Breakups are the worst. But what about when it comes to your mental health? If you’re seeing a therapist and it’s not going well—or if you’re just ready to call it quits—how do you walk away from the relationship gracefully? We reached out to therapist Irina Firstein for some advice straight from the source.
How do I know if my therapist isn’t right for me?
Think about the last time you went to your closest friend with a problem. We’re willing to bet you word vomited all over your conversation with her, felt like you could say anything and looked forward to hearing her take. This is pretty much how you should feel when you walk into your therapist’s office.
“You and your therapist are a good fit for each other if you think she really ‘gets you,’” Firstein says. “The things she says to you are helpful, and you know she’s invested because she performs off the feedback you give her. If you feel comfortable with her and recognize a level of chemistry during your sessions, you’re more likely to leave the room feeling like you’re armed with advice that is helpful to your life and pushes you toward your therapy goals.”
If you feel like you’re holding back in your sessions, or you don’t feel like you and your therapist are clicking in a way that makes you feel comfortable, it might be time to part ways.
What do I need to ask myself before I break up with my therapist?
Therapy is a two-way street. It’s true that not every therapist will be a match for every patient, but before writing them off, it’s important to look inward and make sure you’re really giving it your all.
“Before deciding if a therapist is wrong for you, you need to really be honest with yourself,” Firstein says. “Ask yourself, ‘How motivated am I to do the work of therapy? Am I really being honest with the therapist and communicating any negative feelings I have about these sessions? What exactly about it isn’t working for me and do I know what I’m looking for or would change about my current experience?’” Once you’ve articulated your answers, you’re ready to start communicating your feelings to your shrink.
How long should I stick with it before deciding to quit?
There’s no hard and fast rule about how many sessions you should dedicate to a new therapist before you can know if you two gel, Firstein says. This is a gut feeling you might have on day one or after a month into your treatment, but you’ll likely know if it’s just not going to work out.
“If there is an immediate negative feeling, there’s no need to have a second session,” Firstein says. “If you’re not sure, communicate your feelings to your therapist and see how she handles the situation. She might push you both to open up and explore each other more deeply in the session. If you give it a try and still feel like it’s not working out, it’s time to move on.”
Should I worry about hurting my therapist’s feelings if I decide to stop seeing her?
Therapists are licensed to help us deal with our mental and emotional issues, but sometimes those sessions just amount to a whole lot of nothing, and that’s not necessarily anyone’s fault. Bottom line: If your therapist isn’t helping you, she doesn’t want to waste your time or her own.
“There is absolutely no reason to worry about hurting your therapist’s feelings if there is a decision that she’s not a good fit,” Firstein says. “This is not to say that the therapist may not feel something, but we’re all responsible to dig deep when we lose a patient to understand what happened. As a patient, your responsibility is to yourself only. You’re also a consumer in this transaction, and if you do not feel like you are getting what you need, there’s no need to be concerned.”
How do I break the news that I’m ending our relationship?
Just rip off the Band-Aid. If you’ve decided that it’s time to find a new therapist, you should let your current one know as soon as possible. Be honest and to the point.
“You can say something as simple as, ‘This isn’t working for me,’ ‘I think I need a different approach’ or ‘I think we went as far as we can together,’” Firstein says. “Many patients avoid the conversation and just don’t schedule another appointment or say, ‘Work is too busy now.’ This is OK! There doesn’t have to be so much angst and anxiety behind ending a therapy relationship.”
Every therapist has parted ways with a client before, so don’t stress about it. If she’s good at her job, she’ll be a total professional and wish you nothing but the best.