Good Therapy, Bad Therapy, and Everything in Between

woman talking to her therapistWe named our organization for a handful of reasons. First among them, good therapy is what most therapists are striving to provide. Regardless of orientation, nearly all therapists can be included in the group of dedicated and caring folks who strive to “do no harm” in the healing process. Secondly, we want to express, in the title of our organization, the importance we place on quality in the psychotherapy process. Thirdly, “good therapy” is catchy. The expression, “I (or he or she) could use some good therapy” has been around a long time. And finally, sounds better than, no?

But the phrase “good therapy” encourages a misconception: the idea that there is such a thing as pure good therapy, a process exempt from any problems or issues. In the same way that a perfect marriage is not one without problems, but rather one that works through problems, so is good therapy. No therapist is perfect, and no therapy can be provided perfectly, no matter how ideal a therapy may be in theory. Even those of us who do the best we can to be conscious of our inner world and attuned to the therapeutic process have aspects we are unaware of, pieces of ourselves unhealed, and mistakes we make.

It is for this reason that we, as therapists, can’t blindly work with anyone who walks into our office, although many of us would like to believe otherwise. The responsibility we carry as healers requires us to seek not just consultation, but our own therapy, especially when working with someone who is provoking something significant within us. The danger lies in situations in which we are unaware that we are unaware, or unaware that we are defending against something inside ourselves. And because each of us harbors pockets of unawareness which impact our capacity to remain calm, curious, compassionate, and connected, aspects of “healthy” therapy and “not-so-healthy” therapy exist together in our work like the weave of fine cloth, inseparable. Again, like a marriage, good therapy is a process, not a state, and it is filled with the good stuff and, unfortunately, sometimes the not-so-good stuff.

So, in responding to the question of what is good therapy, our best answer is that good therapy is defined by the nature of the whole process and perhaps by the outcome, but unlikely will it be devoid of problems.

Good therapy is the sum of all the experiences, internal and external, that occur as a result of the imperfect psychotherapy process, and it leads toward self-awareness, growth, and the release of extreme feelings, energies, and beliefs. And what a blessing it is that even the best therapy can be lined with areas of unawareness, mistakes, even challenges to the therapeutic relationship, and yet still turn out good, like a marriage. And for me this highlights the idea that, like a yin-yang diagram, we even need a little bad therapy mixed in with all the good. As paradoxical as that sounds, I believe it’s true. I am thinking of the important problems I’ve worked out with my friends, the strong repairs made in therapy with the people I work with. A solid repair makes the connection and the trust deeper and better. So, cheers to road bumps in therapy, within all relationships, and within ourselves!

My hope is that the therapist members of will be among the group of healers in the world who make a conscious effort to heal themselves, to identify their hidden payoffs and blind spots, to avoid harm, to reach for deeper self-awareness, and will recognize that the growth process is a never ending journey for all of us … especially therapists.

© Copyright 2008 by Noah Rubinstein. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jeanette Counselor

    July 9th, 2008 at 1:44 PM

    This is fantastic! There are so many people who come for counseling sessions and want to be “fixed” without ever dealing with any of the tough issues. I think that it is a key role of ours as counselors and therapists to remind our clients that with the good comes the sometimes not so good, but this is a journey that we all have to be willing and able to pursue in order to become freer and more whole as human beings. The term good therapy encompasses this all. It may not feel good at the time but it may be positive and therapeutic for us, and will make us stronger for enduring it in the end.

  • Ryan

    July 10th, 2008 at 10:05 PM

    I really appreciate your focus on the imperfect, fallible, very human nature of therapy. We therapists aren’t without flaw, we’re only fellow travelers joining our clients as they discover important parts of themselves. And I agree; the most powerful healing can come from the repair of mistakes that are inevitable in any meaningful relationship. Thanks for your site.

  • Steve Hopkins Therapy

    July 14th, 2008 at 6:49 AM

    There are still people though who do not want to experience the therapy realm because they are afraid it will hurt them. They are faraid of what will come out and how this will affect a lifestyle that now feels comfortable to them.

  • Austin

    July 17th, 2008 at 1:28 PM

    That’s true. I am sometimes not sure I really want to know what is going on deep inside my head. It has taken me a while though to learn and really understand that without that knowledge I will never be the whole person that I was put on earth to be.

  • upstatesc

    July 21st, 2008 at 5:22 AM

    What a revelation! There is something to be said for therapy no matter what school of thought you originate from. For some people even the bad things they discover they will see as doing good because it will help them to determine their essential selves. I tend to agree. For me no matter what the ugly truth is I know that there is something good to be derived from it in the end so I just keep trudging on, looking for that hidden truth within.

  • Berkeley Therapist

    July 22nd, 2008 at 1:33 PM

    As a counselor I think that is one of the cleverest names I have seen thus far in my career. There are so many positive results and rewards that can come with therapy and not all of them feel good at the time. But I think that once most patients have been through the experience and and have had positive outcomes they will acknowledge that with the bad came the good and they will be happy with the results in the end.

  • Therapist

    July 25th, 2008 at 9:52 AM

    Agreed. There is something to be said for getting your patients to realize that therapy will not be a cakewalk but will rather be a fulfilling and often emotional journey well worth taking. I think that the term Good Therapy encompasses all of that and so much more. great job!

  • Maggie Counselor

    July 27th, 2008 at 4:44 AM

    I like it. There is much to be said for a name that immediately lets you know what you are going to get.

  • Dr. Arthur Becker-Weidman

    July 27th, 2008 at 11:30 AM

    Excellent article, Noah. While empirical evidence is important, so much of effective treatment is not clearly measurable in practical settings. Too often empirical support is taken to mean a manual of treatment that removes all therapist discretion. Often such approaches are only tested on a very narrow and defined population that does not match what we see in clinical practice. It is interesting that the one “variable” that consistently shows the most effect on treatment is the therapist-client relationship.

    Nice work.


  • Gaby F

    June 21st, 2009 at 8:24 PM

    I agree that therapist are human and make mistakes BUT one of your members that I saw for four years could not be accountable for her boundary crossings errors that destroyed us. And instead of being human and talking to me, she thought I was going to file with the Board and created a fraudulent police report and used that to get a TRO. It has been hell. I have never had a problem with the law or with therapists until now. And I am very scared.

    She is listed with you and I think it’s wrong.

  • Noah

    June 22nd, 2009 at 11:14 AM

    Dear Gabby,

    This is Noah Rubinstein, I’m the Director of (GT). I noticed your blog comment this morning and wanted to let you know how sorry I am to hear about this. It was these kinds of boundary crossings, in part, that led me to start As you may know, GT has high standards for who is allowed into the GT directory. Yet it is, unfortunately, impossible for GT to control the actions of our therapists. Our team cannot guarantee that every therapist listed in the GT directory works in a healthy, collaborative, and non-pathologizing way, but I do think comes closer to the ideal than any other directory. Sadly, there are therapists who make gross errors, who unconsciously seek to get there own needs met by their clients, and who are simply ignorant; and know not what they are doing. It sounds to me like this may be the case with the therapist you worked with.

    I think that the best course of action is for you to consult with another therapist about the situation and to get advice on what actions you should take. If I were advising someone on this, I would recommend, among other things, that she file a complaint with the state licensing board.

    The state licensing board has the resources and the know-how to investigate a therapist in these circumstances. As much as I would love to have investigate this, we don’t have the authority, resources, or the know-how to do so. However, we would take action and remove a therapist from our directory if he or she had been found responsible for unethical conduct by their licensing board. Please keep us informed as to changes ad updates. I hope we can support you and all of our therapists in a fair and objective way.

    Most of all, I hope that you can care for the parts of you that, I imagine, may be feeling, in addition to scared, powerless in the face of injustice. It is terribly painful when power is misused. My deepest empathies to you for having apparently been a victim here.

    Kindest Regards,

    Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC
    Executive Director

  • Antonio Stevens

    February 15th, 2010 at 10:14 PM

    I am studying to be a therapist, and I wanted to know, do it take a special person to get into this field. Is patience a big part of it.How to keep from getting too involved because i want to try to save the world. But i know that I can’t.I pick this assignment, what make a great therapist.

  • Steven Young

    July 1st, 2011 at 7:14 AM

    I read through many of the articles on your site, and a number of comments by other visitors, and it seems to be target to therapists. Is there a particular area of this site, or perhaps a similar/parallel site, that you can recommend for potential clients of therapists? Thank you.

  • uy

    October 3rd, 2012 at 2:35 AM

    I stumbled upon this website by happy accident today after many years of looking through the internet at various websites/blogs etc which deal with self help and relationship issues etc. I really appreciate all the time and compassion that you have put into making this accessible to those who really need help. I am not a professional therapist myself, but i do feel concerned over a lot of the harmful and misguided advice which has proliferated the internet and media, so much so that most people (clients and their social support systems) follow those flawed models which can be harmful and damaging. (What is your view on this?) I wish there was more awareness of what is healthy, ethical therapy practice and what is not. I wish I had found this site years ago!

  • margarets

    January 16th, 2013 at 4:01 PM

    Perhaps some of the therapists here could visit the blog “Therapy is a con”, read the bloggers’s story, and weigh in on the account. What do you think went wrong? What should have happened?

  • Tikvah

    August 28th, 2014 at 11:43 PM

    Bad therapy is about being the “Yes” person, reinforcing self-defeating behaviors to earn a buck. Good therapy respects differences in self and other, and highlights the wisdom of taking the risks to “mend at the broken places” and take “the road less travelled “. It is a mutual investment in teaching and learning about relationships, making choices and taking personal responsibility – with compassion, a willingness to admit mistakes, and the recognition that “therapist” has an enduring capacity to become “the rapist” when sensitivity to a client’s needs is no longer a priority of the therapeutic process.

  • It is Me

    December 30th, 2016 at 7:18 AM

    This is really very true and well said, thanks Tikvah.

  • Silkeysmooth

    April 9th, 2015 at 11:21 AM

    Wow so much red tape it’s so terrible some people just want to have privacy and not be judged some things should really be private like a therapy sesson is horrifying to think there no such thing as privacy or just a bunch of cheating scum bags out cheating on lunch breaks or how much is in between the lines come on let’s get a grip guys for man kind please red tape rules cheats and liars will be the down fall of all decent people who just want to be happy

  • It is Me

    December 30th, 2016 at 7:23 AM

    Yep. lots of cheating, And too many scumbags. The worst therpaist I met was reviewed by someone who took the time to review him. He was described as shallow. Also, “needs supervision in order to learn therapy
    skills. Wow. I should have written that myself, more than 3 yrs ago. He has face reviews to make him look lik someone great that he will never be.

  • It was it is but it wasn't good

    August 22nd, 2016 at 1:26 PM

    I wanted a few things. Not to be judged. To help me to empower myself. To le tme think about my self and not the therapists needs and honesty I was apparently asking for too much.

  • Gail C

    June 25th, 2020 at 9:55 PM

    Im grieving over a lifetime I’ve been robbed of. I finally accept the truth of so much abuse molested when barely 5 being raised by same person and at 72 can I make myself a satisfying and happy life! I can’t take the horrific ness of it all

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