Some Red Flags That Tell You That This Therapist Isn't for You:
If it Sounds Too Good to be True, It Probably is: Many therapists are able to treat a wide variety of problems and concerns, but no one is able to deal with every problem that every person brings to therapy. In addition, if a therapist makes claims that sound too good to be true, trust your instincts, no one is a magician in life. Life is difficult and is a learning process. No one can fix you or all your problems. Therapists can help YOU make things better, but it is always, in the end, up to you.
Things Just Don't Seem Right: If you have this nagging feeling that something just isn't right, it isn't. Listen to your inner voice and trust yourself. Sometimes we want something to work so badly that we ignore what our inner self is trying to tell us. If you don't feel something is right, it isn't. You don't have to justify your feeling. If you can figure out what that thing is, it is helpful to you, but if you don't know, it is okay, always listen to your gut instincts. They are there for a reason, to protect you. It is one thing in therapy if you feel like things are moving too fast. That means you need to slow down. If you feel too vulnerable, it may mean you need to slow down and take care of yourself in therapy. This is an important thing to talk about in therapy. That isn't what I am talking about. Its that other voice, the one we so often ignore, that we end up saying to ourselves, "see, I knew something just wasn't right!" That is the voice to listen to.
Not Keeping Up with Current Treatments and Standards of Care: There are many therapists who believe that they do not need to keep up to date with current treatment approaches. This is a big mistake. You don't want to be dealing with a therapist who works off their own interpretations or instincts alone. Therapy is an art of using what works, adapting it to current situations and using discretion in knowing when and how to apply a type of treatment approach. Some therapists believe that because they have gone through things in their own lives, they do not need to rely on what the current treatment recommendations state. This can be very dangerous because it leaves too much room for a therapist's issues to get confused with your issues. A therapist who doesn't make it a habit to focus on continuing to grow as a professional can lose focus in therapy. Keeping up with current research and treatment is a good way therapists have of keeping their focus on the true aim of therapy, helping you. We can get caught up in therapy just as much as our clients can, and it is our job not to allow this to happen. Staying on top of new ideas helps professional therapists keep their focus and boundaries. It also helps a therapist keep his/her freshness and energy in therapy.
Personal Dignity and Consistency: Does your therapist do what he says he is going to do or does he say one thing and do another? Does your therapist talk behind other people's backs with you? Does it seem like your therapist seems to preach one thing but do another? Does the therapist say things to you about others that she wouldn't say to the other person? Does your therapist ask you to keep secrets? When your therapist says things are confidential, does your therapist honor other patient's confidential information with you? Does your therapist seem to maintain a standard of professional behavior that you respect? Do you believe that your therapist behaves with dignity? These are all areas that are very important in evaluating your therapist. If your therapist is inconsistent with you, talks behind other patient's backs or acts in ways that seem to lack dignity. This isn't a good therapist and it is time to find another one.
Poor Boundaries: This goes along with consistency, but is more specific. A therapist is doing a job. The relationship you form with your therapist is a business relationship. A therapist isn't your friend or a part of the family. You are paying for the therapist to help you, or the therapist is being paid by an organization to be a help to you. If a therapist attempts to form another type of relationship with you, a friendship, a sexual relationship, acts as a parent towards you, for example holding you while you cry or rocking you, these are inappropriate boundaries. I once had a therapist tell me that she would allow sessions to run over 3-4 hours. This was clearly a violation of the professional boundaries, and caused that therapist to become completely exhausted. She wasn't able to be effective as a therapist because she didn't set professional boundaries and stick to them. A key part of therapy is setting up the ground rules and upholding them. If your session runs from 2:00-2:50, you should be having therapy during this hour and your therapist should be stopping the session at 2:50. If you and your therapist agree that you can contact him during psychological crises, these times should be defined so you know when you can call and what can wait for the next session. You need to know where you stand and it is the therapist's job to let you know. If he doesn't, the environment being established isn't safe. If this main environment isn't safe, how can you entrust the therapist with your emotional safety and well-being? You can't.
Whose Therapy is It? This covers two areas.
First, is your therapist using your time to deal with his problems or issues? Do you find that your therapist is spending a lot of time talking about herself and not focusing the time on you? That is a warning sign that something is going wrong. Also, are you able to have your needs heard and addressed? Does your therapist seem more invested in your healing than you are? That is a big red flag. There are areas that therapists may emphasis for your well-being, for example, safer sexual practices, but if your therapist seems to be taking over your therapy session and trying to tell you what you need, should do, or gives too much guidance, there is something wrong. Therapists are taught early on that therapy isn't about giving advice. We are not here to tell you how to fix your life. Therapists are support systems that give you a unique experience of having a relationship that is totally focused on your needs and goals, not the therapist's.
Second, what happens when you want to end therapy? Sometimes people want to end therapy because they feel too vulnerable. This happens after major disclosures. It is a pretty normal reaction and may mean that it is something to be worked through in therapy. But this isn't always the case. Sometimes you want to end therapy because you feel you have gotten out of it what you wanted to get out of it, or maybe you just don't think that things are working out between you and your therapist and you need something else. Usually, it is good to have a few sessions before ending therapy to have time to say goodbye and bring the therapy to a close. This is for your benefit, not the therapist's. If you decide you want to go see another therapist or you want to end therapy, this is a business decision on your part. You have every right to make this decision. Some therapists may tell you this is just "resistance." That may be true in the case of feeling too vulnerable after an important disclosure, but often wanting to end therapy isn't about resistance at all. People have many reasons for ending business relationships. Be courteous and let your therapist know before you end the relationship, but it is always your choice and doesn't mean you are being "resistant" or "not a good patient."
Abandon's You: This is a big one. Psychotherapy is a professional service. Your therapist has a right to charge you for this service, but as a part of therapy, a therapist cannot abandon you as a client simply for financial reasons alone. If you are unable to continue to pay for therapy, a therapist is obligated to help you find another therapist or services that you are able to afford or that offer free counseling. A therapist cannot just drop you because you cannot pay for therapy. Your therapist isn't obligated to continue to see you if you cannot afford to continue therapy over months and months however, just the opposite. If you cannot pay, your therapist may work out financial arrangements for payment with you, but if you continue to not be able to pay for your treatment for more than three sessions, usually a therapist won't continue to see you. It isn't fair for a therapist to keep running up a tab for you either. Abandoning you is unethical, but it is just as unethical to run your bill up as well. Thus it is really important for you to inform your therapist if you can't continue to afford therapy. Sometimes adjustments in fees may be made to accommodate you, depending on whether or not your therapist can afford to do this. This is why it is important to inform your therapist right away if there are changes to your personal finances.