How To Break Up With Your Therapist And Find One That Works For You

Going to therapy is an investment toward your overall well-being. There are many possible reasons to start. The reasons we often hear of pertain to addressing anxiety, stress, relationships, and dealing with grief. In other cases, people just really need a neutral person outside of their everyday life to talk through their issues. Whatever the reason may be — deciding to go to therapy on its own is a big step. It's an opportunity to dig deeper, study your own patterns, and accomplish personal breakthroughs.

To get the most out of therapy, creating a safe space is a must. One of the most instrumental elements to get the most out of your sessions is whether or not you match with the right therapist. If you're able to find the right therapist on your first try, then that's perfect! But not everyone is as lucky to get it on the first go. On the other hand, needing to break up with your therapist may be a cause for celebration because you've accomplished your goals and no longer need therapy at a certain point.

Breaking up with a therapist is definitely uncommon territory, so we're here to help you navigate how to break up with your therapist and find one that works for you.

Have a conversation with your therapist before you stop seeing them

It's better to have a conversation with your therapist before you decide to stop seeing them. "I do not recommend 'ghosting' your therapist," psychotherapist Alena Gerst told Byrdie. It's normal to dread this type of discussion, but your therapist should understand. Social worker Sheldon Reisman agreed: "Most clients do not realize that therapists do not take it personally if you decide to stop therapy with them. Therapists understand there are many different personalities out there in the world and we aren't going to connect with every single person that walks through our door. That's simply a reality of life."

Now, if your therapist is acting unprofessionally, that's a different story. Abusive behavior, inappropriate remarks, sexual advances, racism, homophobia, or any other ethical violations in a similar vein are definitely where you should draw the line. "If a therapist does something unethical, no matter how small, that is very concerning and should serve as a major red flag," Professor Nadine Kaslow shared on Today. This type of unprofessional behavior can be reported.

Give yourself a full session to discuss the breakup

Some doctors advise that the duration of your relationship is a good measure of how you should break the news of the breakup to them. "If you just had one or two sessions with your therapist, a simple phone call or email notification letting them know you're moving on is fine — preferably at least 24 hours before your next appointment," Nadine Kaslow told Today.

If you've been seeing them for a while, it would be best to tell them beforehand of your intentions to discontinue your sessions with them. Doing so will be mutually beneficial. "This will provide an opportunity to reflect on your work together, your progress, your frustrations, and perhaps clarify a path forward for you as a client. Having this conversation in person is ideal, but over the phone or notifying them of your intention to discontinue therapy in an email, at the very least, would be courteous," Alena Gerst told Byrdie.

A termination or goodbye session is a great opportunity to reflect on the progress made in therapy. What strategies helped? Which of them did not? "Every therapist has their own process that they go through at a termination session," therapist Deniss Cantor says (via YouTube).

Don't be afraid to break up with them

Though this is unfamiliar territory as compared to a romantic breakup, it should be an easier conversation because therapists should be equipped for these types of situations. At the end of the day, a good therapist should have your well-being in mind, even if that means that you need to stop seeing them. Remember: This is your healing journey.

If they don't take it well, even with your best attempts at breaking up with them properly, then it's confirmation that it wasn't a match. "Taking your breakup poorly should confirm that they were not the right therapist for you as they still refuse to listen to your truest needs. A great therapist can admit you're not the right fit for each other and wishes you well on your journey to self-actualization," student Brianna Baker explained to Refinery29. Baker reminds people not to be distraught in these kinds of situations, because "these are paid professionals who experience rejection daily," and it's okay to just ignore them.

Say a proper goodbye

Goodbyes can be challenging, but having a proper conversation and closing that door for good is better than ghosting, or disappearing from a conversation. When therapists were asked their opinion on breakups, the feedback was unanimous: Don't ghost. "Ending therapy should be as intentional as starting therapy," psychotherapist Charna Cassell says (via PsychCentral). Psychotherapist Fran Walfish suggests facing the situation head-on: "Many folks find it easier to avoid the discomfort of confrontation. They fear hurting someone's feelings, being the target of one's anger/rage, or collapsing into a river of tears. Be brave and use this as a learning opportunity for how to handle relationship endings" (via Today).

If you can't really figure out how to begin this conversation, social worker Christine Ridley gave Thriveworks the following statements to get the ball rolling: "I want to thank you for all your help in supporting me, but I think I am growing and in need of something new as I grow"; "I feel that it's time for me to move on, but I want to be sure to say thank you, and let you know I've appreciated what I've learned from our time together"; or, "Thank you for the skills you've helped me learn, and the issues you've helped me to resolve. But I think I need someone else who matches my needs a little bit better. Do you have any recommendations?" The key is to keep it simple, honest, and direct. 

Plan for your future

If you have a condition that requires ongoing therapy, it would be best to find a new therapist before breaking up with your current provider. "Sometimes it can be comforting to check out another therapist before moving on, to make sure you're covered," psychologist Tamar Chansky told Self. "If it's an acute situation, like serious depression, it's going to be really important." Just because you're ending treatment with your current therapist doesn't mean they still can't help you out with your search. This is something therapists often do for their patients, so don't be afraid to ask them for referrals.

If you are discontinuing one-on-one therapy completely, therapist Kati Morton recommends asking for resources to help you transition out of therapy (via YouTube). She cites the following possible resources as examples: An Alcoholics Anonymous group for those dealing with alcohol dependency, or eating disorder clinics for those struggling with anorexia and bulimia.

You can always leave the door open

Though the thought of a breakup often points to a relationship gone wrong, with therapy, an end in sight can actually be a good thing. Other people may opt to stop seeing their therapist when they've accomplished their goals in therapy. Depending on your needs, treatment doesn't necessarily need to be an ongoing thing. Therapy is meant to help clients make positive changes in their lives and equip them with tools to deal with what life throws at them.

If you realize that you aren't fit for therapy at this time or if you've progressed significantly in your sessions to the point that you don't currently have a need for it, that doesn't mean it's completely the end of the road for you and your therapist. Social worker Lynn R. Zakeri shared her experience with Today: "One thing I say to clients is that they can keep me in their back pocket. I am a text/email/call away, and I will always fit into my sometimes no-openings schedule a client who wants to come back."

Reflection is the first step

Now that you've ended your sessions with your previous therapist, the first thing to do before taking the next steps is give yourself some time to reflect. "I usually suggest people do some reflection after they 'break up' with their therapist and get specific about what they are looking for — male/female, age range, location, training, areas of expertise, etc.," licensed social worker Kelley Kitley explained to Today.

The experience with your previous therapist is a good starting point. What worked in those sessions and what didn't? If you're having a hard time figuring out exactly what you want from a therapist, you can always start off with the things you don't and go from there.

Another thing to take into account is if your chosen therapist can understand your lived experience. They don't necessarily need to be in the same position as you, but they should at least be able to understand the issues that can be affected by your background, ethnicity, and culture, which ultimately affects your experience of the world. For example, the experience a person of color has with racism, tokenism, and microaggressions.

Research is key

After you've given yourself ample time to reflect on your needs, it's time to start using that data to narrow down your research. The choices these days can really be overwhelming, so the non-negotiables you've prepared beforehand can guide you in narrowing down your options.

Aside from referrals you can get from friends and relatives, or even your therapist themselves, Thea Gallagher recommends searching the internet for some helpful tools. "Sources like Psychology Today are great because you can click on different filters that will help you find therapists who take your insurance," Gallagher says (via Byrdie). If you're on a tighter budget, you can inquire whether your chosen therapists offer "sliding scale options, discounted rates, or shorter sessions," per Psych Central. Other therapists also take insurance, so that's worth exploring as well.

Consider the credentials and experience of the therapists you shortlist. Make sure they are board-certified, and that they have the relevant experience to address your therapy goals. "Therapy has become a niche profession. If you're struggling with addiction, you want to see someone who really works with that demographic, not just someone who says they will help with your depression and anxiety and treats your addiction as a secondary problem," therapist Shira Myrow shared with Byrdie.

Know the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist

Psychiatrists and psychologists are both mental health professionals, and though their approaches to mental health treatment may differ, they can work together should a client need it. Nurse Jennifer L.W. Fink cited a possible example of a client experiencing depression on Health Grades. "[They] may choose to see a psychologist first, as the psychologist can conduct testing to check for clinical depression and offer cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of therapy." If the course of therapy with the psychologist proves to be unsuccessful on its own, the client may be referred by their psychologist to a psychiatrist for further treatment. "The psychiatrist can evaluate the patient and prescribe antidepressant medicine, if needed," Fink wrote.

Psychologists take a psychotherapy-based approach, which typically involves psychological assessment and talk therapy. Psychologists have doctoral degrees (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) but are not doctors. On the other hand, psychiatrists are medical doctors that take a biology-based approach that involves medical exams and possibly prescribing medication to their clients.

Consider your options: online or in-person therapy

Though in-person therapy used to be the norm, online therapy is also a great option for patients. According to an EClinicalMedicine study, online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was found to be more effective in reducing depression symptoms in patients than face-to-face sessions. In terms of patient satisfaction, there wasn't a significant difference for the patient whether their session was online or in-person.

Another advantage of online therapy is that it's often more cost-efficient as compared to in-person therapy. You cut out other expenses that could be incurred when attending an in-person session such as transportation and parking. It could also make scheduling more convenient. Online therapy is the more convenient choice, especially in areas where mental health care is not as accessible. Given that online therapy isn't limited by geography, patients will also have a wider pool of therapists to select from.

Of course, online therapy isn't perfect. Technical issues such as an unstable connection can get in the way of an otherwise productive session. And depending on the severity of one's mental health, an in-person session might prove to be more effective. "I think there are many subtleties that get missed over a screen, including body language and the exchanging of energy being in an actual space together," therapist Ashley McCullough told Popsugar. At the end of the day, therapy is a personal experience. It is ultimately up to the patient to decide which works best for their needs, budget, and lifestyle.

Set clear goals in therapy

To have a better benchmark for your progress in therapy, it's wise to set clear goals with your therapist beforehand. It's something that you can both easily go back to after a couple of months to see if the sessions are meeting your needs. "Therapy can be difficult and uncomfortable so you may not always feel like you're improving or making progress, and this is why it is important to check in with your provider about your goals and progress throughout the course of treatment," psychologist Riley Cropper told Self. Remember that it's normal for these goals to change over time.

"Sometimes it's very obvious what you want to achieve in therapy. For example, if you're having panic attacks, your goal is to really never have another panic attack. ... But the rest of the goals in therapy are far less easily defined," therapist Mark Pines says (via Open Counseling). If your goals and expectations are unclear coming in, this is definitely something your therapist can help you with. It would be best to do a bit of work before your session by laying out what you want to achieve. Open Counseling suggests the following prompts to get you started: "What are some things in your life that you love and want more of?" or "Was there a specific problem that brought you to therapy? How and when did it start?"

Give your therapist feedback if you start having doubts about them

Once you start to have persisting doubts about your therapist, list them. You can mull over them a bit before the next session and determine whether or not you want to bring up your concerns just yet. "In good therapy, it's ideal that [your therapist] doesn't get mad at you and thanks you for speaking up for yourself," Tamar Chansky said (via Self).

Before you pull the plug completely, give them a bit of feedback so you can tackle the issue head-on. "A lot of people are very conflict-avoidant, and this is a good skill to practice," psychologist Marni Amsellem told Self. This is beneficial whether or not your therapist is actually able to address your concerns. "Giving feedback in the context of a therapeutic relationship is good practice in assertiveness and interpersonal efficacy," psychologist Anna Yam told Byrdie.

Don't worry too much about hurting their feelings, either. They are trained for these types of situations. "In general, therapists are very open to feedback. We want to help you. We are genuinely invested and interested in helping you get to where you want to get," Deniss Cantor says (via YouTube).