Today we’re going to hop into a pretty hard-hitting topic: 14 signs you might be offering bad therapy.
I was careful to word it this way, rather than titling this blog “14 signs you are a bad therapist.” I’ve been guilty of using this phrasing in the past – I think even in some of my videos.
But in truth, I don’t believe there are bad therapists. I do believe we are all capable of offering bad therapy.
Here’s why it’s important to talk about the signs of bad therapy services
It feels important to write this article because, unfortunately, for many clients I work with, I’m often the second, third, or fourth therapist they work with after a string of disappointing therapy experiences.
I can only assume that for every client who does reach out to me after a bad experience with a therapist, there must be a slew of other folks who’ve had a bad experience with a therapist and then written off therapy altogether.
This is a tricky topic
Talking about the signs that you might be offering bad therapy is tricky because a lot of the signs we might think reflect on our work as a therapist might not be as reflective of our effectiveness or skills at all.
For example, clients no showing for sessions could reflect that we’re not doing the best job, but it could also reflect something going on for the client that’s not related to our effectiveness as a therapist at all.
I thought it would be helpful to compile a list of 14 signs that you might be offering bad therapy. If you’re finding that any of the items on this list might be true of your therapy work, then I strongly urge you to seek consultation and also to consider seeing your own personal therapist to help parse these things out when helpful.
These are all tendencies I’ve either witnessed from other therapists directly, have been guilty of myself along the way, or that I’ve heard clients share regarding their prior therapy experiences.
Here’s a list of 14 telltale signs that you might not be offering the best therapy:
- Codependency. You “need” your clients to get better in order to feel successful/like a good person/therapist
- When clients don’t improve, you’re quick to judge them (even if just internally).
- You have trouble empathizing with your clients.
- You don’t seek consultation when you feel in over your head.
- When you receive constructive feedback in consultation, you’re quick to dismiss it.
- Poor boundaries (overly available to clients, meeting in casual places like a coffee shop, sharing your personal phone number, blurring the boundary between therapist and friend).
- Deprioritize the client during session (taking calls in session, eating during session, frequently canceling sessions or starting late due to other priorities).
- Forgetting what your clients’ treatment goals are.
- Talking about yourself. Or worse, leaning on your clients for support when you go through hardship. Or really any kind of inappropriate relationship with a client.
- Offering services you’re not qualified to, or not seeking training or consultation when you’re in uncharted territory.
- Not respecting confidentiality.
- “Talking bad” about your clients when they’re not there.
- Inappropriate sexual or romantic relationships with your client. This includes things on the level of making flirty comments.
- Getting defensive when a client offers constructive feedback.
If you’re a therapist and you realize you are doing one of these items on the list – particularly if you see it coming up more consistently, I don’t want you to fret too much!
Acknowledging our humanness…
It’s far better to acknowledge that we’re ALL human and that our humanness will inevitably bleed into our professional work from time to time, than to somehow get down on ourselves or see this as a failure.
I think there is too strong of a culture in the counseling profession that we “need to get our stuff together” so we can help folks from a place of wisdom and knowledge. I think this is a completely whacko concept.
It’s incredibly unhealthy and all it does is perpetuate toxic power dynamics – which is supposedly what we’re trying to undo!
I could trail off on this forever and I won’t do that today. But suffice it to say, it’s far healthier to assume that we will make missteps and to embrace them as part of our therapist journey (and our life journey for that matter!), so we can be open to seeing those mistakes and correcting them once we’ve identified them.
You may be reading this because you’re seeing a therapist yourself and they display some of the items from this list.
If that’s the case, it could be worth considering bringing these concerns up with your therapist. You also have the option to leave that therapist altogether to find a therapist with a healthier approach.
If your therapist gets defensive when you bring up feedback, then that’s a good signal to look for a different therapist.
If you’d like to report a therapist who’s engaged in inappropriate relations. Each state has specific avenues to do so. Here are instructions for reporting inappropriate behavior in the state of California.
Maybe you clicked on this article because your therapy clients aren’t improving and you’re concerned.
If that’s the case, I have a video covering what you can do when your therapy clients don’t improve:
Whether you’re a therapist or not, I hope you found this helpful…
Until next time, from one therapist to another: I wish you well!