Signs that a therapist may have poor boundaries

In my most recent blog, I talked about the dangers of therapists who may not have properly addressed their own psychological wounds, and may even be in denial about that. Perhaps they did a counselling or psychotherapy training, where they were told it wasn’t necessary to undergo their own personal therapy,  or just felt that they were not in need of it.

Man in a therapy session

For clients, what are maybe some of the potential signs to look out for to indicate that a therapist may have poor boundaries, or is not adhering to the ethical framework of whichever accrediting body they hopefully belong to  ?

He or she :

  • Regularly misses, cancels or is late for therapy appointments
  • Fails to stick to time boundary of the session
  • Discusses other clients with you
  • Over discloses about his/her life by spending a lot of the session talking about him/herself
  • Pushes you to disclose or discuss anything before you are ready
  • Tells you what to do rather than exploring your feelings, and needs and wants from therapy
  • Expresses anger towards you
  • Is defensive if challenged by you

If you have had a troubling experience with a therapist, then maybe the first step is to try to broach it with him or her, and see if you can resolve it informally and quickly. However if that doesn’t work, or you don’t feel it is appropriate, then you can raise a complaint formally with the counselling or psychotherapy accreditation board they belong to. For example the BACP, which I belong to, has a Professional Conduct Procedure, but I have to say that it’s a lengthy procedure lasting between six and nine months. Of course this assumes that the therapist does belong to an accrediting body such as, for example,  The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or The UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and not all do,  so worth checking this out first when you are looking for a counsellor or psychotherapist.

If this sounds pretty bleak then it’s not meant to, as of course there are many brilliant safe and healthy therapists out there. I am really grateful to have had a couple along the way who really helped me to transform my life, and I am lucky to now know and work alongside some, whose opinions and experience I have huge respect for.  I am sure the majority would be as horrified as I was, when hearing about the experiences of the people I spoke to, and most therapists I know are committed to their own personal development – not because of any course or professional requirement,  but because they are also on a journey of self discovery like their clients.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about this post or anything else, or would like to book a consultation.


  • Denis Donovan says:

    I had been in a 12 step fellowship for many many years.  I had done a lot of self help, spiritual retreats etc. I considered myself fairly well balanced and mentally well. So how did I find myself standing on top of a bridge over the M23 begging God for the courage to jump.  I had just come out of a relationship that had really hurt.  It was the only relationship where I had ever got onto my knees in front of God and willing pledged my future to another. I was 52. Two sons.  Two long term relationships 14 and 10 years, and a whole wealth of life experience.  So how did I end up here?
    Simple really.  I had attempted to fix myself.  I thought I knew enough about therapy (I’d lived with a doctor of psychotherapy) and recovery that I didn’t need any professional. 
    When I found the courage to come down from that bridge I swore that I would devote my life to helping others who were in my position and in order to do that I needed help. 
    I went into counseling.  A combination of pride and ignorance ensured that counseling failed for me.  I found the councillor empathetic and caring but there was something missing.  I felt that I knew every bit as much as they and that it was more a listening ear than anything else. 
    I left and got sicker. 
    A very dear friend of mine managed to get hold of me at the right time and sit me down and read the riot act to me. It was just what was needed.  But, and it’s a big but, she was  qualified in that firstly she knew me like few others did and secondly she was a fully qualified psychotherapist.  She advised me to get into therapy and quickly. 
    I sought out a therapist  and went into open-minded and without  expectation. 
    I was diagnosed with Narcissistic Victim Syndrome  as the result of emotional abuse. I thought that was that then.  At least I know what I’m dealing with.  I didn’t have a clue.  It took two hard years to get to a place where I could begin to comprehend what had been done to me and my reaction to it.  I have no idea where in earth I might have ended up without professional help. 
    I’m a fully qualified meditation teacher and as in so many ‘self help’ ‘spiritual ‘ vocations we can end up thinking we know it all and don’t need help.  That in my experience is a massive mistake. Therapy has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and I would strongly recommend it to anybody struggling. 

    • I am so pleased Denis that you eventually found the right therapist, who was able to help you through such a painful and difficult time. I am glad that your initial experience didn’t put you off, and you persevered to seek out someone with the right experience to really support you and empower you.

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