7 Therapist Red Flags You Should Never Ignore – All licensed therapists have undergone extensive training to become the mental health pros they are today, but that doesn’t mean they can do no wrong. They’re fallible human beings like you and me, for one thing, and just because someone has the right credentials or an impressive educational background, that doesn’t necessarily indicate that they’re right for you. The counselor your bestie raves about may not be as insightful when it comes to your issues, for instance, and even the most qualified-on-paper psychologist can make you feel unheard or unsafe.

What’s more important than the letters after a therapist’s name is whether or not they’re a good fit, Lauren Cook, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Generation Anxiety: A Millennial and Gen Z Guide to Staying Afloat in an Uncertain World, tells SELF. “There needs to be a sense of trust and openness, and the relationship between a therapist and their client is actually one of the most important aspects of effective treatment,” Dr. Cook says.

Of course, the ideal version of that relationship varies from person to person. Some of us simply want someone to lend a willing ear and offer up expert guidance as we vent our daily troubles. Others are looking for a provider who can help them process and heal from trauma, and make them feel safe enough to do so.

Regardless of your personal preferences and goals, though, there are some things you definitely don’t want in a therapist—universal red flags that any good mental health professional should never wave. The obvious ones include making sexual advances toward you or any form of abuse, but to the untrained eye, it’s not always easy to determine when an expert with a fancy degree is behaving badly.

That’s why we asked two pros to share some of the biggest no-nos to look out for—so you can recognize a therapist red flag when you see one. Don’t miss: The #1 Best Strength Workout for Every Part of Your Body

They seem judgmental about your identity or issues.

This one probably seems like a duh. I mean, who would feel comfortable letting their emotional guard down with someone who minimizes their struggles, say, or is just a straight-up bigot? Signs of dismissive and discriminatory behavior aren’t always blatant though.

It’s one (very not-okay) thing if your therapist uses derogatory language when you’re discussing your sexuality, say, or gender identity. But even less flagrant displays, like a subtle jab at your hygiene when you’ve told them you’re going through a rough time and are too unmotivated to do anything, or microaggressions, like reducing your experiences with racism or xenophobia to “no big deal,” can make you feel invalidated. Plus, it only becomes harder to open up when a person you’re supposed to trust seems to be constantly judging you, Adia Gooden, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and host of the Unconditionally Worthy podcast, tells SELF.

“You should feel as if you’re being heard and accepted for your identity, your background, your hardships—whatever they may be,” Dr. Gooden says. “So if you’re hesitating to be your authentic self or feel as though you have to perform or downplay what you’re dealing with, that can indicate you’re feeling judged, or like somebody is trying to change you instead of help you.” If that’s the case, your mental health is better off in another therapist’s hands.

They text or call you about personal stuff after hours.

It’s great—essential even—to feel comfortable and close with your therapist, but that doesn’t mean they should be your BFF. For starters, you really shouldn’t be texting about your (or their) personal life, or making plans together after hours, as fun as that sounds.

With that being said, it’s totally appropriate to message them if you have to cancel or reschedule your upcoming appointment, of course, and it’s more than okay to reach out in the midst of mental health crisis to speak with them ASAP. They may also encourage you to call, email, or text if you’re struggling between sessions and in need of some supportive reminders, or send you a link to a book or social media account they recommended to you during your last appointment, say. However, engaging in casual chit-chat, like sharing juicy work gossip or unpacking the reality show you’re both obsessed with, is a bad idea, Dr. Gooden says.

It sounds harsh (“Why can’t I talk to my therapist about the fun stuff?”), however, it’s not that they don’t want to be your friend. Rather, blurring those lines would completely ruin the structured nature of your very special relationship. “We don’t talk about personal matters outside the session because technically that should all be documented in your case notes,” Dr. Cook says. “And it’s also super important to uphold boundaries.” Otherwise, your therapist would no longer have the objectivity that allows them to offer you such solid—and unbiased—advice, she adds.

They follow you on social media.

Speaking of boundaries, another red flag that may seem innocent enough is getting a follow notification or request from them, according to both Dr. Gooden and Dr. Cook.

Just to really drive the point home: This is a professional relationship—not a friendship. Your Instagram or Facebook profile is likely a reflection of your personal life, which is exactly why Dr. Cook says a therapist who follows you online is behaving unethically: They’re seeing revealing details about their client that were not shared during a session.

Even if you don’t mind if they get a peek into your day-to-day, it’s a sign of poor judgment if they cross that line, Dr. Cook and Dr. Gooden say. Again, keeping your interactions professional—and strictly about your mental health—is important for a productive and proper therapist-client dynamic.

They’re willing to bend the rules.

Let’s say you finally find your perfect therapist who checks all your boxes—but (oh no!) they’re not licensed to practice in your state. “Don’t worry, we can still meet up virtually,” they reassure you. It sounds like a kind, accommodating gesture, right? Or a sign that they’re really trying to make the situation work, which is encouraging in theory. However, their eagerness to break the rules is actually a red flag, Dr. Cook says.

“You want a mental health provider who upholds ethics in their therapeutic work, rather than someone who seems like they’re willing to push the limits,” Dr. Cook says. Back to the previous example: Therapists are legally bound to practice only in states in which they’re licensed (even for virtual appointments), so if they’re okay with ignoring standard protocols, how can you trust them to not accidentally spill your secrets to your sibling who sees another provider at their practice, say? Or to give you ethical advice about managing disordered eating patterns?

On that note, any reputable therapist should also cover the bounds of confidentiality right off the bat, Dr. Gooden adds. Regardless of their title—social worker, psychologist, counselor, therapist, psychiatrist—anyone licensed to practice therapy is required by HIPAA to inform you that, unless you’re a threat to yourself or others, whatever you say stays between the two of you. “So if a provider doesn’t do that, or they forget to disclose anything about your privacy and rights, that’s another big cause for concern,” Dr. Gooden says.

They aren’t upfront about their limitations.

Even the most qualified pros aren’t necessarily equipped to handle every single mental health concern adequately. Someone who is specialized in a topic like grief, say, or depression may not have a ton of experience when it comes to marital conflicts or self-esteem. Wherever their expertise lies, an honest and above-board therapist will admit when they’re not the best person for the job —even if it risks losing you as a client.

So a general psychologist without much experience dealing with emotional cheating shouldn’t mislead you into believing they can sufficiently help you and your partner work through that betrayal, for example. Or perhaps you’re searching for a culturally competent provider who can relate to your experience as a person of color. A white therapist who has never worked with folks who share your identity and background probably won’t be the best fit and should tell you so in your first session or consultation—and, if possible, refer you to someone better suited to your needs.

“It doesn’t mean they’re an awful or bad therapist. It just means they’re not the right one for you,” Dr. Gooden says. The bottom line: Anyone who is legit and actually has your best interest in mind won’t pretend they can help you with issues they’re not qualified to address.

They never ask you for feedback.

Maybe you’re wondering: Why on earth would a mental health expert want help from little ol’ me? Aren’t I the one who needs their feedback?

No, your therapist won’t ask you to weigh in on what anxiety is, say, or the best ways to treat bipolar disorder (if they do, that’s another major red flag!), but it’s actually quite common for them to check in and see if their methods are working for you, Dr. Gooden says. Not only can this input strengthen your connection (it is a two-way relationship, after all), but your feedback can also help them attend to your changing needs. They might ask you things like: “Hey, did the homework I gave you last week feel too challenging?” or “How do you feel today’s session went?”

Overall, you should feel like they’re curious about your experience and open to adjusting their approach to help you reach your goals—not like they’re stubbornly insisting their way is the only way, or that their techniques are fool-proof solutions, Dr. Gooden says.

They tell you what you want to hear and don’t challenge you to grow.

Listening compassionately to your struggles is only part of the gig. A therapist should also be helping you evolve—that’s why you sought them out in the first place, right?—and that’s not going to happen if they just nod their head at everything you say, Dr. Gooden and Dr. Cook say.

Instead, you want a provider who will hold you accountable when you’ve wronged someone, rather than pretend that you’re perfect and faultless. Or someone who questions where your inner critic is really coming from (even if it’s uncomfortable), instead of simply dismissing your self-blaming comments as “in your head” and moving on.

Working through tough feelings and learning how to address your struggles from a different perspective isn’t supposed to be easy. However, a good therapist will use their skills to guide you through the difficult process of reframing the negative narratives in your head—yes, even if it’s not always something you want to hear, Dr. Cook says.

One last way to tell if a mental health professional is worth your time, money, and vulnerability: Trust your gut. Similar to red flags in romantic partnerships and friendships, your instincts can also play a helpful role in weeding out bad-apple therapist behavior, Dr. Cook says. If something feels off with even the most qualified expert, that’s a good enough reason to think twice about seeing them. Therapy should be a sacred and safe space for you to do the work that’s necessary to make progress, so if you’re feeling uneasy, you’re better off on someone else’s (literal or figurative) couch.

Last Updated on July 27, 2023 by shalw

You May Also Like

The Best Hypertrophy Workout to Build Size & Strength

The Best Hypertrophy Workout to Build Size & Strength – Building serious…

What Causes Bloating—and What to Do About It

What Causes Bloating—and What to Do About It – Bloating is an…

5 Ways Rita Ora Strips Away Belly Flab

5 Ways Rita Ora Strips Away Belly Flab – Rita Ora is…

Parenting Twitter Got Me Through New Motherhood. It May Not Survive Elon Musk

Parenting Twitter Got Me Through New Motherhood.  – When my daughter was…