Everyone's relationship with their therapist will be unique to the individual, and complicated. It's common for people to try several different approaches to therapy, or several different therapists, before they find a practice that works for them. But moving on from a therapist that isn't right for you can be a tricky undertaking. If you're wondering how to break up with your therapist, these therapists' advice might be very, very helpful.
Therapist Heidi McBain tells Bustle that a dysfunctional therapist-client relationship can be evident from the start; she notes that therapists are advised to "screen" potential clients before a session, "so that you can figure out if you’re the right fit for each other." If you've moved past this point and entered into sessions together, though, McBain says there are three main signs that demonstrate that a therapist isn't the right fit for you.
"If you don’t feel a strong emotional connection with them," McBain explains to Bustle, it's the first red flag that your relationship with your therapist isn't working. Therapy sessions can venture into very deep places, and the professional therapist is there to guide you through them and give you good techniques for moving forward. An emotional bond is necessary to make that happens.
Celeste Vicere, a therapist and host of Celeste The Therapist podcast, agrees. "Some of my clients have told me that they stayed in therapy for months, and they didn't feel like the therapist understood them or that they connected well," she tells Bustle. "If you have this experience, it's acceptable to be honest, and tell the therapist. With so many styles of therapy, as therapists, we understand that our specific style may not work for everyone."
The second sign that you may want to break up with your therapist, according to McBain, is "if you don’t feel that you can be open and honest and truly who you are as a person with them." Realistically, feelings of judgement or other obstacles to your honesty may be coming from your own psyche rather than your therapist. If, however, you can't shake the feeling that you simply can't be truthful or centered while in their company, it's a problem worth examining.
Finally, "if you don’t leave your sessions feeling seen, heard and understood by them," your relationship with your therapist isn't functioning properly, McBain says. This can encompass a whole host of issues, from simple incompatibility to behavior by your therapist that makes you uncomfortable or unwelcome. If they don't seem to be listening or to have a handle on what's happening in your psyche, particularly after a few sessions, McBain says it's an indication that the relationship isn't healthy.
Moving on from a therapeutic relationship in a healthy and calm way takes work. And McBain tells Bustle that while it may be tempting to simply quit the therapeutic relationship without explanation, having a conversation with your therapist about your difficulties with the situation is valuable. "Talk about this issue openly and honestly with them so they know where you’re coming from and so you can process your feelings together, instead of just leaving and never coming back," she advises.
There are two main ways to approach the break-up, and they depend on how long you've been seeing your therapist, says Viciere. "If you don't have an established relationship with your therapist and have only seen them for a few sessions, telling them in your final session or emailing them would be fine," she tells Bustle. "You can say something like, 'Thanks for meeting with me, but I don't think that you are a good fit for me at this point, and I am going to search further.'"
If, however, you've been seeing them for a longer period, Viciere says a more nuanced approach is best. Ending an established therapeutic relationship, she says, takes forward planning.
"You can plan to speak with them face-to-face and let them know why you plan to end working together," she tells Bustle. "You can say something like, 'Thank you for what you have done for me so far. I feel like I have grown during our work together and no longer need to continue these sessions anymore.'" They'll hopefully be able to talk you through what's happening and come to a resolution that's good for both of you.
Break-ups can suck, and this is as true for a partner as with a therapist, particularly if you've been seeing somebody for a long time. But while this person does know you on a deep, emotional level, at the end of the day, you need to do what's best for your health. Preparing ahead can make that process much, much smoother.