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Please Don't Ghost Your Therapist

An open letter.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash
  • Being ghosted, or having someone walk away from a relationship with no communication or explanation, is painful for anyone, therapists included.
  • Leaving a therapeutic relationship openly and honestly can be a sign of progress and an opportunity to practice exiting a relationship on a positive note.
  • Therapy is an intimate relationship with someone who cares about your well-being; final sessions, therefore, can actually be transformative experiences.

Dear fellow human,

Therapy is incredibly difficult. Every day that you participate in therapy is a continued choice to keep trying. You don’t just make the decision to go to therapy and then the work is over. It’s an enormous effort, and it can feel really tempting to stop for various reasons.

People have all kinds of reasons for stopping therapy: It might not be the right time for therapy, you may have limited financial or social resources, you may not be ready to work on what you need to, or you may not have found the right therapist yet.

But here is my request as your therapist : Please don’t ghost me.

As a human being, being ghosted by someone is one of the most emotionally painful experiences. It’s heart-wrenching to put work into building a relationship, only to discover your efforts and interest aren’t reciprocated. Obviously, ghosting happens for a myriad of reasons, many of which aren’t personal, but it still hurts.

Being ghosted as a therapist can be similarly painful. As a client, you have the right to terminate therapy at any time and for any reason. And yet, there are some factors to consider before ghosting your therapist.

Ghosting is a paradox.

Therapy can be really scary. It’s incredibly challenging to confront your deepest fears. And yet, often that’s exactly what we need to do.

Sometimes therapists get ghosted for the very reason someone is seeking therapy in the first place. For example, someone who struggles to make and keep relationships may try lots of different therapists and think none is the right fit. Or someone who struggles with social anxiety may feel so self-conscious with their therapist that they want to stop treatment.

If you want to stop therapy based on something that you’re seeing us for, let us know. Therapists are trained to address what we call treatment-interfering behaviors (TIBs). In other words, we are trained to help you explicitly address what interferes with therapy so that you can get the most out of it.

If you’re having the urge to stop therapy, bring it up. That is absolutely a target that takes priority in our sessions. If we open up a conversation, we can better understand how you’re feeling and what’s getting in the way. If it’s an issue of motivation or addressing barriers for treatment, we can address that directly. And you can feel good knowing that you’ve worked to solve or minimize the problem.

We want you to feel like you’ve made a purposeful and informed choice. So even if there are reasons for stopping therapy that cannot be reconciled—like it isn’t the right time for you or the therapist isn’t a good fit for your needs—it is still beneficial to have a discussion. By having a discussion that brings closure to the therapy relationship, you can feel good about your choice. And as your therapist, we can have a sense of what happened, instead of guessing at why you ended therapy.

Ending relationships is a skill.

Ghosting, at its core, is avoidance. When you end a relationship abruptly and without letting the person know the reason, you are avoiding an emotionally challenging experience. Avoidance is a maintaining mechanism for anxiety, meaning avoidance reduces anxiety in the short-term, but greatly increases it in the long-term. By ghosting, you may be inadvertently making your anxiety over the scary situation stronger. And by ghosting, you’re doing yourself a disservice in not providing an opportunity for yourself to grow.

If the therapy relationship isn’t right for you and you need to end it, do it directly. Stop avoiding. Give yourself the opportunity to conquer an uncomfortable situation with grace and on your own terms. You will feel a greater sense of mastery having had the conversation instead of avoiding it. And you will be practicing a skill that will serve you later in life.

You may have some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone in the conversation. Therapists are trained to have challenging conversations about the therapy process and how to end therapy appropriately. Even if you don’t know how to have the conversation, by bringing it up you are inviting the therapist to guide you. We can work collaboratively to either solve the problem or end therapy in an effective way. Either way, you win.

If you aren’t sure how to start the conversation, that’s okay. Here are some effective conversation starters.

  • I feel like I want to stop therapy. I’d like to talk more about it.
  • Therapy doesn’t feel like it’s working for me. Can we talk about some changes?
  • My idea of therapy was something different, but I’m not sure what to do about it.

Certainly, you can feel free to add your own flair to these conversation starters. You don’t have to say the exact “right" thing, but it’s important that you bring it up genuinely and directly. From there, your therapist can guide you.

Therapy is a relationship that deserves closure.

Therapy is a different kind of relationship than you have with others in your life. You tell your therapist intimate details about your life, without getting many details of theirs. You get someone who listens and holds you in unconditional positive regard. And you get specialized mental health treatment.

But therapy is still a relationship. Data show that the relationship is an active ingredient in therapy. This means that the therapeutic relationship itself can actually provide symptom relief.

Both you and your therapist worked hard to build a trusting therapeutic alliance. When you ghost, you’re signaling that the relationship didn’t mean anything, when the opposite is true. And when that relationship ends without any closure, it’s hard for both you and your therapist.

Without closure of the therapy relationship, you miss out on consolidation of learning, planning ahead for setbacks, and saying goodbye. Final closing sessions can be transformative experiences. Don’t rob yourself of that experience because you’ve decided to leave therapy quickly.

Your therapist is invested in your well-being, and often what facilitates that is having a closing session.

Life is complicated, and many external and internal factors can interfere with therapy. But your therapist is trained to help you end therapy in a way that’s beneficial for you. By having a conversation, you can determine if your urges to leave therapy are related to what you’re coming in for and work through them in a way that’s supportive. If the factors are irreconcilable barriers, it’s still critical to tell your therapist so you can have a final session and reap the benefits of doing so.

Your therapist cares about you and wants to help you make a thoughtful, informed, and effective choice.

Don’t ghost your therapist. Have the conversation and see how it transforms you. You’ll soon find out that not ghosting never felt so authentic.


Your Therapist

LinkedIn image: George Rudy/Shutterstock

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