Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/17/2022
If you’re in therapy — or if you’ve been in therapy — you know how helpful it can be.
With so much power in the hands of your therapy professional — and tied into your therapeutic relationship — there can be, however, some potential drawbacks.
In fact, there are scenarios in which therapy — even at the hands of an experienced therapist — does more harm than good.
That’s right — sometimes folks just get stuck with the wrong therapist.
This article is going to break down the signs of a bad therapist and offer constructive ways to approach finding a new therapist — and show what better therapeutic outcomes look like.
When it comes to finding a therapist who works for you, the process isn’t as easy as you’d hope.
Making the matter a little more challenging, researchers don’t spend nearly enough time evaluating the evaluators — scrutinizing therapists and how competently they’re doling out advice and making informed decisions so critical to the outcomes and lives of their patients.
In fact, according to one study, between 40 percent and 60 percent of patients who participate in a therapeutic practice find the results uninspiring, even to the point of not wanting to continue with therapy at all.
Those are pretty serious numbers, if you ask us.
Whether you and your therapist simply aren’t clicking in the ways you need, or you’re dealing with an unfortunate case of unprofessionalism or incompetence, it’s worth knowing what to look for.
Sounds straightforward enough, right? Well…
Sometimes, despite their extensive training, a mental health professional might not be a real “pro.” People are imperfect, and just like with other professions: just because you have the training, doesn’t mean the job is right for you.
Your therapy professional might be misinterpreting the issues you’re discussing with them from time to time (or, worse, consistently) and determining that the therapeutic solutions to your mental health issues are, in fact, solutions that you’re not looking for.
Sometimes, the problem with improper diagnoses is that mental health professionals receive an enormous amount of information on all kinds of mental health challenges and disorders in their training.
Sometimes — with mental health being as complex as it is — even professionals can make a wrong call.
While you’d think a licensed therapist has all the answers to the difficult situations you might find yourself in, studies show that not all mental health professionals get the training they need to address the diverse array of mental health challenges with which their work presents them.
While you can assume an experienced therapist gets into their profession to deliver positive outcomes on behalf of their patients, some of them just don’t have the pedigree or requisite tools to provide you with the help you need and deserve.
Your therapy provider has all the good intentions in the world, but when it comes to applying the relevant skill to the solutions deemed best for you — well, the execution might be lacking.
Making matters more frustrating, they might be really good at identifying the general ballpark of where your challenges lie, but they’re not offering the step-by-step solutions you need to really improve mentally and emotionally.
Your therapist might be able to identify that you need a particular kind of therapy to best address your issues.
Among the forms of therapy available to you can be any of the following:
Psychoanalytic or Psychodynamic Therapies, which emphasize the unconscious and the role it plays in every facet of your life, from relationships, behaviors, traumas and expression.
Behavior Therapy, which focuses on specific behaviors you exhibit and addresses them to better your mental well-being.
Desensitizing Therapy, which forces the patient to come in direct contact with their phobias and neuroses in a controlled, safe environment.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which puts an emphasis on how people think, how they behave and how they feel. Therapists who practice CBT believe that if you come to a greater understanding of how you react to thoughts and events, you can control — and even change — the way you feel.
Gestalt Therapy focuses on the here-and-now and being present.
Group Therapy, which puts patients with similar mental health care challenges — forms of anxiety, depression, trauma or otherwise — together in a group setting to help each other in the healing process.
Humanistic Therapy emphasizes a patient’s ability to make rational choices on their behalf and to then maximize their life to the fullest based on those changes.
Existential Therapy, which focuses on a patient’s free will, as well as their search for meaning. Heavy, right?
There are few ways to evaluate a mental health professional’s ability to evaluate the patient, and those available don’t necessarily give a full picture as to therapy’s efficacy on the patient’s behalf.
While there are pre-existing models for evaluating a patient’s progress — and, consequently, their effectiveness in treating patients — the models aren’t necessarily foolproof.
Further, there may not be sufficient, effective models to evaluate a patient's improvement as well as a mental health professional’s effectiveness because an evaluative model might not exist for every form of therapy out there.
This is a question many folks find themselves asking while working through things in therapy.
There may be moments in therapy when you’re engaged with a topic that doesn’t seem to move the needle. You seem to be unable to get the outcomes you’re looking for.
At the same time, you don’t find your condition worsening — your depression deepening, your bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder haven’t worsened.
To make matters more complicated, emotional distress might constitute an overall successful therapeutic practice.
If you’re engaging with a painful episode or mental state, giving voice to it can always be a challenge. By simply airing those challenges out and discussing them in great focused detail, it only makes sense that you could experience a challenging, even painful immediate reaction to such a process.
But, that doesn’t necessarily mean the therapy is bad. In fact, it could mean it’s working.
We know what you may be thinking: after reading through the downsides people experience when seeking out a therapy professional, is there even a point to trying therapy at all?
In short, yes.
It’s important to remember when analyzing the data on peoples’ dissatisfactions with their current or past providers, that the dissatisfaction isn’t necessarily connected to the practice of therapy.
It may simply be linked to the quality of their psychologist, or their dissatisfaction could be linked to the kind of therapy with which they’re engaged.
Consequently, we suggest that when you begin to seek out a therapist, you do two things —
First, it’s critical to find yourself a provider you really connect with.
Find someone who you can talk to — someone with whom you feel a sense of comfort and safety so that when opening up, you feel as though you can get the most out of the time you’re spending working on yourself.
Sometimes, that means arranging multiple appointments and trying out different providers, different personalities and seeing which one jives best with yours.
Second, we encourage you to find a kind of therapy that works well for you.
Sounds simple, right?
Well, considering all the types of therapy out there, it’s worth both exploring what they are — and even giving them a shot firsthand. After all, more often than not, the best way to learn is by doing.
As this article lays out, finding the right therapist isn’t necessarily a fool-proof, cut-and-dry process. Instead, finding the right therapist requires an understanding of what (at least partially) ails you, as well as knowing what you’re generally looking for in your therapeutic experience.
And, as we’ve laid out, those therapeutic experiences — well, there are many to pick and choose from.
Above all, however, there’s good news.
There are many resources available right now that can help you begin the process of finding a therapist who works for you. Someone who can listen to your every need, understand what specifically is weighing you down and devise a sound, helpful plan of attack to get you back on your feet, back at your best.
Hims wants to be of help to you as you begin the process of finding a therapist who works for you. It’s in your interest — everyone’s interest — to see you on your feet and at your best. Let’s get this journey started together.