By Kayt Sukel
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
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
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.