Is It Time to "Break Up' With Your Therapist?

When seeking therapy, the journey of finding the therapist that’s right for you is usually not a straight path. If you’ve ever made the decision to search for the right clinician, you’ve probably realized that there are unexpected twists and turns along the way.

After being in therapy for only a short while, a friend of mine shared her experience with me. When beginning her journey of healing, not only was she searching for a therapist that shared her values, but also attributes of her identity. Several months went by and finally, she stumbled across a hopeful referral. In the initial intake session, it was like a breath of fresh air. She enjoyed the rapport that was quickly built and she felt she had finally found a clinician that gets her. Her high hopes however quickly plummeted after her 3rd session. As she revealed details about her most vulnerable relationships, the therapist met her with judgement, critique and invalidation. It was at that moment their connection was severed beyond repair and her path to healing was compromised.  

If you’ve experienced therapy that has not given you the treatment you desired, it’s more common than expected. Leaving therapy before treatment (attending only two sessions) or premature termination is experienced on average by 37-45% of people (Schwartz, 2010).

Here are a few reasons why this happens:

  • Dissatisfaction of therapist relationship
    • In the study mentioned above, the most common reason individuals prematurely terminate was the feeling that the therapist didn’t get them or the dissatisfaction of the therapist themself.  
  • Opening a Can of Worms
    • Starting a healing process can be very triggering. As you open up to your therapist, it can feel similar to opening a can of worms. Emotionally or mentally there may be more things that come up than you were not prepared to address.
  • Reluctance to deal with difficult thoughts and feelings
    • When starting a journey of healing, it’s common for us to experience self doubt or fear. Resistance to recovery is rooted in the foundation of fearing the unknown.

Although therapy can be beneficial, there are valid reasons to seek a new therapist.

Here are a few good reasons to break up with your therapist:

  • Poor rapport
    • The feeling of not being heard, understood, or respected
    • The absence of shared common values
    • The inability to laugh or use humor comfortably
  • Feelings of guilt over decisions you have made
  • Disagreement with methods used to achieve goals  
    • Each clinician has a different treatment plan and sometimes you need different expertise to reach your goals
  • You have achieved your goals
    • The feeling that you have overcome the main reason you started therapy

Readiness for therapy comes from experiencing the discomfort of life feeling stagnant. Once this feeling is too painful to bear alone, the process of implementing small adjustments to your life can be initiated. If you have had a bad experience with a therapist in the past, this can affect your willingness to be vulnerable again.

When deciding to seek therapy again, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Ask for recommendations from people you know/trust
  • Have preliminary conversations with 3+ therapists
  • Don’t be shy to ask questions
  • Find a therapist that is goal oriented
  • Be willing to express when you are feeling unheard or misunderstood
  • Communicate your expectations throughout the process-especially when your needs are not being met

When connecting with a therapist, remember, they’re human too. Like all relationships in life, some seem to click right away, some grow with time, and some wither away. There are many aspects of therapy that may be unexpected. There will be difficult moments where your therapist upsets you, misunderstands you, or sees your experiences from a different perspective. This moment, although difficult, presents a learning opportunity. By telling your therapist exactly how what they said made you feel, if they are good, they will honor how you’re feeling and look for ways to work through it with you. Moving forward, your therapist can use this to better understand you and hopefully make your future sessions and relationship more successful.

My friend never got the chance to confront her therapist and continues her journey to healing. There is still hope for you.

About The Author

Rudairo Segbeaya is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Pacific CBT’s Office Manager. Rudairo received a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of San Francisco in 2018. In 2021, she later received a Master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University.