Know the difference between bad and good therapy

To be truly effective, any psychological intervention needs to be based on a solid understanding of the real causes of emotional distress and to take into account the biological, psychological and social needs of each individual. Here you will find the distinction between good therapy and bad therapy (based on the Human Givens Institute approach.

Good Therapy vs Bad Therapy


It is a good idea to use the following checklist to protect yourself, or someone you know, from ineffective or even harmful types of counselling and psychotherapy.

An effective therapist will show the following characteristics:

  • They make you feel accepted, respected and understood, no matter how much distressed you are. You feel they are listening and focused on you (not on themselves).
  • They do not use jargon and ‘psychobabble’ and will explain to you how things can be better in a simple and clear way.
  • They understand depression and know how to lift it.
  • They are able to help you quickly and effectively with anxiety problems, including trauma or phobias.
  • They will use a range of different techniques adapted to your individual needs and preferences – we are all different and what would be good for one person may not work for another
  • They are prepared to give advice if needed and asked for, without being intrusive or judgemental
  • They don’t encourage you to dwell on past bad experiences. The past is important but ruminating over and over again about the same thing is not going to help you resolve your present problems.
  • They are supportive but will not tell you that you need to get too emotional in order to resolve your problems.
  • There are healthy boundaries in place, a treatment plan and goals to be accomplished.
  • They may assist you to develop your social skills so that your Emotional Needs can be better fulfilled
  • They will help you to use your own resources (which may be greater than you thought)
  • They may teach you to relax deeply
  • They may help you reframe your problems in new and more empowering ways
  • They may give you “homework” to accelerate the healing process and empower you in the future
  • They will not prolong the treatment more than the strictly necessary number of sessions
  • They will promote your independence and autonomy and will give you tools to deal with problems in the future.
  • They will encourage and accept your feedback on the treatment process.
  • They will make sure you feel better after every consultation.

Red flags

You feel as if you have to prove something

You feel the therapist is judging you or is in any way discriminatory

The therapist does not show their credentials

The conversation is more focused on the therapist than on you and your problems

The therapist has no boundaries and acts more like a friend than a professional

You do not get any results in a reasonable amount of time

You feel worse after the consultation

Your feedback or opinion is not taken into account.


How to tell the difference between effective, good therapy and pseudo-therapy

Good therapy

  • Good therapy appeals to a knowledge of what really works in helping people
  • Good therapy is grounded in research-based practical human psychology and biology
  • Good therapy focuses on expanding client’s abilities to deal with the ‘real world’
  • Good therapy is Skill-based
  • Primary focus on connecting to the future
  • Focuses on client’s own resources
  • Good therapy avoids creating a dependent relationship
  • Minimalist involvement in client’s life, both in terms of number of sessions and overall ‘length of time’
  • Attention needs to be met outside the field of therapy


  • Appeals to trade associations or academic criteria for legitimacy
  • Grounded in theory and ideology
  • Focuses on theoretical, ideological secondary constructs of dubious worth, e.g. Oedipus complex, analysis of transference relationships, archetypes, self-actualisation, etc.
  • Explores and amplifies the problematic feeling
  • The primary focus is on an analysis of the past
  • Focus on client pathology
  • Creates a dependency relationship – may call it ‘transference’
  • Maximum involvement in the client’s life with the self-serving notion that the longer the client is involved with therapy the greater the beneficial changes in the client
  • Motivated by getting a maximum income from each client
  • To reinforce a sense of self-importance, attention needs are met by working as a counsellor/therapist


Avoid damaging assumptions such as:

It is necessary to know the cause of a problem to resolve it
It is useful to know when a symptom of emotional disturbance started, how it started, or what caused it. However, it is not essential and it is often possible to resolve the problem without inquiring about this. You don’t need to know the stimulus that causes the problem so long as you can change the response


■ Interpretive therapy invariably helps clients
In fact, the opposite is true. Research shows that psychodynamic, so-called ‘insight’ approaches, are rarely useful for promoting change. (Real insight is necessary of course, but you may end up thinking you understand what is driving your behaviour, but that understanding doesn’t help you to change it. Knowing the poison does not mean you have the antidote for it. Indeed, psychodynamic therapy (focused on digging into the past) is contraindicated for treating depression and anxiety disorders.1


Human character/personality is unchangeable

This, too, is not so.

Because each brain is forever in a state of flux, re-sculpting itself, modifying memories of experiences in order to equate them with new learnings from all our interactions with the environment.2

All of us have a set of particular ‘personalities’ that we use for each specific task, withdrawing it when the task is done, and then selecting another for another task. We do not behave or talk the same with a child as we do when paying the milkman or talking to our boss. Furthermore, we constantly change our character according to life’s experiences.


Do not assume that symptoms serve functions

It is possible that a symptom served a purpose when it started. However, with time, all problem behaviours tend to become habits, habitual patterns something you got familiarized with and thus tend to repeat it


Do not expect the therapist is going to resolve your problems for you

Both therapist and client have roles when searching for solutions in therapy. Good therapy creates a climate for change by creating an atmosphere of expectancy for success and by incorporating your objections and style into the treatment. Creates circumstances under which you can respond spontaneously and change. It is the patient who does the therapy. The counsellor only creates the conditions. That’s all. 3

Do you have questions? Feel free to contact me anytime.

When you email me, only me will read it. It comes directly to me and I will personally reply to you. You can be assured of the confidentiality and safety of the process. I will try and answer as soon as possible.

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  1. Danton, W. Antonuccio, D. and DeNelsky, G. (1995). Depression: Psychotherapy is the best medicine. Professional Psychology Research and Practice, 26, 574; & Danton, W.; Antonuccio, D. and Rosenthal, Z. (1997). No need to panic. The Therapist, vol 4, no 4.
  2. Robertson, I. (2000) Mind Sculpture. Bantam Press.
  3. Erickson, in Ritterman, 1985

Maria da Silva (PhD, DHP Acc Hyp) is a Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist and an expert in helping people understand and overcome their past conditioning and engage in meaningful and peaceful relationships through Nonviolent Communication.