The Great Therapy Hoax: 6 Signs a Counselor is Wasting Your Time

Counseling is a huge commitment of resources – money, time, and emotional energy. If you go through your health insurance, it also includes putting a mental health or substance abuse diagnosis on your medical record just to get affordable therapy.

You deserve to know when the counselor is not holding up their end of the deal and is wasting your time. Here are 6 signs that your counseling relationship is on life support and that you need to pull the plug:

  1. Your counselor provides unsolicited advice. You come into the session and want to trouble-shoot a problem, only to find that your counselor provides advice before you can even describe the nature of the problem. The counseling session feels more like a conversation with a family member or friend who is weighing in with their personal opinion instead of offering professional expertise, research-based findings, or individually-tailored solutions.
  2. …or refuses to provide you with feedback when you ask for it. It’s easy for a counselor to remain passive and restrained under the guise of professional authority. You may ask for feedback or advice, only to find that the counselor consistently turns the question back on you: “What do you think about that?” This is fine – as long as the counselor EVENTUALLY does give you feedback. If the counselor refuses to offer feedback for “therapeutic reasons,” then you’re throwing your money away.
  3. Your quality of life has not improved. Whether you are seeing a counselor once per month or twice per week, you should generally be able to see at least some improvement in your quality of life after six months of counseling. If you feel like you are still spinning your wheels, then it’s time to cut the cord.
  4. Your counseling sessions devolve into power struggles. Even when the counselor offers their perspective with the best of intentions, you feel as though the sessions are more focused on the counselor persuading you to view the world in a certain way than on validating your reality. The counselor may come right out and voice their own agenda, which is in conflict with yours, or may simply remain quiet but silently judgmental.
  5. Your counselor suggests that you are resistant to change. When the counselor feels that their method or modality is being challenged, they may suggest that you are the problem in the process rather than their methods. This is a sign that the therapist cares more about their own ego than about your well-being. Time to hand them the pink slip.
  6. Your counselor tells you that therapy is the only solution to your problems. There is no research to support this. Enough said.

Seeing a counselor is hard, but that doesn’t mean it should be torturous or wasteful. If you experience any of the above signs and symptoms of a faltering counseling relationship, then remember that counseling at its heart is a consumer service: you can always bring your business elsewhere. SS

Sarah Suzuki is the founder of Chicago Compass Counseling, LLC – a group counseling practice dedicated to helping people break the the cycle of self-destructive behavior. Find out more at