There are some great therapists out there. There are also some bad ones – I’m sorry to say. Anyone who has read any of my recent posts will know that I had the misfortune of meeting a therapist who turned out to be abusive.
In my last post, Setting Boundaries, I mentioned the difference between boundary crossings (which can often by addressed and dealt with in therapy and can even be helpful talking points), versus boundary violations (things that therapists simply should not do).
A quick reminder:
Now I’m going to list ten boundary violations that are absolute red flags in psychotherapy. If you notice any of the below signs of bad therapy, it’s important that you seek further advice and support as soon as possible. And it might also be a good idea to find a new therapist.
- My therapist wants to have a sexual or romantic relationship with me inside or outside the consulting room.
This is never okay! Sexual boundary crossings are a purely selfish act and abuse of power on the part of the therapist. Unfortunately these instances do occur, because clients are made to feel special by their therapist. They may crave an extension of the love and safety experienced when in the therapist’s room (who wouldn’t) and they are often happy to go along with it – until it devastates them physically and emotionally further on down the line.
Therapists often asks clients to keep quiet about this, by saying things like: “if this gets out it will ruin me and/or my family.” Famous words from my own ex-therapist about our communication outside of sessions: “I’m taking a risk and you could make a fool out of me.” This is an example of pushing the guilt back towards the client, who is vulnerable and has done nothing wrong.
2. My counsellor says says he/she would like to have an affair with me when treatment is over.
Most therapists will agree that post-termination affairs are an absolute no-no. As in the scenario above, the power difference is and always will be present, which is highly damaging to the client even when carefully handled. A therapist who makes this suggestion during treatment is already undermining their work and is likely to be encouraging the client to ‘feel better’ (whether intentional or not) so that they can change the nature of the relationship.
There are rules in some countries about therapists waiting a certain time period (eg two years) before starting a relationship with a client. However even in this instance, I’ve heard of people marrying their therapists and it still ending in disaster. I’m sure there are very rare cases where it does work out – but probably isn’t worth the risk.
3. My therapist told me that I was his/her favourite client.
There should be absolutely no favouritism. Or talking about other clients. Highlighting your positive traits and encouraging you is a good thing – but suggesting you are in some way ‘special’ in comparison to other patients could be a sign of grooming.
4. My counsellor talks excessively about personal issues without any therapeutic purpose
Providing examples from the therapist’s own life is not a bad thing, if used minimally and in order to benefit the client or establish better rapport. Everything a therapist discloses about themselves, they should be doing with the knowledge that it is beneficial to the patient’s needs. If the session becomes about the therapist and their problems rather than the client, or if roles become reversed, it’s time to cut and run!
5. My therapist tries to enlist my help with something not related to my therapy
This is just one example of dual relationships and also could be seen as an abuse of power. Business relationships, friendships, etc – they are all forbidden. Some exceptions may be made in very small communities where the therapist has an unavoidable link to the client, but this should be discussed openly in sessions and the boundaries made clear.
6. My counsellor encourages dependency by allowing me to get my emotional needs met by them
This is where the therapist “feeds you fish, rather than helping you to fish for yourself.” If a therapist makes a client believe that they are the only person able to provide the support and encouragement they need, this could be fostering a dependency. Therapists should be helping to provide the tools for independence and growth. (In my experience, some attachment to the therapist is needed in order to heal, but this is very different to fostering dependency.)
7. My therapist has told me that I should break ties with most of my important relationships and I don’t understand why
A healthy relationship is one where the clinician is encouraging of positive relationships and connections outside of the their office.
8. My counsellor answers the phone during my session
This one requires little explanation. It’s a terrible and ignorant thing to do. Perhaps there are some incredibly rare circumstances (eg emergencies) where this might be acceptable.
9. My therapist pushes me into highly vulnerable feelings or memories against my wishes
Therapy should be at the pace of the client. There should never be any pressure to explore difficult feelings or memories.
10. My counsellor keeps changing the length of my sessions. Sometimes it’s 20 minutes, other times it’s an hour and a half
Therapy should start on time and finish on time. Of course, there may be occasional exceptions where the therapist is unavoidably late (as is life), but this should be rare. An important part of boundary setting and making the client feel safe, is a predictable session length.
If you are interested in this post, feel free to subscribe to my blog for further upcoming posts on the more ‘subtle’ warning signs of questionable therapy.
Have you experienced poor therapeutic practices? Feel free to post a comment in the box below. (If accessing by WordPress Reader the box might not show up, but you can find it on the direct link here.)