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3 Signs That It Might Be Time to Break Up With a Therapist

Sometimes ending things with your therapist is better for your mental health.

Vasi D. / Unsplash
Vasi D. / Unsplash

The first piece of advice anyone with mental health concerns typically receives is to seek out therapy and discuss their problems with a qualified professional. But recognizing the point at which you might need to halt or suspend therapy can also be a matter of mental health.

If the thought of taking a break from therapy, or from your particular therapist, has crossed your mind lately, here are three cues that can help you turn that intention into a well-informed decision.

1. Progress has plateaued.

Chances are that you sought out therapy because you were unable to cope with a certain aspect of your life or you were dealing with a problem you did not feel mentally or emotionally equipped to handle. Some therapists refer to this as your "presenting problem."

Assuming that you and your therapist were a suitable match and you were regular and honest during your sessions, you may have seen steady progress. You may have even had some breakthroughs.

Lately, however, perhaps you’re feeling like your sessions aren’t really going anywhere. It’s still nice to have someone hold your hand, but you also feel like you now have the tools to deal with problems of a certain nature. This is a clear signal that you have reached a point of stagnation with your current therapist and it might be time to make a change.

Don’t worry; your mental health won’t suddenly plummet simply because you are off therapy. In fact, research published in Counseling Psychology Quarterly suggests that coming to terms with the end of therapy can be meaningful and rewarding in its own way. If the breakup is amicable and on mutually agreeable terms, even the end of therapy can feel highly therapeutic, leaving you feeling self-sufficient and ready to take on life.

2. You are not on the same page.

There might come a time when you and your long-time therapist’s values do not seem to align as they once did. This can lead to miscommunication or concealment on your end and undercooked advice or dismissal on theirs. These differences can range from small (e.g, different views on what makes a good morning routine) to deal-breaking (e.g., different views on LGBTQ inclusion).

Trying to resolve an issue when you are on two completely different pages can lead to complications and even self-doubt. Since the therapist tends to have the upper hand of authority in a therapeutic relationship, you may feel like your view on the matter is "wrong." If you feel like you have reached an impasse with your therapist because of such issues, ending things might help you get much-needed clarity.

Don’t be afraid of a little push-and-pull when terminating a therapeutic alliance. Research published in the European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling explains that a therapeutic breakup can be a process of negotiation, and going through with it might help you feel better about yourself and your point of view.

3. Your therapist is a threat.

If your therapist is making you feel uncomfortable or crossing a boundary they shouldn't, you have the right to terminate the relationship immediately. (Depending on the severity of the violation, you would also be within your rights to consider pressing charges or reporting them.) According to one article, sexual or romantic advances toward a patient, a former patient, or a patient's family members fall under the category of a boundary violation. Breaching the client-therapist confidentiality agreement, being racist toward the client, or even approaching the individual through social media can be considered serious boundary violations.

A good metric to determine whether your therapist is out of line is to consider if that therapist is abusing or misusing their de facto "superior" position in the therapeutic dynamic. Yes, therapists are full of great advice but you do not have to go along with everything they say. At the end of the day, they are humans and they are fallible.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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