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Abilash Gopal MD
Abilash Gopal MD

10 Reasons to Fire Your Therapist

How to know when it's time to move on

Many patients come to me disillusioned by psychotherapy. They’ve concluded that it doesn’t work and are surprised when I suggest that they’ve probably never seen a good therapist. But there is extensive evidence demonstrating that therapy is effective, and in my practice I’ve seen many people make great progress through talk therapy. But it’s hard to find a good therapist, and most patients don’t know what good therapy is supposed to feel like.

Many patients stay with a therapist for years despite making little progress, and I think that’s a shame. Good therapy should feel productive and lead to insight as well as personal growth. You should never feel the need to be loyal to a therapist or protect his or her feelings. If it’s not working, then move on.

Bear in mind, sometimes the problem in therapy may be you. If you’re not honest, engaged, or willing to take responsibility, you will struggle to make progress. But if you’re truly open to the process and it still feels stagnant, you should think about firing your therapist. Here are the signs that it may be time to cut your losses and find someone better:

1. They Don’t Get You

You know your therapist doesn’t get you when he misdiagnoses your illness, makes erroneous interpretations, or frequently seems baffled, confused, or hesitant in your sessions. An incorrect diagnosis can lead to adverse medication regimens and undue psychic pain. If you ever feel unsure about your diagnosis, get a second opinion before continuing treatment.

A good therapist will complete a comprehensive mental health evaluation in one to two sessions. He will identify major themes of treatment and set goals with you early in the process. He will also provide advice that makes sense, and you should have many “aha” moments as a result of his insights.

2. They’re Too Supportive

Being supportive is a useful tool to validate patients and gain their trust, but if it seems that your therapist’s only approach is to be a good listener who echoes your sentiments or offers hackneyed words of encouragement, then she probably lacks the tools or experience to give you more. Same goes for the stereotypical silent therapist who answers your questions with a question and only utters a few words of dubious value the entire session.

You may also find that after you’ve established a good connection with your therapist, she is loath to discuss certain aspects of your life for fear of upsetting you. But this too will impede your progress. Instead, look for a therapist who tells you the truth and is willing to challenge you even if it makes you uncomfortable.

3. They Won’t Give Advice

Many therapists refrain from giving advice and instead act as passive listeners. They may be reluctant to do so on the grounds that it violates their approach to therapy (as in certain schools of psychoanalysis) or prevents a patient from taking responsibility. Perhaps they’re afraid that the wrong advice could lead to a lawsuit.

I believe that offering guidance is an essential part of therapy. Most of my patients want advice on how to improve their lives and value my opinion even if they decide to go in a different direction. A good therapist regularly offers counsel while still emphasizing that patients must make their own decisions.

4. They Share Too Much

It’s both unprofessional and misguided for therapists to speak about their personal lives. Even if you think you want to know more about them, you’ll regret it if they reveal too much. Some therapists may believe that sharing personal details will facilitate a bond with the patient, but this is an amateur and unprincipled approach. A therapist should never behave like she is your best friend. Boundaries are integral in sustaining a safe and intimate therapy relationship, and if your therapist acts like a friend instead of a trusted advisor, then you will need to be the one to set the boundary.

5. You Don’t Like Them

A therapist should be someone you enjoy working with. Although it’s natural to be nervous about sharing intimate details of your life, if your therapist is awkward or the conversation with him doesn’t flow, he may not be a good match for you. As with any relationship, compatibility is key, so don’t be afraid to shop around for a therapist who feels like a good fit. They’re not the right one if you don’t trust them, don’t respect them, or dread seeing them.

6. They’re Not As Smart As You

It’s not a good sign if you have to dumb it down so your therapist can understand you, and you’ll make less progress if your therapist’s suggestions lack sophistication or depth. While it’s true that intellectualization can be a defense against deeper emotions, seeking a therapist who is at least as smart as you will improve the chances that the two of you are a good fit.

7. They Don’t Seem To Care About You

You should always feel that your therapist has your best interests at heart. If she seems distracted, forgetful, motivated by money, or generally uncaring, fire her. Another red flag is a therapist who acts judgmental or condescending. Therapy should be a safe space where you feel that your therapist genuinely empathizes with your experience.

8. You’ve Stopped Progressing

Although there may be periods when you seem stuck on one problem, therapy should generally feel productive and lead to long-term growth. But many therapists won’t be flexible enough to facilitate this and will force you into a formulaic treatment plan or refuse to budge when you express the need for something different. If your therapist is not willing or able to adapt to your evolving needs, find someone else.

9. You Feel Like Your Therapist Is Attracted To You

If there is any sexual energy emanating from your therapist, run fast. This is a cardinal sin in psychotherapy and causes irrevocable damage to the therapeutic relationship. If you find yourself attracted to him, it’s his job to set boundaries. A skilled therapist will create an environment where certain lines are inviolable and the attention is focused solely on your treatment.

10. You Feel Pressured To Keep Seeing Them

Unfortunately, there are therapists out there who will manipulate you when you try to terminate treatment. They may guilt-trip you or warn you that you aren’t ready to go out on your own. They may discourage you from moving on to a different therapist or working towards self-reliance, which should be one of the ultimate goals of therapy. If you’re not in crisis or suicidal, the proper response from a therapist when a patient expresses a clear desire to stop treatment is to be supportive. They should say something like “I understand, I’ve enjoyed working with you, and the door is always open if you want to come back.”

About the Author
Abilash Gopal MD

Dr. Gopal is a psychiatrist educated at Princeton, Tufts, Harvard, and UCSF. He has a boutique therapy practice in San Francisco.

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