All breakups are hard, but breaking up with your therapist can be uniquely difficult.
Before you start panicking, know that breaking up with your therapist is often a natural next step in your personal development. You don’t have to work with one therapist your whole life, and you may not even need to be in therapy at this very moment.
However, there are other cases where you need to break up with your therapist for more serious reasons.
I asked our on-staff therapist and mental health writer Katelyn McMahon about reasons why you should break up with your therapist and how to have that delicate (and potentially nerve-wracking!) conversation.
Let’s dive in!
Reasons to break up with your therapist (according to a therapist)
Like I mentioned, the reasons to break up with your therapist range in severity. Regardless of your reason, trust your instincts that you want to break up with your therapist in the first place. But remember: sometimes honesty with your therapist might be what you need to continue to benefit from the relationship.
Reason #1: Not a good fit
Your therapist’s personality might not mesh with yours. Sometimes it’s as simple as that: you’re not a good fit for each other personality-wise!
You should be able to tell that there’s a lack of chemistry pretty quickly into the relationship, but remember that you may be feeling uncomfortable in a particularly vulnerable situation. Before breaking up with your therapist, consider if your own discomfort with the therapy process is contributing to your weaker rapport.
My go-to advice is that you should feel like you could grab a coffee with your therapist and have a good conversation. Although your therapist is not your friend, you should feel like you could be friends outside of the therapy room (even if there are differences in age, background, etc.).
Reason #2: The therapist’s treatment style isn’t working for you
From cognitive behavioral therapy to eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (or EMDR), there are a ton of treatment modalities out there. All therapists employ a range of modalities to treat their clients, but if their treatments aren’t working for you, then it might be time to find a new therapist.
Our on-staff therapist Katelyn McMahon says…
Reason #3: You’re not making progress
If you don’t feel like you’re making progress in therapy, have a conversation with your therapist.
In some cases, you might hit a wall in terms of your progress with a therapist. I’ve had this experience multiple times. In other cases, you might need to have an honest conversation with your therapist about your lack of progress. Good therapists thrive on feedback. If they know that you’re feeling stagnant, they’ll adjust their treatment method to accommodate you or set new goals with you.
Your therapist can’t read your mind, so tell them what you’re thinking! Both of you are served best when you speak your truth.
Reason #4: You’re ready to “graduate” therapy
If you’ve been in therapy for a while, you might be at a point where you can stop! I remember having that conversation with my soulmate therapist (who–spoiler alert–I still see from time-to-time). I felt like I had graduated from an “undergraduate” level of therapy, so we started seeing each other less. We didn’t break up, but we reduced the frequency of sessions since I felt more capable to take on life’s challenges independently.
This is a GREAT sign! But know that life will inevitably get hard again, and you will likely need support in the future. For now, soak up how far you’ve come, and let your therapist know that you’re ready for the next phase of your personal development.
Reason #5: Life changes make attending therapy difficult
If your schedule has become severely limited due to external forces or life changes, you may need to break up with your therapist (perhaps temporarily). Although therapy should be a priority in your life–especially if life has gotten more difficult–scheduling conflicts can be unavoidable. In that case, it might be best to press pause on therapy.
Reason #6: Your therapist isn’t engaged
We’ve all heard about a friend who had a bad experience in therapy. Perhaps you’ve already had multiple bad experiences with your current therapist.
These bad experiences range in severity, but a common experience is feeling like your therapist isn’t engaged in the process. They might be too burnt out to treat you adequately, so they start missing sessions or complaining to you about working through lunch. Although that therapist’s challenges are valid and important, those challenges are not your problem.
If you’re starting to feel like your therapist’s lack of engagement is affecting your sessions, it might be time to break up with your therapist.
At Best Therapists, our therapists see no more than 20 clients per week. In our experience, this reduces the likeliness of therapist burnout and emotional unavailability.
Reason #7: You don’t feel safe with your therapist
Due to the intimacy of the therapeutic relationship, therapists are in a unique position to traumatize us. Because of that, we have a high bar for therapists’ conduct in our society. But therapists are people too, and they might come to therapy with biases that are hurtful. These biases may have the capacity to retraumatize you.
For example, your therapist may bring their religion into the conversation. That may make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Or perhaps you have a nagging sense that you don’t feel safe with your therapist, so you hold yourself back from sharing things that you want to. The therapy room should be a totally nonjudgmental space, and not feeling safe with your therapist is a red flag.
In severe cases, your therapist might question your experience with racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. This is hurtful whenever it happens, but it can be especially damaging in a therapeutic setting.
If you feel retraumatized by your therapist, you do not owe them a reason for a breakup or even a conversation. Simply break up with your therapist (email is fine) and take care of yourself.
Reason #8: Ethical concerns
In the most severe cases, your therapist may be committing serious ethical breaches. You can study the full ethical guidelines for therapists online, but here are a few examples.
- A therapist committing fraud by charging a patient for sessions that they never had (read an example news story).
- A therapist committing sexual assault on their clients (read an example news story).
I don’t mean to scare you with these stories, but if you feel that your therapist is being unethical, you can go to the authorities and report them to their state licensing board.
How to break up with your therapist
If you’re ready to break up with your therapist, here’s how to do it.
Step 1: Attempt to salvage the relationship (in some cases)
This is a completely personal choice, but in some cases, your relationship might be worth saving. Only you can make that decision, but consider being honest with your therapist if part of you wants to keep seeing your therapist. Explain what’s not working for you, things you’d like to try, new goals, etc.
Step 2: Break up with your therapist
How you want to break up with your therapist is up to you.
Option #1: In-person break up
I strongly encourage you to consider a termination session. This allows you to reflect back on the progress you’ve made with your therapist, talk through what you’re looking for in a new therapy relationship, and perhaps get recommendations for other therapists who may be a better fit.
You also might want to speak your piece or provide feedback to your therapist. Share what you would like to at your discretion, but know that you don’t have to explain yourself if you don’t want to.
Option #2 Virtual break up
In some cases, an email might be appropriate, although in most cases, we recommend having a discussion with your therapist first. Just like any other relationship in your life, your relationship with your therapist is bound to have challenges from time to time. Leaning into these uncomfortable conversations can help support your personal growth, even if you ultimately can't reconcile your differences.
Avoid “ghosting” your therapist at all costs (unless there’s a serious ethical or safety issue).
If you ultimately decide that a virtual breakup is best, you can write something as simple as this…
“Hello, I’ve decided to stop therapy at this time. Thank you for your help, and let me know what you need from me to wrap things up.”
Ready to work with the best?
At Best Therapists, we know what it’s like to break up with therapists. That’s why we vet therapists so you can focus on fit, not quality. We check for problematic online reviews, gather reviews from our therapists’ peers, and ask our therapists if they take a trauma-informed approach.
If you’d like to start consulting with vetted therapists, start your search today.