I can honestly say that I became a therapist because I wanted to make a real contribution to the world. I wanted to make a difference in other people’s lives. I wanted to add meaning and a sense of purpose to my own life. I wanted to be of service in a way that other people can’t be. I wanted to continuously grow and change and also help other people continuously grow and change. I wanted to be the best damn therapist I could. I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think most people went into the therapy profession with the same idea. Let’s face it, there are a lot of other jobs out there that require a lot less schooling and make a lot more money. But we chose this one because we wanted to make a difference. So then my question becomes, why are there so many bad therapists out there?
It would seem that not a single day goes by that I don’t hear about the bad behavior of other therapists. I hear stories about therapists waiting weeks to return a phone call or simply not returning calls at all, therapist no-showing appointments, therapists multi-tasking during sessions, therapists falling asleep in the middle of a session, and therapists simply being mean to their clients. This doesn’t sound like the behavior of someone who wanted to make a contribution to the world or someone who decided that they would be the best therapist they could be. Actually, it sounds like someone who simply doesn’t care. What’s worse, is that it makes us all look bad. When someone has a bad experience with a therapist, because they have such little contact with therapists in general, they assume that we are all like that. Ideally, these therapists would either shape up or exit the profession.
The question I get from other therapists is how common these bad therapists are. Well, we know that about 10% of therapist sleep with their clients. And if they’re willing to cross that boundary they are probably willing to do other things as well. This isn’t to say that a therapist who no-shows appointments also sleeps with his or her clients, but we do know that at least 10% of therapists are engaging in bad behavior. My guess is that about 20% of therapists are no-showing clients, not returning phone calls, and doing other bad and unprofessional things. So that means that 80% of therapists are doing the right thing. Coincidently, this is only slightly higher than our overall success rate, which I believe is 72% This makes sense because if more than 20% of therapists were bad, you would not expect to have such a high success rate. Still, I think we can do better.
Your next question might be “What if I’m one of those therapists that are failing?” Before you hang up your towel, there are things that you can do about it. For one, if you’re unable to return phone calls or keep appointments, you’re probably over committed. You’re seeing too many clients. The number of clients you can see while maintaining professional competency varies therapist to therapist. The number of clients I see weekly is in the 30’s. For me, that’s my limit. However, I know therapists that see 50 clients a week and do fine. I also know therapists that struggle at 20 weekly clients. Find out what your number is and don’t exceed it. Also, try to streamline as much of your administrative work as possible. Figuring out a system for doing non-client tasks helped me a lot in getting more efficient. Lastly, simply make the client your priority. If something has to drop, make sure it’s something other than a client. Simply putting the client first should be enough to get you back on track. Try putting yourself in their shoes. Feel compassion. Remember why you decided to do this work in the first place.