Most therapists are good at what they do — what's important is finding the right fit for your needs. However, as our conspiracy therapists demonstrate, it's important to be an educated consumer. Remember: you are in control, and it’s completely normal to audition multiple mental health providers until you find the right match.
You may ask, How is it possible for a mental health professional to provide bad therapy? Surely, it should be simple to tell a good therapist from a bad one.
The answer is not quite that simple, unfortunately.
The importance of good mental health care doesn’t get enough exposure. The great majority of people that need help have a hard time getting started in this process, whether it’s because of the stigma that surrounds mental health care (e.g., “I am not crazy, I don’t need therapy”) or simply because they don’t know where to look for the help they need. After all, resources for finding a good therapist are not readily available, nor is the public really informed about finding a good therapist that’s going to meet their needs.
Due to the severe shortage of mental health professionals in the workforce, some may feel that they should take whatever therapist they can get. Although it may be the case that any therapist can be better than none at all, if you have more than one to choose from, don’t feel bad about being a little picky.
Finding a good therapist is not much different than finding a good dentist, physician, or optometrist - it is of utmost importance that you feel comfortable, that you understand the information being relayed to you about your health and any associated treatment, that the costs are provided to you upfront, and that there’s trust between you and your provider.
Additionally, you want to be well-informed so as to avoid becoming a victim of a conspiracy therapist or other purveyor of pseudoscience and quackery, especially if you are seeking therapy for trauma, anxiety, dissociation, or weight management. All forms of therapy, even “regular” talk therapy, carry some form of risk. Being informed and taking preliminary precautions is the only way to identify a potential issue and move on with your search.
We’ve put together the following two lists:
1) A quick reference guide with suggested steps for finding a good therapist that is compatible with your needs; and
2) Warning signs that may indicate the presence of a conspiracy therapist.
A quick reference guide:
- Think about your reasons for seeking therapy. Are you depressed, anxious, experiencing flashbacks, or just feel off? These are all valid reasons to seek therapy, but it’s helpful to identify your symptoms beforehand. What do you hope to get out of therapy? What do you want to focus on?
- Educate yourself on the types of therapy available to have an idea of what might fit your needs, what you’re not comfortable with, and what might help you accomplish your goals.
- Think about your preferences regarding the gender and/or sex of your therapist. Many women, for example, are uncomfortable sharing their traumatic experiences with male therapists - there is nothing wrong with that.
- Determine whether you prefer to work with someone who specializes with POC, the LGBTQ community, and/or other marginalized groups.
- Ask for recommendations from friends, family, or a primary care doctor you trust.
- Look for reviews from other mental health consumers, for example on Yelp and HealthGrades.
- Do they accept insurance, and will your plan cover it?
- Look up their license. Every state has a free online database with information about licensed professionals. If they don’t show up there, they may not be licensed. If they are listed there, see if they have been disciplined by their board for misbehavior. (Note: The absence of a disciplinary order does not indicate that the individual has never been punished by their licensing board; many states only keep disciplinary orders available online for a certain amount of time. These disciplinary orders, if they exist, can usually be obtained through a public records request. In some states, you can even request all the complaints filed against a licensed professional.)
- Review their website (if they have one) to gain insight into their therapy style and focus
- Request a preliminary phone interview so you can ask them any and all questions you may have. In some cases, you may meet with non-therapists who will try to get a feel for your needs and desires and will try to match you with a therapist they feel is compatible. You should feel empowered to make your feelings towards pseudoscience and quackery known during this interview.
- Your therapist should discuss potential risks and side effects of any suggested approach. If they don’t, be sure to ask - and check that answer against multiple other sources.
- Remember - it is OK and completely normal to start the process from scratch and give a different therapist a try. Things don’t always work out between therapists and clients, and an experienced therapist should know and accept this reality.
Alarms should go off if any of the following cautions applies to your therapist:
- Practices any form of recovered memory or age-regression therapy, searching for memories they claim are not simply forgotten but are trapped in the subconscious.
- Has received credible accusations, board complaints, or lawsuits alleging malpractice, even if not adjudicated.
- Dismisses or minimizes concerns about informed consent and potential therapeutic risks of treatment.
- Prescribes mood-altering medications at higher than recommended levels.
- Pushes patient toward an abuse narrative, especially one involving childhood sexual abuse, that doesn’t fit that person’s memories before entering therapy. In these cases, the therapist will often interpret all symptoms as evidence of that narrative, even if the patient disagrees. Physical symptoms may be interpreted as evidence of “body” or “somatic” memories of the abuse stored outside the brain in the affected body part.
- Interprets the patient’s vague feelings, flashbacks, dreams, guided images, and fleeting emotional reactions literally.
- Dismisses the patient’s doubt, skepticism, or need for external proof that the abuse occurred as evidence of “being in denial.”
- Encourages patients to believe that their friends, family, government agents, or members of secret societies are engaged in a conspiracy against them. Often times the patient is told to communicate only with people who support the new narrative, and to disconnect completely from existing support structures in favor of networks of “survivors.”
- Recommends patients read The Courage to Heal or Secret Survivors.
- Doesn’t listen to patients’ concerns and/or dismisses their needs and desires.
- Crosses boundaries, including oversharing, engaging in unwanted touching, etc.