Signs of good therapists + warning signs of bad ones

After the statement about “good” therapy with which I did not agree, I want to write down my thoughts regarding what I actually consider signs of good therapy, or rather of good therapists. I’ll add things that I learned to recognize as warning signs, too.

GoodRorschachSigns of good therapists:

  • a good therapist explains how she works and why she works that way
  • a good therapist is interested in helping me figure out what my therapy goals are and in helping me achieve them
  • a good therapist is a genuine, authentic and decent human being
  • a good therapist’s office feels safe and comfortable
  • a good therapist contributes to a feeling of hopefulness
  • a good therapist accepts my feelings and helps me explore them
  • a good therapist is respectful and professional
  • a good therapist is interested in establishing a positive, safe and empathic relationship with me before going anywhere in therapy
  • a good therapist is able to maintain this positive, safe and empathic relationship with me, even when she says things that might challenge or upset me
  • a good therapist can help me feel safe during the sessions and makes sure I am in a good place before I leave her office
  • a good therapist is knowledgeable on the issues she wants to treat and will say so, if something exceeds her abilities
  • a good therapist is *there* with me, I can feel her be genuinely present
  • a good therapist stays calm and on top of things even when I become chaotic
  • a good therapist is a mature person whose behavior speaks of her having morals and ethics
  • a good therapist knows how to laugh, too
  • a good therapist is honest with me
  • a good therapist can read my nonverbal cues and reacts to them
  • a good therapist is willing to give me feedback and answer my questions, as long as they are relevant to therapy
  • a good therapist steps back from power games
  • a good therapist respects it if I disagree with her or refuse to do something
  • a good therapist will admit to a mistake if she made it and apologize


BadRorschachWarning signs that I have encountered in past bad therapists:

  • therapist is repeatedly late for appointments (or does not show up at all)
  • therapist does not explain what she wants to do or why
  • therapist crosses physical boundaries (like by hugging or touching, euuuuuwwww) without asking for permission
  • therapist talks a lot about herself and the hassles of her own life
  • therapist talks not at all
  • therapist follows her own agenda and does not consider my goals / wishes / requests etc.
  • therapist is judgmental of my behavior
  • therapost does not take me and / or my objections seriously
  • therapist tries to manipulate my feelings (like by inducing guilt or making me feel bad about my behavior)
  • therapist blames my family (or, I suppose, other people in my life)
  • therapist thinks my opinion is uneducated and not worth listening to
  • therapist understands everything I say as evidence of my lacking mental health
  • therapist openly admits to bordering-on-illegal stuff like fraud (for example by charging the insurance for different services than she actually provided me with)
  • therapist wants to become personally involved in my private life and/or answers to invitations along those lines
  • therapist agrees to having sex with me or even invites me
  • therapist tries to feel better about herself and tries to meet her own emotional needs by helping me
  • therapist tries to talk me into / out of things
  • therapist makes unprovable claims regarding what causes my issues
  • therapist empathizes so much that I feel like I need to protect HER, because she can’t cope with the bad stuff
  • therapist identifies with me and / or my situation too much
  • therapist pushes me into the direction she wants to see me go
  • therapist leaves me feeling unsafe and unstable
  • therapist insists to muck around in issues that I don’t feel ready to face
  • therapist conveys that she does not like me, that I am annoying or a pain in her neck

Wow, I noticed that I could go on and on and on, especially with the warning signs list. I really have met my share of crappy therapists! I’m glad that my therapist F, however, has given me some faith in therapists back. The signs of good therapy all apply to her. 🙂 Even so, it’s rather outrageous that so many crappy ones are out there and allowed to mess with people. It always makes me very sad when people speak about crap their therapist did.  😦

WTF Monday: “Good Therapy Has Got to Hurt”

Only a little while ago someone told me “good therapy has got to hurt”. She had been through therapy herself. Her statement seemed to imply that the level of pain might be a measurement for the quality and success of the therapy. And while I kind of get where she came from . . .

I don’t agree. In fact, I could not disagree more. I find that put that way the statement is actually dangerous.

It is true that good therapy can involve painful moments. In most certainly will, in one way or another, if struggling with painful things is the reason why you see a therapist in the first place. But that is not the same as saying it “has got” to hurt.

To my ears that statement promotes an attitude that encourages people to disregard the fact that they are hurting, in order to endure it for the sake of “good therapy”. That’s dangerous. Especially for people who are traumatized.

To my mind easy does it. Learning to be sensitive towards my emotional pain and to take it seriously. Learning how to gradually expand what I can take, sure, and facing difficult things, too, but not to the point that I go on, maybe even looking to hurt, feeling like it has to hurt in order to be effective. Or even feeling like it is okay for other people to deliberately induce pain in order to “help”.

I believe that pain, inner resistance and feeling defensive, that all those have a reason. That it is important to look for them in therapy and in recovery. That it is important to listen to what they have to say. And that it is important to find a balance between the challenges of therapy, the facing of things and the working through issues on one side, but also periods of rest and periods of recovering one’s strength. And that it is important to listen to what I feel ready to face.

But most of all, I believe that the whole ‘good therapy has got to hurt’ nonsense makes way for mistaken (or worse: sadistic) therapists or other do-gooders to push people more than is healthy for them. The “you have to face this / endure this / experience this, in order to get better” reasoning.

Sure, it might be true that facing, enduring or experiencing things will help me get better. But I find it more than a bit unhealthy when other people want to control the pace, when they push, when they try to be in charge of when or how that happens. I have met a lot of therapists or other well-meaning folks who tried to do that in the past. Who tried to manipulate me during therapy. Who tried to convince me of things I allegedly “had” to do or face, never minding my inner resistance to go there. But this attitude that ‘good therapy has got to hurt’ makes, in my opinion, way for a whole abusive mindset. The whole ‘don’t talk back, do what I say because it’s good for you’ reasoning. I am allergic to that. Seriously allergic.

Easy does it. I wish people would realize that in order to recover and heal, my wanting it and my feeling safe and strong enough and ready to face is key. I don’t want anything if I feel pushed or manipulated. Seriously, who would? Would you buy from a salesman who you feel is manipulating your thoughts and feelings, who is pressuring or pushing you and who is imposing his idea of what you should buy on you? Or would you rather buy from one who helped you understand the characteristics of what you are about to buy, gave you their opinion about the advantages and disadvantages, but then left the decision to you?

Easy does it. Especially in therapy. It doesn’t “have” to hurt. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it’s in between, but it should never be the point itself of therapy to cause pain. The level of pain is not what determines if the therapy is good. It’s just something that can come with it, but at the same time something that should never surpass a certain level and certainly is no value in itself. Whether therapy is good or not depends on how well it is tailored to the needs of the person who receives it. And on how respectful it is. And how well the therapist manages to take me, my feelings, and my thoughts seriously as an equal partner in my journey towards betterment, and who needs to CONSENT, before therapy goes anywhere. Period.

I really dislike quasi-abusive mindsets and stupid, pseudo-educated attitudes masked in ‘wanting to do someone good’. Shove the pain up your ass if it’s so wonderful, but don’t tell anyone they need to do the same! (Or, more sensibly, be my guest to review the necessity of shoving anything anywhere. Whichever pleases you more.)

Just wanted to get that off my chest.
*Steps off soapbox.*  😉

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