Tips for Adulthood: Five Things Not To Do In Therapy

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week, I posted about five reasons to see a life coach. But I’ve seen all kinds of therapists over the years, and gleaned a lot of lessons along the way. Most of those have been positive lessons about what I ought to do with my life. But I’ve also learned a trick or two about what not to do with a therapist. So, in my (life long?) tribute to therapy, this week’s post is about five things you don’t want to do in therapy:

1. Don’t go on word of mouth. This goes to the choice of therapist. My very first therapist came highly recommended by another shrink. She was a lovely woman. But she was absolutely wrong for me. Where I craved insight, she favored behavioral therapy. Where she wanted a hug; I wanted a hand shake. It’s like dating, folks, and you need to take a few test drives before you commit. Ever since then, whenever I move – because, hey, what’s a move without a new therapist? – I make a point of  interviewing several people before closing the deal. (Buyer beware: in the U.S., at least, they’ll charge for this initial meeting.)

2. Don’t be late. Being late is a clear-cut sign that you’re ambivalent about therapy and your therapist will go to town with it (while billing you all the while…).

3. Don’t leave something behind. Similarly, it’s therapy-death to leave a coat or handbag behind. Clearly, you wanted/needed an excuse to come back. You’ll spend weeks on this. Trust me.

4. Don’t comment on appearances.  I once complimented a therapist on her new glasses. She actually blushed, at which point I felt ridiculous and it took the rest of the session to get over this awkward hump. But this cuts both ways. I have a friend who was describing her body image issues to a (male) therapist, to which he replied, “Speaking as a man, I can tell you you’re attractive.” Easy, tiger. Speaking as a female, I can tell you to keep that to yourself.

5. Don’t share a therapist. I’ve never done this myself, but I have friends who’ve shared therapists with their mothers, mothers-in-law, even husbands. If you’re trying to keep some semblance of boundaries (not to mention boundaries for the therapist), it’ s probably best to see your own guy/gal and keep it personal. Just be sure you shop around…

Image: Doctor Writing by Suat Eman via

  • Reply Dot

    May 21, 2009, 2:44 pm

    Hi, I stopped by after reading about your blog on Blogging Without a Blog. Congratulations on being new blog of the week!

    Having spent many productive years in therapy, I enjoyed this post, but I think I’d reverse it. I’d say, do go on word of mouth from someone who actually had therapy with that therapist. Do be late. There’s no sense in being dishonest about your ambivalence about the therapist. Best to discuss it instead. Same for #3.

    As for #4, what that therapst said was borderline unethical. Ethical therapists are trained to keep their subjective opinions to themselves and stick to the objective. Otherwise you’re messing with the client.

    Same for #5. It is considered unethical to treat someone in therapy who has any personal connection to the therapist or any of the therapist’s clients, for exactly the reasons that you give.

    Finally, I’d say that if you need to protect the therapist’s boundaries, or feel that therapist isn’t behaving with appropriate boundaries, run like hell the other way. These things are Therapy 101, and if they haven’t learned that, they’re going to do more damage than good.

    Just my opinionated opinion. Looks like I’m going to enjoy your blog!

  • Reply Kathy | Virtual Impax

    May 21, 2009, 3:58 pm

    I too am here from BWAB – and wanted to give a great big KUDOS to this post. Exceptional insight – definitely a “been there, done that – bought the t-shirt” kind of post.

    Thumbs way way up – especially for #5. My sister has been desperately trying to get me to see her therapist. I made initial contact and he didn’t follow up. At first I wondered what was up – now I realize that maybe HE knows how toxic “sharing” a therapist is.

    Time to find my OWN gem!

  • Reply Patricia

    May 21, 2009, 6:55 pm

    I thought this was very good advice and as a therapist, I wish more folks would follow it. Dot too has some very good words.
    I also would add that as a piano teacher needs to keep taking lessons, a therapist needs to have a good therapist. I live in a small city so I must do quite a dance to find a therapist – and interviews are very good.

    Congratulations on New Blog of the Week. Very nice writing and post.
    Thank you

  • Reply Rachel

    May 22, 2009, 11:17 am

    This is teh best advice I’ve seen on therapy since the last review I read of “In Treatment”! Having once been badly burned (well, that was my subjective aand no doubt neurotic perception anyway) by going to a therapist on another therapist’s recommendation, I loudly second #1.

  • Reply Sally

    August 23, 2010, 3:33 pm

    I actually disagree about not sharing a therapist. I had been seeing mine for quite a while when I brought my husband in with me for a couple’s session. It helped a lot and he really liked my therapist. During the course of our shared session, she noted that he might really benefit from discussing some of his own personal issues at more length and he agreed. So we both see her separately and sometimes together. She’s been a big help for both of us. She does a great job of never sharing info between us in separate sessions or letting on about what she knows, but it makes me feel better to know that she does have background knowledge on a lot of issues since she talks to him as well. Maybe that would make some couples uncomfortable but luckily it works for us.

    • Reply delialloyd

      August 23, 2010, 3:44 pm

      Good to know, Sally and thx for sharing. I can see from your description how it might be helpful, provided she’s discrete. Well done for managing that deftly. In other circumstances I could imagine it backfiring but of course it all depends on the couple.

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