Let’s face it, relationships come and go, and your relationship with your therapist is no exception. When a relationship ends, how do you do it? Do you say goodbye? Or do you just disappear? Do you anticipate a fight? Or is it a chance to reflect on how that relationship has shaped your life?
Working as a therapist, I have had many relationships with clients come and go. Some were planned, others just disappeared. Interestingly, many of the people that I have worked with have identified relationships or relationship issues as a focus of therapy. Many of them struggled with how to end a relationship in a healthy way – they hated saying goodbye and thus just left. The work that people do in therapy is intense, personal, and emotional, and learning to end a relationship or say goodbye is a powerful tool that honors that work.
There are many reasons you may want or need to end your relationship with your therapist. If you find that you need to break up with your therapist, here are a few recommendations:
Set aside time for it. Part of saying goodbye is to provide closure for a relationship and to plan for what comes next. Taking time to talk about the ending, however brief, honors that something is ending so a new journey can begin. If you know that you will be ending therapy, ask if you can spend a few minutes at the end of the session to discuss it. If this seems too daunting, call your therapist to briefly discuss (or leave a message about) the breakup so that they know what is going on.
Be honest about why you are breaking up. There may be reasons that you can’t control that are leading to the breakup (finances, insurance coverage, someone in your life that doesn’t support therapy, time constraints, etc.). If you want to continue treatment but think that you can’t, your therapist may be able to provide support and/or resources. It may be that you are doing some difficult work and are feeling uncomfortable – which can trigger our desire to end a relationship so we don’t have to feel these feelings. Sharing this with your therapist can help you get needed support to move through it, rather than staying stuck.
If the person doesn’t feel like a good “fit” for you, say so. The most important factor in therapy is how comfortable you feel sharing openly and honestly with your therapist. Even if they are the “world’s greatest therapist”, if you don’t feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable with them, they probably aren’t the best therapist for you. A good therapist will NOT take this personally. If you want or need to address an issue that seems beyond the skills of your therapist say so. They can help you find referrals if need be.
Share what you learned about yourself (good or bad) and what you will take away from being in the relationship. The best thing about a bad relationship is that it helps you to understand what a good one is. While this therapist may not have worked out, hopefully you have learned more about what you do or don’t want in the next person that you work with.
Keep the door open. You may find that you want or need to reconnect with your therapist at some point in the future. By taking the time to end the relationship, you can keep the door open to returning in the future, should you want or need to.