5 Tips on How to Break Up With Your Therapist

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.

Finding A Therapist When You Don’t Want Therapy

This may be a surprise to some, but there are a number of people who feel compelled to go to therapy but don’t really want to be there. While I certainly think that therapy can be helpful, I have also had many clients who have had really negative experiences with therapy. If you’ve had a past negative experience, or if you’ve never been to therapy and are hesitant to go, here are some tips for finding a therapist.

  • Do your research.Look online to find out more about a potential therapist. Many have websites or can be found in listings such as Psychology Today or Good Therapy. Many therapists have special training or experience working with a particular issue or group of people. Others are more general in their practice and may not have the resources to support you with a specific area.

  • Interview a potential therapist. Have 2-3 questions that you could ask a potential therapist to interview them. Most of us know within 60 seconds whether or not we feel connected with someone and want to continue a conversation or if we want to find a quick way out. Some therapists offer a free phone or in-person consultation – an excellent way for you to find out if you are a good fit for each other before investing a lot of time and money.
  • Know what YOUR goals are. What do you want help with? How will you know when you are done with therapy? If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never know when you get there. It can be helpful to know how a therapist generally works with people struggling with depression, anxiety, relationship issues, etc., so you have a sense of what it would be like to work with them. Share your goals with your potential therapist and ask how they have helped others with similar challenges in the past.
  • Be a good consumer. Ask questions about whatever you feel you need to know to make a good decision. You are paying someone to help you with your struggles. Practical concerns like location, hours, and forms of payment / insurance can quickly narrow your choices. Knowing about how a therapist approaches or views issues can also be helpful, if they are things that you are seeking help with. For example, do they believe that addiction is a disease or a moral failing? Are they pro-marriage and believe that you should work out your relationship issues or do they believe that it is “normal” for marriages to routinely end?
  • Trust your instincts. You may not be able to articulate to someone else why you feel connected to a particular therapist or why another makes you feel uneasy. Our instincts are our mind’s shorthand way of trying to guide us in what to do. If you feel connected to someone but are not able to work with them (hours, fees, etc. are not workable), ask them for recommendations of others with a similar approach or style. If you are already working with someone and you have questions or concerns, share them with your therapist and ask how they can be addressed. Being open and honest will help both you and your therapist to make the changes needed to achieve your goals.