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.  😦

77 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. nobodysreadingme
    Jan 14, 2013 @ 16:21:56

    My first therapist could have been a role model for your ‘good’ therapist.
    As for bad?
    I need to be careful here. I hope this won’t trigger anything, but it is something you mentioned. But don’t read on if you don’t want to. I’ll put a gap in the text.

    The very first thing she said to me was that she never, under any circumstances, had sex with current or ex clients. I was a bit taken aback, since it hadn’t occurred to me that she would, but at least I knew where I stood

    • Lola
      Jan 15, 2013 @ 08:43:28

      Oh, that’s awesome that your first therapist was a good one!

      Well, and no problem about the trigger, I’m fine. 🙂 It’s amazing that a therapist having sex with clients would even be an issue of consideration, isn’t it? But I asked my mom and she assured me that it DOES happen, none too infrequently obviously, so that there is mention of it in lots of textbooks for therapists, too. Apparently being in a therapeutic relationship where personal stuff (from the client) comes up, seems to be confusing for some therapists, too, so that they either initiate or answer positively to sexual stuff. Real creepy!! But yeah, at least your therapist knew her boundaries and you knew where you stood!! 😀

  2. prideinmadness
    Jan 14, 2013 @ 16:22:58

    Good list 🙂 Did a therapist tell you that you were annoying??!?!? That’s HORRIBLE!!! I have heard of helping professionals being complete idiots like that though….

    What made me connect with my therapists was finding out a little about their lives. I am very social and if you want to have access to my life I would like to know a little about yours. One social worker I really bonded with shared her wedding photos with me, called a friend to get my info on financial aid for school and we would share good books we read.

    What made a therapist lose me was when she admitted she had never known someone who self harmed. I had no idea how she was supposed to help me. As a social worker myself I know that we can’t know everything but she could have empathized in a way that didn’t sound so unknowing.

    • Lola
      Jan 15, 2013 @ 08:40:04

      Thank you! 🙂

      Well, and she didn’t actually SAY that I was annoying. But when someone sees me and goes “Oh, not you again, what do you want now!” with an exasperated look on her face, I get the message. (Not when I showed up for therapy, obviously, but when I waited outside her office because I wanted to tell her things. Okay, I probably WAS being annoying to her, but hey, she try living in a place with lots of other people with mental health issues while having no family whatsoever to turn to.)

      Wow, and a therapist who never knew someone who self-harmed? What did she treat? Only managers with burn-out? Isn’t self harming rather common among the so-called “psychiatric population”? And yeah, while it’s okay to not know everything, obviously, sounding totally unknowing is a bit weird for someone who claims to be a professional. I mean I would not call a plumber who didn’t know a monkey wrench either.

      • prideinmadness
        Jan 15, 2013 @ 15:35:19

        Even if you were being annoying 😛 She doesn’t get to show that in a way that is not constructive to you becoming a better person.

        My social worker worked through the school board and they were trying to treat my self harm like I was just being silly. Self harm is common in the “psychiatric population” but it’s only until recently that doctors and such as seeing it as it’s own thing, not a symptom of something. My self harm was always address within the context of an illness and it’s a huge part of the reason I was diagnosed with an illness. The DSM 5 I believe is coming out with Non Suicidal Self Injury Disorder which I very much want to see play out. If anything that is probably a diagnosis that would have helped me sooner but times had to change for that disorder to now appear.

        I actually had a fridge repair guy come and look at my fridge and I gave him the suggestion on how to fix it….it was not comforting and it did not get fixed!

        • Lola
          Jan 16, 2013 @ 06:50:08

          Oh no about the fridge repair guy! That’s annoying! 😦

          You’re right about my therapist, she needn’t have reacted to my annoyingness in such an off-putting way. Certainly didn’t help me improve, but just made me feel like nobody cared. Not that that was a new thing, but it killed whatever desire I had left to work on stuff in therapy.

          Interesting about self harm possibly becoming its own disorder. I didn’t know. Do you know when the new DSM comes out?

          • prideinmadness
            Jan 16, 2013 @ 14:00:52

            If you don’t trust your therapist you might as well move on to a new one. After my first social worker told me she’d never known someone who self harmed I lied to her for almost 2 years. Waste of everyone’s time!

            DSM is coming out this May. I’m pretty sure because I remember thinking, “Oh yay….it’s coming out for my birthday….”

            • Lola
              Jan 16, 2013 @ 16:10:37

              I can totally ditto that from my experience. A relationship to a therapist that is not trusting is just not going to work. I’m sorry you wasted 2 years with your social worker who you did not trust.

              Ah, and thanks for telling me about the DSM! Funny it comes out for your bithday! 🙂

            • prideinmadness
              Jan 16, 2013 @ 16:24:17

              If it wasn’t so expensive I’d get myself a copy just for fun! I’d spend all day diagnosing people :p

            • Lola
              Jan 16, 2013 @ 16:26:44

              Hahaha! See, with a shrink for a mom, I might even get lucky to have a paper version at home. But who knows, maybe there’ll be an online version, too, so you can still have fun diagnosing everyone. 😀

            • prideinmadness
              Jan 17, 2013 @ 02:39:35

              Oh, I’ll be checking into that!

            • Lola
              Jan 17, 2013 @ 10:47:32

              I remember seeing an entire diagnostic manual online, but I don’t recall if that was the ICD-10 or the DSM-IV.

            • prideinmadness
              Jan 17, 2013 @ 16:15:18

              Amazon has the DSM IV for $90. I’m glad that anyone can buy it!

            • Lola
              Jan 17, 2013 @ 16:36:11

              Yeah! Imagine you wouldn’t even be able to double check if you had suspicions about your diagnosis being right. That would be awful.

            • prideinmadness
              Jan 18, 2013 @ 16:57:23

              I’m interested to see how exactly BPD changes in the new DSM. Hopefully my social worker will get a copy and I can look. She has the DSM IV in her office.

            • Lola
              Jan 18, 2013 @ 17:10:44

              Oh, I will be interested in that one as well. I’m also curios to see if C-PTSD is gonna get its own category. (At least I seem to think that it doesn’t have its own recognized category. But I might be mistaken? I don’t know.)

  3. Stefanie Neumann
    Jan 14, 2013 @ 18:21:46

    I am glad, Lola, that you finally found a therapist who is giving you a safe space and appropriately sound company on your healing journey!

    • Lola
      Jan 15, 2013 @ 07:25:36

      Yeah, I’m really glad about that, too. My therapist F, she’s a little old lady – the kind you’d expect to be crocheting doilies with cat hair all over her clothes while kitties are rubbing up to her legs and the kitty who sits on the back of the armchair is glowering at you – but in reality she’s quite far from that as cool as a little old lady can be (and doesn’t even have a single cat. That part is kind of sad. I’d like a kitty around. If it was well-behaved. Or a dog. That would be even cooler. 😉 )

      • Stefanie Neumann
        Jan 15, 2013 @ 10:08:04

        She sounds like a wonderful person, Lola! 😀

        Yes, animals can be wonderful friends and very supportive! Maybe she opted for not bringing any to work because some people might be allergic or afraid.

        • Lola
          Jan 16, 2013 @ 07:03:32

          She is a very nice and helpful person. What I like best about her is that she’s flexible and open to stuff that is probably nowhere to be found in any textbook. For example she lets me take my mom along to my appointments if I feel safer that way on that particular day. The previous therapist bristled like crazy at that wish of mine. So she’s cool! Maybe that’s an advantage of her being an old lady. I think she doesn’t feel threatened or like things go out of control so easily.

          • Stefanie Neumann
            Jan 16, 2013 @ 13:16:09

            I think you might be right regarding her being very sovereign because of her age (and with that she maybe has more life experience than some of her younger colleagues).

            My therapist, although he is not very old, yet, was also open to new things and perspectives when he felt like it would support my healing process. That helped a lot!

            It’s great that she is listening to you and allows you, for example, to bring your mom when you feel that it is better for you on that day! 🙂

            • Lola
              Jan 16, 2013 @ 16:13:17

              That’s very good that your tehrapist was also open to new things and perspectives. I really find it very difficult to work with therapists who will just exclude everything that does not belong with how they learned to think in their psych school.

            • Stefanie Neumann
              Jan 16, 2013 @ 16:44:23

              I hear you, Lola!

              Good that you found one that is open to look outside of the box, too. 🙂

            • Lola
              Jan 17, 2013 @ 10:49:59

              Thank you! 🙂 I’m very happy about that as well.

  4. Diversity is Art
    Jan 14, 2013 @ 22:56:42

    Lists like this are very useful.

  5. licensedmentalhealthcounselor
    Jan 15, 2013 @ 03:56:04

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing. As a therapist I believe I am a good therapist, but only have that affirmed to me when I either see positive change in my clients or if they comment on the good therapy is doing. It’s great to have an “insiders” point of view and I can totally agree with all your good and bad signs. I have met some awful therapist over the years and would never refer anyone to them, but there are many great therapist out there and we can all benefit from someone like you letting us know what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong. Thank you.

    • Lola
      Jan 15, 2013 @ 08:18:23

      You’re welcome. 🙂 I’m always really glad when therapists stop a moment to consider how what they do looks from the other end, and when they are aware that it takes more than just a diploma to be a good therapist. Thank you for stopping by and reading! 🙂

  6. Trackback: My signs of good and bad therapists « Mm172001's Blog
  7. Emily L.
    Feb 01, 2013 @ 04:48:39

    Please tell me if i am crazy. I love my therapist, but she has really hurt me and let me down. Am I truly crazy, or was she totally inappropriate?

    Last week I had my last appt with my therapist for a while due to financial issues. I went in angry, which even she has said is how I deal with feelings of fear and hurt. So I fully acknowledge that I was being difficult that session. However, here’s what went down. Ten minutes into the session she received a text message, read it and said, “Hmmm, I haven’t heard from her in forever; I wonder what she’s up to these days.” I said, “It doesn’t matter at this moment because we’re in the middle of my session.” Her response? “Try to show some f****** gratitude once in a while! After all the extra time I give you, geez, you’re a greedy little pig.” To which I responded, “F*** you!” And she responded, “F*** you too!”

    Keep in mind I have told this woman time and time again that, firstly, not checking the time and running over is HER responsibility and HER boundary to set, and it is completely wrong to hold it over my head later when I complain about her checking her phone in the middle of my session (I have never asked this woman for extra time; she accidentally gives it to ALL her clients because she refuses to check the time). Her response: “I hate clocks.” And secondly, I don’t appreciate her checking her phone in the middle of my session because I feel as though she is not fully paying attention during my 50 minutes. And her response has always been, “What the hell’s the big deal? I give you all this extra time, so you really have nothing to complain about.”

    So I tried to tell her that I was sad and scared about not being able to see her for a while, and she told me I was being a “drama queen,” even though I am desperately looking for work, almost completely out of money, dealing with severe depression and trying to get sober at the same time.

    These sorts of things happen ALL the time with her. When I express anger, whether calmly or not, she responds with just as much anger and tells me I am being defensive (her justification is, “If I’m not pissing you off, I’m not doing my job”). I have had several other therapists over the past 15 years, and none of them has ever done that. I always felt safe expressing any feelings with them because I knew they wouldn’t hold it against me. And they would HELP me work through the feelings and find the underlying causes. I no longer feel safe with this woman. The problem is that she is willing to sit next to me and hold me like I always wanted my mother to do, and I am feeling rather addicted to that. But for the last week I have been thinking that that safe nurturing that feels so damn good is not worth the other crap she puts me through.

    Since typing this all out, I am feeling less crazy and more like I am right to think she is doing more harm than good. And because I have tried to talk to her calmly about all these things numerous times, and about 85% of the time she shrugs them off, I think I need to let her go and move on. It’s funny how someone can become so damn important to you, even when they are treating you like crap.

    Thank you so much for this site. I will be exploring it more over the next few days.

    • Lola
      Feb 05, 2013 @ 09:15:00

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Emily. 🙂 From what you wrote it sounds like your therapist is being quite unprofessional and unhelpful. I can only speak for myself, of course, but I wouldn’t put up with any therapist who treated me like this. Taking phone calls during sessions, trying to make me feel guilty, insulting me and not paying full attention, those are signs that scream ‘bad therapist’ to me. And to my mind her job is not to piss you off, but to help you. Help should FEEL helpful, too. Maybe not all the time to all the parts of you, but with your rational mind you should at least KNOW that what she’s doing is professional, aims at understanding you and helping you out. So I don’t think you are crazy at all. Don’t let your therapist treat you like crap.

      Take care!! xx

    • emm
      May 10, 2013 @ 20:20:54

      Emily that is unbelievable seriously I would speak to whoever licenced her. Concerned for you. Take care

    • Beerly
      Jul 10, 2013 @ 21:25:19

      If a therapist checks her phone during someone’s session she needs to take her license back to Wal Mart and get her dollar back. Session time belongs to the client – not the therapist. I had a psychiatrist/therapist who did that to me several times. I remember that feeling of not being important to her at all. I told her how I felt about it but she continued doing it. I don’t see her anymore.. I AM a therapist and I would never check a phone during a session. My phone is always turned off during a session. If a therapist curses you or demeans you in any way, contact the state licensing board and report it.

  8. shainawhite
    Apr 01, 2013 @ 10:15:38

    My therapist that i have now,is really uncomfortable. I am going to quit therapy because of her behavior. She talked for me and tells me how I felt instead of letting me talk about how I really feel. Her ideas were so off.. She tried to invite herself to my wedding, that made me really uncomfortable. She definitely leaves me feeling unstable and depressed. She makes everything about herself. I feel unimportant. She would also cut the time 15 minutes early. Which was a bummer, it seemed like she was annoyed and I was a waste of time. I miss my old therapist, he was awesome, but sadly I relocated to the coast :/

    • Lola
      Apr 04, 2013 @ 16:41:49

      I’m sorry your therapist at the moment seems to suck. 😦 I’d not like having a therapist like what you describe either. After all you shouldn’t be feeling more uncomfortable and unstable and stuff because of therapy. I’m sending you good thoughts and I hope you can find a better therapist soon. There probably are decent ones at the coast, too. Good luck, hun! 🙂

  9. Brittany
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 21:55:31

    The therapist I currently have been suffering with has known me for several years and every single time I go to her office I have left there crying wanting to punch someones lights out. She continuously forces me to talk about things that I am not ready to, she says that I need a job and that I am not even trying despite the fact that I apply to five different jobs every single day. Between her and my mother they vowed to take away my internet in exactly one month if I did not have a job, it has since been one month and three days and I have kept my internet, and still do not have a job but in the area I am in there is little to no jobs available. I desperatly need a job and I understand that but threatening to take the only thing that matters to me is NOT the way to go about it. I know I am addicted and the fact that all of my homework is online is not helping either. Every single time I talk to her I want to punch her in the face and stab her in the throat, I am a very violent child who does not like people who are super happy and pretend to like you and want to help you, I hate her, she is always smiling and it fucking pisses me off, I once dropped her as my therapist for five weeks to meet with a differnet one and that therapist was much better she was down to earth, calm, a person just like me, but then she left since the pay was better elsewhere, I wanted to go, but they put me with the whore again. I suffer every time I talk to her and my mother then spends the entire ride home talking about it again and making me feel even worse.

    • Lola
      Apr 18, 2013 @ 09:56:03

      I’m sorry you are unhappy with your current therapist, Brittany. 😦 Also sorry about the job situation and your therapist and your mom being not very helpful at the moment. Maybe if you try to figure out what makes you the angriest about your situation and write it down or something, so you can then talk with your therapist (or your therapist and your mom) about it and see if you can find some solutions together? Or compromises that are at least better than what you have now?

      Well, or if everything fails and you still feel uncomfortable and angry, maybe it’s worth looking into who else might be a good therapist for you in your area?

      I hope you find a good solution! Take care and good luck!

  10. Maia
    Apr 12, 2013 @ 20:02:49

    I just had a really bad experience today and I was looking up “bad therapists” on Google to see if others had what to say about that. I liked your list, especially the first one shows that you are really grounded and smart and know what is proper and improper. I guess I got a bit of a shock today about the state of therapy. I’m so naive that I didn’t realize that there were crappy therapists out there??? I’m like, how can it be, a therapist is supposed to be professional and help US, who are screwed up. They are not supposed to be screwed up. Yes, it does mess with us. Dangerous. I wonder how many therapists have made patients condition worse……God, I can’t believe it. I mean, there are incompetent professionals in every field, I guess, but in this field, I don’t know, it just seems so outrageous. I left the clinic feeling weird and not even so aware of how short encounter with a bad therapist affected me. Only now, as the day goes on and I am still ruminating about it, I realize what a bad effect a bad therapist can have on someone, and I don’t even consider myself in a bad state. What happened is that I had a first appointment at a free clinic, which my psychiatrist referred me to. Some of the doctors walking around as I waited seemed a bit weird, and then a man with an extremely long and creepy beard calls me in , and I’m immediately creeped out just by the way he looks. When I ask him if he’s going to be my therapist (I thought it was an assessment) he perks up, immediately offended and after I say that I would probably be more comfortable with a woman, he abruptly gets up. Even the people at reception and another doctor were surprised at what happened. The woman doctor who was standing near the reception said that he gets offended easily (excuse me, are you serious? I thought therapists aren’t supposed to get offended, and by what exactly?!!). They were accommodating but I left with that weird rejection thing that happened there in this weirdos office – his or mine. What a moron! How do I get over this idiocity?!!!!

    • Lola
      Apr 18, 2013 @ 12:54:35

      Yes, it’s a bit of a shock that there are really crappy therapists out there, who – instead of being helpful – are just not worth the time or money. Unfortunately not everyone has healthy motivations when they go into mental health care, or so it seems sometimes. Sorry you got such a lame duck with God-knows-what issues when you were reffered to the clinic! Really, being respectful of someone not wanting to work with a male therapist (and extra-yuck for creepy beards!!) is NOT too much to ask! Like AT ALL. Regarding how to get over it, I suggest not to take it personally. You were just unlucky with your first attempt there and got a creepy weirdo. But there are better ones out there. Just keep on looking! Good luck for the next attempt! 🙂

  11. Cat
    Apr 17, 2013 @ 17:54:00

    Hi, I just came across this because I googled “my therapist empathizes too much.” I noticed that you have that on your list. I do like my therapist for many reasons (she’s professional, she lays out goals, we seem to have a good connection, actually she meets many of the items on the “good list…”) but her constant remarks of empathy and compassion are getting really annoying. I feel like every time I say something about a negative experience I had, she gives me this look and body language that I can only read as “oh my gosh how awful that must have been for you, I’m soooo sorry.” As though she’s having that reaction FOR me. In addition she also says things like, “If you don’t mind some self-disclosure, I haven’t been in that specific situation but I’ve been in a situation where I felt similar things to what you’re going through and this is how I felt…” and honestly it really annoys me when she says those things! It’s just not the reaction I’m looking for. It’s gotten to the point where I’m almost scared to bring up certain things because I don’t want to see her reaction (and the thing is, I’m not talking about anything very serious or horrible at all…just maybe an argument I had with a family member, for example).

    The other thing that drives me crazy is that she seems to hear everything I say through a filter of her own experiences. For example, I’ve talked a lot about my parents and different things that I’ve gone through with each of them. I’ve done my best to describe both of my parents’ personalities and attributes, and also my relationships with each of them. My therapist constantly twists what I say to a point where I think to myself, where did she get that from? One example I can think of is that I’ve talked about how my mother is at times turbulent, has trouble containing her emotions and anger, and as a teen often took out her aggressions on me. In a later session my therapist was taking an assessment before we started EMDR and asked me to describe my mother in 5 adjectives. I had trouble coming up with the first one so she said, “if you don’t mind my offering one…how about critical? Vain?” I never indicated that my mother was either of those things (which she really isn’t), and my immediate thought was that maybe my description of my mother reminded my therapist of HER mother, who maybe was also critical and vain, and that’s what made her think of those words. That’s just one example like that but she does that all the time.

    I was wondering, in your therapy experience how have you handled the issue of a therapist over-empathizing? And if you’ve had any experience with the second issue I would appreciate your input on that as well.

    I didn’t realize I was going to write so much and I thank you for reading!

    • Lola
      Apr 18, 2013 @ 09:47:43

      Hi Cat! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience. I’m sorry your therapist seems to empathize too much. I hate it when I end up feeling like a therapist is having a strong emotional reaction to what I’m saying. Like you I end up feeling like I don’t want to share my stuff anymore. I once had a therapist who’d get “the look” whenever emotional or sexual abuse came up, like she was going to cry or something, like it affected her more than it should. What I did was that I stopped speaking with her, but that’s not what I would recommend doing, as it was a rather helpless and stubborn reaction on my part. I think if it happened today I would tell my therapist that her reaction makes me uncomfortable and why – and if she didn’t respect my reasoning or said she understands but kept on doing it, I’d probably stop seeing her. After all, what good is a therapy where I feel like I can’t bring up certain things? I’m lucky that the therapist that I see now is quite good with those things. She tries to figure out how *I* feel about what I am sharing, or – if I lack an emotional reaction, which often happens – she says something like “I imagine I’d be feeling … or … if that happened to me. What about you?” and that’s okay with me.

      As for the filter thing… hm… I think if it was a therapist who I otherwise trusted but was under the impression that sometimes she didn’t really hear what *I* was saying, but added her own stuff to it, I’d just correct her, as in “no, that’s not what I meant / how it feels to me / what I think…”. But if I had other issues with her, too, or she kept on doing it all the time, it would probably annoy her. The wisest thing would probably be to discuss it, but I don’t know if I’d do so, because it’s so hard to “prove” to someone else that they run everything I say through their own filter, and I hate this kind of confrontation or arguments. But if I listen to the more mature part of me, I would probably give it a try, at least.

      Anyway, I hope you find a good solution for your therapist’s empathy and filter issues! It can be really hard to find a good therapist, and even the good ones are not perfect, but I hope that your gut and mind together will tell you what to do about it. Take care! 🙂

  12. abettercapitalism
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 22:07:17

    This is such a good list! I was looking online for blogs on this topic after having a truly awful experience with a therapist. Easily the worst thing she did was not believe something i told her, and when i challenged her she started *yelling* at me and became really aggressive. Set me back a bit.

    One thing I’ve learnt is to trust my instincts about therapist. Warning bells rang after my first session but I forced myself to go back for the second – and last session.

    • Lola
      May 08, 2013 @ 09:54:53

      Yelling and aggressive behavior doesn’t sound very professional at all! Do trust your instincts about therapists! Glad you didn’t go back anymore. Good luck finding a better one!

  13. Socalsoleil
    May 25, 2013 @ 23:23:01

    I went to a therapist for depression while pregnant w/ my second child. My first child was struggling at preschool, and I blamed myself and worried about parenting another child. My therapist reinforced my belief that I was a bad parent, telling me that he was getting into my things and ruining things and misbehaving at school because I did not socialize him, that he should spend as little time with me as possible and that I should beg for money from family to pay for a summer intervention program. Again, I was pregnant, and this woman is telling me I’m a failure at parenting and that my son should not be around me! She also asked me if I was planning on doing Mommy & Me classes with my new baby and seemed shocked that it hadn’t occurred to me. Then she bragged about how her son was a difficult child but that she did everything she could to help him and that he was not a successful adult, doing extremely well in college. So she patted herself on the back while putting me down.

    The last session, I was crying so hard on the drive home that I had to pull over and call my husband to help calm me down.

    About 6 months later, my son’s school district diagnosed him with autism. It was bittersweet. I wasn’t really a failure as a parent, but something was going on with my baby. I will never understand why that therapist assumed I was the problem. My second child is not autistic, and he is a great kid. His big brother is a great kid, too, but conventional parenting/teaching didn’t work with him because his brain is different. I have since had to fight for my son with autism and had the courage to pull him out of public school after his school district failed him.

    Anyway, we spent some of our other sessions with her asking me where I bought my new mattress and how did I like it, talking about her dog (who I was allergic to and who was at every session even though I told her dogs made me nervous), and about her successes as a parent. I was surprised about how much she talked about and praised herself. I think she was one of those therapists who uses the patient to work on her own issues.

    Good riddance.

    My last therapist was phenomenal! My whole family attended therapy together, and we all loved her. She helped us so much b/c she knews lots about autism and she genuinely liked us. My family is stronger and happier because of her. She was a lifesaver! But we moved, and I miss her terribly.

  14. Socalsoleil
    May 25, 2013 @ 23:28:40

    I went to a therapist for depression while pregnant w/ my second child. My first child was struggling at preschool, and I blamed myself and worried about parenting another child. My therapist reinforced my belief that I was a bad parent, telling me that he was getting into my things and ruining things and misbehaving at school because I did not socialize him, that he should spend as little time with me as possible and that I should beg for money from family to pay for a summer intervention program. Again, I was pregnant, and this woman is telling me I’m a failure at parenting and that my son should not be around me! She also asked me if I was planning on doing Mommy & Me classes with my new baby and seemed shocked that it hadn’t occurred to me. Then she bragged about how her son was a difficult child but that she did everything she could to help him and that he was now a successful adult, doing extremely well in college. So she patted herself on the back while putting me down.

    The last session, I was crying so hard on the drive home that I had to pull over and call my husband to help calm me down.

    About 6 months later, my son’s school district diagnosed him with autism. It was bittersweet. I wasn’t really a failure as a parent, but something was going on with my baby. I will never understand why that therapist assumed I was the problem. My second child is not autistic, and he is a great kid. His big brother is a great kid, too, but conventional parenting/teaching didn’t work with him because his brain is different. I have since had to fight for my son with autism and had the courage to pull him out of public school after his school district failed him.

    Anyway, we spent some of our other sessions with her asking me where I bought my new mattress and how did I like it, talking about her dog (who I was allergic to and who was at every session even though I told her dogs made me nervous), and about her successes as a parent. I was surprised about how much she talked about and praised herself. I think she was one of those therapists who uses the patient to work on her own issues.

    Good riddance.

    My last therapist was phenomenal! My whole family attended therapy together, and we all loved her. She helped us so much b/c she knews lots about autism and she genuinely liked us. My family is stronger and happier because of her. She was a lifesaver! But we moved, and I miss her terribly.

    • Lola
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 17:26:25

      I’m sorry to hear you had such a lousy therapist, Socalsoleil, but glad you stopped seeing her. I’m real glad for you that you found a good therapist after that bad therapist experience and that she could help you. It makes all the difference if a therapist is good, doesn’t it? I hope you have found ways to help you deal with your son and his having autism in the meantime?

  15. Jeff Brandt
    Jun 25, 2013 @ 19:36:47

    Hi Lola,
    You are doing a great service with this blog by helping others open up and communicate about their therapy experiences!

    I indirectly had a horrific experience with a therapist through my ex-wife and wrote a book about it as part of my healing process. It is a very dramatic and emotion filled story that begins with her suicide attempt and includes his dismantling my family by crossing all boundaries of propriety to make her his own.

    My goal was not only to help heal myself, but also to help others in a similar situation. The title of my book is “Beware of the Therapist! — How His Lust For My Suicidal Wife Destroyed Our Family and What I Did To Ensure He Could Never Hurt Anyone Again.” I invite you and your followers to check it out on Facebook at You can use the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon to read some of it, or go on Smashwords to do the same.

    At the end of the book I include a chapter titled: “What I Learned on My Journey: Tips for a Bright and Responsible Life.” It includes the section “Warning Signs in a Therapist’s Conduct,” which is very relevant to this blog post.

    Perhaps we can work together to help your followers. Would you like a copy to read/review, and possibly recommend to your followers in the future?

    • Lola
      Jul 11, 2013 @ 12:24:10

      Thank you, Jeff. Is there an e-book version of your book available?

      • Jeff Brandt
        Jul 11, 2013 @ 13:28:26

        Yes, Lola. Go to and look up my book by name, “Beware of the Therapist.” Purchase a copy, but before checking out enter the coupon code GH52W. I have made this a 100% discount for you and your followers until July 17, so it will be free. When downloading, choose the version “Epub” for best results.

        Lola, I have read some of your blog and I think you’re an amazing young woman!
        I look forward to your feedback.


        • Lola
          Jul 11, 2013 @ 13:55:42

          Thank you, Jeff. That’s very kind. I downloaded it and will read. I’m a slow reader because I’m struggling with dyslexia, but I’m looking forward to learning about your experience. Thank you for the kind words, too.

          • Jeff Brandt
            Jul 11, 2013 @ 14:03:52

            You welcome, Lola. You can count on my support going forward. By the way, I spent 23 years in the limousine business (you’ll read about that in the book) and once met and drove Tom Cruise. Did you know he is dyslexic?

            • Lola
              Jul 11, 2013 @ 14:06:17

              Thank you. 🙂 And no, I didn’t know that, but it’s cool. Doesn’t seem to have hurt his success any. Good thing actors don’t have to write on screen. 😀 Cool that you got to drive him.

            • Jeff Brandt
              Jul 11, 2013 @ 14:08:44

              That was my point. Don’t let it hold you back either, Lola, from being all God intended you to be! 😀

            • Lola
              Jul 11, 2013 @ 14:15:59

              Thanks, I’ll try to net let it. 🙂

  16. Donna
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 17:18:57

    As a therapist myself, I would like to see a list of what makes a good or bad client.

    • Lola
      Jul 13, 2013 @ 17:45:25

      Hi Donna,

      I don’t think there is such a thing as “good” or “bad” clients. Just people who are in different places in their life, who have different needs, different experiences and different abilities to open up and cooperate in therapy. After all, unlike the profession of a therapist, “client” is not a job anyone gets trained for.

      Anything you need to learn you can be good or bad at. But you can’t be a bad client, because client isn’t something for which any standards apply. There exist no standards by which someone’s quality as a client can be judged. You can be a client who isn’t ready for therapy, or one for whom the therapeutic approach of a therapist doesn’t work, or one whose behavior a particular therapist can’t cope with, but that doesn’t make anyone a “bad” client. Just one who therapist X might not be able to work with. That happens. And often it’s neither the therapist’s nor the client’s fault. In my book it certainly doesn’t mean the client is being a “bad” client.

      I really wish you didn’t think about clients in a “good/bad” category, especially if you are a therapist yourself. Unlike any client, you have been extensively trained and meeting professional quality criteria is part of your job. That is why as a therapist you can be good at it or bad. Clients aren’t trained professionals. Being a client is no job. Clients just seek help. And like I said above, if they can’t make use of the help a particular therapist can offer at this point in their lives, if they behave destructively or even sabotage therapy, then that means that they may not be ready or that the approach is not suitable for them. I’m sure that’s way inconvenient for the therapist, but labeling certain clients “bad” because of it? I’m not convinced that’s helpful in any way.


    • Maia
      Jul 14, 2013 @ 00:08:30

      A good client is one who has the wisdom to see that you’re a bad therapist and stop coming to see you. A bad client is one who keeps coming and paying you. Understand?

      • Amy
        Aug 17, 2013 @ 20:37:17

        That doesn’t make them a bad client it just means they don’t know what positive therapy looks like if it is their first therapist how would they know especially people that are used to being treated bad!!! My first therapist sucked, she triggered me and threatened to stop seeing me all the time!!! I had been abused and was getting abused again and people like that can’t really tell when they are being treated bad!!!

        • Lola
          Sep 18, 2013 @ 07:57:35

          Therapists carry a great responsibility and unfortunately there are many out there who are not aware. Especially treating people who have been abused and traumatized is a very sensitive issue that requires a very safe and careful approach in therapists. I hope you have a better therapist now?

  17. Donna
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 17:19:18

    Counseling is a two-way street.

    • Lola
      Jul 13, 2013 @ 17:48:31

      It certainly is like any human interaction, but not on equal terms. One person is a professional and the other one is someone with problems who may not be able to accept help in the way that would be good for the therapist. If they were able to, maybe they wouldn’t need a therapist in the first place. To be completely honest, I find it a bit scary if you judge some clients to be “bad” ones and I wouldn’t necessarily want to see you for fear that you judge other things I open up to you about negatively, too.

      • Maia
        Jul 13, 2013 @ 22:58:34

        I cant believe you are even responding to this woman. How dare she even think in terms of a good or bad client. No wonder there are so many bad therapists out there, if this one represents the average. I’m paying you over $100 per session, sometimes $200 and you want me to be a good client???
        I would like to say this to all therapists out there: when we come to you, we usually come because we are miserable and don’t know who the hell else to turn to. We are not your colleague or someone who will ideally fit into what you learned in your books. You have to use your wisdom and imagination AND KNOWLEDGE (yes, that thing you learned in school and we didn’t) to try and figure out how best to help us. The problem is that half of the time you just sit there and smile while we talk. You’re supposed to know what the general human being issues are and then try to fit our individual problems in that and help us!!!

  18. Maia
    Jul 14, 2013 @ 00:09:36

    By the way, I thought you were very sensible in the things you said to her even though she didn’t deserve a decent answer.

    • Lola
      Jul 14, 2013 @ 13:10:36

      Thank you, Maia. I very much agree with the things you you said. 🙂 I guess I just try to give everyone a decent answer because I’m making an effort to be a decent person whenever I can, even when someone else isn’t.

  19. Elaine
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 19:24:44

    Very valid comments, Lola. Even though I live in the UK, I found your article helpful. Here, we do not tend to use the term “Therapists”, but rather “Counsellors” – still, they amount to the same thing, and should to all intents and purposes adhere to the same professional codes of practice, and ethical principles.

    I am glad to have read your lists, particularly as I have had my own personal experience with a bad Counsellor/Therapist. The point is, that a person seeks therapy in order to help come to terms with issues or bad memories from their past, or to help them deal with a problematic current situation or issue. Whatever the reason for seeking therapy, the person is VULNERABLE, and has sought assistance because they feel HURT and possibly AFRAID. They want to be able to talk openly and frankly with a Therapist/Counsellor who is safe, non-judgemental, free of prejudice… a good and impartial listener.

    My own experience was not to be like this. I was about 24 at the time. I’d not long come out of a disastrous relationship, lost a baby, and was being bullied at work. To add to this, I had a background history which included growing up with a mother who had Bi Polar Disorder (mental health issues), being fostered, being bullied at school, and the deaths of 2 close friends (one friend died when he was 18, and when I was only 16; and the other friend when I was 21, she was 21 as well, and sadly died of cancer). I hope you may be able to imagine – at the time I saw the Therapist/Counsellor, I was upset, confused, angry and scared. I had all sorts of feelings that I needed to express, and loads of questions to ask. I needed help to make sense of things.

    The lady I saw really DID NOT HELP. Instead, she was judgemental – making negative comments about my appearance, and even writing them in my medical notes. She blamed me for my behaviour, particularly my poor relationship with my mother, and made comments that seemed to suggest that she felt I should be doing more to help my mother. She even wrote that I “need to moderate my behaviour towards others” and suggested that I did “not understand how I affect people” (her words). I have seen the things she wrote about me – which came as quite a shock. At the time, she did not allow me to view what she was writing, nor did she ask me to check it was accurate. Her statements about me included some dreadful inaccuracies; I suspect they may even have been deliberate falsehoods. She accused me of being involved in an Employment Tribunal (which I was not), and of being “more motivated to seek compensation from my employer, than to get well” (her words). To this day, I have NO CLUE as to why she thought I was suing my employers! She also wrote that I had “longstanding problems with authority”. Once more, this completely baffles me. I had NEVER been in trouble with the authorities, or the police. I had NEVER been expelled or suspended from school. I had, in fact, successfully gained high grades at school, and then 4 A-Levels, and a University Degree. How does a person with “authority problems” do that?

    Not once did this woman attempt to address any of the issues that I had come to see her for; even though she had listed them all in my notes! She clearly seemed to have her own agenda, and appeared determined to make me see things her way. It is clearly documented that I told her on one occasion that I no longer wished to see her, but that she persuaded me otherwise. She also discussed this with my family Doctor, behind my back. With hindsight, I suspect I should have terminated contact with her as soon as I began to feel uneasy. However, she made me feel so guilty about wanting to leave, and made me feel so much like a “quitter”, that I felt a need to persist with the so-called “treatment”.

    It is good that you have written so candidly about experiences of therapy. People need to know what to expect, and how to tell the difference between a good and a bad Therapist/Counsellor. Ideally, they should be armed with all the facts before choosing to see anyone at all. Sadly, it does not always appear that matters are quite as “up front” as they ought to be, and some poor people (like me) learn by experience what a bad Therapist/Counsellor is like, when really it would have been better to have avoided contact with such a person.

    By the way, I’d just like to point out that, whoever DONNA is, she should DEFINITELY NOT BE A COUNSELLOR/THERAPIST. Her comment is truly appalling! Clients cannot be judged as good or bad. That is NOT how it works, at all! The role of the Counsellor/Therapist is not to sit in judgement of a client, or to categorise and “label” them. Donna sounds to be an extremely prejudiced individual, and wholly unsuitable for the profession. How on earth did she complete her training?

    Speaking personally, I have a qualification in Social Work, and was for several years employed working with mentally disordered offenders (prisoners who had committed crimes because they were mentally ill at the time). I had no right to judge such people. I was there to understand them, and to listen to them. Quite often, I would learn of people who had grown up in dreadful circumstances. Some had been abused, or bullied; others neglected. They might have experienced deaths in the family, parental divorce, financial problems, domestic violence. It was not my place to judge my clients for having committed a crime. My role was to understand how their past had affected their present. I do not condone criminal activity, but I also do not believe in simply labelling a person as irremediably criminal, and failing to understand how they came to be in that situation.

    I am now studying for a Postgraduate qualification in Psychology, and would love to continue helping people who experience mental illness. If, as I suspect that I am proof of, many of the therapeutic and counselling professionals we see have themselves had need at some time in their lives to seek therapy… then it goes without saying that a Therapist/Counsellor has no right to be judgemental. Donna – shame on you!

    • Lola
      Jul 31, 2013 @ 06:15:56

      That’s a horrid experience, Elaine. I’m sorry you had to go through it. 😦 I think it’s very good though that you are turning it into something positive by getting a psych qualification to help those who are struggling with mental issues, though, because you’ll know exactly how awful bad therapists/counsellors are and know not to be one of those. Thank you for sharing your story. 🙂

  20. disequilibrium1
    Jul 30, 2013 @ 14:33:44

    Glad you mentioned power games. My blog has a long ongoing discussion of subtle power imbalance and its effect on clients. Sometimes the therapist can feign support yet convey an underlying message that the client inevitably is subordinate and beholden.
    Some of us of found transference, parent-child roles etc. ultimately damaging.

  21. Raquel
    Sep 02, 2013 @ 02:41:25

    So im on probation and as part of my terms I agreed to see a counselor for 18 sessions the counselor has canceled a few times last session I had with her she.notified me that she would not be able to see me for three weeks I asked if we could meet at different times so I wouldn’t fall further behind on my sessions and she got very upset and told me no next thing I know she called my PO and told her she will no longer see me….. Ive not been contacted by my probation officer im scared and feel like this situation was completely out of my control.

    • Lola
      Sep 02, 2013 @ 15:27:04

      Hi Raquel,

      I’m sorry you are having these difficulties with your therapist. Maybe you could call your PO and try to explain your end of what happened and ask your PO what she thinks you should do?

      • Raquel
        Sep 09, 2013 @ 05:31:23

        Ive been trying to get a hold of her all week as well as left her messages she’s actually really bad about calling back…. This is normal for PO s I see her tomorrow and im literally having panic attacks from the anxiety of not knowing what to expect…. But thank you so much for your insight as well as taking the time for responding.

  22. cate
    Sep 14, 2013 @ 16:24:19

    Hmm, my therapist(psychologist) has many traits of the good stuff and maybe some of the bad stuff. I don’t know if I’m having inferiority complex, but I sometimes get offended by her remarks, reactions, and other stuff. But still I’m pretty sure I have a bad case of inferiority complex, so I am confused..:[

    • Lola
      Sep 18, 2013 @ 07:36:19

      Hi Cate. It can be hard to tell what something is. Maybe if you have a person who can trust, like a good friend, and you told her about some of the remarks, reactions etc. of your therapist to know what she thinks? Or bring the topic up with your therapist herself, that her remarks made you feel offended and you’re confused whether that is because they were of because of the way you’re feeling? But that’s obviously harder, so maybe getting someone else’s thoughts first might be easier?

  23. Mathnerd
    Sep 15, 2013 @ 04:34:04

    You c I had a great main therapist at first but she moved out of state. The one that took over was my rehab therapist but got the schooling to be able to move up and she been alright. But this last session things have gotten hairy. I like my new rehab therapist. It’s just my new main one isn’t ready for someone like me yet and I’ve no clue on what to do.

    • Lola
      Sep 18, 2013 @ 07:33:42

      I’m sorry things are difficult with your main therapist. Maybe bring the topic up with your rehab therapist and see what she thinks?

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