Dear Captain Awkward,
I’ve been seeing my therapist twice a month for about five years. I got lucky in finding the right person for me – at the time – on my first try, and he’s helped me through severe depression and anxiety as well as dealing with a lot of the underlying causes of same.
For the past six months or so I’ve been feeling like our sessions are not productive. I am in much, much better mental and emotional health than those first couple of years, I’m well beyond crisis, but I still have several issues I want to work on and the responses I’m getting from him are…disengaged.
Whereas before he was helping me work through tough stuff, roleplaying difficult conversations, pushing me to socialize more (world-class introvert here), even giving me homework between sessions, now I get bordering-on-snide comments like “ya think” and “oh really” and “I’ve already given you clues about where to start”. He also checks his phone at least once per session and has even taken a personal call once during a session. Clearly he’s no longer invested.
Yesterday I went to my session with two specific things I wanted to discuss, thinking perhaps I needed to be more focused instead of falling into the “vent about how stressful work is” habit that’s marked the last few months. Even though I told him outright that I wanted to work on these two things, I got very little useful feedback. Honestly, I think I need to see a female therapist because what I want to work on now, I don’t think he can relate to (he’s a straight white male in his 60s).
One of the issues he and I have been working on pretty much from the beginning is knowing when to let go of a person or situation or thing. Well, I think I need to let him go and find someone else to help me through the next set of issues. But…how do I do this? As you can probably guess, confrontation is not my strong suit but social awkwardness is. Scripts and roleplaying are very helpful for unfamiliar or difficult situations.
[insert clever alliterative name]
P.S. I did a search on the site but didn’t find this particular question. If it is there and I missed it, I apologize.
Dear Alliterative Name,
Yep, sounds like it’s definitely time for you to find someone new. Good news! Therapists are used to being broken up with and this is not a big deal for them.
Here’s the easiest way:
1) Look for a new therapist.
2) Whenever you want to, stop/cancel upcoming appointments with your current therapist. “Thanks for all the help, I think it’s time for me to work with someone new so I won’t be coming to any more appointments.” You could call and leave a message, send an email or a card, however you normally communicate (my therapist uses text, it’s the best).
That’s all you have to do! You don’t have to fill out a comment card, explain reasons, or negotiate this. You’re the client, this is normal. People leave therapy all the time for all kinds of reasons: bad fit, new insurance, they are feeling better, they want to find something closer to work. You don’t have to have any kind of confrontation about this, it’s possibly the easiest breakup you will ever encounter.
146 thoughts on “#1102: “How do I break up with my therapist?””
As a therapist, I couldn’t agree more with what the captain says. It is that simple.
Yikes. That “ya think?” made my skin crawl.
Like, yeah, my therapist and I would do the playful sarcasm thing at times? but it was a *shared* thing that *increased* the sense of connection and trust. He was always warm and careful.
I don’t know what’s going on with this dude, LW, but the way he’s treating you now is hella gross. Everything you describe smacks of disengagement and even contempt.
You don’t deserve that. You deserve care and warmth and someone genuinely attuned to your needs.
Me too. I’m in therapy and I thought that maybe this therapist was goading/pushing the patient to…something ? But unclear as to what. Not that this therapist sounds checked in (checking his PHONE during a SESSION? WTH?) but if you’re going to leave anyway, I’d tell the therapist “hey…you seem pretty checked out…what’s happening?” “When you do that, I don’t find it helpful…” My therapist has occasionally checked her phone during a session or right before, but not without an apology or explanation of what was going on (another patient in crisis, etc.). I’m glad the OP got something out of it, but aside from what you’re paying, your time is also valuable.
I’m not sure she should tell him that. I agree with you he doesn’t sound like a good therapist, and it’de be good if someone were to tell him he shouldn’t CHECK HIS PHONE, besides other things. And if the OP feels like telling him that, fine.
But if she can’t handle the confrontation well, just let it be someone else to tell him. You don’t need to give him a reason to break up.
I’m not sure she should tell him. I agree he doesn’t sound like a good therapist, and it’s be good if someone told him he shouldn’t CHECK HIS PHONE during sessions. And if the OP feels like telling hime, fine.
But if she finds confrontation hard, just let it be someone else to tell him. You don’t need to give a reason to break up.
Another therapist weighing in here, you have some good tips. I actually love it when clients give me feedback and what is/isn’t helpful. Sometimes good therapist will actually ask for this type of feedback. Sometimes clients are ready to fire their therapist over something that would have been pretty easily fixed if they’d just brought it up earlier (I also supervise other therapists so I’ve gotten quite a few calls along the lines of “I want a new therapist, current therapist does xyz and I hate it,” and it turns out that current therapist thought xyz was helpful and would have been more than happy to take another approach if they’d known it was a problem).
But…checking his phone and answering calls during sessions? Nope. The LW doesn’t owe this guy anything and should definitely break up with him.
LW, what do you think of starting the process for the therapist who has the attributes you are looking for? It seems to me that making the break will be easier after you’ve had a couple pre-appt conversations. That striking that new note will resonate with your resolve. Hope you have the same good fortune in finding the right fit for your new stage of life.
“…it’s possibly the easiest breakup you will ever encounter.” Captain is so right here!
Breaking up with a therapist is great practice for asserting your needs even when you’re worried it might “upset” or inconvenience the other person, if that’s the kind of thing you want/need practice with. The first time I broke up with a therapist, I thought “wow that ended up not being scary at all!” and it emboldened me to say no to things I didn’t want in the future.
Good on you for realizing this therapist isn’t working for you anymore and taking steps to find a new one!
When we were hunting for a family therapist we went to this one woman a few sessions. She broke a boundary at one, then on next broke some more, such that as we were leaving my KIDS said hey mom that’s a little weird. Tge. They went on to correctly ID the broken boundary. Yay them! I said yeah I’m thinking she’s not the therapist for us. I had planned to be there the next week but cancelled via email. A few weeks later I got this creepy phone call. Therapist: in singsong voice: oh hiiiiii. I was just thinking about you. (Pause pause). Me: oh were you? Her: yes, I was just wondering how you all were. Me: we’re good thanks (holding the silence). Her: (holding the silence). Me: how can I help? Her: wellllllll, I was just calling to see how you were. Me: oh that’s nice we’re good. (Holding silence). This went on, she never owned why she’d called and out of curiosity I let it continue. Bkgd: we weren’t in crisis when we saw her there was never any imminent danger or mention of anything that might make an ethical therapist make such a call after a client terminated the relationship. In my email I was polite but said I think our values just don’t natch thanks for your help and advice Yada yada… so it was super clear we didn’t just fall off the radar or ever intend to return. Convo ended after a few min of competitive silence. Remember some therapists really have crap boundaries…. the degree doesn’t confer magical behavior… never heard from her again but decided I’d i did I’d set a harder boundary. Was weird like she didn’t want to allow me to break up after only 3-4 sessions.
WOW gross! I kinda love that it was a good experience for your kids to note and identify bad behavior in an adult but sooo glad you got out of there fast.
Lol; I love that you won the competitive silence game, and didn’t give her anything to argue with you about.
I’ve been in this situation and it feels so awkward, but it is really fine. I used “I don’t think I’m getting much out of these sessions, and I would like to discontinue therapy.” This was the honest truth. In one case, I gave my therapist a chance to change up how she was doing things–I really did want and need to work stuff out, but her way was not helping me. When that didn’t pan out, I just said “I gave this a chance, and it’s not working for me.”
You don’t need to jump through a bunch of hoops to take care of your therapist’s feelings. This is a normal thing to do.
Agree. This is one of those circumstances like quitting a job or switching hairdressers that seems like a much, much bigger deal on our end – since we don’t have to do it very often – than on the other person’s end, where it’s common practice and they see it all the time. It can feel like a huge decision but the therapist probably won’t even think about this twice, and OP has already been carrying it around and stressing about it longer than the therapist ever will. Sing the “Frozen” song and give yourself the gift of getting over this, OP!
Haha, I relate, I just changed hairdressers and I still haven’t actually cancelled my appointment next week with my old one (that was the last straw, I love her work but it was SO hard to get an appointment and I needed a haircut over a week ago). But it’s business, it’s normal, take a deep breath and just do it.
So, I’ve been in therapy off and on since I was 11 years old (hurray for C-PTSD!), so I have had something in the neighborhood of a dozen therapists. I am in my 30s now.
The Captain is 100% correct— therapists are accustomed to their (…clients? Patients?) moving on from them, whether it be for positive reasons (no longer needing counseling, for instance) or negative (not being able to afford it anymore). It is by nature an ever-changing field.
Here are reasons why I have left therapists in the past:
• Had to move far away
• Insurance changes
• Being too poor to afford it
• Feeling much, much healthier
• Therapist was really into pushing hypnotherapy and was convinced that I had some ~hidden memory~ of my mother abusing me that absolutely does not exist, and wouldn’t respect my “uhhhh no, can we move on?” requests
• Therapist was religious and not respecting of my far left of center views and apathetic atheism, plus spent our last session expressing concern for my soul
• Therapist spent a good year campaigning for the idea that I had severe mood and personality disorders that I did not even remotely show signs of having, set me up with her psychologist colleague that was more than happy to misdiagnose me with these, and sent me down a rough patch for the following two years
• Therapist and I just didn’t vibe with one another
• I briefly required a therapist that specialized in dialectical behavioral therapy
• Therapist had an emergency in their personal life and needed to take a long leave of absence
Here are the ways that I broke up with my various therapists:
• Calling in, cancelling all my appointments
• Telling my therapist why I could or would no longer see them
• More or less slow-fading (would not recommend this if your therapist has a policy of charging for missed appointments, I only did this with one of the sketchy ones way back before I learned to Use Amy Words)
• Thrice, I have had therapists break up with me! Twice it was because they felt that I no longer required them and we agreed on it, once was for the aforementioned leave of absence
In short, LW, this happens all the time, and it has never been emotionally fraught for me. I’m sure somewhere out there, someone has experienced a deeply unprofessional therapist who overreacted to being “dumped,” but those are the outliers and the not normal experiences. Typically, it’s a transitional relationship, by standard and ideal (IMHO).
Good luck, LW! I’m glad you’re in a better mental space, and that you’re self-aware enough to known when it is time to move on.
This is really helpful. Thanks for sharing.
Fistbumps from a fellow C-PTSD person. Good on you for moving on when it’s time.
I love this list! Thanks for your feedback. I have had about 5 and I left them all for varying reasons. Mostly “moving” or “couldn’t afford” but there was one problematic dude. I started in crisis blindly following the advice of my friend to see her therapist. In hindsight he was a really bad fit for what I needed. But also had nuggets of wisdom…I thought about stopping seeing him many times and I think I voiced as much a few times and he always ended those sessions with something really insightful that made me want to come back. Like he was never overtly bad but hey may have manipulated me into continuing long past when I should’ve quit. What finally allowed me to quit was when my insurance changed and the price went way up. I legitimately could no longer afford to see him.
So he didn’t fight me on that but I did feel very emotionally fraught about telling him I was leaving. Enmeshment and codependency are things I struggle with.
Luckily I now have an awesome therapist.
Yes! I had one therapist break up with me, and I have had to break up with one therapist. In all other situations it was mutual.
The one who broke up with me called me and explained why she needed to (she was seeing somebody else, in greater need, who was fixated on me, and didn’t feel she could keep a good boundary). The one I broke up with was a marriage counselor, and my late husband had never had a therapist, he was surprised when I was like “it’ll be easy, I’ll just email her that we’ve decided not to see her any more, and CC you.” And it was over like that (she did email back asking for feedback, and I told her the problems I had with her, and she emailed me back thanks, and we were done).
LW- Thank you for asking this and thank you, Captain, for answering this! My therapist isn’t checking his phone or anything like that during our sessions but after about five years I feel like I am getting less out of sessions, than I used to and that maybe its time to for me to work with someone new. I have been debating how and when the best time was to do it and was feeling awkward about it. This was exactly what I needed to hear.
Also, can I just add a shout-out to therapists who text? The real MVPs.
I text both my therapist and my own clients! BUT NOT IN SESSIONS.
Taking a personal call is way, way out of line.
Oh, I meant that as “them what communicate via text between sessions”, because I’d much rather text that I’m running late than have to turn it into the tedious Small Talk Sandwich of a phone call.
My most recent therapist, in addition to being comfortable with text, had solid gif game. We got along great. 🙂
“Small Talk Sandwich of a phone call” is my favorite new phrase! I love my therapist for texting too.
Agreed with CA. It would make sense that therapists have different skills and interests in types of problems, and both of you should benefit from a change. It’s not like a job where you need an obligatory change-over period – email, text, or if they only do phone-calls then ring them when they aren’t in the office. Don’t feel badly, because if he is checked out then he is no longer the right fit and doesn’t deserve you (and if he is 60s then it may be an approaching retirement that is causing the drift – it may have nothing to do with you).
Congrats on the work that you have done, and good luck in future!
Yeah, when I was in school, I saw a therapist for a couple of sessions who took up about a third of the time talking about how he was leaving next semester. He seemed kind of baffled when I finally said I thought it’d be better if I just went ahead and switched to someone else, but he was still nice about it. Your therapist probably will be too, OP. From the sound of it, he might even agree that you’ve gone as far as you can go together and it’s time for you to try something new.
I was TERRIFIED to break up with a therapist who was a terrible fit for me. I left a message on her voicemail telling her I was going to go in a different direction, and then I didn’t pick up her call when she called back, because I love nothing more than to avoid confrontation. She left me a very nice voicemail saying no problem, I’ve enjoyed working with you, best wishes. What a relief. I’m sure there are some lousy therapists out there who will Make It Weird, but the vast, vast majority will behave like the professionals they are and not take it personally.
I think you can probably use your own language here to underscore why it’s time for this therapist/client relationship to end and as a way of saying thank you: “Therapist, one of the issues we’ve worked on is knowing when to let go of a person or situation or thing. I think it’s time for me to work with someone new. Thank you for your help in getting me to this place. I wouldn’t be able to move on without you.”
I’ve only been to one therapist, and after seeing her maybe 8x, I just didn’t feel like it was the right thing for me. I had gone to her when I had a perfect storm of terrible relationship stuff, pet death, serious illness care all at once and felt like I was holding on to my shit by a filament. When things settled down and I was coping with day to day better, it just seemed like her counseling style just didn’t match what I needed longer term and I agonized about how to get out of it. Ultimately, I composed a message on my phone notepad, called her after business hours so I could leave a message instead of having to talk to her in person and said something to the effect of “I’d like to cancel my appointment for X, and I’m not ready to make any further appointments at this time.” She returned my call the next day (which I didn’t answer because AWKWARD AND AVOIDANT!) and very nicely said she’d gotten my message and she’d close my file until/unless I contacted her again to schedule future appointments, which I was welcome to do at any time.
As everyone else is saying…it seems like a big, scary thing to do, but this won’t be your counselor’s first rodeo and if they have even baseline professionalism, they’ll basically just say “OK, let me know if you need anything.”
Fortunately, this isn’t like a romantic breakup. In a romance, the hoped-for outcome is (usually) the happily ever after. In therapy, it’s that the client gets better enough to no longer need the therapist.
Because you’ve been with him for 5 years and he’s helped you through some major shit, it may help you to write him a note acknowledging and thanking him for the difference that he has been able to make it your life. I’m sure he’d enjoy getting it as well. Then, yes, tell him it’s time to work with someone new.
“In a romance, the hoped-for outcome is (usually) the happily ever after. In therapy, it’s that the client gets better enough to no longer need the therapist.”
Happily never after? 😉
Seconding the fact that therapists do have the goal of eventually saying goodbye to their clients! I’m good friends with several counselors-in-training and they are always commenting on the irony of theirs being one of the few professions where one’s clients leaving is a sign they’re doing things right — they frequently strive to make themselves redundant in clients’ lives. If you’d rather do a little polite lying to make the conversation smoother (i.e. focus more on “I’m in a better headspace now” and less on “checking your phone during therapy, what the hell”) then I think that’s 100% okay to do.
Parenthood is a bit like that–though we do hope to still be in touch will our kids. But if you do it right, you’re preparing your kids to NOT need you. (you hope they’ll -want- you, of course)
I always think of it a little bit like wildlife rehab. Maybe my therapist needs to pack me up and take me to the beach and release me back into the wild? I’d be down with that.
Oooh oooh I’m a therapist! I know this one! It is absolutely, 100% OK to break up with your therapist. For whatever reason! Your therapist is used to this and may actually see it as a result of your work together that you are able to let go when it doesn’t feel right anymore. If you want to talk with him about it, you can. His behavior was not cool and if it would feel helpful for you to share that feedback, you can and should. He may invite you to come in for one final session- this is not atypical. We are trained to invite folks to talk about terminations. If I have the opportunity to ask someone for feedback in a termination session, I definitely will. It can be helpful to both client and therapist. But even if he does extend this option, this does it mean you have to do it! No one owes me a termination session, owes me feedback, owes me ANYTHING (unless they owe me money, but luckily I do not work in a setting where I have to collect fees)!
Needs definitely change with time and situation, too. I had a therapist several years ago who was awesome for helping me deal with what I was going through at the time, but when I returned a few years later for help with anxiety around my pregnancy, he was much less helpful. I just felt like he didn’t “get” it. Best of luck in your journey to find a new therapist who fits you better at this time in your journey, LW!
EXACTLY THIS. I broke up with my therapist some months ago, and like you, I was terrified: not so much of the confrontation, but mostly of all the problems that were in my life and which I’d have to face with one less help… Except this was the anxiety talking, because I had already admitted to myself that therapy with her wasn’t helping me anymore. I did go to one last session, but here’s the thing, I did it for myself, because *I* needed closure and to validate my reasons by saying them out loud. Also, I knew she would respect my decisions even if she didn’t agree, because she’s not a bad therapist, only no longer a good fit for me. If this is not your case, and you don’t need or want one last meeting, then by all means, don’t have one.
I broke up with a therapist for the reason that I didn’t feel like he understood me as a person and he was dismissive/disrespectful towards my choices (admittedly, they were unconventional choices, but still worthy of respect!) You can bet your ass I wasn’t going in for any last sessions; perhaps I was too hard on him and it would have been fine, but I have no regrets about firing him by cancelling an appointment and just never scheduling a new one.
This is to say, you probably know instinctively whether this would be good or bad for you. The above commenter knew their reasons would be respected. I had pretty good evidence mine wouldn’t be. You likely know whether this is something you want to do or not.
I quit a therapist after, in response to me being in a major emotional crisis, she strongly encouraged me to do some treatments that I considered pseudoscientific nonsense that coincidentally were something her husband offered. She was also openly skeptical of evidence-based medical treatment for my issues, but felt I would benefit from things I consider woo (she wasn’t outright recommending homeopathy but it stopped just short). At that point I felt like I couldn’t trust her to make treatment recommendations because we were clearly coming from totally different places re: what is considered an appropriate and effective treatment.
I made the tactical error of telling her this when I emailed her to tell her I would not be coming back. She got quite defensive and straight-up shamed me for not scheduling an exit appointment so she could discuss it with me. She also strongly implied that I should feel bad for hurting her feelings.
In retrospect all that nonsense just tells me she was a lousy therapist with lousy boundaries and I made the right call, but it was SOOOOOOOO uncomfortable at the time. I was already feeling terrible and now apparently I also broke up with my therapist “wrong”. Luckily I stood strong and refused to make another appointment and she didn’t contact me again.
Good job! You definitely didn’t break up with her “wrong.”
There are bad therapists out there and you managed to find one in their natural habitat*. You did exactly right in that situation. You terminated your client relationship with her in a way that would cause you the least amount of distress. Yay! Go you!
*I’m not saying she was wrong for doing alternative medicine (although I am of stellanor’s opinion on them). I’m saying she was wrong for pushing it on a client without gauging their reaction and then very wrong for trying to shame said client.
I did have a therapist once who was apparently really into reiki and recommending it to people – which I heard from friends who had recommended him to me or vice versa – but he never recommended it to me, possibly because in our first session we discussed my identity as a hard nosed science student… then a couple of times he tried to analyse my dreams, and I think my “yeah, nah” response was enough to shift his strategy.
Which I’m reasonably certain is how it *should* work. I’m totally fine with him being into those things if he thinks they will help other people, but also really impressed that he quickly worked out that it would not work in my case. Skills! He was a good’un.
Oh wow good for you!!! And no you didn’t make a mistake telling her anything. Tge mistahe was hers. Refusing g to agree to disagree on treatment plans is a big honkin boundary violation!
I have had many therapists is a variety of settings, one on one, group, groups specific to an issue (like women with PTSD), etc.
I have only had the break up go poorly once.
It was a group, based on dream work. One person had the same problem (had been in the group 3+ years) all the time and was doing zero to change anything, just coming with a new symptom every week.
It felt bad. I was surprised the therapist facilitator didn’t do any recapping, redirection or ever say “Hey Bob, this is the same thing and you don’t seem to be doing anything to change it, so what do you think is your actual goal/where is the work?”
The therapist asked for 4 weeks of exit sessions once a participant decided to leave the group. I DID agree up front. Before I saw more than once person acting more like this was a place holder and not seeming to progress in any meaningful way…like I said it felt off, it felt stagnant.
Then we got a chance to buy our dream home – NOW, more like 10 mins. ago and we had to make a lot of hard choice quick and fast.
I left a message offered to come to at least 2 more sessions, but explained this was unexpected and I had to ‘vote’ to support my spouse and our marriage goals. An appropriate, healthy choice/action.
He called back, during my known work day and brow beat me for 20 mins., despite me saying I was at work and couldn’t take a break.
I didn’t have good Me skills and I let him do it.
Now, I would be able to do as the wise Captain says and if it started to feel wrong I would hang up.
Affirming Captain’s advice with a caveat the every once in a while it does go bad. So re-affirming – if the therapist does or says anything you aren’t prepared to accept, process, etc. you have every right to just say “Nope!” “No thank you.” “Stop talking, I’m hanging up.” you do not need to hear them out.
Exit appointment – what?! So she wanted you to pay for an appointment to justify to her why you didn’t want to continue?? My guess is that she would have just used it to pressure you into staying with her.
You didn’t break up with your therapist ‘wrong’. You provided feedback, which sounds like it could have been helpful to her professionally had she chosen to engage with it constructively.
I did a termination session with a long-term therapist whom I was leaving because my financial circumstances had changed and I couldn’t afford her rates anymore (and it was with her blessing, and she reassured me that the low-cost community therapy center I was headed to was really good, which has accorded with my experience). It was a bittersweet experience; there was a time prior to my most recent breakup when she was the only person other than my now-ex and myself who knew the biggest, scariest part of my life, and I was worried about starting over and establishing a rapport with someone new when Team Me still felt kind of flimsy. But we both knew it wasn’t financially feasible for me to continue seeing her.
When I stopped seeing my university-appointed counselor, it was just over halfway through my lifetime limit of six sessions (!), and it was (in my opinion, anyway) over a significant difference of opinion in how to handle sessions together when one has so few of them. In that case, I didn’t ask for a termination session, and if I’d been offered one, I wouldn’t have taken it. I was clear enough on my own reasons for discontinuing that therapeutic relationship, and I don’t see those reasons (i.e., if I’ve got six sessions total, I want to work on something that is achievable in six sessions, and telling me I have control issues when in fact I have “I’m broke and can only afford what my insurance will cover” issues isn’t a good use of time) as a sign that I’m unwilling to do necessary internal work.
That is, I see a termination session as a great resource when you’re leaving for reasons that don’t have to do with feeling unsafe or unheard. And I would do it again in a situation where I expected to grieve the loss of a particular therapeutic relationship. Otherwise, I would decline it. Your mileage may vary.
Good grief, a *lifetime* limit of six sessions? My university also had a six-session limit, but that was per semester, which was perfectly manageable; a lifetime six-session limit would be such a pain, but it sounds like you knew how to get the most out of it much better than your counsellor!
I’m so hearing you on people who tell you what you should work on. One therapist I tried really rubbed me the wrong way. When I left the first and only session, he seriously told me I would be back.
I gotta disagree a bit with Captain Awkward here.
For most people who are significant enough in your life that you see them at least twice a month for years, a call/email/text is a kinda shitty way to end things. With a therapist it’s different, because you are paying them for any in-person time… so if you just need to be done with it, a one-way communication is fine. And some therapists are crappy about termination so spending a session on it may feel like a waste or even an abuse of your money. But. It *can* also be valuable to say some of the things you’ve said in the letter to a therapist, and to experience their response, and your reaction/response to that. Sometimes a therapist may offer you a good ending conversation that you didn’t realize was possible, and that may be helpful for your growth. But even if they let you down or it’s awkward, it’s still an opportunity to practice. Think about how you would want someone disappearing from your life for their own reasons to treat you, and see if you can show up in that way.
You are not in ANY way required to take your therapist’s feelings into account. Even if it’s been a pretty intimate relationship, and especially if your therapist is taking a personal phone call and checking their phone during your sessions (a GROSS breach of the therapeutic setting and I am really astonished and appalled). Your therapist is there for you and managing their feelings is not your problem.
If you have reason to expect a good wind-down session and you think that would be good for you, then do that. But do it for yourself, not for them. You do not have to put yourself in your therapist’s shoes and you are not “disappearing from their life”—you are ending a professional relationship.
I’ve been seeing a therapist for the last few years who has helped me with some seriously deep excavation. I can talk to them about things I’ve never told a therapist about (and haven’t even told most of my past partners about). In the past when they’ve misjudged how to handle a situation, they’ve been fantastic about hearing me say “That was a problem for me” and working through it with me so we could continue the relationship. But if at any point, even today, I wanted to text them “You know what, I think I’m done working with you”, I would get to do that, and their only appropriate response would be “Thanks for letting me know, best wishes”.
LW, you do whatever you need to do to feel closure, and move on to something better. Your soon-to-be-ex-therapist can manage his own feelings about it. That’s not your problem or your responsibility.
Agreed that you don’t need to take your therapist’s feelings into account at all here. Agreed also, though, that a termination session is a good thing to consider if you think it would be helpful *for you*. I’ve found them helpful when the therapist and I still have a good rapport and they’ve helped me a lot and it’s just that the main thing(s) they were helping me with are no longer so much of an issue for me. In your case, LW, it sounds like the rapport has also plummeted so a termination session may not be so helpful. Either way, it’s an option but not a necessity or something you owe your therapist!
There’s a difference between “person I see twice a month for years” and “person I PAY to see twice a month for years.”
Doesn’t matter how long you’ve seen someone or how well acquainted they are with you and your issues / private matters, whatever, they are still a professional and you are still a CLIENT. No one owes a professional more than a respectful call/email/text notice to say “I’m moving on.” same as they would with a dentist, doctor, home repair man. As already mentioned, this person can mitigate his own “feelings” whatever they may be about you withdrawing from his elective services on his own time.
THIS THIS THIS! I know the term “break up” was used, but telling a professional that you’re moving on is not the same thing as ending a personal relationship, and I really don’t think most professionals would think you’re being “kinda shitty” if you give the notification by phone, email or text. Especially if doing it in person would mean spending extra money.
Just to clarify — I am not saying the LW is responsible for their therapist’s feelings. I’m saying that how one ends significant relationships, in general, is a big deal, and here’s a great opportunity to learn and practice with another human rather than just get out of a situation.
I think you could have expressed that better in your original post. Since the whole point of this discussion was to talk about ending things with a professional specifically, your original post came off like you were saying it would be “shitty” to call, text or email the therapist instead of ending it in person, which really isn’t true.
You could absolutely argue the benefits of using this as an opportunity to practice ending close personal relationships, but your original post said stuff like “kinda shitty” and “Think about how you would want someone disappearing from your life for their own reasons to treat you”. That came off like you were saying that OP was obligated to end things with her therapist in person and would be treating her therapist badly if she didn’t, and that was crossing a line IMO.
Perhaps I could have spelled it out more clearly, but respectfully I suggest you read my actual words more clearly and check yours before suggesting I crossed a line.
Y: “kinda shitty” and “Think about how you would want someone disappearing from your life for their own reasons to treat you” are direct quotes from your comment. I think that proves gin_undermyskin did in fact read your actual words.
LW: You are in no way obligated to do a bunch of emotional labour around your therapist’s feelings. The emotional labour is literally their job as a therapist. And frankly, somebody who checks their phone during sessions and took a personal call (wtf!) is entitled to nothing. I mean, you should probably get a message to his receptionist that you’re not coming for any more appointments to save yourself the hassle of getting a bunch of “hey where are you?” calls, but you owe your therapist *nothing*.
And in case it helps to hear it, Y’s feelings about you ending a business relationship with a service provider, as well as every other commentor’s feelings, are in no way your problem. People have all kinds of feelings about all kinds of things here in the Captain Awkward comments and they only sometimes have anything to do with the LW or anything they did or want to do.
I think Y crossed a line too. Tge phrase ‘kinda shitty’ does not apply when ending a professional relationship. Y is way way off in saying that LW should think about a hired professiobal’s effing feelings! That… is kinda shitty. LW you don’t owe your plumber, your dentist, your manicurist, or your gardener a breakup session. A competent ethical therapist would agree and I think a few above have already weighed in. Any therapist that feels you should worry about their feelings is not a good one.
Whoa there. This isn’t a relationship of equals. Yes if the client feels they might benefit from closure or practice but they owe their therapist who is a paid contractor doing a job, nothing. That whole ‘think about how you’d want to be treated’ does not apply here. Read the comments above from actual therapists. Yes it’s a long relationship but this is business. They aren’t friends or colleagues.
I agree with Y. You’re working with a therapist because of human issues and wanting to be healthier on that front. It’s not just business, and even though it’s part of the therapist’s job to manage their own feelings, they are still a human being and if you are treating them like they are not, and like they don’t *have* feelings in the situation, you’ve got more work to do.
I saw a therapist briefly some years ago, and within a couple of sessions I knew she was not the right person for me. I told a close friend and he said I ought to see her for a final session to tell her all of this, for ‘closure’. I told him I didn’t need closure and I also didn’t need to pay her a considerable amount of money for a session to tell her what I could easily say in a message. I don’t remember if I used email or a letter (but it was so long ago, it was probably a letter), but as far as I was concerned all I had to do was to let her know, politely, and then not make any more appointments.
Fwiw, the reason I stopped seeing her was because she accused me of negative thinking and wanted me to write down every negative thought during the week, so that she could turn it round into a positive thought. When I went to see her and said I had not had any negative thoughts (because I am by nature an optimist) she didn’t believe me. She thought that anyone with depression must be full of negativity. I wasn’t then, and I am not now. So after she berated me for being dishonest about this I said, ‘I have just had a negative thought. I don’t think this is doing me any good.’
I doubt she was surprised that I didn’t go back. From the description of the LW’s therapy sessions, I don’t think her therapist will be surprised either. It looks as if he lost interest some time ago, but has not been honest enough to say so.
It is genuinely puzzling to me how you could assume that mere longevity of contact with someone you pay for services means “significant enough in my life that I must formally break up with them in person”. I mean, if you want to, you definitely should! I scheduled a last appointment with my old waxer and stylist before I moved countries, and sent Christmas cards the year after I moved, because I wanted to, but didn’t do the same with my old manicurist. Was that shitty of me?
Sometimes the best closure to a professional service relationship, especially one that’s gone bad or is pressing your boundaries, is to simply terminate it. LW’s obligation to their therapist was pretty much to show up when they said they would, and pay for their sessions. Period. If you develop a relationship past that (like me with my waxer) and it’s useful to you to do something other than stop scheduling appointments, knock yourself out, but there’s no obligation there.
This isn’t something you need to discuss together or bring to an in-person appointment. You also don’t need to give a reason or disclose your intention to find a different therapist in the future. It will be easier than you think!
Here’s what I would do. Call after hours and leave a voicemail that says I want to cancel my upcoming appointment(s) and not reschedule. I’d say something like, there’s no need to return this call and I’ll be in touch if I ever want to come back. thanks and goodbye.
I think chrissy’s is the perfect approach, actually. LW, you are a PAYING CLIENT. You PAY this guy to listen to you and help you, and he has broken the contract by taking calls, checking his texts, being flippant, etc. GAME OVER. Aside from any outstanding balance on your bill, you don’t owe him anything. No explanation. No apology. No performances of any kind. Cancel your appointments via VM and move on with your life!
Another therapist and former therapy client chiming in here to say that it can be really helpful to have a final session with a therapist who you’ve been working with for that long. It can be nice to have a chance to reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going. It can be helpful to “practice” goodbyes with someone who should be safe to do it with. You can give feedback to the therapist about why you’re leaving, but you definitely don’t have to–this should be focused on you not on him. You’re certainly not required to have a termination session, and lots of people don’t. But in my experience (as therapist and as client) that final session can be really helpful.
Each time I have been on the client side, I was really anxious going into the session, but full of warm fuzzies afterwards. One thing I have done as a client is leave a message on the therapist’s voicemail before the last session letting the them know that our next session was going to be the last one. That let me get through the most awkward bit with time to prepare and without having to look them in the eye. And it probably helped the therapist be prepared to make that last session helpful.
Yeah, no. This guy is a jerk. He”s snide and he checks his phone — there will be no warm fuzzies. The “practice” opportunity here is to give no fucks at all about someone who’s not doing the job you’re paying him for. Practice leaving a voicemail just like cchrissyy said. No reasons, no need for him to return the call, thanks & goodbye. Practice doing the thing that makes YOU most comfortable and happy and gets you what you want most efficiently. Conflict avoidance is underrated, imho, and a brief polite vicemail is quite sufficient here.
Oh my gosh this! The practicing to give no fucks! Spending money on a session to practice telling a guy he’s violated boundaries isntt going to result in some epiphany on therapists part he will likely defend the behavior.
I gotta agree. I’m not sure why LW needs do the emotional work of saying goodbye to a therapist who isn’t even doing the emotional work he’s paid for, which is to provide therapy in a professional manner.
Yes and I’ve done that as well with my therapist when I was graduating out of therapy. But this guy isn’t doing that. His therapist is mistreating him. There ain’t no warm fuzzies to be had.
I’ve spent years in therapy dealing with a traumatic childhood and have changed therapists twice: not because they were bad but because they weren’t good fits for me. Both were totally professional and supportive – like CA says – easiest breakups ever. Though I spent lots of sleepless nights building up the courage to do it!
I have been with my current therapist for about five years and have twice considered ‘breaking-up’ with her, but when I thought about it, I realised it was because I was afraid that I was lowering my barricades, and that she would learn my ‘secrets’ and that made me panic. One thing my mind did to try to extricate me from the panic was to read things into her words and tone that weren’t really there – I saw gentle pushes as insults, heard questions as sarcasm and so on – so I could justify stopping therapy with her. It is probably not the same for you LW (because his taking personal phone calls and checking the phone sound unprofessional and disengaged) but I just thought it might be worth keeping in mind how our brains can twist things when we are anxious and afraid.
I ended up ghosting on my last therapist. She was fine up to a point and then it’s like the connection was broken and I felt like she wasn’t hearing me or believing me, which unfortunately was happening during a time of crisis for me. I was on unpaid medical leave at the time and told her I would call to schedule my next appointment when I could afford the co-pay again and just never called back – I really didn’t have the mental stamina to have that kind of conversation. My next therapist’s office is in the building where the prior therapist used to practice, and I’m about 98% sure they know each other at least professionally, so I’m guessing word got back to the prior therapist because she never tried to get in touch with me but I don’t know for sure.
I’m not saying that was the right thing to do but sometimes needs must.
My current therapist, who is so fantastic in every other way, not only doesn’t text but she doesn’t email either. Alas.
I did a similar thing – I had one more appointment scheduled after I decided it wasn’t working (and wasn’t salvageable) and I rang the clinic and cancelled through the reception staff. Two days later I had a flurry of missed calls from the clinic, and when I answered it was reception staff wanting to know if I wanted to reschedule, and I said “Nope”. I didn’t speak to my psychologist at all about the matter.
It sounds like you did the “breakup” in the way you needed to to take care of your own feelings, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
A point of clarification: even if your new therapist does know your old therapist, they can’t discuss their clients with each other unless you’ve specifically signed a release.
That was totally the right thing to do. And btw I doubt your therapists discuss their clients by any identifying characteristics. I’m pretty sure that’s illegal and it’s definitely unethical.
As a future therapist, I can assure you that if your former therapist is at all sensible, she is not sitting around and feeling hard done by because of how you stopped seeing her. Not only are clients terminating with you just a basic fact about the job, so are clients terminating with you to go see your colleagues.
I could be the most competent, compassionate, versatile therapist in the world and there will still be tons of clients who will do better to see another therapist, because people are different from one another and therapists aren’t interchangeable. Therapists know and accept this. (Or they’re dealing poorly with some issues of their own, and should get therapy.)
Another therapist chiming in here. I think it depends on your comfort level and desire to engage with your therapist, who honestly sounds like he’s lost his touch a bit. If what you want is to do this without discussion, that’s perfectly fine. Find a new therapist, let your current one know you won’t be returning, and that’s it. We are used to clients transferring care, and honestly, any notice at all is better than no notice. If you do feel like you have the mental energy to engage, I think it can be really rewarding to have that final session. That way, you can have a sense of closure and review all the things you’ve achieved in your time with your therapist.
The key thing is, it’s totally up to you. Whatever feels the most comfortable for you personally will be fine. Your therapist is a professional who knows better than to take it personally (and if he doesn’t, that’s his problem and not yours).
I think because therapy requires so much vulnerability and time, and because it is often integral to improving one’s quality of life, that it can sometimes not feel like a business relationship. But it is one, and business relationships end all the time, and that is okay. I would even guess that many therapists work toward their business relationships ending, in that they are seeking to provide people with the skills and internal support that make them resilient.
I’ve stopped seeing therapists because they or I moved, or they were covering for my regular therapist over maternity leave, etc. The only one I’ve really fired for Reasons(tm) was a psychiatrist I was seeing as both a psych meds person and a therapist. He was fine for some stuff, but we didn’t work together well around gender/sexism issues (he’s a moderately-clueless middle-aged cis het white dude).
He’s a great psychiatrist, and was very chill when I said I thought I’d be a better fit with a different therapist but that I wanted to keep seeing him for my meds management. He said therapy is about my wellbeing, and if someone else would help me more, he’s 100% behind it. I’m really happy with him as a psychiatrist – his training as a therapist really helps a lot (I’ve seen some awful, awful psychiatrists). He also knows a good bit about fibromyalgia, and helped me find a cocktail that was almost exclusively meds that also help fibro symptoms.
You got this, LW. I hope you find a new therapist who’s a great fit.
It is 100% okay to cancel seeing a therapist.
The way I’ve done it is to cancel my next appointment(s) with the receptionist early enough that I don’t get charged the cancellation/no-show fee – check what your clinics policy is, it may be 24 hours, 48 hours, or longer – and just not rebook anymore appointments.
Good therapist often have a *waiting list* of clients who want to get in with them, so they’ll be happy to be able to help someone else.
Also LW, you don’t even have to tell the therapist that you’re switching to a new therapist if you don’t want to. You can just say, “I’m ready to end our sessions. Thank you for your help for the past 5 years.” And if he asks why you can give whatever answer you’re comfortable with. “This type of therapy isn’t a good fit for me anymore.” “Our sessions haven’t felt productive lately.” “I want to take a break from therapy.” If telling him you want to see a new therapist is easier, then say that. But if telling him you want to see a different therapist is what’s making this hard for you, you don’t have to tell him that.
Sounds like maybe he’s giving you the chance to practice what you’ve learned from him. His behavior may be an intentional part of the process. My long-term therapist subtly changed our relationship when it was time for me to make the choice to leave. He would fidget with his watch, wear casual clothes, talk about current events. He was just guiding me toward letting go. You can always talk to him about it.
Eh, you know what would be much cooler on his part? Having the “I feel like we might be at a good stopping point. What do you think?” conversation. Checking his phone in the middle of a session/visibly tuning out is not cool.
I had a great therapist that I saw on and off for years. Sometimes I didn’t need him, but when I did it was good to be able to dip back in without giving a ton of backstory. We could always talk about it honestly.
Yeah – my therapist lately has been asking me where I would like to go from here, which I find to be a considerate way of suggesting that our sessions are coming up to their natural end. There are a couple more things I want to talk through with her, so I told her that and she was totally receptive. We’ll have a few more sessions, and then I expect that I’ll take a break and maybe see her again in the future when I need to.
I’ve worked with therapists in the past who were checked out or otherwise inconsiderate and I never found that to be an effective technique for me as a patient, whether or not they were doing it on purpose. Perhaps it works well for some patients – a good therapist will gauge what techniques work well for each patient, and stop using the ones that don’t work.
The LW’s therapist is clearly not working well for her anymore, and hasn’t been for some time. His behaviour seems very unprofessional to me. LW, I hope things go well and you find a fantastic new therapist!
I totally agree. I don’t respond at all to ‘subtle hints’, I’d find it distressing and feel like I was being manipulated.
I’d probably end the therapeutic relationship on the basis that my therapist was unprofessional, rather than on the basis that I was ready to move on, which I don’t think would be a good outcome.
When my therapist got to the point that she felt there was nothing she could offer me unless I was willing to confront my experience of childhood trauma, she told me so. She let me think about whether I was content with where I was at or whether I wanted to dive deeper at that point in her life.
Her respectful but firm directness was absolutely essential in helping me realise what I needed to do in order to see improvements.
Exactly! Having you pay to guess?!? What the actual fuck? He was happy to keep collecting money. Ugh… when my therapist felt I was graduating whe used her words… she didn’t do annoying potentially hurtful things to make me guess…
Yep. I’m a therapist myself and visibly tuning out during a session would be incredibly unprofessional. I know there’s a stereotype that therapists need to help you figure things out on your own rather than directly telling you those things, but that’s not helpful when it comes to the basic details of your professional relationship. Like, imagine a therapist saying, “I won’t tell you your appointment time. You’ve got to use the tools I’m giving you to find out for yourself.” That’s what this tuning-out tactic is like.
TL;DR, manipulation isn’t cool and therapists sometimes need to be direct.
I get that different therapists work differently but that sounds like a shallow excuse to milk out a few more appointments and $$$ under the guise of “You did it, you made a choice on your own!”
Yeah, this sounds a little like the romantic partner who tries to get you to be the one to break up so that they don’t have to be the bad guy.
Yupp. Even if it was intentional (which I’m giving the side-eye), I feel it’s a pretty condescending “technique”. And what I’m not receptive to when I’m looking for help is being condescended to or manipulated.
I broke up with a psychiatrist after a year of work. He had estimated we would work together for two years, once a week. After a year he said “I never said that–and you need to be seen 3 times a week now.” He sometimes walked out of the session for a few minutes or answered a call. Apparently my self-esteem had improved because I decided to stop our sessions. He actually called me and said, “You can’t just quit like that.” My reply? “I just did. It’s my money, my life and my decision.” Click.
If you feel minimized or belittled, it’s time to go. You’ll be fine.
I am so happy to read your story, MC! Precisely right actions, in my book.
Oh wow that guy was such a creep! You just can’t quit??? Sounds stalkers.
I went to therapy weekly for ten years with the same therapist, and in the end I raised it with her, we discussed a tapering off, and three months later, done. That worked pretty well for me. However, I did have to work with some feelings that I didn’t feel like. Officially Cured and Healthy, so maybe I should just keep going a bit longer… and slowly I realised I was never going to feel CURED or get an official certificate of Sanity, because people do not work like that. We’re all works in progress.
You are allowed to cancel, to stop seeing a therapist who is not working for you. You don’t need their permission. You don’t need to justify it. You’re allowed to end a romantic relationship whenever you want/need – why not a therapeutic one?
I love my therapist, she’s done some amazing things for me. I recommended her to two of my friends. One now sees her too. The other had a meeting or two and then quit because they just didn’t click. Finding the right therapist at the right time is hard. I suggest keeping your current therapist while searching for a new one. Like job searching. It’s better to have something that’s not quite right for now instead of just leaping out alone. And when you find someone new that clicks and that you like, tell your current therapist that you greatly appreciate all they’ve done working with you, and that your current needs have taken you elsewhere, wish them a nice day, and head off into the sunset. Although we see them as confidants and confessors they are essentially just like a hairdresser or a doctor, sometimes you just need a different one. You don’t owe him anything but a thank you, and even that is negotiable.
I respectfully disagree. When I felt my therapist wasn’t helping me anymore, keeping going would have been a mistake, and a costly and possibly slightly detrimental one for my mental health at that. I think everyone needs to make that call for themselves, it’s not always true that you should stick with your current therapist as long as you don’t find a better one.
Um, no. That current therapist is toxic. He’s belittling and unethical and he’s way worse than nothing. It’s not at all like job searching; it’s like boyfriend searching. Don’t stick with your abusive boyfriend just because you haven’t found a new one yet.
With therapy as with job searching, there are many times when not having one is in fact better than having the wrong one. If you need the money, you should keep your old job while you search for a new one; otherwise, you don’t have to, and if it’s making you actively unhappy then you definitely shouldn’t. If you really need help to function week to week right now, it might be right to keep your old therapist while you search for a new one; LW doesn’t seem to be in that situation at all, and so she probably shouldn’t keep paying this guy money.
And one key difference between therapy and job-searching: another therapist isn’t going to refuse to take you as a client because you don’t have a therapist right now. They aren’t going to ask for a resume or a discussion of your qualifications for being in therapy. You’re hiring the therapist, not the other way around.
Also, LW, keep in mind that this is a professional relationship, which not only means that you shouldn’t behave in a way that makes you uncomfortable to avoid hurting your therapist’s feelings, it also means that if the problems come from his professional mistakes (answering the phone, not being able to give you the therapy you need) then it is not your job to tell him exactly what he did wrong / should improve. If you want to, that’s fine – but it’s a (optional, voluntary ) kindness on your part, because it is literally his job to improve himself as a therapist.
LW, all the advice here is great.
And what’s happened between you and your therapist is not unusual (well, “ya think” is).
Forgive me if you already know this, but I found it helpful in navigating therapists: even when we find a therapist who is a great match to help us with our issues, the usefulness of the relationship usually ends after a time (in my experience, 3 to 5 years). The most obvious reason is you outgrow the therapist’s box of tools and need someone who has the tools to help you with the issues the first one uncovered.
The more subtle and painful reason is that patient and therapist have created such a close relationship that they are interacting emotionally and non-verbally on an unconscious level. It’s called enactment. It throws a stick in the spokes because the therapist is no longer an outside observer- they’re participating in the patient’s emotions. A good therapist recognizes when this is happening and can control it, but a lot of therapists don’t and can’t, and they unconsciously fall into behaviors modeled on the patient’s issues and do exactly the kind of things the patient has problems with.
In my case, my therapist kept pushing me to do things that did or would work great for him. And one of my issues was a father who genuinely wanted what was best for me, but couldn’t see that what was best for him wasn’t necessarily best for me. So, a patient who has problems knowing when to let go, the therapist might start withdrawing, thereby putting the patient having to decide do I/don’t I?
It’s not consciously done, so maybe knowing this will help you with any negative emotions you might have about how this turned out, so you can appreciate the good he did you.
Good luck. I hope you find the right person for you!
It’s natural to feel nervous about ending sessions with a therapist, it is or at least can be a really intimate relationship. But in the end it’s a professional relationship and it’s for you to decide whether it is working or whether you want to continue. Being able to wind it down or have a termination session might be useful but isn’t a requirement.
Not every therapist can work well with everyone. People change over time, even if you mesh really well with someone at first you might not later, it’s part of the business. I’m sure it’s a sucky part of the job for therapists but it comes with the territory.
He has a colleague supervisor to debrief any stuff arising with you while protecting your privacy and identity. All therapists do, as part of ethical practice. He’ll be fine, and hopefully he does reflect on his practice when you go but guess what – not your problem. I suggest you use the word “change therapists” rather than a sexual relationship term. I hope it’s a joke, but even then many jokes have an element of truth to them. Yes it’s a relationship, but it’s not based on open information sharing or an understanding that it is based on attraction. Transference happens, and we all feel rejected when someone we trust with our insecurity is not listening, and becomes impatient. That sounds like this guy. This unique relationship is done, is all. Therapy gets off to a good start if you talk to your new one about what you want to work on. Be as specific as you can. It’ll hopefully be liberating to change therapists, and find it’s simple and the one you have been seeing wont contact you again, or even show they recognise you from therapy on the street.
That’s a good point, talking about “breaking up” is kind of a cute/funny way to put it…but it’s not very accurate because it’s not that kind of relationship. It’s a professional relationship. “Changing therapists”, or “discontinuing” or “terminating” or just “stopping” therapy with this therapist, or maybe “firing” your therapist although that might be harsher than LW wants to go with. “Breaking up” emphasizes that it can be unilateral…but also implies some level of obligation to the therapist’s feelings and lends a lot of weight to something that really doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be that heavy.
I had massive anxiety in grad school and the therapist I first saw was pretty terrible (she didn’t believe my lived experiences sort of terrible so I found it easier to bend the truth to her than to work on stuff) but she kept scheduling follow up appointments and I kept going because it’s hard to say no. When I finally got in the local CBT center, I was able to tell my first therapist that it was working so well I thought I could stop with her. (The CBT person was also a grad student and not only believed me but had also experienced many of the things the other therapist kept contradicting me about because they’re common in grad school.). So I definitely found it easier to break up with the old one after I had a new one!
CBT was nice because their program had an endpoint so I didn’t have to break up! Though the first part of the program worked so well that I graduated early— my therapist said I didn’t need to complete the remaining weeks unless I wanted to. :). (They put the stuff with the best evidence base first in that program.)
I’m not in grad school but I’m a student and currently working at an university, and I’ve had two therapists who didn’t contradict me, but also didn’t seem to understand At All what I was trying to explain, and at some point I started to feel like there are things in university that don’t officially exist, except maybe in other universities. So it’s always, um, not exactly nice, but validating, to read that other people experience this too, so thanks!
I think it’s more common than we think to find therapists who cannot really relate to some aspects of your life/identity because, despite their training, hacer never experienced them in first person … Just like regular, non-therapist people! The key point here is whether they’re willing to believe your experience and to also sometimes do some reasearch on the subject. Anyway, I feel you on this (with my ex therapist it was bisexuality, she said she didn’t need to learn about it because she was only interested in “my experience” of it, but since my experience was just that and not a beginner’s course, this led to some terrifying questions on her part)
Another therapist here. Just wanted to add that it’s 100% OK to totally ghost a therapist if that’s what’s right for you. Termination sessions are often good for a client who’s winding up her work, but in cases where you’re unhappy with a therapist’s behaviour (as you justifiably are here!), my suggestion would be not to waste another cent or thought on your therapist unless that’s important to you for your own sense of completion. Best wishes for finding someone more helpful to deal with the remaining issues you want to address.
LW, in your case I would strongly advise not having a termination session. Those are for if you no longer need therapy but will miss him/are nervous about going it alone, or if he or you are moving interstate and you’re anxious about seeing someone else instead. Dump him by voicemail.
My reasoning here is that things have already gone a little sour, and it sounds like your therapist likes to “challenge” his clients, and you probably don’t want him to challenge your decision to leave, especially since letting go is difficult for you. Also, what your describing in your sessions sounds like it might be burn-out, and that’s something he needs to work through with his own supervisor and/or by taking leave, not at your financial and emotional expense.
If you do have a termination session, or he picks up the phone when you call, I have one extremely important piece of advice for you: if you therapist says “I suppose I have right of reply?” your answer is NO. NO, HE DOES NOT HAVE RIGHT OF REPLY. “I don’t want to see you any more” is not something he gets to argue with you about. It is not the opening of a debate, it is the end of one. If you give reasons (like that he’s checking his phone during sessions, wtf) then that’s feedback for him to sift over in his own time, not an argument for him to rebut.
LW you don’t need to worry what the therapist will think. They are like a plumber: paid to do a job. I know it’s different bc there are all these trust things and it’s deeply personal. I’m also sending your hurt. I would be hurt too. The person is behaving very unprofessionally. Checking their phone? Jeez that’s insulting!!! Is he trying to make a point or get you to practice boundaries? If so it’s bad. He’s being a douche and wasting your time, money, and emotional labor. Just bc he was good doesn’t mean you owe him your continued business when it’s clear he’s no longer doing a good job. Therapists all have their limitations. He’s clearly not able to deal with the issues you want to work on. Maybe he was better whfn it was extreme but he isn’t capable of the fine tuning. Get someone else and very best of luck. And congrats on all the hard work!
Hi LW, I’m in the process of changing therapists at the moment, so this is timely. Sorry that my comment is so long, but I think it is all relevant.
I’ve seen a number of therapists over the years and every ending has been different. Some have been really good, others TERRIBLE (like the husband-therapist/wife-GP combo which ended up with me attempting suicide using medication which she did not simply prescribe but also literally handed to me in a large quantity, and even after being referred on to a psychiatrist/therapist I did not know how to quit with the first therapist and continued to see him for several more months!).
If your work together has been productive, you have a good relationship, and the therapist continues to be respectful of your time and your needs – even if those include a need to work with a different therapist for any reason – then I think a planned termination comes fairly naturally and it is really helpful to spend your last session(s) wrapping things up, talking about what you have gained and acknowledging their part in that, and planning for the future (which may include the possibility of returning to them at some point down the track if you need to). An important part of therapy is learning how to make good endings. However, therapy is also about learning to use your words, to assertively express your needs and to set boundaries, and it is a process. The expectation is that your therapist will have more skills in this area, so the responsibility should fall more heavily on them to identify problems in the therapeutic relationship and either help you work through them or help ends things in a constructive and positive way.
But you absolutely don’t owe it to them, especially if the reason you are considering leaving is that they are not respectful of your time, the issues you want to work on or the way you want to do that, which sounds like the case here. In your particular situation I would have no qualms at all about simply not booking further appointments. If you did want to acknowledge the good work you have done with them in the past or you think it would help create closure for you to explain in more detail your reasons for terminating, it is perfectly acceptable to do that in writing after the fact, without putting yourself to the expense of a further session.
The tricky area is when you’re in therapy and have a history of trauma or abuse which involves invalidation, rejection, abandonment, failure to meet your needs and boundary violations. In this situation it is almost inevitable that these same traumas will be re-enacted in the therapy relationship, and it can sometimes be extremely difficult to tell how much of what is going on between you and your therapist is truly in the here-and-now and how much is based in projecting issues of the past onto the present situation; and whether the therapist is the problem (which can range from simply not having worked through their own issues or not having strong enough boundaries of their own to outright abusive behaviour) or whether these are simply storms to be weathered. A lot of the work in this type of therapy actually involves the relationship itself. Working through relationship ruptures and repairs is part of the process, and sometimes it takes the encouragement of the therapist for you to come back and discuss things and make a clear decision as to whether to continue or to end. But this needs to be an intentional and explicit process, and done for YOUR benefit and not the therapist’s.
Sometimes it is a complicated mix of all of this – my current situation is that I’m hitting serious roadblocks with the therapist I’ve been seeing on and off for over 15 years (since the above-mentioned suicide attempt). He has been there for me consistently through some pretty rough patches including periods of intense suicidality – something which other therapists have not been prepared to do – and in his role as my psychiatrist he is also in my corner as far as fitness to work and professional registration board issues, BUT since some past trauma has become more of a focus in our work in the last couple of years some major transference problems have arisen which I have tried but simply cannot work through (related to my having been sexually assaulted in the past by a male mental health professional) and I am finding that the purely talking approach we are using is no longer meeting my needs and I want to explore more body-focussed therapies with a female trauma therapist, and he is convinced (while not actually being very knowledgeable about them) that these approaches won’t be any better and that I should just push on with him. I quit in frustration about 5 weeks ago, exchanged a few fruitless emails, and have finally found a potential new therapist. Although part of me is angry with him and wants to just never talk to him again, I am trying to break my pattern of “running away” which has been repeated many times over and I’m going back to discuss my decision and to wrap things up properly (also, I want to keep him as my psychiatrist, so I have to find some sort of compromise).
Resolving this sort of dilemma requires two main things:
(1) it requires an ability which is explicitly talked about in DBT, of being able to hold two opposing ideas in mind at once. In my case, that my therapist is really good, we’ve done great work in the past and there are many things about therapy with him which are still working AND that there are major needs I have right now which he is not able to meet, and that in some ways he is actively denying the reality of this experience. He is not all good or all bad, and neither will the therapist be with whom I work next.
(2) it requires being able to recognise and exit a situation which is genuinely unhealthy or abusive. I have not found it helpful to try and discuss my therapy relationship with my “normal” friends. They really do not understand either long term therapy relationships or the dynamics of abuse. What I have found most helpful is reading blogs such as Captain Awkward, being part of an informal network of mental health bloggers who have similar experiences, and in one case talking it over with a different therapist for a while – which resulted in my going back to my original therapist.
Best of luck whatever you decide LW.
I have an update with a good result: I did go back and discuss all of the reasons why I was changing therapists and he was much more open to understanding what I could get from a somatic therapy approach than he had seemed in our last couple of sessions or the emails. I acknowledged the good work we’d done in the past. We negotiated a shared care arrangement where he is still my psychiatrist (on an as-required basis). The GP has also been looped in and my treatment plan there has been updated.
I found doing this really confronting and difficult, but worthwhile, because despite the problems which arise from his middle-aged straight white guy perspective he is not actually a jerk.
Unlike the LW’s therapist. I still think the LW should DTMFA.
I’m so glad it’s worked out for you!
Some therapists will act like your desire to leave is a symptom, such as avoidance, and is only proof that you need to stay. They can give the impression that you need their permission to stop therapy, even though this is not true, But people in therapy are likely to be vulnerable and insecure, and of course there is a power imbalance, so it can be hard to stand your ground.
Yes, I have had this happen to me. My therapist did not check her phone, but she did fall asleep! I think what I ended up doing was basically ghosting her. That is, I cancelled an upcoming appointment on answering machine, and never rescheduled. It wasn’t until I found another, really good therapist that I realized just how bad she was.
I’ve “broken up” with a few therapists. My very first therapist was a TERRIBLE match for me. I was in college, incredibly overworked by my course load and homework, and severely depressed. I finally signed up for therapy… and the guy assigned me more homework. Helpful in some situations, I’m sure, but not when one of my major issues at the time was feeling utterly overwhelmed by my workload and guilty about my inability to keep up. Also, I told him quite explicitly that I was not religious, and he would NOT stop bringing up Jesus in our sessions. Meetings with this guy were so profoundly unhelpful that they actually made me feel MUCH worse; I was so depressed, so desperate, so lost, and people had told me that therapy could help me… and then when I tried it, it was so completely not helpful; did that mean I was beyond help?! Fortunately my mother knew better, and urged me to switch therapists IMMEDIATELY. I felt awful and guilty, but then I got a new therapist who was FANTASTIC and helped through the rest of my college career.
Fast-forward over ten years to when I went through a particularly difficult experience and needed some immediate professional help to get me through the crisis. I found a therapist through a friend’s recommendation, and she was amazing, listening to my experiences, validating my reactions and telling me I wasn’t wrong or broken or unreasonable to feel the way I did about what had happened. I stuck with her for over a year as I worked through the worst of my issues.
But then I was feeling better, and past the point where I just needed a third party gently telling me that my perception of the world was still accurate. I needed concrete advice and coping mechanisms. I started asking her explicitly what I should do about certain things, and she actually said in so many words, “I don’t really give advice.” That’s fine; she was perfect for me when I needed her most, but she was no longer what I needed at the time.
So I switched. I was too chicken/guilty to ever officially say I was done; I just didn’t schedule a next appointment after seeing her one time, and I think the clinic called me once to ask if I’d like to schedule another, and I said no, and that was it; no big deal. My new therapist was very different, occasionally a bit harsher in his tone than I was used to, but he gave me real, concrete advice and scripts and steps to take in certain situations, and was a much better match for where I was at the time. It was definitely the right choice to switch, and as far as I know worked out just fine for everyone. After a while I didn’t feel I needed to see him anymore either (his techniques were working great for me! so much I didn’t need any more new advice!), and when I told him that at one session, he agreed, and wished me well with a smile as I walked out of our last meeting.
I think there’s a tendency for people to talk about therapy like it’s one thing. Even just within “talk therapy” (not getting into somatic stuff or whatever) there’s so many different ways of doing it and different approaches work for different people at different times. I mean, your comment illustrates that really well! I’ve had a similar experience where early on in therapy I mostly wanted someone to listen to me and tell me my feelings were OK and create a space where I felt really safe sharing, and these days if I were to re-start therapy I’d want something more focused on skills and advice and working on specific problems. I found this out by trying to get therapy from a psychodynamic therapist who kept steering our sessions towards 100% talking about unpleasant feelings and 0% anything else, even after I specifically asked for other things. She wouldn’t even affirm my strengths or anything, just 100% let’s talk about anger and how my life sucks.
At least she was able to offer a pretty decent explanation of why she wanted to do things that way. I think though, that even given different styles, she was just a really, really toxic therapist.
I’m in the contemplation stage of breaking up with my psychologist – she’s lovely, but all talk, very little action, and I felt like she was more concerned about lifestyle chioces of my partner that I don’t have a problem with and did not feel the need to change than the actual things I really do need help with strategies/techniques to work through.
My problem now is working out how to find a therapist that will be a good fit and help me with the action side of things, etc. It took me 15 years (after some less than stellar experiences – in particular the victim blamer who was working for a sexual assault program) to get to the point of finding this one.
I hope everyone googles how to tell a good therapist from a bad one. Checking phones and taking calls is completely unprofessional. That’s substandard care. Iirc, there’s a thing about breaking the confidentiality and safe space — I forgot what it’s called — and any interruptions or lack of privacy does that.
I had a friend whose therapist would take her with him to re-park his car so he wouldn’t get a ticket. During therapy. She’d never seen a therapist before so she didn’t know how unethical that was. He was basically asking her to confide her deepest issues on a public street while he was only half paying attention. Idk if she got in the car with him, but when I found out about this (years later, sadly) I was furious.
Another friend’s therapist had a side business doing astrology readings. He convinced her to go to him for that, too. No, no, and nope. If your therapist is using your therapy time to promote his other business, run.
A different friend went to a guy did some weirdo therapy that involved hugging, holding, and cradling. That’s a neutron bomb of ethical issues. Of course, she fell in love with him and was traumatized when she realized he didn’t care for her.
And! A friend who was on workers’ comp was assigned a therapist who did 15 minute and half hour sessions depending on her whim. She was often late, and she spent some of the time complaining about her massive stack of paperwork. She recommended things like mangosteen juice and wild salmon and water that cost $50 a bottle — to her *workers’ comp* patients! Not exactly people swimming in money. At one point my friend added up all the things she’d recommended and realized it would’ve cost $500 a month. Then the therapist started recommending wacky things like “grounding” therapy where you stand on some pad and hold a cord and it connects you to the earth. My friend had to go to be eligible for workers’ comp but sometimes she’d come home crying. She looked up the therapist recently and found out she’s serving 3 years in prison for workers’ comp fraud.
It makes me so angry because when you go to a therapist you’re so vulnerable. There are so many great therapists out there, but the nutjobs with no moral compass stay in business because, as a society, we don’t talk enough about what to expect from therapy. I wish I could report all those therapists to the licensing board but I don’t know their names so I can’t. But let’s all support each other — friends don’t let friends stay with bad therapists.
I don’t even think you need to tell him – you can just cancel and stop making appointments without an explaination, that wouldn’t be rude in this context. If that’s easier, anyway, a note is still nice!
I’ve broken up with a few therapists who didn’t seem to be listening to me, or didn’t seem able to address the issues I wanted to work on. I broke up with them by calling and leaving voice mails to cancel the next appointment. I expressed my gratitude for their time and attention, and stated that I wouldn’t be making any more appointments at that time.
One of the therapists called me back after I left the breakup voicemail. I did not take the call, and she left a message that I interpreted as her trying to manipulate me into resuming the counseling relationship. That felt strange to me, and I did not return her call.
So yeah, I’ve learned that therapists are people with flaws and limitations. I’ve had the best experiences when I search for a therapist who specializes in the issues I want to work on.
Best of luck finding a therapist who can provide the feedback and support you need now.
Long time lurker, first time poster, love the site, the advice, the comments. Englisch not my native language aaand I do have a somewhat differing opinion. So I really hope this will be OK. I will not be offended when it’s not posted/hope the commentariat will presume good intention 🙂
I am a therapist. I totally agree that ending therapy or switching therapists ist totally OK/can be very helpful and patients should never be made to feel it’s not.
I don’t know if thinking “therapists are used to being broken up with and this is not a big deal for them” a) is helpful for all patients and b) right for all therapists in every therapy. Some of my patients struggle with the thought that I am only working with them, being engaged/friendly because I get paid. For me and most of my collegues yes, it’s a job and yes, getting paid is an important part of being able to do the job well. Therapy is and should be a mostly one-sided relationship that is mainly concerned with the needs of the patient and having clear boundaries/a clear setting is the basis for that. But we don’t fake being engaged, interested, well meaning. And while how I feel about saying goodbye to a patient (mostly pretty good, because they don’t need me anymore, sometimes a bit concerned, very seldomly sad) is not at all the patient’s problem and totally has to be managed by me, I don’t think thinking of therapist as being able to switch the therapeutic relationship on and off easily is helpful to the patient and the therapeutic process.
I think a good therapist should make it “easy” to break up by making sure they are approachable about it and make the patient feel OK about his decision. But I think reflecting on why, recapping the time in therapy and trying to map out where to go from here are not “easy” but “good” therapy. Again, this should be facilitated by the therapist, not the patient and should feel accepting and constructive to them.
Maybe an aspect to my “hmmm” response to the “no problem, hire and fire” mindset is because in my country, therapy is paid in full by (statuatory) health insurance? This means I have to request a certain amount of sessions and explain myself if I need more and there is a max. amount of sessions. It is very seldom that patients pay for therapy themselves, here. Maybe that makes me feel like less of an employee of the patient? A therapist-patient-relationship might be subtley better for some therapies just as a therapist-client-relationship might be better for others.
Amen to this. Well said.
Hi, fellow therapist here! I appreciated your response and perspective. I hear you that thinking of therapy in terms of switching on/off doesn’t acknowledge the very real relationships that are created in the therapy process. However, I think the Captain’s intent is simply to help our LW to feel confident asserting her needs in this situation. That being said, I think it can be helpful (as I mentioned below), to have a final/wrap-up session where you get the chance to process the experience and look at the successes and challenges. But, I think that’s something the therapist should discuss with the client at the outset of therapy, and not something clients should ever feel pressured to do. In a case, like this one, where the therapist seems disengaged for some reason, it’s understandable that the LW may not be interested in processing as the therapist has already weakened the therapeutic relationship.
Yes, I think, maybe I was generalizing to fast from the captain’s straightforward statement (“is that helpful to hear for all patients in therapy?”) and not considering enough the LW’s current situation. I agree that LW has good reason to switch therapists and should only engage with their therapist the way it seems helpful to her.
Even if the patient isn’t paying at all for the sessions, if they have a maximum number of sessions there’s an effective cost to them of wasting one on a wrap-up appointment that will be mostly for the therapist’s benefit. Even if they can have infinite sessions as long as someone authorizes another chunk, there’s a time cost. An hour in a therapist’s office is an hour, plus travel time, that the patient isn’t spending on other things–time off from paid work, or taken from physical exercise or social life or chores. When therapy is working, it’s worth taking that time, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth the patient’s while to spend a couple of hours (counting travel) saying “this isn’t working so I’m leaving” when they could do it in a few minutes, not taken from the usual workday, that it takes to leave a voicemail or send a text or email.
I’m commenting here because it’s easy for people to think “it’s no money out of your pocket” without thinking about either the fact that therapy often happens at times that someone would otherwise be working for pay, or that even if the tine would otherwise be “wasted,” there are more pleasant ways to “waste” an hour than sitting in traffic, or at a bus stop, or in the therapist’s waiting room. I don’t drive, and the last time I was in therapy, the locations of my home and the therapist’s office, plus the local bus schedule, meant that those fifty minutes in her office took about three hours out of my day. They were absolutely worth it for me–seeing that therapist did me a lot of good–but who wants to spend three hours to explain why those three hours, and maybe the previous six or twelve, were a waste of their time?
Thank you, I too was skeptical of the “well, it’s free” approach but couldn’t identify why – this is why, not even counting the fact that one last encounter could take a toll on your mental health if the terapist argues why you shouldn’t leave, or tries to gaslight you or even just if confrontation is stressful for you.
Someone above suggested writing a thank-you letter; do you think that would be a reasonable alternative to having a goodbye/termination session, when there was at least at one point a positive relationship? I’m not a therapist but I’m having a little trouble understanding the purpose of going to another therapy session after deciding to not keep seeing that therapist, even if you’ve had a long-term positive relationship. I guess I can see it if it’s a mutually agreed termination, but if it’s one-sided that seems kind of awkward. (BTW I appreciate you sharing your perspective here.)
Thoroughly Rethinking Therapy. That’s your clever alliterative name.
I have no advice other than what CA and the commentariat has given.
I’ve broken up with therapists in several ways: by email, by voicemail, by live phone call, and with a termination session. The reason you’re breaking up as well as your dynamic with the therapist will determine the right way to break up. For therapists with whom I had a great rapport and the termination was generally positive, the termination session felt right. For others, when the break up was acrimonious or negative in some way, or I just didn’t feel much of a connection with the therapist, an email or voicemail was more appropriate. I agree with the Captain that an email or voicemail cancelling future appointments is sufficient for this particular therapist because of his recent lack of engagement with the LW.
Finding the right therapist for your particular and current life needs can be a tricky business. As others have said, sometimes a therapist is right for a certain time of life and over time becomes less effective. Breaking up with a therapist is quite a lesson in learning boundaries and advocating for our own needs.
I have a conflicting experience! When I broke up with a therapist, he was difficult about it—asking for reasons, suggesting I’d never improve without his input. I was shocked by his behavior, expecting something much more professional like what the Captain described. My mother (an internist) says this behavior from therapists is common enough to be a bit of a meme in the medical community. The good news is your therapist holds no power over you, and just because he asks for reasons doesn’t mean you have to give any. But I think if you go in prepped for the possibility that he may behave unprofessionally, you can avoid being sideswiped or talked into another session.
I’ve never gone to a therapist who is a straight man – I wonder what the Venn diagram of therapists who try to sell you on the idea that they are the only one who can help looks like?
@Ainsley, sorry to hear you had that experience. Ugh. FWIW, I had a female therapist (who was white, and also identified as gay), who did a similar thing. She even sent me a follow up email asking that I give a thorough explanation; I took it as an opportunity to express my frustration and she then responded by saying “oh, I wish you told me during therapy” even though I had tried. It was super weird, especially since I am a therapist myself and just can’t imagine doing that to a client. So unprofessional.
This article on finding a new therapist is extremely helpful (also has a link to a pdf booklet version)
Therapists I’ve parted company with:
The one who interrupted every sentence I started with questions I had already answered, and accused me of “running away from myself” when I tried to link my experiences/doings to the human condition in general–I left his office a quivering wreck but came back to tear a strip off him such that he watched it thereafter;
The two who kept seeing Fraudian nonsense in things I told them, until I dragged the second one to the higher authorities;
The one who kept badgering me about forgotten ancestors when my problems were occupational, who did not find me a specialist on that; who didn’t believe I might have ADD though I said this several times, and then acted utterly dumbfounded when I got a diagnosis thereof, and who earlier suggested just sticking a pin in the phone book when I asked for a good testing outfit;
The guy at said testing outfit who told me I had an opposite-gender brain;
The fellow appointed for me by an occupational-rehab outfit who simply parroted back everything I said w/o any helpful input, so I felt like all the information was going from me into him;
The job developer at same outfit who kept telling me I had Asperger’s when I don’t, and just wouldn’t listen.
Methinks I’ve got a better one now, and I’m doing some work on my own.
I am agog at your list. That’s like the guy who’s been bitten by a shark, a bear, and a rattlesnake.
First want to say I am excited to see fellow therapists as regular CA readers. Yay!
Second, chiming in to agree with the Captain. I have been broken up with by clients, and have been the breaker-upper. You don’t owe the therapist anything and you can end it on your terms, however you feel comfortable. In my experience on the receiving end of therapy/as a client, I have found it really helpful to have one closing session to be able to review what the process was like for me, how it did (or did not) meet my needs, etc. In a few cases, it was an opportunity for me to assert myself on things that I had noticed (and disliked) but wasn’t sure how to bring up. I found this to be satisfying and helped validate my experience. You know best if that would be a good option for you, though.
Good luck! As a colleague of mine likes to say “therapists are like shoes; a comfortable fit is crucial” I hope you find what you are looking for.
Yes! I love the shoe analogy. I have had several pairs, some were like payless, not really great but what was available at the time…some better fits but broke down too fast…or fit well except that one spot that caused blisters…current therapist is like Birkenstocks, infinitely comfortable and supportive.
I love your continuation of this analogy. So good.
Hi LW! I have had a similar experience last year, where this therapist I had been seeing for almost 4 years wasn’t doing it for me anymore. So one problem was definitely just not being the right type of therapy for me (which I guess it’s ok since our needs change as the self-work progresses). But it wasn’t just that… she also was very dismissive of my asexuality as some sort of trauma, and even as I tried to educate her, she pretended she listened to me only to just subtly and sometimes not so subtly refer to asexuality as something that is not real. She also couldn’t understand my religion or what I was saying. It has left me unable (at this moment) of trusting another therapist with my spiritual/religious beliefs.
Deciding to “break up” with her was easy once I saw that I deserved better and didn’t want to be part of that anymore. I gave a session in advance notice. The thing that cemented my decision for me as being the right one was that during our last session she almost cried and really, insisted that I would update her about my life. Then I realized that for a while, I had been pretty much being my therapist’s therapist. Leaving that office was like taking a burden out of my back.
I wish you good luck with your search for a new professional.
CW: Mention of sexual abuse
I’ve ended therapy twice, once with a good therapist, once with a bad (for me) one.
The bad one was first, and my problems were: 1.He seemed to put words in my mouth (I talked about the time I was molested by my babysitter because I thought I had to and wanted to get it out of the way; he seemed to fixate on it and wouldn’t accept that it wasn’t a major concern for me [it only happened once, my parents handled it appropriately]). 2. He kept referring to my husband and mother as Husband and Mother (I could hear the capital letters) even when I asked him not to because they’re people, not archetypes. I didn’t expect him to remember their names, but “your husband” rather than “Husband” would have been fine. 3. He seemed more interested in analyzing my husband through me than in actually dealing with my issues. 4. He wasn’t very good at relating to and handling my anxieties around the therapy process (Is this too self-centered? Is it still real even though I’m paying you, though of course you deserve to be paid?) I broke up with him after maybe 10 sessions by canceling my next appointment and telling him I didn’t think I needed to be in therapy anymore.
The good one was wonderful, exactly what I needed. Which in my case was mostly someone to tell me I was morally okay and help hold my emotions while I worked out the issues that mostly resulted from my relationship with my Darth. When I “broke up” with my Darth (we weren’t actually dating; it was a weird situation), I stopped needing a therapist after about three sessions. I told her that in person, she agreed, and we parted amicably. I still have her phone number and have thought about calling her when things have gotten rough, but so far I’ve been able to meet those needs by playing through a conversation with her (or with Captain Awkward!) in my head and by talking to my friends/parents/husband.
I had three absolutely terrible therapy experiences in a row once when I was shopping around and my takeaway for future was to find a place with some oversight.
I’m sure there are many perfectly lovely therapists who have their own practices but the ones I encountered were disorganized at best and re-traumatizing at worst (to the tune of “your ex abused you because you annoyed her with your lack social skills and I’m the only one who can help with that.” Also, my social skills are fine).
Finding a place where you can quickly be matched with a potentially better fit will make things a lot easier and any fixable issues or glaring no-no’s can have an audience and perhaps a chance to be rectified for the next person to come along.
I’ve broken up with a number of therapists. Most in person in the first few sessions (or after a session by phone, but I knew I wasn’t coming back by the end of the session) because…yeah, not working out well. One breakup was after a substantial period of helpful therapy, but where we seemed to not be making any more progress and going to therapy didn’t seem like a high priority any more. (I may have been wrong about that, but I think even if I’d continued it should have been with a new person.) I remember being nervous leading up to telling her, but I don’t remember any details of how it actually went down, which I think means it must have been a non-issue. You don’t need your therapist’s agreement/permission to move on.
One of the nice things about the “client” vs “patient” phrasing is it makes it pretty clear that YOU are in charge of figuring out what’s best for your mental health and the therapist is there to HELP you — and it’s up to you, not the therapist, to make the final judgement call on whether the therapist is helping.
Come to think of it though, that’s a pretty good mentality to have even in a “patient” framing (speaking as someone with a chronic illness that most doctors have no idea what to do with… and now that I’ve found one who does I still have to argue back with him a lot.)
Over the course of my life I’ve seen at least six individual therapists and three couples’ counselors. Most of the changes were due to either me or the therapist relocating, and I’m not sure if I explicitly ended things or they just understood I was moving or they were moving too far away. There was only trouble with one, the final couples’ counselor, who insisted that 2 hours was not too far just because she had other clients who came in from even further and anyway my 2 hours on transit didn’t mean anything because it only took spouse 45 minutes in a car.
I think if it had been just me, it would have been a more successful break-up because it would have been me and her, not me needing to convince her and now-ex-spouse. At the end of the session where he said he wanted to end the marriage I told her I would be angry at her for a long time (for a variety of reasons), and she seemed to understand. Even though it was a terrible drawn-out break-up with both the awful couples’ counselor and the now-ex-spouse, the pain and anger faded, in part because afterwards my individual therapist who I’d been seeing for years let me vent about the couples’ counselor.
Best wishes, LW!
I’ve ended many a therapist relationship.
Usually by ghosting. Not something I generally recommend, though I only really feel bad about the one therapist who I did like, did feel like was helping me…but was No Help for issues relating to being newly disabled and in chronic pain and I very much needed to be seeing someone for that AND at the same time my insurance was like “oh so y’know how our guidelines for transition say you need 1 therapist letter? well jk you need two” so I was seeing someone else for getting a SECOND gosh-dang letter and keeping up with two therapists on top of my other medical stuff was More Therapy than I really wanted, needed, or found helpful and keeping my previous therapist in that docket would have been…detrimental to my health. Rather extremely. And it was through no real fault of hers beyond not being a.) two people capable of writing letters to my insurance and specializing in young LGBTQ+ issues, other common youth issues, family counseling and not in chronic pain patients (and considering her speciality was with youth? not surprising that she was…not super prepared for chronic pain and disability because that’s not her typical client base and I don’t fault her on that at all).
I’ve had other therapists that…got ghosted because holy out of date terminology Batman! on top of denying my lived experiences. (And at this point in my life, I’ve accepted that I’ll have to do some educating of my docs because I have a rare disease and that’s rare disease life and…yeah, not ideal, but…well, unless it’s the specialist in the area I’m seeing that person for and they doc is willing to hear me out and do their own work looking into my rare disease to make sure they’re not relying solely on info from me, it’s fine-ish. I don’t expect to walk into a therapist associated with a college who has a large percentage or queer and trans students and be met with 10 years out of date guidelines about transition about “real life experience” like um no……..that’s not what the current WPATH guidelines are AT ALL and they haven’t required multiple years of “real life experience” in…like 10 years and that’s the type of thing that it is above my pay grade of “I’m literally paying YOU for this” to educate a doc on.) Therapists and psychiatrists who deny lived experiences also frequently don’t hear back from me bc….yeah you’re not doing the think I’m paying you for at all and since there’s a heck ton of neurological shitshow going on, not listening to me if we’re doing meds is endangering me and I only wish I were exaggerating there (and also I’m glad that I have a very good pharmacy who does their work and makes sure that I’m not getting scripts that can dangerously interact beyond things I already know dangerously interact and can head off before things get to the pharmacy stage but holy crap yeah no this is why anybody prescribing me meds that act on the brain are docs I super gotta trust both because my nervous system is already a wreck and also because unlike other body parts there is no option for replacement parts on the nervous system).
One of my therapist relationships ended because she was a grad student and was graduating and so…wasn’t continuing to see patients at that practice at my college (and I was genuinely sorry to see her go because she was pretty good, if sometimes a bit out of her depth, which…considering grad student, is something that wasn’t a deal breaker). The other one was because I was seeing therapist for a rec letter for surgery because insurance hoop trans things and that’s literally it. He got to the point where he felt able to write the letter, he wrote said letter, we split because that was the extent of that relationship.
Just not scheduling further appointments with a therapist and/or canceling further appointments is totally okay, especially if you don’t feel like you can get into reasons without some boundary pressing. If you want to give the bland “I think we’ve made all the progress we can make together (and it’s been nice working with you over the past 5 years)”, that’s fine too, especially if you have found this therapist helpful up until recently with his super unprofessional behavior (which uh yeah, that’s super unprofessional and uncool). You don’t have to say that you’re continuing therapy elsewhere or that you’re stopping or give him more details than you’re not seeing him further and making sure he gets the money you owe him for your sessions because that’s the extent of your obligation to him. If you want to bring up his unprofessional behavior, that could go over okay, or it could be a way for him to try to keep you as a client by saying that he’ll change or whatever and thanks for bringing it to his attention! And LW you know how that’d go better than we would probably, but unless you think it’d be handled well and professionally, I probably wouldn’t (because of the noted lack of professionalism from this dude recently).
LW, it sounds like your therapist has been helpful in roleplaying difficult conversations in the past… why not go into one last session and say, “I want to practice roleplaying ending therapy / asking for a referral to a female therapist”?
I realized I’m late to this party, but having both left therapists and had them leave me, I just want to reiterate that there is no such thing as “wrong.” In some cases I or they left because we couldn’t find a shared way to talk about my issues (I think in metaphor a lot, especially about my depression and anxiety). That was easy. I said “this isn’t working” they said “I know, I’m sorry, good luck.”
In one case, she helped me *so much* and saw me as no longer needing her because of the huge strides we’d taken with my depression, and was so happy for me about those that she couldn’t see the anxiety that had been keeping me running when I was that depressed. It was a mutually good departure, and of course I found someone else to help with the next phase. I share this story because you can totally outgrow a specific therapist.
Another one couldn’t see my kinks outside of the lens of the monstrous patriarchy, so I straight up asked her if there was someone else in the practice who was more comfortable with my sexual inclinations. And she matched me with a guy who has been *awesome* for me and is who I am currently seeing.
Good luck letter-writer! I’m sure there is someone else out there better suited to the next steps in your mental health journey!
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