What To Do When Your Therapist Breaks Up With You
Rachel had been seeing her therapist, Dr. Stallings, for close to two years to help her manage her anxiety. Then the unthinkable happened: Dr. Stallings told her it was time to terminate the relationship. He said he didn’t think they were “making forward progress.”
It’s not an uncommon scenario. In fact, the writer Lizzie Crocker penned an essay about her own experience being dumped by her therapist for the Daily Beast a few years ago. You may feel like you’ve been punched in the gut when this kind of thing happens— after all, you’ve spent significant time with this therapist. You’ve opened up, poured out your heart, and this is what you get in return! It may make you feel rejected. It may make you feel like you and your issues can’t be helped. It may make you consider giving up therapy for good.
But before you decide that therapy just isn’t that into you, try to turn those negative thoughts around. Here’s how to handle it when your therapist tells you it’s time to end the therapeutic relationship.
Don’t take it personally. Seriously, don’t. In many cases, a therapist may decide to discontinue treatment for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with you or your particular mental health issues. Maybe a family problem means they need to cull their hours—and cull their client list. Or perhaps they are taking on patients from another office or therapist as offices merge or a colleague goes on maternity leave. Maybe retirement is on the horizon. More often than not, a decision to part ways with a client has more to do with business and less to do with your needs.
Ask for a referral. Sometimes, the therapist/patient relationship simply isn’t a good match. Maybe your communication styles clash. Or perhaps you haven’t fully committed to the recommended treatment program. Either way, ask for a referral to a new therapist. Your current therapist, after spending so much time with you, should be able to make a recommendation for a better fit. In Rachel’s case, she asked Dr. Stallings why he felt they weren’t making progress. He told her that he thought she was holding back and then recommended a female therapist that he thought she could be more open with. And you know what? Rachel now understands he was right.
Take heart. It may be your therapist has decided it’s time to move on because they feel you’ve met your therapy goals. Jonathan Alpert, a popular Manhattan-based psychotherapist and author, says that it can be easy to fall into a co-dependent relationship with your therapist if you aren’t careful. As he wrote in a New York Times op-ed,”Popular misconceptions reinforce the belief that therapy is about resting on a couch and talking about one’s problems. So that’s what patients often do. And just as often this leads to codependence. The therapist, of course, depends on the patient for money, and the patient depends on the therapist for emotional support. And, for many therapy patients, it is satisfying just to have someone listen, and they leave sessions feeling better.”
But, he argues, therapy should be goal-oriented. You are working towards something— whether it’s to better cope with stress or to learn how to better communicate with your spouse. When you’ve reached that goal, a good therapist should tell you it’s time to part ways. After all, you achieved what you came to achieve.
Know that you are not untreatable. It’s not easy to seek help from a therapist. It’s a brave, wonderful thing to do. And just because it doesn’t work out with one practitioner doesn’t mean you can’t be helped. If your therapist breaks up with you, don’t take it as a sign that therapy is not for you. Do what you can to find a better fit—so you can reach your mental health goals, whatever they may be.
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