I want you to have an awesome therapy experience.
At minimum, you deserve someone who makes you feel listened to and offers you some great solutions for dealing with this confusing thing we call "life."
At best, your therapist can begin to teach you how to shut down the monkeys in your head who love to sabotage your best intentions, how to avoid the seemingly inevitable repetition of your parents' mistakes and how to gain an ounce of perspective when fear and anger hijack logic and reason.
I just want you to feel like you're getting your money's worth (assuming that your expectations are reasonable).
Here are nine signs you should find a new therapist:
1. Your therapist constantly shares their own experiences, most of which have nothing to do with the topic at hand.
Forget about being heard or understood. It's time to make your therapist feel like they matter.
After all, how much does your therapist actually get to share if they're listening to other people's problems all day long?
Some therapists lose themselves in personal stories, others are masters of knowing the exact moment when self-disclosing will benefit you.
In my experience, most patients appreciate realness.
2. Every other sentence starts with "I wonder..."
Dear fellow therapists, can you please be more original?
I was trained in graduate school to say this so I don't seem like I'm speaking with certainty to patients.
I wonder if "I wonder" is overused because therapists grow dependent on not having to own their observations?
I pull my hair out in therapy conferences when I hear groups of therapists "I wonder"-ing each other back and forth. It's a thing.
The word "interesting" can also be grossly overused.
3. Your therapist uses too many psychological terms and struggles to explain things in a helpful way.
The Western medical model teaches that everything should be labeled.
Some therapists love to squeeze your experiences into one-word labels, or they get overly excited when they've figured out the psychological term that applies to your symptoms/situation, which compels them to share their brilliance.
The question is whether or not they know how to talk about these labels in a way that acknowledges the totality of your being and the unique person you are.
4. You share with your therapist what you've never dared to say out loud, and all you get is a "Hmmm."
Or, even worse, no reaction whatsoever.
Again, most patients prefer that their therapist keeps it real.
Many therapists develop a repetitive, go-to response as a way to avoid getting too emotionally involved.
There are appropriate times for your therapist to remain neutral and composed, but as a patient, it's important to feel like your therapist isn't an aloof robot.
Feel free to tell your therapist if you're not "feeling felt," a phrase psychologists love to throw around like a football at a tailgate.
5. Your therapist is invested in making sure their office represents a statement of success or privilege.
Leather everything, glass everything, spears from African safari trips hanging on the wall and a general office decor that lacks comfort and basic warmth — these are distractions from getting the work done.
They create emotional distance between therapist and patient.
Some polished and glitzy therapy offices can make you feel so insecure, you'll wonder if your therapist is secretly judging you for wearing the same outfit to two consecutive sessions.
6. They constantly ask you to repeat important details of your life in every session.
You spend half of the session reminding them how many siblings you have, whether you've been to therapy before or the type of illness you had as a child.
There's a reasonable level of forgetfulness, but some therapists take forgetting to a new level.
7. There's zero discussion of goals after the first session.
Is it clear what you're working toward? How do you measure progress if you don't have a shared vision of what "doing better" is for you?
Some therapists ignore goals or keep them vague to ensure that you stay in therapy for years.
8. Your therapist answers phone calls during sessions when it's not an emergency.
Or they frequently lets their phone beep or vibrate during sessions.
Show some respect for your patient, man. I know many patients like to hear and check their phone during sessions, but it should be off limits for the therapist.
9. Most of your therapist's responses consist of a judgment of what you say as either good or bad.
"Oh, that's good." "Oh, that's not good." Two problems here...
First, no one wants to be judged, especially when they are paying someone to make them feel safe from judgment.
Second, there are more skilled ways to react to when a patient pulls for their therapist to play the role of the judge.
Remember, these signs should serve as a catalyst for discussion in sessions.
I implore you not to just pull the plug on your therapy if your therapist exhibits one of these signs. There is much to be gained by initiating an open discussion about how you believe you can get more out of your sessions.
And the truth is, most therapists with a bit of experience can make adjustments based on your observations. They will value your feedback.
This post is also a challenge to Western psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, guidance counselors and psychiatrists who practice psychotherapy to up your game and never stop evolving your skills.
New therapists can also benefit from learning to avoid these tendencies.
Know that no matter how skilled your therapist is, they cannot meet everyone's needs.
In truth, I still make these mistakes on occasion.
I wonder why. That's interesting!