On breaking up with your therapist

It’s no secret that I’m a huge proponent of therapy. I’ve met with a handful of counselors and therapists since I was a tween, and the advice and strategies they’ve given me have been extremely impactful on my ability to handle depression and anxiety over the years. As a plus, I’ve been able to take my learnings and hand them off to friends—one of them being that the relationship with your therapist is just as important as the advice they provide.

Therapy only works if it’s honest. Someone who doesn’t tell their therapist that they’ve cheated on their spouse will not be able to effectively work through their unhealthy relationship in therapy. A severely depressed person who doesn’t disclose their suicidal thoughts is not giving their therapist the chance to help them overcome said thoughts. At the same time, someone is far more likely to be honest with another person when they share common traits and values: manners of speaking, spiritual beliefs, general places on the political spectrum. It’s why most therapists now list their religious affiliations or experience with treating LGBTQ folks; if a queer individual knows their therapist is an ally, they’re probably more likely to share their struggle with coming to terms with their sexuality, for example.

Basically, if you want therapy to be effective for you, you have to find a therapist with whom you ~vibe~.

I’ve often told my friends that finding a therapist is like dating: the first few you meet might not work out due to differences in values or personality, but once you find the right one, you’ll know. Also like dating, there might come a time when you realize the relationship with your therapist just isn’t working, and you need to split up.

I’ve had to break up with therapists for a few different reasons, but the one that immediately comes to mind is something I’ve come to think of as “the mom effect.” In these experiences, I’m essentially visiting my therapist just to vent; I may receive some generic comfort or advice (i.e. “You deserve to be happy” and my favorite, “It’ll get better with time”), but my therapist isn’t providing actual behavioral therapy strategies I can take with me and apply toward future situations. My sessions are 50 minutes of complaining and 2 minutes of appointment scheduling for next week—rinse and repeat.

But there are a number of reasons you may need to break up with your therapist. One may be that they aren’t responsive; I’ve had a therapist before who took over a week to answer my appointment-scheduling emails. Another may be that they don’t have experience in treating an area with which you suddenly need help, like family relationships or loss of pregnancy. You might even feel a general sense of discomfort with your therapist, which could just mean you two aren’t a great match personality-wise. Like in romantic relationships, things can come to an end for a variety of reasons.

The benefit to breaking up with your therapist (versus breaking up with a partner) is that it can usually be done from a distance. Unlike your boo, you’re probably paying to see your therapist, which means you’d be paying to end things with them, too. Therapists understand this. It’s far more acceptable to fire off an email or a text to your therapist, or leave them a voicemail if you’re old school, than it is to do so with someone you once kissed or whatever. Splitting from a distance not only eliminates the awkwardness of having that tough conversation face-to-face; it also gives you the breathing room necessary to carefully craft your message and/or make whatever pained facial expressions you’d like in the privacy of your own home.

Better yet, you don’t even have to spend time crafting a message for your soon-to-be-ex-therapist, because I’ve created one for you. Just fill in the blanks:

“Hey [Linda/Dr. Smith], hope you’re doing well. I’ve been thinking things over for a little bit, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be best if we end our sessions together. I’ve found that I [am not making the progress I’d like to be making/might benefit from services someone else specializes in/would like to explore what other options are available to me] and wanted to provide you with ample notice. Please let me know if there’s anything I need to provide for this transition. Thank you!”

I maintain that finding and ditching therapists is like dating; however, in the end, your relationship with your therapist is a professional one, so they really can’t act emotionally toward your breakup message. Instead, your therapist will likely react one of three ways:

  • By asking questions related to this decision, like whether you feel your concerns were properly explored in therapy, what you felt was missing from services with this therapist, or whether you’re in a stable enough condition to make a transition like this one
  • By accepting your message and wishing you well
  • By accepting your message, then offering to help you in your search for a replacement therapist (something you probably do not get in the dating world!)

In breaking up with your therapist, however, it’s important that you be honest. As easy as it would probably be to say you’d like to quit therapy because you “just don’t have the time” or “are feeling really great lately,” an abrupt excuse of a cut-off like this one will probably raise a red flag to your therapist. If you’re truly doing so well for such an extended period of time that you’re okay with stopping therapy altogether, that’s a conversation you need to have with your therapist during an actual session (or several). Something light and breezy won’t cut it.

In the same vein, I think we can all agree that ghosting, whether romantically or in the context of therapy, is a huge no-no. Just don’t do it.

Whether you’re scouting out mental health professionals for the first time ever or you’ve spent a good amount of time in the proverbial chaise lounge, know that feeling comfortable and connected with your therapist is a valid need—and feeling like it’s time for a breakup is, too.

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social activism & technology writer | feminist | criminal justice/LGBTQ studies, ASU 2018

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Adrianna Nine

Adrianna Nine

social activism & technology writer | feminist | criminal justice/LGBTQ studies, ASU 2018

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