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good therapist and bad therapists

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Whether you pay a lot for your therapy sessions, or you’re fortunate enough not to, there are two things that everyone dedicates to therapy and those are time and energy. You give a lot of your emotional energy to therapy. You open up. You discuss things you aren’t fully comfortable talking about, pushing your own boundaries in the hopes of growing and healing. It can be exhausting. You just want a therapist who gives as much as you do to the process. However, therapists are only human, too. And we know that, in every profession, there can be people who are bad at their jobs. Even those with highly important jobs who take our wellbeing into their hands – like physicians, dentist, and therapists – can sometimes be less-than-professional. That’s one of the reasons some patients demand to see a diploma before agreeing to go to any sort of medical professional. They want to know just how badly that person wanted this job. Did they want it, like, Harvard-badly? Or online school badly? Hmmm…That’s not to say that you can’t have wonderful therapists who went to less-than-famous schools. It just brings up the point that not all therapists are created equal, and you reserve the right to be critical of your therapist. After all, she’s critical of you, isn’t she? Here are signs that your therapist isn’t listening to you.


She’s mostly taking notes now

If she’s constantly writing while you’re speaking, it may seem like she’s actually hyper-focused on what you’re saying, but think about it: can anyone full digest what they’re hearing if they’ve never taken the pen off their paper? A good note taker has long bouts of just listening, and short bouts of writing down a summary of what she just heard. She may just be jotting things down to pretend to be listening. Or she may be doodling.


She asks stock questions

You know the ones. You’re too smart for those. She asks those like “And how does that make you feel” and “What do you think of that?” or “Did your childhood have anything to do with this?” Sometimes these questions are applicable, but you haven’t heard a question that was more tailored to your particular situation in a while.


She asks repeat questions

She asks you questions she’s asked you before. Again, she isn’t perfect, and she may slip up once or twice, forgetting something she already knew about you. That’s okay. But if it feels like she regularly asks you questions that, not only have you answered before, but you’ve answered at-length before, something is up.


She multi-tasks

She paints her nails, or eats her lunch, or organizes her desk, or cleans out her email inbox, or staples documents, all while you’re talking. “I’m listening,” she says. But you didn’t pay for her to file papers while you’re in session. She should do that on her own time. It never feels like you have someone’s full attention if they’re multi-tasking while you’re talking.


Getting defensive

When you have tried to tell her that her approach hasn’t been working with you, she’s become defensive, and just argued why her approach is actually perfect and why you may be wrong. But a good therapist who actually cares about helping you rather than stroking her own ego would not respond like that. She’d work to find a new method for you.


She’s famous for her own method

Be careful of those therapists who are semi-famous now. Maybe your therapist wrote a book, in which she outlined a specific and unique method she created. That book has been on several top-10 lists now. She may be quite stuck on the idea that her method is the only way to do things, and may struggle to accept that it doesn’t work on some people.


She’s yelling on the phone before you arrive

You notice that she’s in some sort of conflict. Maybe it’s personal or maybe it’s business-related. But when you arrive at her office, you hear her on a heated phone call before your session. If it happens once, okay, she has a life of her own. But if it’s continuous, then that means she has some regular turbulence in her life, which likely affects her ability to listen well.


She always ends sessions early

You notice her looking at the clock throughout your session. And she always ends early. First it’s just five minutes early. But then it’s ten minutes early. She says it’s a “natural stopping point” but…you paid for the full whatever you paid for, and this isn’t it. She’s also starting a bit late, so now you’re really not getting what you paid for.


Conversations feel repetitive

It is beginning to feel like you’re talking in circles. That could, of course, be on you, if you won’t let go of certain things. But it’s also on your therapist to notice if she isn’t getting through to you in one way, and to hear that you’re clearly not moving forward, and to see if there’s something she can do about that.


She puts words in your mouth

She will often try to make realizations for you or connect dots for you, but you haven’t made those realizations and you haven’t connected those dots. She’s putting words in your mouth. Essentially, she wants to reach a diagnosis quickly – to make it seem like she’s given you a breakthrough – when she has not.


You’re given lots of homework

When you leave, she gives you lots of assignments for the week. You have to journal. You don’t always feel that they are really helping you, or are tailored to what you were talking about. Assignments can be useful, but too many can also be the cop-out of the therapist who doesn’t pay attention in your sessions but wants you to feel like she’s involved in your journey.


She keys in on the wrong thing

She’s always focused on something that is not the point. Now, as a patient, sometimes you may focus on something that’s not the point. She may be trying to steer you in the right direction. But it often really feels like you’re trying to discuss one issue, and she’s trying to discuss something else that, honestly, isn’t something you’re concerned with.


She’s hard-up for clients

If you notice late notices from her landlord, or credit card company, or if you see her placing more ads for her services than usual around town, and if she even slyly asks if you know anyone needing a therapist, she may be financially stressed. You can have empathy for that, of course, but know that it may make her less-than-focused right now.


She gives you unlikely advice

She gives you advice that A) is so clearly some stock advice pulled from a book and not at all tailored to you and B) that, anyone who has gotten to know you, knows you’d never take. With your personality and habits, it’s quite clear that that isn’t the most practical or sustainable advice for you – it’s not the best path for your personality.


She’s not concerned when you are

When you tell her you’re genuinely concerned about something – let’s say a new pattern you’ve developed – she isn’t. She tells you it’s fine. Even if to the outsider, it’s hard to see what the worry is, if you’re saying that, for you, it’s unhealthy and concerning, then your therapist shouldn’t brush it off.

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