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Andrea Anderson Polk’s Blog

Clinically Practiced, Biblically Informed

  • Writer's pictureAndrea Anderson Polk

13 Warning Signs of Toxic Therapy

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

Sad looking woman sitting on couch. 13 warning signs of toxic therapy

As a licensed therapist, with over fifteen years of clinical experience counseling people, it saddens my heart to state the reality that professional therapists provide harmful counsel. By that I mean, rather than helping people, they are hurting people.

Below is a list of thirteen warning signs of toxic therapy that will help you identify when your therapist is displaying unprofessional, harmful behavior in your counseling sessions:

#1: They accuse you of things that are not true, such as “I think you’ve been sexually abused” when this is not based in reality, and your behavior does not warrant such an accusation.

#2: They excuse your partner’s harmful behavior and do not hold them accountable.

#3: They provide you with a personal opinion instead of professional counsel. “I would not want to be married to you.” “You spend way too much time with your children.” “Most couples have sex more often than you do.”

#4: They brag on themselves and invalidate you as a result. “I’ve done this a long time.” “I’m really good at this.” “I know what I am doing.” “I am the expert.” A healthy therapist will never announce how good they are; they will just counsel you.

#5: They always agree with your partner and take their side. Therapy is not about agreement and taking sides; it is about relationship and collaboration.

#6: They isolate and control you by telling you not to engage with or talk to anyone else but them because they see it as a threat.

#7: They tell you that you need medication and label you with a false diagnosis. If this happens and you feel misdiagnosed, seek a second opinion from a psychiatrist.

#8: You do not feel like a priority. You feel you are wasting their time. They are not truly listening to you. They constantly reschedule your appointments. They seem disinterested.

#9: They talk too much about themselves and their problems. They are too vulnerable and develop an inappropriate emotional intimacy with you as a result.

#10: They take what you say personally and tell you how they feel as a result. “This hurts me that you would say or feel .”

#11: They defend your partner and find fault with you and place the blame solely on you.

#12: They give you bizarre homework assignments that leave you feeling uncomfortable and are not helpful in any way.

#13: They are critical of your thoughts and emotions rather than providing a safe, inviting, and compassionate environment. A healthy therapist will address any pertinent issues in a manner that you do not feel attacked or wrong for feeling a certain way.

Never hesitate to tell your therapist exactly how you feel about them and how you feel the progress of your sessions is going. Also note that your therapist does not know you better than you know yourself. Trust your intuition, use your voice effectively, and honor your needs and feelings. The therapist models for the client what a healthy relationship looks like outside of the counseling room.

You do not want your counselor, of all people, to jeopardize your healing process or create more suffering in your life in addition to an already painful relationship or challenging circumstance.

I have counseled so many clients with a long history of professional counselors, psychologists, licensed therapists, and psychiatrists who have hurt them, and they are afraid of experiencing the same with me. The initial part of our time together is centered on bringing healing from their previous counseling experiences and building trust.

Experiencing toxic therapy creates an unsafe environment because you are submitting yourself to their clinical authority in the most vulnerable, emotionally intimate way and trusting their expertise. And if your therapist abuses their authority, you are no longer safe under their counsel. It is important for you to do your research and find another therapist.

If you or someone you know has experienced harmful counsel, I encourage you to not give up. There are wonderful, safe counselors out there who will be able to help you overcome your current harmful experience in counseling.

The last thing you want is to feel unsafe, afraid, hurt, confused, or ashamed in therapy.

Next week's post, will help you identify what makes a therapist a good therapist and how to define a healthy counseling relationship.

**The content for this blog post has been taken from chapter 9 (Cuckoo Counsel, Who Hurts You and Who Can Help You) of Andrea’s book, The Cuckoo Syndrome: The Secret to Breaking Free from Unhealthy Relationships, Toxic Thinking, and Self-Sabotaging Behavior

The photo accompanying this article was sourced from iStock and is in the public domain.


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Andrea Anderson Polk is a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified, registered clinical supervisor, and certified professional coach. She has a private practice in Northern Virginia with nearly 20 years of clinical experience helping hundreds of clients on their healing journey.

She is driven by a deep calling to help ambitious women of faith experience healing and breakthrough so they can live each day with peace and purpose. 

Andrea believes healing happens through relationship. The wounds that occur in a relationship must be healed in a relationship. Andrea invites you into a life-altering relationship.

Work with Andrea one-one- by contacting her here.


Andrea has spent her career studying the human experience and has developed a fascinating analogy that compares cuckoo birds, nature’s master manipulator and imposter, to situations and relationships that leave us feeling drained, confused, lost, and empty. Her new book, The Cuckoo Syndrome, helps us fend off the cuckoos, the unhealthy relationships, toxic thinking, and self-sabotaging behaviors in our life that never truly satisfy the deep longings of our souls and the desires of our hearts. 

Andrea’s clinically proven, innovative method helps us recover the lost pieces of ourselves, discover meaning in suffering, and transform our pain into purpose by teaching us to uncover the truth of who we are and who God is so we can be healed and live free. 

Purchase the book Andrea’s clients call “a life-changing breakthrough” for yourself and the people you care about today.

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If you….

Feel internal pressure to do all things well. 

Tend to neglect your needs to please others and search for validation.

Continually attract toxic or one-sided relationships leaving you drained. 

Want to build a life that is unashamedly true to who you are and what you want.


Then…this is the time to reclaim your JOY, ENERGY, AND TIME so you can live each day with peace and purpose!


Curious to know how?

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