Life is a complicated, and the curveballs it launches our way from time to time can be overwhelming. In short, everyone needs a little help sometimes, and a good therapist can make all the difference when we feel like we’re in over our head with life’s challenges. Whether we’re managing mental health conditions, recovering from trauma, or simply navigating a difficult life event or transition, good therapy can be a profound and invaluable resource. But, as with any professional, therapists run along a spectrum of skill, talent, and credentials; basically, there are tons of great therapists out there, and there are other not-so-good ones. And sometimes, even a good therapist might not be a good fit for you, and it's important to figure that out.
So how do you know if you’re having therapy growing pains — after all, the healing process isn’t always going to be comfortable — or you and your therapist just aren't meshing? Dr. Darin Bergen, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Portland, Oregon, tells Bustle via email that a good relationship with a therapist “should allow you to feel like you can be yourself completely, and anything that gets in the way of that would be a red flag.” It’s a given, too, that your therapist should be appropriately trained and licensed, with no unresolved complaints with the licensing board.
Here are some key indicators that your therapist isn't a great fit for you, according to experts, and you might consider seeking help elsewhere.
They Won't Adjust Their Approach For Your Unique Needs
A sensitive therapist knows that there's no one-size-fits-all approach for their clients. According to Dr. Bergen, a major indicator that your therapist isn’t a great fit for you would be “if they don’t try to adapt their approach to fit your needs.” If your therapist has one way of doing things and “they try to sell you on it,” that’s a good sign that you may not get what you need out of the relationship.
They Don't Have Boundaries
If you get any inkling that your prospective therapist has poor boundaries — such as, if they flirt with you, discuss their personal problems or disclose personal information not relevant to your therapy, or interact with you outside of sessions for things not related to your care — feel free to bounce, Dr. Bergen says.
You Feel Shamed For Your Feelings
Marriage and family counselor, Tracey Cleantis Dwyer LMFT, author of The Next Happy and An Invitation to Self-Care, tells Bustle via email that being made to feel wrong for your feelings pretty much defeats the purpose of any professional therapeutic relationship. Good therapists create a safe space whereby you can examine your emotions without judgement. Basically, "'you shouldn't feel that way' is not something you want to hear in therapy," Dwyer states.
Your Don't Feel Heard
Acute active listening skills are a non-negotiable feature of any therapist worth their salt, and feeling heard is a key tenet of effective therapy. "If you don't feel listened to, and you get the sense that the therapist is tuned out or preoccupied," says Dwyer, this is a red flag that a therapist's listening skills aren't up to par. And without feeling heard in the therapeutic setting, it's unlikely you'll garner enough trust with your therapist to effectively navigate your healing process.
They Give Too Much Advice
Believe it or not, psychotherapy is not about getting a bunch of advice from your counselor. Good therapists help you self-reflect, examine your life and personal challenges, and glean your own answers in the process. Dwyer notes that "therapy is not a place for advice — it is a place to find your own answers with the help of a therapist." Your therapist is like a guide in your quest to achieve greater insight and self-knowledge, and pulling the focus from your own innate ability to find your own answers can derail that process.
You Feel Judged
A good therapist will help you feel respected without judgement. This foundation of trust and sound mutual regard is pivotal to effective therapy. If you feel judged for your thoughts, feelings, sexuality, gender identity, personal beliefs, or in any way, really, consider that this is not the best therapist for you.
They Don't Respect Your Personal Goals For Therapy
Good therapy is client/patient-driven — meaning that your goals for therapy should remain front and center, as your therapist collaborates with you to determine an effective treatment plan. A good therapist will not aim to push an agenda on you. Rather, they should check in with you to assess how treatment is serving your goals for your care. If you feel that your therapist is more concerned with their agenda for your therapy than your own, it's a good indicator that it's best to look elsewhere for counseling.
Remember that finding a good fit in therapy can take some trial and error — so don't hesitate to consult with a few prospective therapists, or even try a few sessions first, before committing to one person. Therapy can be a profound tool for healing and self-examination, and choosing a therapist carefully and well gives you the best shot at success.