Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Life > Experiences

Lessons I’ve Learned from Five Bad Therapy Experiences

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

Not all five therapists of mine were “bad,” per se. Sometimes an unfortunate situation surrounding our appointments was out of our hands, and I had to make peace with us not being a match. Other times, therapists made me wonder if they had scammed their way into a practicing license.

I used to think I would’ve been better off having never met these therapists. Now, I realize even bad therapy can teach valuable lessons. 

Therapist One

Even if you’ve never seen a mental health professional, you’ve probably heard the term “cognitive behavioral therapy.” Therapists often use cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, to help clients combat their negative thoughts. 

My first therapist took “defeat negative thinking” to the extreme. Her idea of overriding negative thoughts was by not acknowledging them at all. However, she neglected to explain her method – I had to figure this out over several increasingly frustrating sessions.

Anytime I mentioned a problem in my life, she would interrupt and lead the conversation to a “safer” topic, like what I had for lunch (I’ve never had disordered eating, so this contributed nothing) or what I learned in my science class (a class I hated, but I wasn’t allowed to say that in front of her).

Even as a dumb thirteen year old, I knew I could have these same conversations with my parents – and no one had to pay my parents to talk to me! All I got out of visiting this therapist were the pleasant scenic drives to and from her office, which improved my mental health more than therapy ever did.

I spent weeks convincing my mother that this therapist was not helping me. I almost cried tears of relief when I never had to see her or her PhDs ever again.

Even Pixar’s Inside Out movie shows how burying one’s negative thoughts under positivity only causes those feelings to bubble under the surface, waiting for the worst chance to explode and ruin relationships. Therapist One taught me that, while dwelling on the bad creates cynicism and depression, ignoring negativity helps no one.

Therapist Two

A full year later, I saw a therapist who rarely avoided negativity, which seemed like a nice change… Until the change became way more drastic than I’d realized. 

In one of our early appointments, she asked me about my insecurities.

I took a while to respond with: “I don’t really know… Everything?”

Like a disappointed parent, she told me that answer wasn’t good enough, which I soon learned she meant “unspecific.” So, she listed examples of what I may be insecure about: pale skin? Acne? Short height? Pudginess?

None of these features were true for her; all of them were true for me, and I don’t think this was lost on her. I just stared blankly until she awkwardly moved on.

Maybe I’m overreacting (my parents said I was, and I don’t blame them), but this wasn’t a one-off incident, either. After every session, she would invite my mom into the room and discuss everything we talked about. Client confidentiality? Not a thing if you’re a minor, apparently (sarcasm). Her passive aggressiveness wasn’t constant, but it spiked into our conversations at seemingly random. In those moments, she resembled a stereotypical mean girl who never grew up.

Therapist Two taught me I shouldn’t allow adults to push me around, even if they’re an authority figure. I still struggle with this, as I often doubt myself as the slightest hint of conflict, but I often use my time with this therapist as an example of someone with “life experience” misusing their knowledge.

Therapist Three

Therapist Three was the first therapist I actually connected with. We created plans for me to do better at school and handle my emotions, which were concepts my former therapists had only mentioned in passing. Therapy appointments finally stopped feeling like a chore. 

But those green flags were hiding bad news.

After three appointments, she changed her insurance plan, meaning we could now only pay her out-of-pocket. My parents and I decided doing so wasn’t worth it, so we canceled all future appointments.

Lesson learned: Sometimes people have to leave your life, even when you want them to stay. Applying this lesson to people who I don’t pay to be in my life has been painful yet necessary, whether this happens because of relocating countries, attending a new university, or falling out with a friend.

Therapist Four

By my junior year of high school, I had seen all of the therapists in my hometown. My only choice was to find someone in the bigger college town nearby.

With my busy schedule, I arranged my appointments to take place in the evening. Not only did the sun go down long before setting off from home, but the drive would take at least a half an hour. Then I’d wait in her lobby for another 15 to 20 minutes, doing homework or reading whatever book I had brought with me.

Every time I finally sat in her office, my energy had already depleted. If she was a good therapist, I wouldn’t know, because I zoned out in every session. When the COVID-19 pandemic canceled our future appointments, I lost nothing but her somewhat interesting stories as a school aide.

Therapist Four unintentionally taught me that timing is just as important as content. Scheduling my appointments for when I’ll be alert and willing to speak allows for more productive sessions – what’s the point of therapy otherwise?

Therapist Five

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I joined all of my high school Zoom classes in the family dining room. I did the same for my therapy appointments with a woman who lived in another time zone. While I knew attending therapy sessions in earshot of my parents and brother was a mistake, I felt little motivation to change my surroundings. 

One time, I spent an entire session talking about a show I’d watched with my family during the pandemic, because I didn’t feel like discussing anything else. My brother had overheard this conversation and, at dinner, asked my parents why they were paying for this lack of service. I didn’t argue against him.

If Therapist Four had taught me I must carefully schedule the time of my therapy appointments, then Therapist Five taught me I need to purposefully choose where they will take place – preferably somewhere I won’t fear others eavesdropping.

Will there be a Therapist Six?

Only recently did I realize I did something wrong with therapy. I never learned any of my therapist’s names, not because I didn’t care, but because doing so just never occurred to me. I barely thought of our appointments outside of therapy, unless when complaining about them to my parents. I also never asked questions about what my therapists intended to do with our sessions, which especially bit me in the butt with therapists one and two.

If I’d taken a more active approach to therapy, maybe I would’ve learned how to improve myself instead of wasting time in dead-end appointments. But for now, though, I can find lessons in the bad and the ugly.

Willow Symonds (she/they) just transferred to MSU from Washtenaw Community College, where they majored in journalism and wrote for the student newspaper, The Washtenaw Voice. At MSU, she continues her education in journalism and works as a campus reporter for The State News, the independent student newspaper. Willow also minors in creative writing. Their love of words led them to join Her Campus MSU, where she hopes to write essays about personal experiences and analyses on specific media (mainly books, of which she tries to read in every genre). Read her short stories, poetry, and other work at https://substack.com/@neonorange789?utm_source=user-menu