7 Red Flags that Mean You Need to Find a New Therapist ASAP

As a therapist, I am passionate about the idea that at some point everyone needs therapy for a healthy life. There is so much stigma that comes with seeking therapy services. Sometimes people feel they are bad, that there is something “wrong” with them, or that they are broken. Sometimes people feel like they should be able to handle things on their own. The truth is, we all need help sometimes. And it does not make you weak or bad to ask for it or to actively seek it out. When you ask for help, you are taking care of yourself. As humans, we are social by nature, and require a lot of support and encouragement from others to have a healthy mindset.
If you have decided to take the next step and find a therapist, I commend you. It is a difficult first step to make. You might not know what to expect, and you might be scared of what you are about to face. I’m not going to lie, it’s definitely not easy. And it will bring up some icky feelings. But that’s part of the process. Sometimes you expose a wound that you’ve been avoiding for a long time. And that can be painful. But therapy helps you expose it, clean it up, and let it heal.

Now, I would like to say that everyone in this field operates under the best intentions and practices for their clients. I really would. But I would be lying. The thing is, therapists are humans too. And just like all potential clients, therapists need to care for themselves and their own mental well being. When they don’t, sometimes their therapy can be potentially harmful to their clients. I wanted to write this article because I started out believing that everyone in the field is safe, supportive and understanding. When I started working at various agencies, I had a rude awakening. I saw clinicians mistreat their clients, make them feel uncomfortable and unsafe. I saw clinicians who were unwell and unstable take out their own personal issues on their clients. It was very shocking, and very jarring for me.
I’m writing this article not to scare you, but to empower you. I honestly believe that therapy is vital and important to a person’s mental wellness. All the best therapists have had therapy of their own. It’s important to care for ourselves as we care for others. And it helps to understand what it is truly like to sit on the couch and expose your vulnerabilities to someone. But as I said, I have been witness to some disturbing encounters and acts from others in the mental health field and I want you to be aware of red flags when you are pursuing therapy so that you can make the best decisions for your mental health. So here are some red flags to look out for:

1.       You feel judged

If at any point in therapy, you feel that you are being judged, that’s a bad sign. Therapy is supposed to be the one place you can go to let go and feel safe. If you feel that your therapist is judging you because of your life style, your choices or decisions, you will not feel safe enough to continue to open up. It will end up being a weird situation where you are just telling your therapist what you think they want to hear. And then you won’t actually be working on what you came in for.

2.       You don’t feel like you have a say in your treatment or goals

Therapy should be a collaborative effort between you and your therapist. You are the one who is choosing to come into therapy and you have the power to decide what type of goals or focus you want in treatment. If you feel like you’re being told what to do, you will likely not do it. That’s just human nature. You have to be invested and incorporated into your goals and treatment to make it worthwhile.

3.       You feel misunderstood (and therapist does not actively try to understand you)

If you feel like your therapist really does not understand you or where you are coming from, it’s going to be hard to be vulnerable with them. Part of a strong client-therapist relationship is feeling that the therapist understands who you are as a person. Sometimes they might not understand right away, but the best type of therapists will actively ask you questions and allow you to explain who you are.

4.       You feel unsafe

If at any point you do not feel safe with your therapist, you definitely need to cut them loose. You should never at any point have to feel unsafe with your therapist. They should never intimidate you, make you feel pressured or forced to do anything, and they should never try to have an intimate relationship or dual relationship with you. I include this aspect in feeling unsafe because if a therapist ever tries to have an intimate relationship with you, that is exploitive. Therapists have a unique role in which they learn about your vulnerabilities insecurities, triggers, and other issues. Taking part in an intimate relationship is exploitive because during therapy you naturally let your guard down and your therapist is now using that for personal gain.

5.       You feel like you’re being told what to do or being lectured

Therapy should never be giving you advice. Advice implies that the therapist absolutely knows what is best for you and tells you what to do. Therapists do not tell you what to do. They guide and support you in your pursuit of determining what is best for you. What works for me may not work for you, and that is okay. And when you’re being told what to do, it is no longer a collaborative relationship. It becomes an authority figure instructing you and taking away your freedom to explore and make choices.

6.       You feel like they are talking down to you, or insulting you

If your therapist is making statements that feel demeaning, belittling, or even insulting, they probably are. And that is not a healthy therapeutic relationship because you will end up shutting down, losing trust, and feeling judged.

7.       The therapist cannot accept feedback or admit to mistakes

In order to have a safe and trusting relationship with your therapist, there should be room for you to give feedback. Sometimes a therapist might make a statement or suggestion to you, and you don’t agree with the conclusion. For a comfortable relationship to occur, you should be able to voice that disagreement. Therapists are not perfect. We are human and we make mistakes. And the best kind of therapists admit to these mistakes.

All of these signs indicate it is not a healthy therapeutic relationship. Even if you are not experiencing these specific signs; if you don't feel comfortable with your therapist, then it is time to move on. There are some wonderful therapists out there who will make you feel welcome, safe, and accept you unconditionally. 

Five Inspiring Points from Felicia Day's You're Never Weird on the Internet (almost)

A few months ago I picked up a book to read called You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost), a memoir by Felicia Day. I’ve always been a passive fan of hers as she has been involved in quite a few nerdy/geeky subcultures that I tend to follow (i.e. Whedonverse). The title alone seemed relatable. I didn’t realize how inspiring it was going to be for me, particularly as she goes into some mental health issues that she dealt with along her path of success. So I decided I would share the aspects of the book that I found most helpful and inspiring to me with all of you. So here it goes:

1.       She embraces her “weird.”

Throughout the book Felicia describes herself as being “weird,” “awkward,” “kooky,” and an assortment of other synonyms that basically describe someone as being different from normal. This is a huge theme right from the start -- her first chapter is called “Why I’m Weird.” In it, she talks about being homeschooled as a child and how her unusual upbringing is what makes her weird. She became “super-hyper-educated in many odd areas” and feels most school situations “would have shamed all those oddball enthusiasms out of [her] REALLY quick” (Day, pg. 31). She talks about how it was difficult socially to interact with peers, and how she was often a lonely person during this period of her life.

But throughout the book she comes to embrace her unique qualities and eccentric interests: “My weirdness turned into my greatest strength in life. It’s why I’m who I am today and have the career I have” (pg. 31). I really loved this about her book because I feel there are many people out there who feel strange, weird, and different. These feelings can make you feel really lonely and isolated. Hearing someone who is prominent in the geek community say these are her greatest strengths is so encouraging and inspiring to me. Throughout the book, she comes off very relatable, honest, and genuine. I appreciated her ability to put herself out there because she lets other people know that it’s okay to be weird or different. It’s part of my mission as a therapist too. I want to help others reframe what may be considered to be negative qualities, and find ways to use them as their strengths.

2.       She got support from her peers

One important thing Felicia mentions in her book is that she joined a support group. It was an informal group a friend of hers invited her to join and they would meet every week to talk about their goals and what they were doing to work on them. During this time, she was in the height of her gaming addiction, and she found herself lying to the group about her progress on her goals due to shame and embarrassment. When she finally came clean about it, her friends were very supportive and she regretted hiding what she was going through from them. She gives some wonderful advice from this experience: “Find a group to support you, to encourage you, to guilt you into DOING. If you can’t find one, start one yourself…Make a goal. Then strike down things that are distracting you from that goal, especially video games…Scare yourself good. You have a finite number of toothpaste tubes you will ever consume while on this planet. Make the most of that clean tooth time. For yourself” (pg. 143).

Basically, you need support from other humans – whether it is in person, online, or wherever else you find it. Everyone needs to feel encouraged, and sometimes you need a reminder from a caring friend to get things moving for yourself.

3.       She was not afraid to ask for help.

If you don’t already know who Felicia Day is, she created a web series called “The Guild,” which helped pave the way for other mainstream web series to evolve. This came about because no one she attempted to pitch the show to understood the premise. So she decided to do it herself and stream it online. It sounds easy enough, but in the book she talks about all the work she put in to find resources. She went to friends who had various skill sets and asked for help. She posted on craigslist to find aspiring actors to work for free. She scavenged her neighborhood to find props. She used her own home for most of the filming.

What I found so inspiring about this was that she was not afraid to ask for help. And when she did ask for help, she got a lot of positive responses, support and resources. If you are working on a goal of yours, look around at your friends and colleagues, and ask for help. Sometimes you can get some wonderful feedback or ideas from another creative person. Sometimes you can exchange resources with a friend who has a skillset you are looking for (i.e. a lovely friend offered to take my headshots in exchange for food! Which…I still owe him…oops). Whatever you’re doing, don’t let fear or shame get in the way and ask for help!

4.       She described gaming addiction in a way that helps people understand it is a legitimate issue

For one thing, Felicia is probably not who you stereotypically picture when you think of someone with a gaming addiction. You usually think of either a young teen, or the World of Warcraft guy from that one episode of South Park. I love that she completely puts herself out there and admits to her experience with gaming addiction because again, she is helping other people feel like they are not alone. Through her story, it becomes clear that it could happen to anyone.

She also described the concept of an addiction so well. Sometimes I think people are overly judgmental about people with a gaming addiction. I guess because it’s a game, they consider it silly? But the way she describes it shows how gaming can take over your life:

“We all have periods of our life where we’re trapped, doing something we hate, and we develop habits that have nothing to do with our long-term goals to fill the downtime. Right? I hope you identify with that idea; it’s the only way I can explain becoming so emotionally invested in a video game that I would get in my car and drive around town sobbing if my internet went out…I’m not blaming the game; I’m blaming my lack of perspective about why I wanted to fill my days with that beautiful, repetitive world. My life was unhappy, and I covered the hurt with a subscription-based Band-Aid. I just couldn’t find a good reason NOT to play so much” (pg., 123).

You can become addicted to anything. An addiction is something that takes your focus away from something you’re trying to avoid, like feelings and emotions. People get addicted to alcohol, pornography, gambling, food, and, yes, gaming. I hope people are able to have more empathy on this topic when it is put into this perspective.

5.       She brings up the important topic of mental health

Throughout the book she alludes to the fact that she should have probably been going to therapy during her various bouts of depression. But instead, she pushed on, and avoided it for some time. Towards the end of the book she talks about how she basically started to fall apart. Her anxiety and stress from working too hard became overwhelming. The pressure of her prior success began to get to her.

She talks about feeling like an impostor and wondering why people want to meet her or talk to her. She talks about how her moods fluctuated from hour to hour. She began to have memory issues, and felt like she could not trust her own mind anymore. “In my warped state of mind, I had nothing new to offer my fans and I probably wouldn’t ever again. I deserved to be hated, not loved. These were the worst days of my life” (pg. 225). At her lowest point she began experiencing suicidal ideation in which she thought about “disappearing entirely” and “scenarios of how [she] could end [herself]” (pg. 226). But even then, she did not seek help. Finally, when her physical health was affecting her, she called the doctor and discovered she had a few physical ailments that could have been contributing to her depression. “And THAT is when I decided to get control of my life back. Because for some reason, I didn’t merit it worthy enough to take extreme action when my mind got sick. But my body? Emergency timez!” (pg. 228).

I think this really speaks to the fact that there is still so much stigma and shame related to mental health. People are more comfortable telling someone they are sick physically, than when they are not feeling well mentally or emotionally. This automatically creates a barrier between yourself and others. You’re too afraid or ashamed to talk about how you’re feeling, so you keep it to yourself, which makes you feel worse and alone. It becomes a cycle of sadness and shame.

Felicia talks about how she eventually went to a psychologist to help her work through her depression and anxiety. She says “We’re all a garbage dump of dysfunction, but if you get in there and churn the problems, they turn to mulch faster so new things can grow out of them” (pg. 231). I think this is a great analogy to describe the process of therapy. She also goes on to say that recovery can be a slow process. Don’t expect things to change overnight. And it’s important to give yourself praise for the steps you make toward progress, even if they seem small.

So all in all, I would say this is a great book to read for someone who feels like they are struggling to push themselves towards their goals. Felicia is a relatable person and she is very authentic and honest with the process that she went through. She offers a lot of simple but helpful tips of how she got things moving. And, she was not afraid to talk about her emotional and mental struggles along the way. I appreciate when a celebrity can bring up the topic of mental health because each person makes a difference in erasing the stigma of mental and emotional problems and brings forth more awareness and support from mental health. 

Oh and by the way, I recently went to Felicia Day's book signing. She was hilarious, awesome and super authentic in person. It was a wonderful event! 

Oh and by the way, I recently went to Felicia Day's book signing. She was hilarious, awesome and super authentic in person. It was a wonderful event!