We need to break up!
It’s you, not me. OK, maybe I’m partly to blame too.
As a therapist, I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about people seeing a counselor that wasn’t right for them. They had no idea how to bring it up or how to end things…and consequently it usually didn’t end well.Often times they keep going out of fear or guilt, hoping that they will still be able to work through their issues despite the lack of connection.
For most people who have gone to counseling, they have seen more than one therapist.
I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve met with someone who probably should have been in counseling long ago, but, due to a negative experience with a first counselor, they avoided going back.
This post is going to explain how to break things off with your therapist.
First you have to determine what the issue is.
Is the therapist not a good fit for you?In the very first session I usually explain to clients and family members that it’s important for the client and family to feel like they have found the right professional. I go on to further explain that I’m not the counselor for everyone. All counselors are not cut from the same cloth. If that’s the case, it’s my job to get the client a referral to someone that may be a better fit.
Are they not the right fit in terms of their personality? Or their worldview? (Ie. They’re really into…fill in the blank…and you’re not. You’re an evangelical Christian and they’re an atheist). Now, I will point out that there’s a difference between feeling supported in your life, your choices, etc. and your wish for your therapist to support your cannibalism and heroin use. Just because they don’t support you 100% of the time and confront you on certain areas doesn’t mean they are the wrong therapist. I’ll further point out that doctor and therapist-shopping is common among those struggling with narcissism, substance abuse and borderline personality disorder.
Are they not the right therapist because of their training or treatment focus? Ie. You are seeking help for an eating disorder and they have no training or background in dealing with eating disorders. Or they keep bringing up your childhood and you want to focus on your present-day relationship issues. Again, there is some therapeutic leeway here as your past can impact your present and future. But if they lack the training in an area you require help in, then they should be able to answer that direct question and honestly, they should be bringing that up first.
Are they not the right fit because they have done something inappropriate, unethical or illegal? They are hitting on you or making you feel uncomfortable? Are you coming in for relationship counseling and they are engaged in an affair with your partner? Are they falling asleep in session with you? And yes, sadly, I’ve heard of all of these happening. In the case of unethical or illegal, you have the right to file a complaint against their license with the state board they are registered with. Every state-licensed professional is required to display their license in plain sight.
Second, you have to figure out what to do about it.
Here you have a couple of options:
Of course ghosting is always one of those options. What I mean by that is, not showing for your last appointment, not calling and cancelling the last appointment, and not returning any voicemails from the counselors office. For clients coming in for anxiety, this option may look particularly attractive. But, if you’ve ever had this done to you in your dating life, then you know how it feels. Plus, it could have been an issue that could have easily been addressed.
You can bring up the issue in an attempt to resolve it and continue forward in the therapeutic relationship. There are a host of issues or concerns that aren’t dealbreakers and are more negotiable or personal preferences. Bringing them to light can make things improve drastically and help you and your counselor get to the root issues that you want to deal with.Just because you have issues or concerns does not mean it’s a dealbreaker for you and your therapist. Often times it can actually strengthen the therapeutic relationship. I will frequently remind clients that I’m not a mind reader. So if they don’t tell me there is an issue or concerns, then I’m not going to know.
You can bring up the issue and explain the need to end the therapeutic relationship.
We’re all adults here. Your counselor can handle you calling up and cancelling the appointment and explaining that you aren’t going to be scheduling another appointment.
I can understand not wanting to schedule an appointment and having to pay a co-pay in order to break things off in what could be an extremely awkward 50-minute session; however, leaving a voicemail or sending an email is doable. As a therapist, I appreciate knowing why someone has chosen to terminate services instead of just wondering if they are alive or what happened.
Third. So you’re back in the market for a therapist, now what?With any relationship ending, you may need to take a bit of time to recover and process on your own before dipping your toe back in the therapy pool. But don’t let a negative experience keep you from your journey to healing and happiness.
There are a number of ways to find the right therapist. I outline it in more detail in this series of blog posts, but the basics are:
- Check the Internet – Psychology Today & Good Therapy
- Ask your friends and family
- Look to your doctor or spiritual advisor
I hope you don’t need this information, and if you need the services of a therapist or social worker, I hope you find one that’s the perfect fit for you the first go around. If not, I hope you find this helpful.
Do you have any horror stories from past therapists?
What did you do about it?