A few months ago, I broke up with my therapist of seven years. It wasn't me, and it wasn't him. I was moving far from home, so it had to be time to part ways. If you've ever been in a situation like that, or if perhaps you've taken a break from therapy and are diving back into it with a new person, you've probably grappled with the fact that switching therapists after years is hard. How are you supposed to tell a new therapist all about your life, traumas and quirks — and keep the progress you had with your old therapist going?
Knowing your options is a great first move, Dominique Apollon MA, LPC, NCC, a licensed professional counselor and member of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, tells Bustle. "People always have the option of signing a release of information so that their previous therapist and potential new therapist can speak and share notes so that they have a general understanding of your backstory," she says. If there is information that's too emotionally difficult to share with someone new, but that you need them to know right away, this release can be an instrumental part of your adjustment process.
And while those documents won't come complete with the emotional transference of having someone see you at your best and worst every week, it might help reduce the burden of catching someone up with where you are and where you've been.
That burden can be especially heavy when you have a lot of trauma to unpack with your new therapist. But Apollon advises that you be especially mindful of moving forward with your new therapist at your own pace. For Apollon's clients, she says, "Usually the topic of trauma comes up on their terms, when they feel safe or comfortable enough to explore it." This might be important for you to remember when getting to know someone new in a therapy setting: there's no pressure to bring up things you're not ready for, especially when you're still building trust.
This trust is especially important considering the level of intimacy balanced with professionalism that comes with a good therapist-client relationship. "While this is another professional relationship," Apollon says, your therapist "is also a person who you are allowing to see your inner beauty and pain, which isn’t the easiest considering that they're a complete stranger" at the start. So when you go into your first session, it's good to have "goals that you want to work on," and to let your therapist know these goals so they can develop a clear vision of what you want and need from your sessions.
Even though change is hard, and changing your therapist can be even harder, setting expectations about what you want from therapy is important. "I think the best thing you can do is to provide your new therapist with what you liked versus disliked about your previous therapeutic relationship and experience," Apollon tells Bustle. "That way you can cultivate a new relationship and your therapist will have a better understanding of what you need and what will be helpful moving forward."
And if you're looking for a new therapist while still mourning your relationship with your last one, Apollon says that's very typical. (The ADAA has a find a therapist tool that can help take some of the guesswork out of searching for a new match.) But, don't forget to appreciate yourself and your own work in the process. Try to "recognize how much progress you have made with your previous therapist," she says.
"Allow yourself to see that this is a new opportunity and that you could gain a new perspective and insight with a new person who is dedicated to helping you foster positive changes in your life," Apollon says. These changes — like being in therapy itself — can truly be life-altering in all the best ways. And that's something all of us deserve.