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Therapy

How to Break Up With Your Therapist

Ending therapy can be uncomfortable, but it can be an invaluable experience.

Key points

  • Ghosting is a phenomenon that therapists have been encountering for decades.
  • Avoidance in the therapeutic relationship is often a reflection of how one functions in other relationships.
  • Although breaking up with a therapist can be uncomfortable, it an be an opportunity for healing and growth.

Breaking up is hard to do. Most of us have learned this the painful way. Though much has been written on the topic of breakups, the focus is usually limited to romantic relationships. What about the other equally important relationships in our lives, such as with friends or family members? Or even less talked about, the one with our therapist?

The therapeutic relationship is professional—but it is also an intimate relationship. Anyone who has ever been in therapy can attest to its uniqueness. Given these facts, is it ever okay to "ghost" a therapist? If so, what are the implications of choosing this road of least resistance?

Ghosting

With more and more interactions taking place online, it has become easier than ever to avoid difficult conversations, including one of the most difficult—the ending of a relationship. Though ghosting has sadly become a norm in the modern dating world, it is a phenomenon that almost every therapist has encountered at some point.

"If you are avoidant with your therapist, you are most likely avoidant in other areas of your life and in other relationships," says Los Angeles-based therapist Natalie Moore. “When a client ghosts a therapist, they are depriving themselves of the opportunity to confront their difficult emotions. When emotional ruptures go unaddressed or are not healed and corrected, they are likely to happen again." Avoidance in relationships, she says, can lead to emotional distance, not getting one’s needs met, resentment, and dissatisfaction.

An opportunity for healing

If you feel that you and your therapist are not a good fit, or that you can no longer benefit from the treatment, the best thing to do would be to bring this up with them. Though it may feel uncomfortable at first, having this conversation is important.

"Ironically, therapy is the perfect place to face your relational fears, address your needs, and practice doing hard things," says Moore. "If the therapist is competent, they should be able to help the client through that difficult process of leaving the therapy relationship.” If you choose to simply disappear rather than confront, you are denying yourself the opportunity for what could be a healing experience and, for those who have experienced relational trauma, an emotionally corrective one.

"This type of session can be sad and exciting for both the client and therapist," according to relationship coach Cheri Timko. "In a final session, the therapist and client review and celebrate the work the client has done in therapy. They talk about goals for continued mental health growth. This models a healthy ending to the work."

Even if you have only attended a few sessions, you can still learn from a final discussion. This is a chance to practice honest communication, assertiveness, and vulnerability. By allowing yourself to be vulnerable in difficult situations, you are offering your future self the potential for more fulfilling and meaningful relationships. What better way to practice than in a safe, non-judgmental space with someone whose job it is to be unbiased, non-defensive, and more importantly, to hold you in unconditional positive regard?

A learning experience for both client and therapist

If you are afraid to confront your therapist for fear of hurting their feelings, remember that they can handle it. “It is part of the therapist’s job to take all this information in stride and not take it personally or show any anger to the client,” says Moore.

Not only can your therapist handle the experience of a client leaving treatment, but they may also even benefit from it. “In a therapy relationship, clients are able to and actually welcome to give the therapist feedback on their work so that the therapist can tailor their approach to the client,” says Moore. “It is also welcome for clients to inform therapists if they for any reason decide that they don’t want to continue therapy with that therapist, so the therapist can provide appropriate referrals, review progress ,and say their goodbyes."

Steve Carleton, LCSW, CACIII, urges his patients to speak up about any discomfort or concerns they have in therapy and to communicate their needs to their therapist. “This way, their therapist can support them and address any roadblocks that may come up during the therapeutic process.” Carleton advises. “If at any point you feel that the therapy is no longer serving you, it is important to have a conversation with your therapist about finding another solution or provider that may better fit your needs”

Therapists are human, too

Therapists are not perfect. They make mistakes and sometimes ruptures happen. What is important is if and how that rupture is repaired. Having a final discussion offers the therapist a chance to self-reflect and perhaps consider how they handled things, or what they could do differently next time. In other words, instead of thinking of the ending as an abandonment, think of it as an opportunity for both parties.

Endings

Endings are hard. Saying goodbye to someone with whom you have intimately connected—if only for a brief time—can be emotionally fraught. It can open old attachment wounds that we would rather remain sealed. But endings can also be an opportunity for growth, and an opportunity to experience a healthy ending, enhance communication skills, and practice vulnerability. These are all things that bode well for future relationships, personal and otherwise. Why deny yourself that opportunity?

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