26 Signs of Unethical Therapy Practices
Many people know what it feels like to struggle with issues related to finances, trauma, depression, loss and death, infidelity, infertility, relationships, etc. Some of these challenges we can resolve on our own, or they resolve themselves over time. However, for some people, the challenges faced can seem insurmountable, prompting them to seek professional help in the form of counseling. People often seek professional counseling when they continue to struggle with unresolved feelings, are unable to manage challenges on their own, or problems become more pronounced.
Unfortunately, some therapist’s intervention can worsen the client’s current issues, symptoms, or problems. Therapists that engage in inappropriate or unethical behaviors can not only exacerbate a client’s current problems but create additional problems as well. Additional challenges can be created by the therapist because unlike nonprofessional people they are expected to provide unbiased, quality health care in the best interest of the client. It is hard to imagine that a health care provider, specifically a mental health professional, could make an illness worse.
Most people seeking counseling services are interested in obtaining a therapist that is compassionate, thoughtful, professional, unbiased, approachable, and understanding. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to distinguish a “good” therapist from a “bad” therapist until something unethical occurs. To be fair, even “good” therapist can make mistakes, after all, they are only human. I also do not believe some therapists are bad. Some therapist may have received inept training, not enough training, are unclear about best practices, boundaries, confidentiality, disclosure, etc.
Although, the early warning signs of an unethical therapist may be difficult to detect here are a few red flags you should avoid:
Talking incessantly during the session without giving the client much of an opportunity to speak.
Therapist does not talk at all
Therapist assumes he or she knows what the client is thinking or feeling without asking
Unclear about the cost of services
Therapist does not seek consultation with other therapists for issues or problems beyond their scope of knowledge
Therapist makes guarantees and/or promises
Therapist cannot or does not clearly define how they can help you to solve whatever issue or concern has brought you to therapy
Therapist blames your family, friends, or partner for the issues that have brought you into therapy
Therapist encourages you to blame your family, friends, or partner
Therapist knowingly or unknowingly gets personal psychological needs met at the expense of focusing on you and your therapy
Therapist “looks down” at you or treats you as inferior in subtle or not so subtle ways
Therapist blur boundaries, tries to become your friend
Therapist provides no explanation of how you will know when your therapy is complete
Therapist is not interested in the changes you want to make and your personal goals for therapy
Therapist creates personal goals for the client
Counselor tells you what to do, makes decisions for you, or gives frequent unsolicited advice
Therapist cannot accept feedback or admit mistakes
Therapist initiates touch (i.e., hugs) without consent
Therapist attempts to have a sexual or romantic relationship with you
Therapist does not provide you with information about your rights as a client, confidentiality, office policies, and fees so you can fairly consent to your treatment.
Therapist pushes you into highly vulnerable feelings or memories against your wishes
Therapist habitually misses, cancels, reschedules, or shows up late to appointments
Therapist answers the telephone while you’re in session
Therapist eats while speaking with you
Therapist works on laptop during your session
Therapist doesn’t answer or return your calls in a timely manner
Therapy should focus on the client, not the therapist. The role of the therapist should be helping clients manage negative feelings, resolve issues that are causing distress, and identifying personal goals. Therapists that behave in an unethical manner can create additional stressors for the client leading to more pronounced symptoms and distress. Therapy must include stabilizing the client, avoiding undue harm, and focusing on what is in the best interest of the client. Another key item to remember is making sure the client is being empowered. No one has the right, including a therapist, to keep a client a client forever.