The Polite Way to Break Up (With Your Therapist)

[Image: graphic featuring a brain, therapist couch, quotation marks, and a pair of pliers cutting/breaking a chain link]

It's not easy to share your dark­est thoughts with some­one and trust that they'll under­stand — let alone advise with a har­mo­nious bal­ance between accep­tance and growth. And when a ther­a­pist doesn't hear you out, it takes only a minute for that trust to crumble.

Read this post once, and it's about my ex-​therapist. Twice, and it's about my most stress­ful un-​relationships past. Three times, and it's about my parents.

If only I had known that the polite way to break up with your therapist was some mincing of:

I don't think you can help me any further.

If I can't com­fort­ably open up to you about what I need, this isn't going to work out.

Instead, I straight up lied: "I feel a lot bet­ter now and don't think I need ther­a­py any­more. Thanks for listening!"

"Yay! I'm glad I could help. The point of ther­a­py is to strength­en your skills enough that you don't need it any­more. If you want to talk again, you know where to find me!"

I want­ed things to end "per­fect­ly" before I slammed the dig­i­tal door, with no way left for her to con­tact me. And I looked for a new therapist.

[Image: a door, three waving-hand emojis, and a shrugging woman emoji]

Why the hell did I do that?

In short, because I got the vibe that she didn't under­stand, and it was time to aban­don ship.

I spent more than one night rumi­nat­ing on that, even months lat­er. Lying to a ther­a­pist is like hir­ing a spicy work­er and fak­ing orgasms with them. On a pro­fes­sion­al lev­el, it poten­tial­ly hurts her because she doesn't know if she did her job right. However…

On a personal level, I don't owe her anything.

I'm pay­ing for a ser­vice, and I have my own set of needs to advo­cate for, as does the next client. What the oth­er per­son does is none of my business.

It happens. Whatever my ex-​therapist and her current clients do is not my burden to bear. Nor is what she thinks of me.

(Wise advice from my cur­rent therapist.)

I should have told my ex-​therapist how I felt, sure. But I already got the impres­sion that she didn't hear what I was say­ing about a deep­er prob­lem present. That my great­est fear was of oth­ers see­ing me as inef­fec­tive and defec­tive. That she was get­ting pushy about where I "should" be. Without her con­tri­bu­tion, I had already hit my psy­che with a ham­mer where I need­ed a hug.

And if she didn't seem receptive to my further expression of concerns, would attempting to work past that even be worth it?

That would be grounds for end­ing any oth­er rela­tion­ship, after all.

It took me months to dis­cov­er the mag­ic words: "I don't think you can help me any further."

It took me months to artic­u­late the prob­lem. To under­stand where my ex-​therapist was com­ing from vs. where I was com­ing from — and I still part­ly dis­agree with her and found her words detri­men­tal to me in the long run. They weren't what I need­ed at the time.

That fur­ther rein­forces that things couldn't have been that much dif­fer­ent. I gen­uine­ly did the best I could with what I knew. She did the best she could and still wasn't a good fit. It was for the bet­ter that I stopped talk­ing to her.

[Image: speech bubbles and circle-backslash symbol around fingers pointing]

Remember that therapists are human, too.

The human ele­ment is both the life and lim­i­ta­tion of talk ther­a­py. Counselors have their own expe­ri­ences, pro­jec­tions, and inse­cu­ri­ties, so I don't want one who posi­tions her­self as being above me. However, it's also because of that, that they can­not be 100% accu­rate in assess­ing what would be help­ful for you to hear. Even if they are doing the best with what they've been given.

A good ther­a­pist knows when and how to ask ques­tions for clar­i­ty. They get a feel for whether you're recep­tive before giv­ing feed­back. They get curi­ous when meet­ing resis­tance. "What's the fear behind this?"

Accidental agi­ta­tion or dis­com­fort can hap­pen, but the right ther­a­pist for you will have an idea of how to min­i­mize or pre­pare for that — so that you can work through your trig­gers with them. Only then can their coun­sel get through to you.

It's okay to take a break from your therapist...

If you're unsure whether your ther­a­pist is right for you, you can take a step back to digest your ses­sions. Maybe talk to oth­er ther­a­pists. Remember that you're under no oblig­a­tion to con­tin­ue with one ther­a­pist long-​term. You're under no oblig­a­tion to get bet­ter on any set timeline.

Sometimes, therapy is uncomfortable. It takes time to "do your homework."

It takes time to peel through lay­ers of the onion and under­stand why some­thing both­ers you more than it "should" — or why you're "should"-ing your­self so often to begin with. And that's okay.

Building trust doesn't happen overnight. Growth takes gradually increasing vulnerability while still knowing that:
  1. The oth­er per­son will do their best not to hurt you.
  2. When they do hurt you, it's their pri­or­i­ty to under­stand why, make it right, and do better.

What mat­ters is that they're at least the type of per­son you'd like to trust as much as a friend.

...but if something doesn't feel right, it's up to you

It's also okay if you can't see your­self trust­ing or relat­ing to them. I've had ther­a­pists I meshed well with, and ther­a­pists I didn't. It doesn't nec­es­sar­i­ly mean that the lat­ter group is inept (though some might be) or that I'm insuf­fer­able. (I'd like to think that I'm an eas­i­er client than say, an arsonist.)

[Image: 80s aesthetic text that says, "it really do be like that" amid cascading sand, beaches, and palm trees]

Anxiety isn't my default state. So if I check my texts in the morn­ing, antic­i­pat­ing that I'll read some­thing I find con­de­scend­ing or judg­men­tal from my coun­selor, I know that there's some­thing wrong. If I'm con­tin­u­al­ly gaug­ing what I'm "sup­posed to" say, or how to put on the best per­for­mance of com­pe­tence, it's not a good fit.

Deciding whether a therapist is right for you ultimately boils down to two questions:

  1. What do I need?
  2. Do I trust this per­son to help me?

…and I believe in my abil­i­ty to dis­cern that for myself!

Even if the prob­lem might be "just" my mind­set some­times, that's still a sign that the ther­a­pist doesn't work well with my needs. There are times where I want to unscrew my head off my body and take a break from being a human. During ther­a­py shouldn't be one of them.

Hey! This post was spon­sored. All opin­ions expressed are my own, as always.

Want to work with me? Get in touch here or by email­ing supersmashcache@​gmail.​com!

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5 Responses

  1. D. Dyer says:

    I’m for­tu­nate in my per­son­al ther­a­pist but need­ing to break up with my couple’s ther­a­pist was one of the hard­est things.

  2. Kat says:

    I can look back and see now that I learned so much about myself through the expe­ri­ence. It mir­rored for me what it sounds like it mir­rored for you. The same issue i had with my ther­a­pist was in so many oth­er areas of my life. I was hav­ing trou­ble find­ing my voice and choos­ing myself. Realizing this I ques­tioned that if i couldn't say what I need to say to the per­son I was actu­al­ly pay­ing to lis­ten — then how the heck she could help me say what I need­ed to say to all the peo­ple I wasn't pay­ing to lis­ten. I was like, "Girl! Choose your­self!! If you can't do it here — you'll nev­er do it any­where!" best deci­sion ever!: D 

    Sounds like it worked out well for you too! 😀

  3. Kat says:

    Girl I feel you break­ing up is hard. I just ghost­ed my garbage ther­a­pist #sor­rynot­sor­ry. It led me to find­ing a bet­ter and gen­uine­ly help­ful match! 

    At the end of the day your ther­a­pist is get­ting paid to help you. It’s real­ly nev­er sup­posed to be about them. But, good for you for break­ing up nice­ly and more impor­tant­ly for find­ing a way to do it hon­est­ly too!

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