Eight Tips to Help you Recognise a Bad Psychologist

Have you ever wondered how to recognise a bad psychologist? in this article you'll find ten tips to help you sort the good from the bad.
Eight Tips to Help you Recognise a Bad Psychologist

Last update: 09 September, 2021

Receiving psychological therapy has many benefits for quality of life, both physically and psychologically. However, there are some professionals who engage in harmful or unethical practices. For this reason, it’s vital to learn how to recognize a bad psychologist. Consequently, you’ll avoid being a victim of any bad treatment.

There are bad psychologists all over the world and in different settings. In fact, sometimes it’s not easy to detect them. Furthermore, psychological malpractice can have many negative effects on mental health. In this article, we’ll teach you some of the signs that let you know it’s time to change your therapist.

How to recognize a bad psychologist

Starting a process of psychological therapy can significantly increase your general well-being. Indeed, in therapy, you have the opportunity to go deeper into your emotional world and externalize your internal conflicts. You also discover and develop personal resources to deal with any situations that afflict you in your life. Added to this, it’s a form of self-care that raises your self-esteem.

However, all these benefits depend on two factors. Firstly, the disposition of the patient. Secondly, the ability of the therapist. If either of the two fails, it’ll be extremely difficult to get successful results. In fact, a professional who practices incorrectly won’t be able to generate any change in the patient. Therefore, it becomes a complete waste of their time and money.

If you want to increase the chances of good results with a psychotherapist, you need to know how to recognize a bad one. While this can be difficult if you have no training in this field, it’s not impossible. As a matter of fact, there are always clear signs that a professional isn’t doing their job as they should.

It should be noted that, when a psychologist doesn’t appear to be behaving as they should, it isn’t always a reflection of their lack of knowledge or skills. Nor does it mean they have bad intentions. In fact, there are many factors that might explain why a professional isn’t putting into practice the best actions for their patient/client.

Psychologist writing down notes from her patient

Eight warning signs of a bad psychologist

Psychologists in each country organize their work according to different ethical and legal codes. For this reason, it’s a good idea to be aware of the laws that regulate the practice of psychology in your own particular region. In this way, you’ll know if your therapist is working in accordance with the established guidelines. The following warning signs will help you in identifying a bad psychologist.

1. They perform pseudoscientific practices

Pseudoscience is understood as any discipline that lacks verifiable scientific evidence. One example is homeopathic medicine whose effectiveness has never been verified. Along the same lines, within psychology, there are practices without solid foundations. For example, graphology, family constellations, and NLP.

Let’s look at graphology for example. Dazzi and Pedrabissi published a study in which they evaluated the validity of this practice. To this end, they administered the Big Five Questionnaire (a personality test) to 101 university students. They also asked the students for a sample of neutral writing (without personal information).

The manuscripts were delivered to two graphologists to analyze. Then, the researchers compared their results with those of the Big Five Questionnaire. There were no correlations between the handwriting evaluations and the personality test.

In summary, this research shows that graphology lacks empirical validity. The same applies to other practices without experimental evidence. Therefore, you should be alert to any professional who promotes these types of treatment. As a matter of fact, it could be dangerous to your health.

2. They make inappropriate comments about other patients

Psychologists should always respect the confidentiality of their patients. Indeed, all information that patients provide in a consultation is private. Therefore, if a therapist tries to give you information about their other patients, you should be extremely careful because they could be doing the same with you.

3. They try to impose their beliefs on you

The job of a psychologist isn’t to judge the lives of their patients based on their personal beliefs or experiences. In fact, the work of the psychologist should be characterized by objectivity. This means that their value system should never interfere. Even if they have completely different beliefs from their client, they should always be respectful of their client’s opinions.

Therefore, if, during your therapy, your psychologist doesn’t show respect for your beliefs or values and they try to impose theirs onto you, put a stop to it. It doesn’t matter what your principles are, there’s no reason for them to be questioned. Indeed, to do so is considered wholly unethical.

4. They cross professional boundaries

The therapeutic alliance is defined as the bond that the psychologist and the patient establish to achieve the goals of treatment. This is a purely professional relationship in which the therapist’s feelings shouldn’t interfere. Nevertheless, on occasions, this does happen.

For example, if your psychologist claims to be attracted to you, you need to know that this is always inappropriate. In fact, developing feelings for a patient beyond the clinical setting prevents the professional relationship from continuing. Indeed, your partner can’t be your psychologist, in the same way that your boss can’t be your lawyer should you decide to sue your company.

Furthermore, it represents a form of abuse. That’s because the psychologist is in a position of power, due to their technical knowledge and the personal history of the patient. Consequently, taking advantage of that position to satisfy their desires is a form of aggression.

5. They don’t pay the necessary attention to you

A good psychologist practices active listening when serving a client. This implies focusing all their senses on understanding the client’s problem with all its emotional nuances.

If you find that your therapist is constantly distracted while you’re there, it may be better to change. For example, it’s not a good sign if they look at their mobile while you talk or they interrupt you to attend to other things.

6. They show a lack of empathy

In psychology, empathy is the ability to understand the emotions and thoughts of others. It’s widely understood that empathy is crucial for the success of psychotherapy. Furthermore, evidence exists to support this claim.

Gimeno Peón (2015) developed a study in which he evaluated the relationship between the therapist’s empathy and psychotherapeutic results. The results showed that patients whose position had improved perceived greater empathy from their psychologists.

If, during the psychotherapy process, you feel that your therapist doesn’t understand your problem, underestimates your feelings, or judges you, be careful. In fact, lack of empathy is one of the clear signs of a bad psychologist. You must remember that psychotherapy consultation is a space where understanding and listening are paramount.

7. Tardiness

It’s understandable that sometimes a psychologist might be late for an appointment due to factors beyond their control such as traffic or an emergency. However, if they’re frequently late for appointments and make trivial excuses, you have the right to point it out.

Remember, your time, as well as theirs, is valuable, and being late is disrespectful. A good professional should try to be on time for all your appointments.

8. They don’t communicate well

An important part of the success of psychotherapeutic intervention concerns the quality of the therapist-patient and client communication. It should be clear and honest at all times. In this way, there shouldn’t be any verbal misinterpretations.

Clarity must prevail over ambiguity. In addition, it’s important that both parties comply with the agreements that they sign verbally.

Therefore, if your therapist announces that, for your next session, they have a new activity prepared without explaining it properly to you, you’re in the position to assess whether or not they’re doing it for their own ends. Indeed, any intervention is of little use if it’s not adapted to each individual’s circumstances, or is inadequately planned.

Man at the psychologist

What to do if you have a bad psychologist?

If you can identify several of the items on this list, your therapist may be practicing unethically. In this situation, you can take the initiative and let them know. However, you’re also free to finish the process and find another professional.

Finally, now that you know how to recognize a bad psychologist, you’re unlikely to fall victim to another one. Remember, your mental health is valuable. For this reason, it deserves to be in the hands of a professional who knows how to help you and is willing to do so.

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  • Dazzi, C., & Pedrabissi, L. (2009). Graphology and personality: an empirical study on validity of handwriting analysis. Psychological reports, 105(3 Pt 2), 1255–1268. https://doi.org/10.2466/PR0.105.F.1255-1268
  • Peón, A. G. (2015). Relación entre la Empatía del Terapeuta y los Resultados del Tratamiento. Revista de Psicoterapia, 26(101), 179-189.
  • Roe, R. (2003). ¿ Qué hace competente a un psicólogo?. Papeles del psicólogo, 24(86), 1-12.