When I meet with clients and their families, I often hear the following comment over and over again: “I did not like the previous therapist.” A barrage of negatives often follows this statement such as “she was controlling,” “he was crazy,” or “she did not help me.” It can be difficult to find a good therapist because it takes time. A therapist who is capable of understanding you and your needs, makes you feel comfortable and not judged, and who can step into your complicated situations and guide you into deeper insight, is worth every penny or time spent in therapy. Each therapist has a different life course, educational course, and calling. Not all therapists have the capability to be effective. We are all made differently and every experience has a way of shaping who we will ultimately become, how we will see life, and how well we can help our clients see the issues in their lives as well. The question I encourage you to ask yourself throughout this article is “what makes a therapist helpful or detrimental to a client?”
It’s difficult to determine what specific characteristics and behaviors make a therapist less effective than others. But it’s important for you to consider the kind of therapist you or a loved one is working with and what makes this therapist competent or effective in their work. Sadly, there are many incompetent or ineffective mental health professionals and therapists in the world. But knowing which kind of therapist you are working with will help you avoid problems in the future. Below you will find 10 things that often cloaks or hides a poorly skilled therapist. Unskilled mental health professionals and therapists often hide behind:
- Status: Some people are good at talking to a tree, a pet, or anything they come across. Some people are good at making friends wherever they go without a problem. Other people are just so attractive or enticing that they are capable of developing a certain status that would be more difficult for others to achieve. These kind of people can be dangerous because they aren’t truly skilled, but due to the status that they have developed, they are projected as skilled people.
- The psychiatrist or Medical Director: Believe it or not, the psychiatrist and/or Medical Director of a mental health establishment can truly cloak the mediocre skills of the therapists under him or her. A good psychiatrist and Medical Director can even cloak the mediocre skills of the clinical supervisor! While the therapists are sometimes the most important part of the agency due to the fact that they are the “frontliners” and do most of the hands-on work, a skilled psychiatrist (who makes medication changes and ultimate decisions) and Medical Director can truly drive the bus and make the entire program look competent.
- Other therapists in the program: Believe it or not, an incompetent therapist can hide behind the skills of colleagues and other therapists in a program who have more experience. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this because we have all had to learn from someone to become skilled. But I am referring more specifically to those therapists who do not have an interest in developing in their profession or learning more, but tend to rely on the expertise of their colleagues.
- Paperwork skills: Some people could do paperwork in their sleep. I’ve observed people who are excellent with paperwork. But I’ve also observed that these same individuals are quite poor in therapy with clients. Paperwork skills are extremely important in professions where paperwork is a vehicle for communication. Someone who is good with paperwork could certainly appear competent in other areas of the job.
- Verbal skills: Some mental health professionals and therapists are talented speakers and can gain the attention of anyone. But this doesn’t always indicate this person is skilled in therapy.
- Appearance: Have you ever had an attractive therapist? If so, you are probably well aware of the type of status this person can gain simply due to their looks or clothing alone.
- Friends (or family) in the system: Many mental health professionals and therapists have friends or close acquaintances in the field who can speak on their behalf for better jobs, increased status, or opportunities for greater exposure. While this may not happen in many agencies, these cases do exist.
- Kindness: I’m sure you have had experiences with a person who is so friendly and captivating that they could become friends to just about anyone. This person can be sneaky and manipulative because they have the ability to get on others’ good sides and increase their status with kindness.Kindness is a wonderful asset that so many people ignore in our society. But the person who uses kindness or charm to manipulate others, would be titled a sociopath in the DSM.
- Being in the right place, at the right time: Some mental health professionals and/or therapists will stay in an agency for decades and dedicate their lives to that agency. Mental health professionals in this scenario can appear skilled due to the years they have stayed in an agency, but lack in the interpersonal skills that client’s can truly benefit from.
- Credentials: Some people are really good at going to school, getting good grades, and achieving credentials, but very poor in working with others. A mental health professional and/or therapist can hide behind credentials and certificates. Some therapists are good at reasoning, remembering what they’ve learned in school, and applying their book-knowledge. But these same therapists can be very, very poor in speaking with families, and providing therapy.
Note: I use the term mental health professional to refer to those individuals who are not titled as a therapist. It is also important to note that this is not a generalization of ALL mental health professionals, but simply a review of some of the therapists and mental health professionals in the field. In addition,there are many clients who do not progress in therapy but it is important to keep in mind that this is not always due to therapist incompetence but many other factors that will be discussed in future articles.
The goal of this article is not to undermine the very important work that many mental health professionals and therapists engage in. Many agree we have a very tough job and work with very complicated cases. But the ultimate takeaway message is for you, as a client or family member of a client, to be mindful of the type of mental health professional or therapist you are working with. You want to find a therapist or mental health professional who truly possesses all of the above characteristics (and does not use them to manipulate others). You want a therapist who is truly skilled and capable of helping you or your loved one reach your therapeutic goals. It is important to also point out that none of the above characteristics are inherently bad things. They are only bad when they are used in ways to deceive others.
We all have to learn and develop in our personal lives and professional careers which sometimes includes learning from others, asking for help, and making mistakes. But there are certainly people who manipulate with kindness, status, or book-knowledge. These people you want to stay far, far away from. Your treatment should consist of a mental health professional or therapist who is open-minded about learning, humble, and concerned about your overall well-being.
As always, I wish you well