Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/12/2023
If you’ve decided to engage in the therapy process, good for you! It’s not always easy to admit you need help with mental health issues, and you should feel proud of taking the initiative to figure out a treatment plan. Still, seeing a bad therapist will do you no favors and could even be a traumatic experience.
Once you decide to take part in the therapeutic process, finding a therapist who works for you is the next step — emphasis on that last part.
The American Psychological Association (APA) backs this up, saying the therapeutic relationship between providers and patients is as crucial to a good outcome as using the right method of treatment.
To ensure you don’t have a bad experience, it’s helpful to know the signs of a therapist who’s not right for you — or for anyone, for that matter.
First, know this: There are many excellent therapists and licensed counselors out there who can help you with your treatment goals.
Unfortunately, not every therapist will be right for you. In some situations, there are people in the mental health field who should not be in it — therapists whose behaviors may get in the way of patients’ treatment goals and who could even make mental illnesses worse.
Here are a few bad therapist signs — or signs a therapist isn’t right for you.
One study found that between 40 percent and 60 percent of people find the results of therapy uninspiring — and don’t want to continue with therapeutic experiences at all. But this doesn’t necessarily mean the therapist was bad per se.
These results could be caused by a variety of factors, including seeing someone who just isn’t the right fit. They may be an experienced therapist who engages in active listening and still not be right for you and your needs.
When choosing a mental health provider, think hard about what will make you feel most comfortable. Perhaps it’s someone who’s the same gender as you or who has the same ethnic background so you can talk about cultural norms you grew up with.
Or maybe you’ll feel better with someone closer to your age — or, on the flip side, someone older and more seasoned in their field.
When you visit a medical professional for a therapy session who you feel like you can’t open up to, it’s going to be challenging to get the outcome you want. So, think about these things before you start looking for a provider.
Personal therapy is a commitment—both on your part and your therapist’s. To get the most out of it, you have to keep your appointment times and do the work.
If you’re canceling appointments or not showing up, it’s going to be hard to make progress. This is also true for your therapist.
The occasional scheduling mishap or family emergency is to be expected. But if you’re working with someone in the mental health field that consistently bails on appointments or is otherwise unreliable, it’s not a good sign.
True story: Therapists have a code of ethics they’re encouraged to follow. These ethical principles help ensure they provide cohesive, unbiased care for whoever they’re treating.
Here are some examples of what’s covered under the code of ethics, as listed by the American Psychological Association:
A therapist should only provide services within the areas of their training and competence.
They have a responsibility to make sure your information is kept confidential, as well as whatever you share with them.
They should never record you without permission.
A therapist shouldn’t try to form a personal relationship with a patient outside of therapy sessions. On that note, they shouldn’t have had a personal relationship with a patient before treatment begins.
If you notice a therapist breaks any of these, or you notice any other type of unprofessional or unethical behaviors, it’s a sign of bad therapy.
You may feel judged by your mom, your boss or even an old pal — but you should never feel judged by your therapist.
In fact, it’s imperative for a therapist to have a non-judgemental approach. This means they display a neutral attitude when you speak to them, encouraging you to be open and honest about your feelings.
If a therapist doesn’t take a neutral stance or you feel judged, it’s not going to make you want to share and be honest. And if you’re not honest, it’ll be difficult to make progress.
There’s no reason to waste time with a not-so-good (or flat-out terrible) provider when there are so many excellent therapists out there.
If you feel your therapist is unable to help you or — worse — that they’re detrimental to building a healthy relationship with your mental well-being, you should seriously consider moving on.
Not sure how to do this? If you feel they aren’t the correct fit for your needs, feel free to say that. Explain that you’d be more comfortable with someone your own gender, ethnicity, whatever. Remember, a good therapist wants you to be well and should support whatever will help you do that best.
But what if you feel you’re seeing a bad therapist? You have a few options. You can simply tell them you’ll no longer be seeing them. Remember, you don’t owe them any explanations.
If you feel they were an abusive therapist, you could choose to report them. If they are a member of the American Psychological Association, you can register a complaint by following the directions on the organization’s website.
One thing to note: The APA will only accept complaints if there are no other ways to register a complaint. Most often, complaints can be made to the licensing boards of individual states. A state-by-state list of psychologist licensing boards can be found here.
You know you don’t want a bad therapist, so how do you find someone who’s good? Honestly, it may take some trial and error. You might need to speak to a few people before landing on the right fit.
That said, there are some things you can do to make your search for a good therapist easier.
If there are people you trust who’ve been to therapy or know a good therapist, it might be worth asking them for a referral. This could be another medical professional that knows you well or even a friend or family member. Since this person knows you, they may be able to suggest someone that would be a good fit.
Another option? Turn to online databases for recommendations. You can often search by location and speciality. Some databases even include reviews from other patients.
Some databases that may help:
Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist
The American Psychological Association’s Psychologist Locator
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s Find a Therapist
Online therapy can be another good way to engage in productive therapy. Not only does it tend to be cost effective, but it may also help you feel more at ease, as you can talk to a therapist while sitting in your own home.
When you feel more comfortable, you may be more able to open up and assess whether a therapist is a good fit.
On top of therapy, psychiatry can be found online. This is helpful if you’re dealing with depression or anxiety and want to consider medication to help with the symptoms. Hers offers a variety of online mental health services, including access to licensed psychiatry providers online and online support groups.
When you find someone you think may be a good therapist for you, ask for a phone consultation. This can help you further assess if they’ll be a good fit.
You can use this time to explain why you’re seeking therapy, then ask them questions that’ll help you determine if they’re right for you.
Here are some questions you could ask:
What training do you have?
What type of therapy do you think may help me?
What does treatment with you look like?
How will we track my progress?
How much does therapy with you cost?
By asking these questions, you’ll get a sense of how this person interacts with patients, and it should give you an idea of what it would be like to have sessions with them.
However you find a therapist, just know how vital it is to find a good fit. In the end, a bad therapist won’t be able to help you reach your treatment goals.
If you’d like to speak with someone to explore what may be right for you, Hers offers online consultations that make the process easy. Get started today.