I will always be a champion of self-care, good mental health, and going to therapy.
But there’s a lotta bad therapists out there, honey.
We’ve all encountered mediocrity and unprofessionalism from time to time (okay, often), and the mental health profession is not exempt. Don’t get me wrong: some therapists are fantastic! Amazing! Life-changing! But, as in any profession: not everyone is good at their job. Bad therapy exists, and so do bad therapists. A lot of them.
Now, I’m not talking about egregious therapist transgressions such as ethical or legal offenses. If you’re a masochist, you can read all about those in the so-dry-it’ll-make-your-eyes-bleed APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.
No, this post is an abridged list of signs your therapist is unprofessional, messy, and probably mediocre…taken from both my own real-life experiences as as a therapy client over the years, as well as those shared with me by others.
So without further ado:
Signs your therapist is unprofessional AF:
Spending the whole session talking about themselves. It’s not normal to know more about your therapist than they know about you. If you can handily rattle off the names of your therapist’s aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews…something is not right.
Eating during a session. I had three (count ’em, THREE!) therapists who ate during our sessions. One woman made loud and passionate love to a bowl of Wheaties while I poured my heart out about how people never give me their undivided attention. Not really. But the Wheaties part is 100 percent true.
Imbibing during a session. Some people are gonna fight me on this, but I don’t care. A sip of water for a dry throat here and there is one thing, but no one wants to see their therapist chug a Kiwi Strawberry Snapple just after telling the story of how their dog died in their arms when they were ten. (And if the beverage in question contains booze, you have my official and enthusiastic permission to pull an Irish Goodbye.)
Taking non-emergency calls during a session. Wheaties chatted up both the UPS guy and her daughter about their upcoming trip to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom during our 50 minute (and $160) session. Apparently, she never learned how to turn off the ringer.
Getting angry with you for wanting to work with another therapist. Provided you, the client, communicate your desire to part ways respectfully, a true professional will understand and support you in getting the help you need, even if it’s not them.
Telling you to get a divorce. At least not on the first phone call, for God’s sake!
Ghosting you. This goes double if you went to therapy to work through abandonment issues. Clients are supposed to ghost therapists, not the other way around!
Falling asleep during your session. “Zzz” is not an acceptable therapeutic insight. Time for Irish Goodbye: The Sequel.
Arriving late every session and getting upset when you bring it up. Messy and tardy = BYE.
Failing to have have a box of tissues within reach. This one applies to the therapists who shun Telehealth and insist on only providing in-person therapy like it’s (actually) 1999: leaving your client to cry and snot all over themselves on top of doing the emotional heavy-lifting isn’t just unprofessional, it’s cruel.
You heard it here first, guys: life’s too short for bad haircuts, bad cheese, and bad therapists.
Of course, therapists don’t have to be perfect (no one is), but they do have to be professional and respectful of you and your time. If you have a quibble about something in therapy, you have the option of bringing it up and watching how your therapist responds: if they’re skilled and self-aware, they’ll at least try to leverage the issue into a productive, perhaps even restorative, conversation. And if they can’t do that, it could be the confirmation you need to keep it moving.
PS: Did I mention that this is an abridged list of messy AF therapist behavior?? There’s (unfortunately) more where that came from, but didn’t want to overwhelm y’all. Plus, you might have some messy therapist stories of your own, which I’d love to read in the comments! (Cuz I’m messy that way. 🙃)
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© 2022 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.