How to spot a bad therapist: 7 major signs you need to move on

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Photo Credit: Pete Linforth

Are you looking for a therapist? Do you currently have one? Do you know someone who is looking for a therapist or thinking of changing therapists? If so, this article is for you. Looking for or being comfortable with a therapist takes time. A therapist-client relationship takes time to develop, but if your therapist isn’t a good one, the relationship will never develop!

I often recommend my clients watch carefully for subliminal behaviors that may be hard to identify during a first, second, or even third session. Some of these behaviors may include:

  1. You feel judged: You should never feel judged or condemned by your therapist. No one in this life is perfect. You go to a therapist to be heard and helped. You should never walk away feeling like the therapist enjoyed hearing about your problems.
  2. You are a number: If your therapist has so many clients that he/she cannot remember your name or your case, you need to move on. Anyone can have bad memory or fail to remember certain details, but if your therapist appears disconnected, disinterested, and over-worked, move on. You will never get the attention you need. You are a number for insurance!
  3. You don’t get the paperwork: It is always courteous for therapists to explain or briefly review confusing paperwork. We therapists have had to have someone explain the paperwork to us, much less to you. Make sure you know what you are signing.
  4. You feel lost/confused: Again, everything should be briefly reviewed with you. If not, you may want to question if this was a simple oversight or the personality of your therapist. If it is personality, nothing will ever be explained. Run!
  5. Nothing is clear: There are times when I have walked away from meetings with people and thought “what the heck was the meeting for!” You should never walk away from a consultation or therapy session not knowing what the point was. If you feel this way, ask for clarification and if it still isn’t clear, move on.
  6. You get favors that must be “repaid:” This is a tricky one to look out for. Some unethical therapists will provide therapy to clients who cannot afford to attend or who do not have insurance but with a cost. The “cost” often involves some menial kind of work like painting the office, washing the therapist’s car, vacuuming the office, or doing some other form of physical labor in exchange for services. This is called bartering and it is unethical and illegal in most states.
  7. Your therapist is like a close friend or family member: This is also another tricky thing to look out for because some therapeutic relationships work best when each individual is comfortable with the other. But if a therapist is meeting you for lunch every week, going to dinner with you, babysitting your kids while you shop or go to other appointments, or if your therapist calls you after business hours, you’ve got a major problem on your hands. It would then be time to look for another therapist because if anything goes wrong or if you and your therapist disagree about something and both of you are angry, the therapeutic relationship will most likely collapse because it wasn’t built ethically in the first place.


All of these signs are important to consider, no matter how minimal they may appear to you. Every sign is important to consider with wisdom and discernment. Don’t ignore or minimize behaviors that could signal what type of person you are attempting to work with.

Note: To my anchoredinknowledge followers, visit PsychCentral/Caregivers, Family, & Friends to read more on this topic!