Toxic Therapists and How to Recognize Them

Alexis Azria
4 min readNov 8, 2023

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I came to therapy like most people. A major life transition. My counselor helped me navigate my family as I prepared to graduate from college. Her compassionate guidance was like a compass pointing to the North Star, and in each session, I learned how I couldn’t save people or change the past but could become a better person. By working with Katherine, I realized how much an experienced psychologist could help you and, later, how a lousy therapist could destroy your sense of reality.

Good therapy provides a safe space for people to get to know themselves so they don’t repeat negative behaviors that could impact their futures or their families’ futures. Given that twenty-one million Americans suffer from depression, twenty million people are recovering from addiction, and forty million adults have anxiety disorder, therapy is a valuable tool to improve mental health.

However, bad therapy can further traumatize people who are already vulnerable, exacerbating mental illness, PTSD, and suicidal ideation.

The most prominent forms of abusive therapists are sexual advances, inappropriate touching, financial exploitation, lack of professional boundaries, or shaming and blaming you for no reason. If you notice anxiety or uncomfortable thoughts after a session, and it’s not about a challenging subject but the therapist’s behavior, it may be time to find another provider.

Unfortunately, I learned the hard way how incompetent therapists can join forces with your abuser in gaslighting you and how narcissistic counselors can become entangled in their clients’ lives so they can micromanage them in unhealthy ways. Regardless of incompetence or maliciousness, the results are the same.

So what do you look for?

Lack of Boundaries

An unethical therapist can overstep boundaries, fostering an unhealthy dependence in their clients. They may dominate sessions with self-centered dialogue and divulge inappropriate personal details. They could intrude into their clients’ personal lives beyond the therapy setting, employing gaslighting and emotional shaming tactics. Financial exploitation may occur through excessive session fees or fraudulent insurance claims for nonexistent sessions, or they teach clients how to manipulate…

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Alexis Azria

Writer and curious creator. Passionate about work, life & social issues. Visit alexisazria.com