Is Your Therapist Right for You? Here are 8 signs to look for |

There may be subtle red flags that indicate your therapist isn’t a good fit.

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Finding a therapist can present many obstacles, including cost, your schedule, navigating insurance, and therapist availability. It’s not just logistics: it’s also compatibility.

“We know from current research that the therapeutic relationship is one of the biggest factors in the effectiveness of therapy,” said Dr. Jenna Brownfield, a licensed psychologist who specializes in supporting queer and transgender clients.

Given the deep intimacy of the therapeutic relationship, it’s no wonder that good coordination is so important. In therapy, you “let a complete stranger hear the darkest parts of your life,” says Raafat Girgis, MD, a triple-board-certified psychiatrist and medical director of Moment of Clarity Recovery Center .

This means that you need to make sure that your therapist has the experience and ability to help you, and is someone you feel comfortable with. “You should not feel obligated to continue treatment if it is not appropriate. In fact, doing so may delay the progress of treatment,” Brownfield says.

Here, mental health professionals share some tips for when a therapist isn’t the right fit, as well as signs that your therapist-client relationship is healthy and effective.

8 danger signs for therapists to watch out for

1. They lack courtesy and professionalism

Sometimes, it’s clear that a therapist isn’t the right one for you.

Elise Oras, who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, recalls an appointment with a therapist recommended by a friend that ended badly. “In the 50 minutes of our second meeting, she picked up the phone 3 times. First it was to her contractor (I guess a home remodel), once it was for her lunch order, and once it was for her kids . She spent 20 of our 50 minutes on the phone, let alone bothering.”

Dr. Gilgis says time management is important. Unless there is an emergency, your therapist should focus on you during therapy (rather than picking up the phone). Frequent cancellations, especially without warning, are also unprofessional.

You can also reasonably expect that your treatment will take place in a comfortable environment with access to a bathroom, Dr. Gilgis says.

Here’s another reasonable expectation: Your therapist should pronounce and spell your name correctly. It seems simple enough, but Christine C., of Brooklyn, New York, “tried online therapy and they spelled my name wrong in the first place.”

“When we meet people for the first time, we often immediately form an opinion,” Dr. Gilgis said.

Of course, opinions can change significantly over time, as you may know from friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. But if you “continue to feel uncomfortable or uneasy during treatment,” that may be a sign that the therapist isn’t the right fit for you, says psychiatrist Ryan Sultan, MD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia Irving Medical Center. Medical Director of Integrative Psychology.

Dr. Gilgis says you should feel comfortable talking to your therapist. “That’s their job,” he added. This means they should make direct eye contact and be good listeners, traits that help build trust.

“One of the therapists fell asleep while I was talking. I’m still in pain,” recalls Laura R. of Brooklyn, New York.

Listening is a core component of a therapist’s job, but it’s not just about hearing your words, it’s about being an attentive listener. It’s hard to imagine being ready to open up and have a deep conversation with someone who yawns.

“If I meet someone who doesn’t seem interested in what I have to say, this is a huge reminder[off] “We won’t fit in,” Dr. Gilgis said.

4. You are censoring yourself

Therapy is a place of openness.

“If you feel like you have to censor yourself or hide parts of yourself from your therapist, especially after you’ve been in therapy a few times, that may be a sign that it’s not a good fit,” Brownfield says.

If after a few sessions you feel like you’re still not connecting, or that your therapist doesn’t fundamentally understand you, that’s a potential red flag, Brownfield says.

Of course, it’s possible that you’re wrong, and your therapist‌‌Do‌ Understand that you may grow into. But Dr. Sultan notes that you should “have confidence in your therapist’s ability to guide you.” If you don’t, the process will be difficult to carry out.

5. Your identity is invalidated, ignored or overemphasized

If you’re LGBTQ+, finding a therapist can be especially challenging.

Brownfield points out that some therapists may invalidate your identity. “This could mean the therapist misgendered you, made statements about your identity that were ‘just a phase,’ or made assumptions about your identity,” she says.

Brownfield says a bad therapy experience can also involve overemphasis on your LGBTQ+ identity, or the other way around: ignoring it entirely. “This silence is very powerful for queer and trans people,” she added.

The ideal situation, says Brownfield, is for a therapist to validate your identity and “be able to balance talking about your identity with talking about your current mental health issues.”

While a therapist won’t automatically agree with your every thought, feeling, and reaction, it’s a bad sign if you consistently “yes.”[feel] Be judged or invalidated by your therapist,” says Dr. Sultan.

That’s what happened to Olas, whose therapist fielded several phone calls during her second session. “I didn’t think I should pay for the session because she ignored me almost half the time,” she recalls.

After discussion, she and her therapist agreed to a third session for free.But once there, the therapist “began therapy and said she wanted to talk about my sensitivity to money, need for attention, and [said that] I’m very sensitive and lack empathy,” Olas said.

Needless to say, Olas did not return for the fourth time.

7. They are unlicensed, inappropriate or unethical

“When seeking a therapist, make sure they are licensed and have a strong history in mental health treatment,” says Dr. Gilgis. Licensed professionals are required to follow a set of standards and ethical guidelines, such as confidentiality.

Proposals of any kind, whether romantic, financial or otherwise, are inappropriate.

“Another inappropriate therapist relationship is one that is threatening and uncomfortable for the client,” adds Dr. Gilgis.

8. You just accomplish nothing.

Treatment is a process and may take time. Still, there should be some sense of momentum. Dr. Sultan said one of the signs of poor health is “a lack of progress despite multiple treatments.”

In order to make progress, you and your therapist need to have a clear understanding of your short- and long-term treatment goals. If you are unclear about these goals, please speak up!

And if over time you start to “[doubt] Dr. Sultan says it’s “your therapist’s ability or expertise in the area you need help” to consider moving forward. Therapists are often specialized; this means that if you have anxiety, one therapist may be appropriate, but if you are in a relationship, another therapist is the best choice.

It’s a good idea to ask your therapist about their specialties during your first introductory session to see if they’re a good fit for you.

What happens in an effective relationship with a therapist

It’s helpful to know the red flags (such as being stood up or not making any progress) when you start therapy, but it’s also helpful to know what a successfully functioning therapeutic relationship looks like. Here are some green lights to remember:

  • ‌‌Your therapist will note:Brownfield said they should be focused, not distracted. “They remember who you are and your story.”
  • ‌‌Their communication skills are strong:Dr. Gilgis says you should understand the short- and long-term goals of your treatment plan. Your therapist should “provide you with a backup plan if you are in crisis or unable to help,” he says.
  • ‌‌You trust your therapist and are willing to share:If you feel like your therapist understands you and you’re willing to be honest, that’s a good sign, Brownfield says.
  • ‌‌Your therapist provides insights:Remember, counselors are not miracle workers, Dr. Gilgis says. But by listening carefully to you, they can help you find solutions and make changes. They can also help you “find coping skills to manage your feelings and communicate more effectively,” he says.
  • ‌‌You feel like you’re making progress, even though it’s difficult at times:‌‌“You should see progress, even if it’s slow, in the areas you’re seeking help in,” Dr. Sultan said. But know that the process won’t necessarily be smooth or easy. “While therapy should provide comfort, its primary goal is not just to make you feel good in the moment. Effective therapy should challenge you and promote introspection and growth,” says Dr. Sultan.

This last point deserves further elaboration: During therapy, uncomfortable emotions and memories may surface. This isn’t always pleasant, and sometimes it can be tricky to differentiate between a naturopath challenge and an inappropriate therapist.

If you’re unsure, Brownfield says it might be helpful to consider your connections with a therapist. “If you feel like your therapist doesn’t understand you, isn’t trying to understand you, or you feel alone during difficult parts of therapy, that may be a sign that the therapist isn’t the right fit for you, rather than the therapy itself,” she says.

When to end a relationship with a therapist

If you encounter some red flags with your therapist, should you end the relationship immediately? perhaps.

“If you’ve been working together for a short period of time, or the therapist is dismissive of you, it may be appropriate to end the relationship early (via email or phone),” Brownfield says. That said, if your therapist takes non-emergency calls or behaves inappropriately during your time, there’s no reason to stick around.

But if you’re in doubt, our experts recommend giving it some time.

“I always recommend three treatments before calling it a day,” says Dr. Gilgis.

Brownfield says first impressions can change over time as you move from the entry stage into the job.

And, before stopping therapy, consider talking to your therapist: If you do feel “therapist isn’t listening, misunderstanding, or uncomfortable, tell them,” advises Dr. Sudan. He said it would give them a chance to adjust. “In therapy, rapport is fundamental,” he adds.

But, of course, if adjustments don’t bring about change, that’s a sign of a breakup.

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