to find a new therapist.
Therapists are responsible for how they act. It is not your job to fix them.
But you might try to give them some feedback before you fire them.
Some therapists will thank you for the feedback, and work with you to improve things.
If they do, give them a chance.
If they reject your feedback or won’t work with you to fix things, then you need a new therapist.
Check this article for some tips about how to find a therapist who is right for you.
If a ‘therapist near me’ search means that you are looking for an online therapist in Ontario, you could save time by talking with my Clinic.
Just click Request Appointment at the top of the page.
A Personal Note
I care that you find a good therapist because I have been in your seat.
Therapy was very helpful for me after I found the right therapist.
It took me a while to find the right one. Here is some of my story.
That is why I care about how to find good therapists, and how to identify poor ones.
Use the warning signs to guide your intuition.
You deserve a good therapist.
I have selected and reviewed all of the sources for this article. I have also used my judgment based on helping thousands of clients and supervising 100’s of therapists. I wish you well. Dr. Kelly
- Alfonsson, S, et al., Psychotherapist variables that may lead to treatment failure or termination – A qualitative analysis of patient’s perspectives. Psychotherapy, Vol. 60, No. 4, pages 431-441, https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/pst0000503
- Castonguay, L.G.& Hill, C.E., How and Why are Some Therapists Better Than Others: Understanding Therapist Effects, American Psychological Association, 2017.
Miller, W.R. & Moyers, T.B., Effective Psychotherapists: Clinical Skills That Improve Client Outcomes, Guildford