If you’ve ever been in therapy, there’s a chance you’ve asked yourself this question.
Maybe it’s because your counselor repeatedly responded with something like, “Hmm, tell me more” or maybe it’s because they always seemed to wear that same strange blue floral blouse.
Maybe you wondered if they even felt emotions since they often sat stone-faced, like a robot, nodding.
If you’ve found yourself wondering if your therapist really is human (or something similar), the better question to ask may be, “Is my counselor right for me?”
Countless studies have shown that the number one factor in determining a successful outcome in therapy is the connection you feel with your therapist. If you constantly feel like your counselor is just repeating what you just said and you’re not making progress, you may need to reevaluate the relationship.
Here are ten signs you may want to look for a different counselor or therapist:
Any signs that therapy is moving from a professional and empathic relationship to a romantic one should be considered a major red flag.
But unethical behavior isn’t just sexual advances. It also includes violations of confidentiality or financial wrongdoings and offensive comments. For example, if your therapist cancels a session but still charges you, this is highly unethical, not to mention tremendously unprofessional.
If your therapist has made racist comments or makes judgments about politics or religious beliefs, this is also a warning sign.
They Don’t Address Confidentiality
Every counselor or therapist should have you complete an intake form to provide emergency contact information. Additionally, at the onset of treatment, they should discuss your rights with you, including the times when they are required by law to break confidentiality.
Any questions or concerns you may have regarding confidentiality and privacy should be fully addressed before proceeding with treatment. Furthermore, this should be in written form and signed by both parties.
If you and your therapist didn’t discuss this at the onset of treatment, this is a warning sign.
They Don’t Specialize In Your Issue
Find a counselor or therapist who is trained in what you’re dealing with. Ask questions about experience and training. For example, if you are seeing a counselor for anxiety, you want to know that they have treated dozens or hundreds of clients with anxiety, not a couple.
If you are struggling with addiction, you should be working with a therapist who specializes in addiction, or at the very least, has extensive training and experience treating it.
A good therapist knows the extent of their expertise and does not work outside their scope of practice.
They Don’t Value Your Values
If your therapist regularly makes suggestions that go against your value system and beliefs, it’s time to end the relationship. A well trained therapist will take the time to know and understand your value system and beliefs and should ask what role religion and/or spirituality plays in your life so they can be sure to account for this when working with you.
A good therapist will work within your own value system, not theirs.
They Dodge Your Questions
The focus of counseling is on the client. As such, it is expected that an experienced therapist may answer questions with their own questions from time to time. This is typically designed to encourage the client to develop their own insight and awareness into thought patterns and behaviors. After all, if we are constantly answering all your questions and not encouraging you to seek the answers from within, this goes from support to enabling.
However, a good therapist should answer reasonable questions clearly and directly. These questions can be general get-to-know-you questions to anything pertaining to treatment. Some examples are: “Where are you from? Why did you get into this line of work? How was your weekend? How long have you been in practice? Do you have experience with my issue? What do you recommend we do to treat this problem? How do you think therapy is going? How do you feel about our relationship?”
Too Much Information
On the flip side, if your counselor shares too much about their own life, drawing attention to themselves and seemingly pulling you in to take care of them, this is definitely a warning sign.
Every disclosure a counselor makes should benefit the client in some way. Sometimes it can be simply for the purpose of building the relationship, establishing a connection or empathizing.
But if you feel like the focus of therapy is on your therapist and find yourself wondering why you know so much about their dating life, you may need to find another therapist.
You Feel Judged, Shamed or Emotionally Unsafe
Part of my process when first meeting with clients is asking about previous therapy experiences. This is designed to manage expectations for the client (and myself) as well as learn more about what efforts the client has already made to address their issue. Even to this day, I am shocked when I hear clients share they felt judged or shamed by their previous counselor or therapist.
This can include anything your counselor might say or do, such as rolling their eyes, sighing heavily as if bored or acting irritated with lack of progress or what they perceive as poor choices.
They Don’t Listen
To be honest, I don’t always remember every detail about every client’s life, but your counselor should remember key facts about you and your concerns. I may forget your dog’s name, or where you went to college or what your favorite movie is, but a good therapist should always be able to recall what brought you to therapy in the first place.
If you feel like you’re constantly reminding your counselor of your first session and “bringing them up to speed,” this may be a sign you should find a different counselor.
They Disrupt The Session
This includes answering phone calls, texting or even falling asleep (yes, you read that right)! A good therapist makes you the focus of the session and ensures you feel that way as well.
Something Just Isn’t Right
Going back to the original question – yes, your counselor is human. And so are you. And the reality is not everyone is a good fit and that isn’t your fault or the therapist’s. It’s just the way it goes.
Sometimes there may be no obvious reason, but you just don’t feel it’s right. Trust your gut and move on.
If you feel like something isn’t right in your first phone call or initial session, this may be a bad sign. Some discomfort is a normal part of therapy, just as seeing a personal trainer isn’t always comfortable, but if you feel uncomfortable to the point of dreading or avoiding sessions, you may want to move on.
Of course, all counselors and therapists make mistakes, even the best ones. I certainly have. But I view part of my role as a therapist as a model for appropriate and healthy behavior for my clients.
If I make a mistake, I’m quick to acknowledge it, apologize, and process it with the client. After all, this is an opportunity for growth for myself, the client, and the therapeutic relationship.
Some of my best therapy has come after a mistake and I believe this is because it demonstrates to the client that it’s ok for them to make mistakes. They can survive a mistake. Everything will be ok. And nobody is perfect. Not even their therapist.
James Killian, LPC is an anxiety counselor in Woodbridge, CT who is most definitely human! He is also the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling, where they specialize in helping high achievers, over-thinkers and non-sleepers moving From Surviving To Thriving. If you’re currently working with a therapist who you suspect might not be human, call today for a free consultation!