It’s a little twisted that breaking up with your therapist is one of those things it would be really nice to process with…a therapist. Most of us don’t like to hurt other people’s feelings, and having to break up with a therapist might make you worry you’re doing just that. Think of it this way: Breaking up with your therapist releases both of you from a situation that may no longer be productive, Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Freeing Yourself From Anxiety.
“As much as therapists are absolutely human beings and can have their feelings hurt, [you can] shift the frame of what this is about,” Chansky says. “It’s not about hurting that person, it’s about what you need.”
Below, you’ll find some indicators that you should consider breaking up with your therapist, plus some tips to make it as painless as possible for everyone involved.
Here are a few signs that it might be time to break up with your therapist.
1. Your sessions aren’t making you feel better overall.
Ideally, you would always walk away from therapy feeling like your therapist has lifted some of your burden, not added to it. In reality, it’s normal to sometimes leave therapy feeling upset due to the emotions the process can stir up. That’s different from feeling distressed every time (or nearly every time) you leave because your therapist isn’t listening to you, isn’t sensitive enough to your needs, or isn’t helping you practice tools to deal with this exact kind of emotional discomfort.
“If you’re routinely leaving a session feeling worse than when you arrived, that’s a red flag,” Chansky says.
2. You don’t feel as though you’re growing.
After entering therapy, you’ll hopefully see some kind of change in yourself over time, Marni Amsellem, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Smart Health Psychology. It’s not an instantaneous thing; it depends on the kinds of issues you’re trying to work through, the form of therapy in which you’re engaging, how dedicated you are, how proficient your therapist is, how often you see them, and more.
There’s no hard and fast rule for how long it takes for therapy to feel like it’s “working,” but Amsellem says that generally, “you should see some growth or change from therapy rather quickly.” It might even be the encouragement of knowing you’re working on yourself with a professional you click with emotionally. If you don’t feel like your therapist is motivated or capable enough to help you progress, it might be time to move on.
Rachel B., 28, had been seeing her therapist for a year and was craving actionable advice that she wasn’t receiving. It was one of the reasons she eventually dumped her therapist. “She would let me talk through things on my own without reacting much,” Rachel says. “In comparison to other therapists [I’ve had], it didn’t really feel like the best approach for me.”
3. You don’t trust your therapist.
One of the main points of therapy is to open up. If you find yourself holding back from telling your therapist about your thoughts or behaviors, it can impede your mental and emotional growth and create an ill-fitting dynamic, Chansky says.
Keep in mind that part of your therapist’s job is to hold you accountable, which might be uncomfortable at times. It can feel really bizarre to essentially pay someone to call you out on your shit when necessary. You may be a little reluctant to get totally honest about aspects of your life that feel hard or shameful. That’s why it’s on your therapist to create a safe, nonjudgmental space where you feel you can bring up these topics anyway. If you can’t, how are you going to work through them?
4. It’s almost impossible to see your therapist regularly.
Therapy problems can be logistical, too. “Maybe you’re having trouble scheduling with this person—they’ve switched to no evening hours, but that’s all you have available, or they change office locations to somewhere far away from you and they don’t offer remote options,” Amsellem says. “If you’re unable to keep appointments, it might be time to look elsewhere.”
5. Your therapist isn’t sensitive to your differences in identity.
You might be seeing a therapist whose identity differs from yours in nearly every possible way without it being much of an issue. But if you’re in therapy to discuss aspects of your identity that your therapist doesn’t share, such as your race, gender, or religion, your therapist needs to bring an extra level of awareness and sensitivity to your sessions.
“If … you feel like they’re not really valuing the knowledge that you have about your culture and your background, bring it up,” says Chansky. “It’s OK to decide that isn’t going to be helpful to you.”
Luis M., 29, has been in this situation. “I’m Puerto Rican, I talk with my hands,”. Luis also happens to have ADHD and says that a former therapist routinely interpreted his hand gestures as “fidgeting” rather than an expression of his culture. “She did not understand that at all,” he says. “I was so frustrated with constantly having to be like, ‘Hey, this is the way I talk. It’s cultural. Let’s move on.’”
6. Your therapist isn’t receptive to constructive criticism.
You should feel comfortable bringing up constructive criticism with your therapist, like that it makes you feel unimportant or rushed when they consistently start appointments late.
“In good therapy, it’s ideal that … [your therapist] doesn’t get mad at you and thanks you for speaking up for yourself,” Chansky says. If they get defensive or completely ignore your criticism or requests, that’s absolutely a valid reason to seek therapy elsewhere.
7. You feel as if you no longer need therapy.
“We’re not always ending therapy because it stopped working,” Amsellem says. “Maybe we’re ending it because it has worked.”
If you feel as if you’ve learned all that you can from your therapist, it might be time to discuss leaving therapy altogether.
Ready to break up with a therapist? Talk to them first.
Instead of just ghosting, try bringing up the issues you’re having to see if you can solve them without moving on to someone else.
Amsellem suggests starting with something like, “There’s something I wanted to talk about. My goals from therapy are [insert said goals here]. I’m concerned we’re not meeting them together. Is there any way we can get closer to helping me achieve these goals?”
As part of that conversation, it may help to set hyper-specific benchmarks of progress that you’d like to see in a certain amount of time to help you decide whether or not you should quit seeing your therapist for good. You may want to do this with your therapist or privately, depending on the situation.
If your therapist doesn’t seem receptive to your points or you find that nothing changes even after bringing it up, it’s OK to try to find another therapist. Depending on the urgency of the issues you’re working on, you might want to lock in another therapist before quitting your current one, Chansky says.
“Sometimes it can be comforting to check out another therapist before moving on to make sure you’re covered,” she says. “It really depends on how acute the issues are that you’re dealing with. If it’s an acute situation, like serious depression, it’s going to be really important.” (You shouldn’t abruptly stop seeing a psychiatrist who manages any mental health medications you take or decide to stop taking medication on your own. Both of those situations can compromise your safety and require input from an expert first.)
Even if you’ve decided you’ve made enough progress to quit therapy or that you need a therapist who is logistically easier to visit, you should talk to your therapist to see what they think or if they have any advice. They may be able to refer you to someone who might be a better fit logistically or process-wise.
Break up with your therapist in person if you’ve been seeing them regularly for over a month.
Honestly, this part is a lot like ending a relationship with someone you’re dating. The length of time you’ve been together determines a lot about how you should break up with them.
Amsellem says it’s best to do the breaking up in person during a session if you’ve been seeing your therapist for longer than a few weeks. Not only does it help give you both closure, but it’s a good challenge if you have trouble ending things or feeling like you’re upsetting someone. “A lot of people are very conflict-avoidant, and this is a good skill to practice,” Amsellem says.
Ideally, you would have already told your therapist why you weren’t satisfied with your sessions, so the breakup shouldn’t come as a surprise. Here are a few suggestions for what to say, courtesy of the experts:
- “I want to end our work together because I have different goals right now.”
- “I really appreciate the work we’ve done together. I’m realizing I need something different now, but I appreciate your willingness to help me.”
- “I think I’ve made a lot of progress in our time together, and I feel that it’s time for me to move on.”
- “A few weeks ago, I mentioned [insert concerns here]. I don’t see enough of a change for it to make sense that we continue our sessions.”
Depending on the state of your mental health and the progress you have or haven’t made, your therapist may be fine with this or they may want to talk it through a bit, better understand your position, and offer their professional feedback on your choice.
If you’ve only been seeing your therapist for a few weeks, Amsellem says you probably don’t need to meet in person to officially end your sessions. Doing so with the above suggestions via email or a phone call is typically fine. However, it can be especially helpful in this case to mention your concerns to your therapist instead of simply deciding not to see them. At only a few weeks in, you’re still getting to know each other. Your therapist may be able to more easily course correct or explain why you’re not yet seeing huge changes, for instance.
Even if you’re absolutely certain ghosting is the right choice for your situation, you should at least call the front desk and cancel any upcoming appointments so you don’t get charged a no-show fee.
At the end of the day, remember that therapy is for you.
If you feel like you’re not getting what you need out of therapy, that’s often reason enough to decide to try seeing someone else. Therapists are meant to have your best interests in mind. Even if a certain therapist isn’t a match for you, if they’re good at their job, they shouldn’t take the
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