Signs You Have A Toxic Relationship With Your Therapist

by Isadora Baum, CHC

It's often pretty helpful to see a therapist to work through personal issues, but sadly sometimes that relationship can become too intense or inappropriate. If you notice any signs of a toxic relationship with your therapist, it's important to cease sessions or have a firm dialogue to figure out next steps (and the ways you might be able to keep working together, in a professional manner). Of course, any relationship that's toxic isn't good, but especially one that is supposedly intended to help the rest of them.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on having positive relationships and limiting any stress or discomfort. You might have a friend or parent that drives you crazy, where he or she is either a bad influence, or is manipulative (making you feel out of control and insecure); either way, it's bad news. The same goes for a therapist, and it's even worse in a way because that therapist is there to give support, unconditional acceptance, and motivation to make some serious changes and evaluate your other relationships. Inappropriate behavior could be along the lines of manipulation, sexual advances, or hostile language, for instance. If you see any of these nine behaviors popping up in sessions, it's time to call it quits.

1. They Judge Your Spouse

According to relationship expert and Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, over email with Bustle, if your therapist judges your spouse without ever meeting him or her, it can sabotage your marriage. Instead, your therapist is supposed to be there to listen and help you on your journey, rather than offering criticism and direct opinions.

2. They Are Combative In Dialogue

According to Weena Cullins, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LCMFT) and Relationship Expert, over email with Bustle, "if you find yourself disagreeing with almost every suggestion your therapist makes, then it will be difficult to benefit from your time together." Instead, your therapist should listen to your thoughts and help you reflect.

3. Your Therapist Doesn't Care About Your Feelings

Seems odd, as that's the purpose of therapy, but it really can happen, explains Cullins. "If your therapist appears to be disinterested or disconnected from your concerns," it's a toxic relationship. "Feeling invalidated by your therapist can make your initial concerns even worse. If this happens consistently then it’s time to address it or move on," Cullins advises.

4. You Constantly Need To Defend Yourself

You shouldn't have to defend yourself for your actions, as your therapist should be compassionate and nonjudgmental, explains Cullins. "If you feel judged or compelled to defend yourself on a regular basis," this relationship isn't working the way it should. "When therapy no longer feels like a safe space to gain acceptance and be transparent, then the relationship might be toxic," explains Cullins.

5. They Don't Accept Boundaries

If you tell your therapist that something's off limits, that conversation topic should actually be. Unfortunately, sometimes you'll still be pressed for information against your will, and this can make a session really uncomfortable. And, if "the therapist feels more like a friend than a person who is an impartial helper who puts you and your best interests first, this relationship might feel nice on some level, but it is not serving you well," tells Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, Relationship Therapist to Bustle. It can also make you feel less trusting of your therapist, as their behavior is disrespectful and pushy.

6. You Find Yourself Lying

If you find yourself lying to your therapist to avoid having an argument or feeling ashamed (two things which should never happen during a session), then it could mean that you're in a toxic relationship, says Milrad. Instead, you should feel free and safe to be yourself, and your therapist can't really help you unless he or she knows the truth anyway.

7. You Feel On Edge

If you feel stressed around your therapist, or even in danger (perhaps you feel sexual advances or flirty behavior), it should be a clear warning sign of a toxic relationship. You should never feel threatened, anxious, or uncomfortable in your own skin around your therapist.

8. They Ask You For Favors

"Therapy should be a one-sided relationship. The therapist is there for you and the relationship should not be reciprocal," says Milrad. If the therapist asks for a favor, by reading their story (and you are an editor), help them out by looking at their plan for their garden (and you are a landscaper) or ask you for legal advice because you are a lawyer, for examples, it's inappropriate behavior, says Milrad.

9. They Make You Feel Hopeless After Session

This can be simply from making you feel uncared for, or it can be from a harsh criticism, that puts you in an anxious, depressed state, says Meredith Sagan, MD, MPH, APC, over email with Bustle. Also, if your therapist looks more anxious, worn out and stressed than you are or keeps checking the clock for the time to be up, it's a toxic indicator, says Sagan.

If you notice any of these behaviors, it's time to discuss it with your therapist to see if there's a way to keep the relationship positive moving forward. If there's no saving it, it's best to move on and find a someone else to lend support.