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.