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6 Signs You Might Need a New Therapist

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Disclaimer: the points I make are based on personal experience. I don’t mean to judge or scrutinize therapists because I know there are many who take their job seriously and do a great job providing a service that can help people progress in their everyday lives.

People pursue therapy for many different reasons and in my experience, there are some therapists you instantly connect with and others you don’t. A recent experience with counseling left me feeling very uncomfortable, so I wanted to write this article with tips for spotting red flags with the general message of the importance of making sure you are comfortable in your therapy sessions.

Here are signs you may need to find a new therapist:

1. They are always late.

Let’s face it, things happen. People run behind schedule and we are all human. Whether we are professionals or not, it is expected that sometimes people will be late. However, the dynamic between therapist and client is one that differs from most relationships. Your therapist is meant to provide emotional support and part of this depends on the amount of trust and communication you have built with one another. If a therapist is continuously or consecutively arriving late to sessions, it may be time to consider finding a new one. It can be hurtful when a therapist doesn’t acknowledge the lateness or continually gives excuses without compensating for the lateness by adding time to the end of a session. It can seem like your therapist is unconcerned with respecting your time and building trust with you.

It is disrespectful to turn up late to something and your therapist knows this. If they do not address the situation right away, it’s probably a strong indicator they are not going to address situation without you bringing it up.

2. They don’t know how to end sessions appropriately.

I’ve had an experience when I’ve been mid sentence and been told I need to stop talking. If this has happened to you, you probably know how baffling it feels. It’s not as if somebody told you to stop reading something during a presentation or to stop gossiping about something. I was mid sentence speaking to somebody about things that concern me in my life. It’s a huge red flag if your therapist does not know how to end sessions properly.

Sometimes, therapists will give you a 10 minute warning before the end of the session so you can prepare yourself and be mindful about what topics you want to discuss before leaving. If a therapist does not sensitively or effectively end a session, it can feel like they are more concerned about timing than about you.

3. They want talk about anything except the problem at hand.

I’ve been in counseling sessions when the therapist did not seem to want to speak about anything regarding my issues. She extended small talk to the majority of the session. If she asked me about what I was doing in the supermarket, I notice she would further probe into that topic and seem to have no desire to change or redirect the topic or transition into the counseling session. If you notice your therapist would rather chat about recent political developments, what color you dyed your hair or what you think about the new public library, it may be a sign you need to change therapists. Of course nothing is wrong with small talk, but if there is no attempt to transition to therapy, you would probably benefit from seeing a different therapist.

4. They take things personally.

Therapists are human beings and they have feelings, too. Sometimes patients make comments that can be emotionally triggering and therapists can respond in the wrong way. For example, my therapist responded poorly when I discussed my feelings of concern about my employment prospects as a minority ethnic person with a physical and long term psychological disability. My therapist and I share the same racial and cultural background, which made me feel comfortable enough to share this. But discussing this topic made my therapist change her body language and start speaking in a raised tone about experiences of her family member and his success, implying I assumed he would not succeed in life. At this point, I felt the need to interject and clear up the misunderstanding, to which I was shut down and told to listen, as she continued to rant about personal experiences. I remained quiet because I respected that this topic had very deep and personal meaning to her. But after this encounter, my therapist struggled to maintain eye contact and was clearly upset with me. Her anger put me in an uncomfortable position.

How your therapist deals with their emotions is a sign of their professionalism and competency as a counselor. If your therapist addresses the situation and apologizes for their reaction and for making you uncomfortable, this is a good sign and shows they take your feelings into account. If the therapist seems unaware or doesn’t acknowledge their inappropriate emotional reaction, it may be a sign your therapist doesn’t communicate in the way you need them to. While therapists are human beings with feelings, they should not take offense at things you say or take things too personally.

5. They seem to have no clear direction in sessions.

This one might be obvious, but for a lot of people in counseling, just speaking to someone is therapeutic. That being said, it is your therapist’s job to make sure the sessions are beneficial to you in the long run. If you find your therapist does not seem to have any established goals or a direction they want to lead you in by the end of your sessions, it may be a good idea to question their intentions. It’s possible some therapists aren’t really looking at you as the primary focus of the session, which is a huge red flag. While it can be helpful to a patient for a therapist talk about herself occasionally, it’s a problem if you find your therapist is talking about herself too often, possibly indicating a lack of direction in sessions. If your therapist seems a bit scattered in their approach to sessions, I think it might be wise to consider whether it is useful for you to continue with this particular therapist.

6. They disregard important information.

This is something I find really awful, because it’s often takes a few sessions to build up the courage to talk about something that has been bothering you or something from your past that is hard to talk about. Sometimes with or without meaning to, a therapist will discuss if briefly and never bring it up again or discard it completely.

Drawing on an example from my own experience, during a time of crisis, I sent an email to my therapist. It was quite a detailed email with many thoughts, feelings, emotions and risks mentioned. I received a reply of a couple of lines asking for me to make an appointment with her and my local general practitioner. In our next therapy sessions, these events were never mentioned and nothing I disclosed in my email was brought up in any way to explore further. When this happened, it was really hurtful. Therapy is to heal and if you cannot introduce new topics without being ignored or made to feel uncomfortable, it might be time to find a new therapist.

I hope people find the right therapist for them, because the wrong one can bring a patient down a lot and can make them feel mistreated and taken advantage of. But please don’t be discouraged. Just as not everybody in life is compatible, the same is true for finding a therapist. You just need to find the right person who is compatible with you to work on things together effectively.

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Thinkstock photo via Ljupco.

Originally published: March 10, 2017
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