Sure, breaking up with a significant other is hard to do, but have you ever tried breaking up with any of the other people in your life?
- A hairstylist
- A personal trainer
- A gynecologist
- A friend from college who you ran into on the street a month ago and agreed to “hang out with” soon—but now they won’t stop texting you about the drinks you never had any intention of getting
- A therapist
Not to be dramatic, but I feel like I'd rather break ties with a romantic partner 50 times in a row than end things with the aforementioned people. Personally, I’ve been in three situations where I’ve realized my relationship with my therapist wasn’t serving me, and I’m not proud to say, I’ve ghosted them every time. Screened their calls, blocked their numbers, pretended to move—anything instead of being upfront about how I didn’t want to see them anymore.
There are a lot of valid reasons to stop seeing a particular therapist. Perhaps you’re not connecting, or maybe your therapist is even doing more harm in your life than good. In my case, it was a mix of both, but I still felt awkward being upfront about how I was feeling. How is it that I feel less awkward breaking up with a significant other—whose feelings would likely be more hurt because they are dating me—than I would breaking up with a therapist?
"Because of fear, the ‘expert role,’ or the ‘authority’ the therapist has during a session, the client may feel intimidated, embarrassed, and just not have the language to end the relationship in a healthy way,” Rachel Freemon Sowers, LMFT, explains. That said, real therapists I spoke to about this phenomenon have assured me that breaking up with your therapist doesn’t have to be daunting or impossible. Here are their tips for how to do it in an easy and healthy manner.
Do Not "Ghost"
Considering this is how I’ve ended my last three therapist relationships, I figure there’s no better place to start. According to New York-based integrative psychotherapist Alena Gerst, ghosting your therapist—or, ending the relationship without a word about why, when, or even the fact that it’s ending at all—is the last thing you should do. The biggest reason for this is because even if the therapy relationship isn’t serving you, it’s still a deeply personal relationship you need to reflect on with your therapist, and ghosting won’t allow you that reflection time.
"The one thing I recommend is to tell the therapist you plan to end your treatment with them,” Gerst says. “This will provide an opportunity to reflect on your work together, your progress, your frustrations, and perhaps clarify a path forward for you as a client. Having this conversation in person is ideal, but over the phone or notifying them of your intention to discontinue therapy in an email, at the very least, would be courteous. I do not recommend 'ghosting' your therapist."
Luckily, not ghosting has its perks: Kelly Anderson, Ph.D., of Wellness Therapy of San Diego, says your therapist will likely take the breakup news well. "Your therapist will probably be your easiest break up ever. They are trained in accepting feedback and are open to what you have to say, especially as it could be helpful information to consider for future clients," she says. “Most importantly, your therapist can help you find someone who may be a better fit."
Figure Out Exactly Why You Want To Leave
So, you know you want to end your relationship with your therapist—but what are your reasons? You’ll need to get clear on this if you’re going to talk to your therapist about it, so make sure you’ve reflected on the situation before making any moves. That, and it'll be that much easier to understand what you're looking for in your next relationship. "Assess whether you want to break up with your therapist because the relationship does not seem like a good fit, if it feels like progress has stalled, or if you think the therapist is actively doing you harm,” Jon Reeves, Ph.D., a Seattle, WA-based clinical psychologist, suggests.
Be Honest About Why You’re Ending The Relationship
This goes hand-in-hand with not ghosting: Now that you’re not just disappearing on them, you need to actually tell your therapist why you no longer want to see them. Of course, this conversation is going to differ based on your reasons for wanting to break off your relationship—but the bottom line is you need to be upfront and honest about the reasons, whatever they are.
Anna Yam, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and founder of Bloom Psychology in San Diego, recommends taking a two-step approach to this conversation in order to make things easier for yourself. "The first step is providing feedback to the therapist. If you feel there is something they are missing, doing, or not doing up to snuff, it may be helpful and therapeutic to give them that feedback,” she says. “Giving feedback in the context of a therapeutic relationship is good practice in assertiveness and interpersonal efficacy." If your therapist doesn’t accept or respond to this feedback with a change in behavior, she continues, then you move on to step two. “Switch therapists. I'd suggest saying you appreciate their time, but you're looking for something else. Most therapists understand the importance of fit and patient choice and will understand and respect your decision."
Similarly, Sheldon Reisman, LISW-S, of Therapy Cincinnati, explains that, honestly, your therapist will be fine. “Most clients do not realize that therapists do not take it personally if you decide to stop therapy with them. Therapists understand there are many different personalities out there in the world and we aren’t going to connect with every single person that walks through our door. That’s simply a reality of life,” he says. “Therapist also have a finite number of hours available to see clients, so you deciding to stop therapy does not hurt them financially, it allows them to see someone else.”
Don’t Backtrack On Your Decision
This is probably the most important part of all—a relationship with your therapist that wasn’t working isn’t going to magically start working later. Like a romantic relationship that didn’t fit, you shouldn’t go back to it or backtrack on your decision. “Stand firm in your resolve to end the relationship,” Sowers recommends. “If the treatment is no longer helpful or is causing more harm than good, realize you have a choice (this is a good thing) and you are making that choice as a consumer and participant in your own life. You get to choose and that is the best part of being the leader in your life. You choose."
While the idea of breaking up with your therapist can make anyone feel like they want the ground to swallow them up, taking the necessary steps to actually participate in a conversation about why you’re ending the relationship will only benefit you in the future. Plus, you’ll feel real badass after you do it—like, I’m not saying it’ll make you feel like you’re as impressive as someone who’s climbed Everest or something, but close.