Let’s face it, breakups are awkward. But breaking up with the person you talk to about your breakups? Extra cringe.
Ending your working relationship with your therapist can be a daunting task. You may be worried about offending your therapist or hurting their feelings. But Mollie Forrester, a licensed social worker and director of Patient and Family Experience at UW Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, wants to reassure you that you don’t have to worry.
“A therapist’s main goal is for you to meet your treatment goals, even if that means finding a different provider. If you feel it’s time to move on, a good therapist will be understanding,” says Forrester. “Focus on what is best for you and what you need.”
So, when should you consider breaking up with your therapist? And how should you do it?
Reasons why you may break up with your therapist
The goal of therapy is to help you improve your well-being. However, if you feel like you and your therapist aren’t relating or you aren’t progressing toward your treatment goals, then it may be time to move on.
There are also various reasons you may want to stop seeing your therapist, all of which are valid. Sometimes, even a gut feeling may be a good enough indicator that it’s time to consider a new provider, says Forrester.
Here are some reasons you may want to consider when ending your relationship with your therapist.
You feel like you’re not making progress
Therapy focuses on improving how you think, feel and behave. Forrester emphasizes that your relationship with your therapist should be supportive and growth-oriented.
If you’ve been attending several sessions but don’t feel like you’re progressing toward your goals, try talking directly with your therapist about this. If that doesn’t help, it may be time to consider finding a new therapist.
They don’t have the lived experience or training you need
Therapy is not one-size-fits-all. Every therapist has different experience and training and not all of them will be equipped to meet your unique needs.
For example, if you seek counseling because you recently lost someone, a therapist specializing in grief may be helpful.
Or, if you are Black or a person of color, you might prefer someone who understands racism and microaggressions.
“In situations like these, you should feel empowered to switch therapists if you aren’t receiving the type of help you need or want,” says Forrester.
You can’t be vulnerable with your therapist
Your therapist should be someone you can be open with. During your sessions, you should feel comfortable sharing parts of yourself that you may never have shared before.
Establishing that level of trust might take some time; however, if you feel that you can’t be vulnerable with your therapist, either because of a lack of trust or fear of criticism, it could be a sign that you may want to try someone new.
They don’t respect your boundaries
“Your relationship with your therapist is a professional one, not a personal one,” says Forrester. “It is incumbent upon the therapist to establish and maintain boundaries as part of the therapeutic relationship.”
Be cautious if your therapist is using your sessions to talk about themselves or is pushing you to do something you don’t feel comfortable with or ready to do.
How to end your relationship with your therapist
First and foremost, it’s ideal not to ghost your therapist. It may be tempting — and even easier — to simply not make another appointment and never see them again, especially if you’re uncomfortable with confrontation. But Forrester advises that you speak with your therapist about why you want to make a change.
“Speaking to your therapist about your concerns offers a space for reflection,” she says. “Together, you can talk about why it isn’t working for you and decide if there is a fix for it or not.”
Not sure how to start the breakup conversation? Here are some suggestions for what to say, courtesy of Forrester:
- “When we started, I wanted to work on XYZ. But I am not finding any relief. I don’t think that this is working.”
- “I realize I need something different now, but thank you so much for what you offered me. I really appreciate it.”
- “I don’t feel as if we are a good fit and I don’t think it makes sense that we continue our sessions.”
If you can’t have this conversation with your therapist in person, writing an email or sending a text is also OK. You could say something like, “Hi, I’m writing to let you know that I will not be coming to you for therapy because of XYZ. I appreciate my time with you and the work you do. Wishing you the best.”
And don’t be afraid to ask for a referral. One of the perks of not ghosting your therapist is that they can help you find somebody who is a better fit. Most therapists are happy to do so.
Above all, remember that therapy is for you!
Guest writer: Lori Mae Yvette Calibuso Acob, intern for the Garvey Institute for Brain Health Solutions.