How to Gently Break Up With Your Therapist If You’re Not Vibing
First things first: Don't ghost.
Finding a therapist can feel overwhelming (lucky for you, we put together this nifty guide to help streamline the process). So, when you finally land one, you’re like YES! … only to discover the two of you just don’t vibe. Or, maybe you’ve been seeing the same mental-health professional for a while, but you feel you’re not growing in ways that are beneficial to your situation or lifestyle.
In all kinds of relationships, cutting ties is inevitable — and sometimes, that goodbye is to your therapist, whether or not you’re seeking someone new. It’s nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about, either. Remember: Therapy is not one-size-fits-all. Most providers specialize in specific areas and/or use certain approaches to address your concerns, and perhaps you need something different than what you originally thought. Or, maybe you just don’t mesh! That’s okay, too.
Breaking up with your therapist doesn’t have to be complicated, but you should do so considerately. To help, we turned to Therapy Center for Women founder Amanda White — her practice has offices in Old City, Center City and Bala Cynwyd, and offers virtual sessions — for tips on how to gracefully end things with your therapist.
Be Well Philly: What are some reasons a person might think about getting — or should get — a new therapist?
White: Some common signs of needing a different therapist include: (1) You feel as though you cannot be honest with your therapist. (2) You have brought up concerns or feedback with your therapist and they have not been open to collaborating with you. (3) You feel you haven’t been getting anywhere in your sessions and think you need a new approach. (4) Your therapist has done something unethical — for example, they’ve asked you for a personal favor or broken your confidentiality.
Ed. Note: White recently posted some other reasons on her public Instagram. I wanted to include them in this post for additional knowledge and support: (5) “You have uncovered new issues you didn’t realize you needed help with and they aren’t in your therapist’s wheelhouse. For example, your therapist specializes in trauma and now you are realizing you are struggling with OCD.” (6) “You feel like your therapist has their own agenda and keeps pushing it on you. For example, your therapist continues to bring up they have concerns about your job, or the time you spend on hobbies but you do not feel it’s an issue.” (7) “Your therapist talks more than you do in session … Great therapy is a balance and a collaboration. It’s important though that you talk more than your therapist does and that the session is focused on you.”
How many sessions should a person “try” with their therapist if they didn’t feel like they vibed during the first one? What sorts of things should a client ask themselves before making a hasty decision?
Unless there is something extremely obvious that makes you know they are a bad fit (for example, they say something obnoxious), I would recommend trying at least two or three sessions to determine if they are a good fit. But in general, I would say you can trust yourself to be quicker to rule out a therapist you first met, compared to one you have been seeing a while.
Some good questions to ask yourself are: “Can I be honest with the therapist?”; “Do I feel as though I am avoiding deep work that has been coming up in our sessions?”; and “Have I made a good faith effort to bring up my concerns and it hasn’t worked?”
How should a person go about breaking up with their therapist? During a session? Over text/email? Does the delivery method depend on how long you’ve been seeing them? Definitely not ghosting, though, right?!
I recommend avoiding ghosting, if possible! This is not just because your therapist will wonder and worry about what happened, but if you decide you want to go back to see your therapist, you want a referral from them, or need your medical records, it is going to be more difficult for you to do so if you ghosted.
If you have only seen them for a few sessions, you can send them an email or call them just letting them know. If you have been seeing them for an extended period, I recommend letting them know in person if you can. This will allow you to have a termination session with your therapist to process the work you did with them, explore why you want to end therapy, and give your therapist a chance to provide you with referrals. It will help create closure for you. If you are also unsure if you are making a hasty decision or discontinuing therapy out of avoidance, it will give you space to process this as well.
So, it’s acceptable to ask for a referral to or recommendation for a new therapist?
Absolutely! Therapists are ethically required to provide referrals if treatment is discontinued.
What are some sample phrases that might make this endeavor a bit easier?
Start with acknowledging or thanking the therapist for the work you both have done together and then clearly state you will not be continuing therapy: “I appreciate all the work we did together, and I have decided I need to discontinue therapy at this time.” Or try, “I have decided I need to find a different therapist. Do you have any recommendations?”
If you are not completely sure this is the right decision, you could instead phrase it more as a question or not be so firm in your stance. You could say something like, “I have been thinking that we may not be the right fit,” or, “I think I need to seek out a therapist who is more firm or specializes in X,” and have a conversation with them about this.