7 Warning Signs of a Bad Therapist

Back in 2009, I wrote an article detailing some of the most annoying bad habits of therapists. It included things such as showing up late for a client’s appointment, eating, sleeping or yawning in front of a client, or being distracted by a phone, text, email or pet.

Yes, these are all real things that happen every day in some therapists’ offices. But generally, they are not signs of a good therapist, especially if they occur with regularity. (A once-in-a-while yawn is only human, after all.)

Here are seven more bad habits of therapists, habits that signal there may be a problem with your therapist’s attention, focus — or even career choice.

1. Not giving you the allowance of being a few minutes late — once in awhile

As bad as it is if your therapist is a few minutes late — and that’s perfectly fine, since not everybody’s clock is guaranteed to be in sync — it’s even worse when your therapist is a stickler for punctuality. I’m talking about therapists who check their waiting room at the appointed hour (at exactly 10:00 for instance) and if you’re not there, act as if when you come in at 10:01 or 10:02, you’re “late.” I’ve even heard of therapists who won’t check again, and patients who are too afraid to knock on the therapist’s door (for fear of interrupting a session that has run long, for instance).

Yes, it’s the patient’s responsibility to arrive on time. But a good therapist understands people are not perfect, and that being a few minutes late once in a while is not the same as being 10 minutes late.

2. Terminating therapy without a referral or followup plan

Some therapists seem tone deaf when it comes to the end of a client’s therapy with them. Whether due to retirement, change of insurance coverage, or just the belief that the therapist can no longer be of help to the patient, some therapists seem to end psychotherapy poorly.

Good therapists will help their clients transition to their next therapist. At the end of therapy, a termination plan should always be in place and include next steps for the client, with a clear plan forward. Good therapists shouldn’t leave their client in the lurch or feeling confused about where they should turn to next for treatment.

3. They listen but don’t hear

Sometimes therapists get caught up in the details of a patient’s story, missing the larger picture or why the story is important to the patient. They ignore the patient’s emotional content, and instead focus on unimportant minutiae of the story, or details that don’t fit in with the narrative the therapist has already written inside his or her own head.

Everybody, at one time or another, has nodded their heads when told something, listening without really hearing. A good therapist will focus not so much on your words all the time, but the hidden meaning behind those words; the irrational thoughts you’re telling yourself; or the emotional issues you’re grappling with. Good therapists will listen not only with their ears, but also with their eyes to catch nonverbal cues. Those cues can tell a therapist a lot about the meaning of what you’re talking about.

4. Indirect questions or beating around the bush

Therapy is the one place you hope and expect your therapist to provide you clear communication. But some therapists seem to have a difficult time with direct questions, or a line of inquiry that gets to the point. Instead of, “Are you guys having sex yet?” you get, “So, when was the last time you went out on a date with him?” and “And did anything happen that night?” and so on. A good therapist will not waste your time beating around the bush or being indirect.

5. Tangents that never come around or explanations that go off the deep end

It’s okay to go off on a tangent every now and again in therapy — it’s normal and can’t be avoided. Good therapists will bring the conversation back to core issues you’re seeing them for, while a bad therapist will waste 10 or 15 minutes of your time pursuing a tangent without end. Small talk — about how your team did last night, the latest episode of a favorite TV show, politics or even the weather — is normal. Letting it go on for more than a few minutes is a bad habit that therapists should avoid.

Related to this issue are lengthy explanations that go off the deep end. If you find a therapist talking for 10 or 15 minutes non-stop each session, that’s a sign that perhaps your therapist enjoys listening to his or her own voice more than yours.

6. Not giving you the grace of allowing your session to run a few minutes over — once in awhile

This is the same problem as #1, but in reverse. Of course, patients should stick to their 45 or 60 minute allowance as often as possible. And if you try and run over your session’s allotted time every single week, you’re likely pushing boundaries with the therapist (that’s a separate issue that should be addressed).

But if you don’t ordinarily run over your allotted time, yet find yourself finishing up a very emotional disclosure or insight and need an additional minute or two, your therapist should respect that occasional need. Therapists who ignore their client’s needs at a time like this are not looking after the best interests of their clients.

7. Therapists that Engage in Personal Grooming, Etc.

I’ve heard stories of therapists doing all of these: eating, picking their teeth, rolling their eyes, fidgeting, cleaning their nails, filing their nails, chewing gum, and compulsively clicking a pen. Also, we live in a modern age and many people find the old ticking of a clock annoying, as every second of their limited time with the therapist is counted down. Please get a clock that doesn’t tick.

If these habits don’t annoy you, then that’s cool. The key with any therapy relationship is finding a good, caring professional who fits both your expectations and needs.

Read the original article: 12 Most Annoying Bad Habits of Therapists

This guest article originally appeared on PsychCentral.com: 7 More Bad, Annoying Habits of Therapists


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