Time to break up with your therapist?

You’ve been seeing your therapist for a while now, and lately you’re wondering if you should scale back or if it’s time to say goodbye for good. How do you know?

She’s probably “really nice”  so breaking up can be hard to do. There’s a good time to move on and there’s a good time to hang in there and really get to the next level. But how can you tell the difference?

There are several legit reasons for scaling back or even ending a relationship with a therapist. You might be thinking about the money. Or you’ve met your goals. You might think you’ve done as much as you can with this particular person. Maybe there’s an actual conflict: in interest, approach, or opinion. Maybe you realize you go away feeling worse than when you came in with no good tools to approach things differently. (Yuk!)

Before you ghost your therapist, and before you go in even one more time, do yourself a HUGE FAVOR and get some things hammered out.

Here’s a little guide:

1. Clearly define your reason

Check in with yourself and write down what first comes to mind. Then take it a little further by examining it. For example:

You might be thinking, “okay, this is getting expensive.” Go further. Is it really getting too expensive or is it that you don’t detect progress?

When we make the decision to trust someone with our tender parts in hopes they can help alleviate our pain, we do so because it’s worth it. We value it. We are willing to make the investment of time, energy, and money.

When we stop being willing to invest (in any of those ways) it’s usually because we don’t see the benefit or payoff.

Is it really finances? If you’ve had a financial down-turn, tell your therapist. There might be a cheaper alternative, or a lower rate for a specified time. Maybe there are other options like a group that will help you achieve your ultimate goals or yes, maybe dropping back to twice a month or even once a month really is a good option.

But be clear (at least to yourself) about what is the real reason.

2. Examine your Original Goals

Maybe you’re past the crisis, that acute, intense sense of distress. Yay! You made it!  It’s totally fair if that’s the only reason you enlisted a therapist. You may indeed be done; ultimately, you get to decide.

Often, if you ask her, you can find out with your therapist if there is more to do than just get past the crisis. Even if you decide not to proceed, at least you’ll have an idea the kind of growth that might be possible for you. You may as well make use of her expert perspective. At the very least, you can park it as a goal for “next time.”

Maybe this therapist is an expert at this area of your life but another area would be better served by a different kind of specialist. In that case, ask for a referral. A good therapist will make a great referral to another specialist when that’s appropriate.

Need to revisit your goals? Maybe it feels like your progress lacks structure. Did you write those puppies down somewhere? If you didn’t and/or you can’t remember them, check in with your therapist. Actually say, “I want to revisit my original goals today and see where I am with them.”

Every therapist worth her salt will be glad to go over them, refine them, and help you see clearly what you’ve achieved and decide how far you really want to go. Not there yet and feeling frustrated about progress? Say so and ask for specific ways to get where you want to go.

3. Identify the Conflicts

Here’s an inside tip: as therapists, we are always trying to balance support and challenge. Too much of one or the other and our clients just won’t grow. There will be some conflict (and maybe at several particular spots) along the way. Growth can be frustrating. Some of this is just part of the growth process. But some of it might be the frustration of not getting what you need from a therapist. Figure out which it is.

Does something get under your skin? Is a recurrent event or a particular response setting you off? Is your therapist reminding you of someone in your life? You can use that as an opportunity to experience something different in the safe environment of the therapy office.

A really good therapist is going to be savvy about sensing if there’s tension and she might be the one to say something about it in the moment. She could also be waiting for you to say something.

Therapists are human with their own personalities and foibles and sometimes they actually miss something that feels really obvious to you.

We can read people, but we can’t always read minds. 😉 So, to get the most from your time with your therapist, no matter how big or small that “irritation” is, say something about it. Here are examples:

  • “I don’t like it when you say that. I feel bad.”
  • “Can you tell me more about what I need to do? I need a tool to use in my real life.”
  • “Today I really need to talk this all the way through before you give me feedback.”
  • Or it can be as simple as “I’m getting really irritated. Can you help me figure this out?”
  • “When you said I’m being demanding what did you mean by that? Isn’t it good for me to have standards? I’m confused.”

Ask questions. Talk to the therapist about the relationship. Take the risk, even if it’s the first time in your life you’ve done this kind of confrontation.

4. Consider the Response

A relationship with a therapist is, above all, a relationship. In that way, everything you are learning to do in relationship with your therapist is a skill you probably need to hone in the rest of your life. It might be standing up for yourself. Maybe being honest isn’t easy for you. It might be finding a kind way to approach something. It might be being brave enough to broach a tough topic.

Sometimes you do have to find someone else, someone you click with more, someone who gives you more of what you need, someone who actually CAN help you meet your needs.  Let that final decision also be based on your therapist’s response to your expressed need.

Worth the time and consideration

You owe it to yourself to be sure you’re getting the best you can from the relationship before you move on. You’ve invested time, energy, and money, right? Walking away prematurely might undercut all the good you’ve done so far.

On top of that, using relationship with your therapist to practice relating, take risks, and do things differently might be just what you need to grow.

Are you satisfied you’ve achieved your original goals? It’s okay to step back to a less frequent time-frame or even consider that you’re done with this therapist for now. Maybe you’re ready to do more, set new goals and keep moving forward. Could be, you legitimately need a rest.

When you leave in the right way, you can always come back for a tune-up whenever the need arises.

But if the relationship is really not working for you- and you’ve clarified your reason and goals, then you bring it up and you get dismissed or feel worse than before- move on with confidence.