You will find all sorts of blogs and checklists out there of what to look for in a therapist. These can be incredibly helpful. However, the DO NOTs of therapy deserve some attention, too.
There are many obvious things a therapist shouldn’t do (see: psych central blog).
Here are some less obvious problems that should raise a red flag.
They fail to seek your informed consent.
Any therapist you see will have you sign a consent form at the beginning of your relationship. This is good, ethical practice. However, they should continually seek your consent as you move forward. Before any exercise, whether it be written, verbal, art or something else, they should check in with you to ensure you’re comfortable with what they are asking. You are always allowed to say no.
They do not ask for feedback from you (or can’t accept it).
Your therapist will be asking about how you are doing and what your experience is with various interventions and conversations. This is good. If they’re not asking, tell them. If they don’t listen, get a new therapist.
Manipulate you into remaining as a client.
Assuming you are attending therapy voluntarily and are not a danger to yourself or others, you have a right to decide who you see for therapy and how long you see them. (Patients in hospitals and in involuntary treatment have rights, too, but that’s a different conversation.) Signing a consent form is not a contract for length of services. You are free to leave whenever you want. If a therapist does not feel like a good fit for you, you can decide to see someone else.
Talk to other people about you.
Your therapist should never talk about your case with anyone. Exceptions do exist to this rule including: you give written permission, the therapist receives a court order, you are suicidal/homicidal or discuss child/elder abuse. This also applies to your written therapy record. If these boundaries are crossed, it is inappropriate and grounds for you to file a complaint against the therapist with their licensing board.
Try to be your friend, business partner or lover.
This is a big no-no. Your therapist is expected to follow the ethics of their profession regarding personal relationships with clients. These rules go something like this: No personal relationship with a current client is ever appropriate. Some professions allow for relationships if your therapy ended 2 years ago. Many professionals err on the side of keeping that boundary in place permanently. If your therapist is making sexual advances, suggesting you grab a drink or asks to borrow money from you, stop seeing them immediately and call the licensing board in your state. This is completely unacceptable behavior.
There are countless wonderful, ethical therapists but there are also a few bad apples. Keep an eye out for these red flags to protect yourself when you see a therapist.
Bethany Raab is a licensed clinical social worker in Denver, Colorado. She owns a private therapy practice where she works with teens, families and young adults.