Finding a therapist who meets your needs can be a daunting task. They must have availability, charisma, and skill. Once people find a therapist who fits these three characteristics, it can be hard to imagine leaving them. At times, this makes people desperate to like their therapist. “I can finally get help!” we think. Oh wait…this therapist… kind of…sucks. A lot.
And that is OKAY. Therapists (social workers, psychiatrists, etc.) are people too. And sometimes they are much farther from perfect than we care to admit. It is okay to seek someone who will offer better care.
Here are some signs that it’s time for a change:
1. They are unprofessional
This is perhaps the simplest reason but the most easily forgotten. Sometimes therapists who are very effective can be equally unprofessional. I had a very helpful therapist in high school. She, however, was consistently 40+ minutes late with her appointments. She also cancelled on several occasions without giving prior notice, so I showed up at the office for no reason. I was held back by the fear I wouldn’t find someone as good. SOMEONE JUST AS GOOD AND MORE PROFESSIONAL EXISTS.
2. They make you feel badly or blame you for things
A key quality of a therapist is to be unbiased and non-judgmental. Never in any circumstance, should a therapist make you feel badly about yourself, nor should they make you feel guilty.
I had a therapist who basically made me believe I gave myself OCD…..
Run away if this happens to you.
Run very far away.
3. They talk down to you
This kind of goes hand in hand with my second point. I like to differentiate it because a therapist can be negatively judgmental without being outright condescending. I luckily only experienced this once. In trying to find my first psychiatrist in middle school, my first visit was a total flop. My mom went in with me since I was only 12 at the time. The psychiatrist asked me some diagnostic questions. One was, “Do you ever hear voices?” I started to explain, “Well, not really. Sometimes I imagine I am talking to…”
“Do you hear voices?!” he interrupts.
I stop and say no. I am sullen for the rest of the visit, knowing this will not work out.
My mom tells me later that she almost said something to him but decided to let it go–having also come to the same conclusion that we would not be going back to that jackass.
No mental health professional should ever speak down to their clients- whether they’re 14 years old or 84.
4. They give unsound advice
People often form a strong bond with their mental healthcare professionals. This is wonderful but can at times skew our opinions of them or their advice. In 12th grade my OCD was in remission. This has never happened at any other point in my life. My therapist, seeing my progress, convinced me to go off of my meds. I was fine at first, slowly weaning off my cocktail of drugs. When I took the last step though, I quickly began to regress. My therapist, rather than advising me to go back on my meds, questioned “Why is this happening? I don’t understand?” Thus beginning a long era of guilt and self-deprication.
Take a step back to think for yourself and observe. Therapists make mistakes.
5. They share personal opinions not clinical guidance
I experienced this in discussing romantic relationships. My therapist instructed me to purchase The Rules. I couldn’t read more than 5 pages. It began spurting antiquated nonsense like, “Let the man ask you out. Men like a challenge. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.” A therapist should absolutely encourage healthy relationship practices, but not enforce their own views on dating.
6. Office policies that suck
At one psychiatrist office I visited in college I had to have my blood pressure taken and be weighed before each visit. I do not have any type of eating disorder, but I do get highly anxious when I have to weigh myself. I explained this and they still insisted it was necessary. So I’d go on backwards and not look. I understand the necessity for some patients, but not for all. Blanket policies like these do not belong in mental healthcare offices.
I experienced another unfortunate office practice when I first moved to Virginia. I had to find a new psychiatrist. The first one did not work out namely because I was required to see them every two months as a minimum or discontinue services. It is a demeaning practice that takes away ownership of one’s mental health care. Appointments should be made on an “as needed” basis determined by the client and psychiatrist together. Physical healthcare doesn’t work that way. A dentist would never require you to come back in six months or discontinue service. I understand that the policy probably exists for people who are not upfront about their mental state, children/adolescents, and people with new conditions. As for someone who has received mental healthcare for 15 years and been on the same meds for 5+ years–and anyone else who is in a good place with their mental health–the policy is ludicrous.
If you’ve given a mental healthcare provider a fair chance and haven’t seen any improvement whatsoever, it may be time to leave. Every situation is different, but I would say give it at least 6-8 weeks before declaring something ineffective. Sometimes there isn’t anything else wrong–they’re polite and professional. They just aren’t helping you get where you need to be.
To reiterate, PLEASE don’t stick with a therapist out of fear that you won’t find someone better. You can, and you will. Chances are if you’re considering leaving your therapist for any of the reasons on this list, you’re making the right choice.