Therapy is a wonderful thing ― if you’ve got the right therapist.
Research suggests that the therapist-patient relationship is important for the efficacy of the treatment. And in a perfect world, you’d walk in for your first appointment and that would be it. No need to look any further.
But let’s say, for example, you picked your therapist while you were in the midst of a crisis and now you feel like you’re too far into your treatment to leave. Or maybe you’ve gone a few times but you’re not really sure that you’re getting what you need from the interaction.
There are many reasons people find themselves in an established relationship with the wrong therapist or seeing someone they’ve outgrown. We asked experts for red flags that indicate you need to break up with your therapist and find a new one. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Your therapist fell asleep on you
Believe it or not, this actually happens.
“I have had more people than I can count come to my office and tell me that they’re coming because their previous therapist fell asleep,” Chloe Carmichael, a clinical psychologist based in New York City, told The Huffington Post. “And they’ve told me that it’s happened more than once.”
If your therapist ever falls asleep on you in session, take that as a sign that he or she is not fit to be working with patients and you should find someone new.
2. You feel like your therapist doesn’t support your goals
It is important that you feel supported. Charmichael gives the example of a troubled relationship: If your therapist thinks you should break up with your partner but you are seeking help to repair the relationship, have a conversation with your therapist about this, she advises.
“I would encourage the person to say, ‘I want to clarify if we should continue working together, because I want to clarify that we have the same goals. I want to stay with my boyfriend and sometimes I feel like you want me to break up with him. Is that true?’” Carmichael said.
This kind of conversation provides the opportunity to see if you and your therapist see eye-to-eye, learn about potential red flags he or she might be noticing and agree about the direction in which your life is going.
“You do not want to be with somebody who comes across as judgmental,” agreed Liana Georgoulis, a clinical psychologist and director of Coast Psychological Services in Los Angeles.
On the other hand, sometimes you won’t always hear what you want to hear, Georgoulis said. The right therapist won’t always agree with you. And, of course, any therapist has a responsibility to intervene if you’re in an abusive or otherwise dangerous situation.
3. The therapist claims he or she is an expert in every condition
Beware of therapists who say they’re able to help with everything or market themselves as a “Jack of all trades.”
Many therapists know which conditions they can help with, and also where they can’t, Carmichael notes. A good therapist will refer you to someone else if your condition falls out of his or her scope.
4. You’re not sure why you are in therapy
Therapy can provide tools for coping with everyday stress or a mental health condition. Make sure you are working with your therapist toward mutually agreed-upon and clearly defined goals.
“Sometimes there might be differences in what that work is or how to get there,” Georgoulis said. But ask the professional you’re seeing to outline the treatment plan so you have a good sense of what it is you’re doing together.
5. Your therapist needs reminders
You should not feel like you need to brief your therapist on events or facts you’ve already covered in previous weeks.
“If that happens every session, that might be a sign that you want to get a therapist that’s more organized or more attentive,” Carmichael said. “You shouldn’t have to lead the therapist.”
6. You don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere
Let’s say you went into therapy for anxiety and you’ve learned tools to help you cope better each day. So rather than talk about anxiety, you bring up other issues that you need help working out. But session after session, you just don’t see any progress in these areas.
“Sometimes you’ve just gone as far up the mountain as you can with somebody, and it’s justifiably time to say goodbye,” Carmichael said.
Georgoulis agrees. If you’ve been in therapy for a long time but the needle hasn’t moved on certain issues, bring this up to your therapist. If you are still in pain, or not feeling good, it may serve you to find another person to talk to, she said.
7. You know too much about your therapist’s life
When therapists tell patients information about their own lives to make a point or illustrate an idea, it’s called disclosure. Researchers have been debating where the line is when it comes to this technique for ages ― even Sigmund Freud grappled with it, The New York Times reported.
Here’s how Carmichael suggests approaching it: If the therapist is telling you things about his or her own life for an obvious reason and it feels helpful, it’s probably fine. But if you can’t figure out why the therapist is sharing certain stories, or if he or she is taking up your valuable therapeutic time, it could be an indicator that this therapist is not the right fit.
Carmichael suggests finding a therapist who expresses him or herself quickly and distinctly during your time together.
“There’s not room for long winded answers,” she said.
A core component of good therapy is the therapist’s ability to connect a patient’s thoughts, find patterns and then trace it all back to concrete changes in thinking, Georgoulis said.
“If a therapist is just letting you come in and ‘vent’ each week, that’s not a good sign,” she said.
Find a therapist who does more than just make you feel better in the moment or provide advice for particular situations.
9. You feel good after every session
“There’s a misconception, I think, that people are supposed to walk away from a therapy session feeling great and I don’t think that’s true,” Georgoulis said. “The work is hard and sometimes you leave therapy sessions feeling challenged or drained. Stuff gets stirred up.”
If you are always leaving therapy feeling like everything is perfect, Georgoulis urges you to ask yourself if you are truly doing the work. It could be a sign that you need a different therapist who can help you process challenging emotions.
So, what should you do?
Both experts say the best route to securing the right therapist from the outset is to interview several of them, be straightforward about why you need counseling and ask about specific treatment methods he or she uses.
Bottom line, there are many excellent reasons to go to therapy. But once you’re there, consider if the therapist is really the right fit for you. If it’s not the right match, do what you need to do to find the right person.
It’s worth it.