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Should I break up with my therapist? 5 signs it’s the right time

Reviewed by Stephanie Steinman, PhD, CSAC

A woman sits in therapy and looks at her therapist thoughtfully

I found my therapist at a pretty quiet time in my life. My marriage was strong, my career was thriving, and my twin third graders were healthy. But I was about to start a very challenging writing project and knew I’d need extra emotional support.

Working on a collection of stories from survivors of school shootings broke my heart a thousand times over, and my therapist helped carry me through.

Now the clouds have parted, and my book came out a few years ago. At various points since then, I’ve thought I might be ready to say goodbye to therapy. Each time I almost get there, though, I change my mind. There’s something not quite finished between my therapist and me.

How do you know for sure when you’re done with your therapist? To find out, I got in touch with—well, another therapist. (They really do have all the answers.)

5 signs you’re ready for a therapist breakup

Clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, LPC, says breakups get a bad rap because we associate them with intimate relationships.

“Healthy breakups happen all the time, but we don’t refer to them as breakups,” she says. “You may not use the term ‘breakup’ if you have less contact with a friend or leave an employer. You typically separate or take breaks from one another because you want different things or are growing in different directions.”

There are all sorts of reasons you may want to move on from your therapist. Here are five of the big ones.

You’d like to try a different type of therapy

For most people, mental health care starts with talk therapy, which often means cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). But there are many other kinds of therapy, and some are especially effective at treating specific conditions. “You might be working with a therapist and discover you have complex trauma you can’t resolve,” says Durvasula. “In that case, you may want to try something like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) or somatic therapy.”

Your therapist doesn’t challenge you enough

Durvasula hears this one a lot. Even if you love how supportive your therapist is, sometimes you wish they’d push you a little harder. “Not all therapists are ‘call me out’ therapists,” she says. “Some are great at being humanistic and present and supportive, and some are better at doing more historical work.” Before cutting ties, you could try asking your therapist to challenge you more in your sessions. It’s possible they’ll be happy to adjust.

You’ve outgrown your therapist

Sometimes you come to therapy for help with a specific experience, like I did—and when that experience is over, it’s tempting to move on, especially if you’ve been seeing the same therapist for a long time. Durvasula says therapy has a developmental arc that mirrors the lifespan. “If your therapy is spanning things like finishing school, getting into a long-term relationship, having children, or taking big career steps, it becomes a developmental relationship,” she explains. “Some people may need or want to hear different things over the course of those milestones.”

Your therapist isn’t a good fit

In many ways, I lucked out with my therapist. She’s around my age, she also has two kids, and we work in the same field—so I don’t need to give her much context in talking about my life. It hasn’t always been this easy, though. When I was in my teens, my therapist was a much older woman who felt like an authority figure, so I was cautious about what I shared. That said, sometimes you can still find a good fit even with a lot of external differences between you and your therapist. What’s important is that you feel heard and understood.

Your therapist has let you down

There may be times when a therapist crosses a boundary or otherwise loses your trust. “They may have used inappropriate or disrespectful language, or they may have been invalidating of a particular experience,” says Durvasula. “The client might have felt they were being minimized, or their concerns were being judged, trivialized, or even mocked. Those are real breaches.” The therapeutic relationship is all about trust, she says: “If that’s broken, it can be damaging.” Bringing up situations like this with your therapist may be uncomfortable, but if you feel safe trying, it can give them a chance to repair the relationship. However, some breaches may result in your seeking out a different therapist.

What to do when you know it’s time

Once you decide to stop seeing your therapist, how do you let them know?

Be honest, says Durvasula: “If a therapist has done their job, they’ve created a safe space for you to express yourself.” If you feel a breakup coming, it’s likely your therapist also senses it and will be glad for your progress. “We know when a client has put in the work and has grown and might be ready to handle some things without us,” she says.

Maybe you’re worried you’re going to insult your therapist or hurt their feelings. Durvasula says that should never be a concern. “If your therapist is acting hurt, that’s a them thing, not a you thing,” she explains. “The therapist’s job is to keep the focus on you and what you need.”

One way to end the relationship on a positive note is to revisit the goals you set for yourself when you started therapy, then assess with your therapist whether you’ve reached them or if they’ve evolved. For example, you may have wanted to start setting better boundaries with your family or speaking up more at work. How far have you come?

If you’ve already started meeting with another therapist, you may or may not decide to tell the clinician you’re ending the relationship with. That’s private information, says Durvasula, and you should share it only if you feel comfortable.

“In this situation, I will ask a client, ‘How can I help you with this transition?’” Durvasula says. That help might look like a phone call between therapists to offer additional context, a recommendation for a new therapist, or simply expressing support for your decision.

Resist the urge to ghost your therapist

Sometimes when we know it’s time to end a relationship, ghosting seems like the easiest option. However, wanting to ghost your therapist can mean you have more work to do.

Durvasula says some people ghost their therapists after only a few sessions. She calls this the “antibiotic phenomenon.” “We start taking medicine because we don’t feel well. After about day three or day four of taking antibiotics, we feel better,” she says. “Once the symptoms fade, we’re less likely to take that antibiotic even though we still need it.”

People often come to therapy in crisis and in pain. Once the crisis has passed and they feel a little better, they might have the urge to quit without doing deeper emotional work.

Sometimes people ghost because their therapist has pushed a sensitive button. Working through trauma and other painful experiences is hard, and you may not feel ready. In that moment, you might decide to push through, or you might want to take a break and revisit therapy when you feel better prepared to dive in.

There’s one situation where leaving your therapist with no explanation is justified, Durvasula says: “If a therapist has acted in a way to harm or break the client’s trust, I don’t even consider that ghosting. That’s self-preservation, and it’s absolutely okay and may even be necessary.”

Goodbye is not the only option

If you’ve reached the point of questioning your commitment to therapy, it may be a good time to pause your sessions without the finality of a breakup.

Pausing can have a number of benefits, like helping you test the waters of life without regular sessions. If you’ve been in therapy for a while, you’ve been given tools to work through different challenges. Taking a break gives you the chance to put those tools into practice and explore how well they serve you from day to day.

Pausing can also make it easier to return. Many of Durvasula’s patients who’ve paused their treatment come back as needed for what she calls a calibration. “I have one patient who left but is now going through a crisis with a dying parent, so she came in for a one-time calibration,” Durvasula says. “It worked because we have an established relationship, and I am familiar with her history. She didn’t have to start over again with someone new. I was also able to provide guidance on other resources such as grief programs and support groups.”

Durvasula has even paused her own therapeutic work at times. “I’ve had the same therapist for over 30 years,” she says. “In the past I’ve gone five years without seeing her, and then felt the need to go back in and work on something.”

Honesty is always the right choice

No matter what you decide, try not to let fear hold you back from having an open conversation with your therapist. If there’s still work to be done, you can talk about that together. But chances are your growth will be seen in a positive way.

Your therapist wants you to thrive and be successful, Durvasula says, so they should feel comfortable about ending the relationship if your work together is done. “It’s what we want to see—that we’ve given you a secure enough foundation that you feel safe and good going out into the world without us.”

If you’d like to try a new therapist or explore a different type of therapy, browse our directory to find a licensed professional near you.

About the author

Amye Archer, MFA, is the author of “Fat Girl, Skinny” and the coeditor of “If I Don’t Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings,” and her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction magazine, Longreads, Brevity, and more. Her podcast, “Gen X, This Is Why,” reexamines media from the ’70s and ’80s. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction and lives with her husband, twin daughters, and various pets in Pennsylvania.

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