When to Break Up With Your Therapist
You no longer feel excitement about the next time you’ll see them.
You don’t have the same great conversations you used to.
The relationship leaves you feeling unsatisfied and misunderstood, yearning for more.
You start to wonder: Is it time to break up? With your therapist, that is.
Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” is an evidence-based treatment and can be a wonderful, healing process for many individuals, whether you’re seeking treatment for a mental health condition like depression or anxiety or you’re going through a period of stress, grief, or relationship trouble. In fact, those who need mental health services and receive psychotherapy see far more benefits that those who don’t get therapy, according to the American Psychological Association. But at what point do you stop therapy?
Whether you’d like to “break up” with your therapist to find a better fit for you or you simply want to stop receiving therapy altogether, the following tips can help you make the transition confidently and with respect for your therapist.
Signs that your therapist is a poor fit
Is your therapist not the right one for you, or do you simply need to give it more time? If you’re having trouble answering that question, don’t fret: We asked the experts to let us in on the signs that you need to find a different therapist.
“Sometimes people assume that therapy or a therapist isn’t good if they don’t leave each session ‘feeling better,’” says Erin K. Engle, Psy.D., clinical director in the department of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. “This is not necessarily true, as improvement in therapy is often not linear, in the sense that the general trend is toward gradual progress with occasional ebb and flow week to week.”
That said, Dr. Engle tells HealthCentral, if you regularly leave your therapy sessions “feeling worse, whether due to feeling judged, shamed, or emotionally unsafe, it may be time to consider finding another therapist.”
Other signs that your therapist isn’t a good fit, according to Dr. Engle, include the following:
- They don’t seem engaged, or you feel like they’re not listening.
- They overshare or give you advice that goes against your values and beliefs.
- They act unprofessionally or unethically (for example, they make sexual advances or violate confidentiality).
- They are dismissive of your concerns.
Most importantly, you should trust your instincts if something doesn’t feel right, Dr. Engle says.
Still feeling unsure? Tamara Goldman Sher, Ph.D., a clinical professor at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, says your therapist may be a poor fit if you’re having any of these thoughts:
- “I don’t think my therapist understands me.”
- “It doesn’t feel like we are making much progress.”
- “I don’t feel challenged by my therapist to think about hard topics.”
- “I don’t think my therapist respects or likes me.”
When in doubt, it’s important to speak up if you aren’t happy with how your therapy is going. A good therapist will not react defensively to these types of conversations, Dr. Sher tells HealthCentral.
“Your therapist should be trained to respond to your questions about fit or technique or goals,” she says. “[They] should be able to answer and ask questions to understand better your concerns.”
If not, it’s likely time to move on.
Signs that your therapist is a good fit
But what exactly makes a therapist a good match for you? Whether they are a licensed, well-trained professional who maintains objectivity and confidentiality is key. But much of the time, whether your therapist is a good fit comes down to a simple question: Do you like them?
“As a therapeutic relationship is different from a friendship, it’s important to feel that your therapist is likeable, while in the context of being professional, objective in their role, transparent about their abilities and the process of treatment, and respectful of ethical boundaries,” Dr. Engle says.
Along with simply liking your therapist, you also need to trust them.
“You should trust their judgment, their ethics, and their competency,” Dr. Sher says. “You should feel understood. You should feel like a partner in your care.”
In fact, Dr. Sher says, research shows that one of the most important factors in successful psychotherapy outcomes is the alliance between you and the therapist. This means your bond with your therapist and your mutual agreement about the goals and tasks of your therapy are key to its success, according to a 2015 article in World Psychiatry.
But that doesn’t mean your therapist will always agree with you. On the contrary, a therapist who is a good fit will respect your viewpoints while also encouraging you to challenge yourself.
“A good therapist is attuned to a patient’s inner world and subjective experience, and yet often provides the patient with new opportunities for self-learning, whether new insights, perspectives, or skills that facilitate growth and positive change,” says Dr. Engle.
The bottom line
When you first start going to therapy, you may wonder if it’s going the way it’s “supposed to.” The above signs can help you figure out if your therapist is a good fit for you. If the answer is no, don’t worry — with a little persistence, you can find a new therapist who is a great match and will give you the help you need.
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