Following up on our last post, let’s talk a bit about what possible red flags to look out for when searching for a therapist in Baltimore or anywhere else. Unfortunately, as we mentioned last time, it’s not that hard for a nasty person to get a master’s degree and a counseling license, provided that s/he can pass tests and write papers. And a nasty person is not what you want for a therapist. But since therapists rarely advertise on their websites that they are nasty people, you are unlikely to discover this unless you go in for a session with them. And that is actually probably the best way to find out – remember, you are not locked in to seeing a therapist just because you went to one (or ten or a hundred) sessions with them; you are the “customer” and you have every right to switch therapists if you’d like. (This may be therapeutically inadvisable – i.e., bad for you – but unless your therapist can give you a solid explanation for why that is the case, there is nothing wrong with changing professionals.)
So what makes for a bad therapist?
1. S/he is judgmental.
A therapist’s office is a very vulnerable place to be. You are supposed to have a conversation with a total stranger about what are likely some very personal issues. You open yourself up, discussing your successes and strengths, but also your weaknesses and mistakes. If your therapist reacts to the things you disclose with disapproval, disdain, horror, shock, contempt, etc., you probably want to look for another therapist. It is not the therapist’s place to state that you are a bad person because of your [addiction to drugs, sexual preferences, inability to be assertive, you name it]. It is his job to help you fix the problem. And if you don’t feel he respects you, it is unlikely he will be able to do his job.
2. S/he doesn’t listen.
Listening is obviously one of the therapist’s most important tools. We need to learn about you to understand what you’re going through, and you are different from everyone else we’ve ever met. While there may be similarities to other issues we’ve dealt with, a therapist who puts you in a box and offers a cookie-cutter solution to your problems is not doing the best s/he can. You are a unique individual and you deserve to be treated as one. If you feel your therapist isn’t listening to what you are saying, doesn’t “get” you, jumps to solutions before hearing the entire problem – you might want to question whether this is the therapist for you.
3. S/he doesn’t talk.
Sometimes all you want is a listening ear; however, if you are hoping to make changes in your life and all you are getting is “how does that make you feel?” or “sounds like you’re very upset by that,” you are probably going to be a little frustrated. If you’ve never been to therapy before you might assume that’s all there is to get out of it, but that is far from the case. Therapy should be a dialogue between the two of you in which the therapist not only reflects what you’re saying but helps you figure out what you want to do differently. While we generally don’t tell you what is right or wrong, we can certainly tell you what is effective. For example, if a client were to ask me about spanking children, I might respond with what I know about the effectiveness of spanking as a parenting tool in order to help them decide whether it’s a practice they want to engage in or not; but (assuming we are not talking about severe physical abuse), I would not tell them whether they should or should not do it.
4. S/he treats you like a business deal.
Of course, therapy does cost money. And that money is going from you to your therapist. After all, we have to make a living too! But that does not mean that money is or should be the foundation of your relationship to your therapist. If you don’t feel like your therapist cares about you as a person and your success in meeting your goals, she isn’t right for you. Therapists are not technicians, fixing a problem as a mechanic fixes a car and sending you off; therapists are people just like clients are people, and it is the relationship between these two people that is the essence of therapy. If you are a dollar sign to your therapist and not a person, you are not getting what you need out of therapy.
Unfortunately, there are many bad therapists out there. But there are many good ones as well! And, as mentioned above, if you aren’t sure the one you’ve found is one of the good ones, you should feel no shame or guilt in moving on and trying someone new.
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