A therapist is an excellent ally when you’re navigating tricky breakup territory—whether it’s with a friend, a roommate, or an S.O. But what happens if your mental health pro is the very person you want to split from?
Maybe you feel like you’re not getting what you need from her. Or perhaps you’ve made enough progress that you feel like you can do life without his help. Whatever the situation, ending such a personal relationship can come with a lot of guilt and anxiety.
Just like any relationship, there are ways to say “our time is up” politely and professionally—and it’s worth doing so, since you can learn a lot of valuable lessons in the process. I spoke with a few experts to find out exactly what that looks like. (And no, it definitely doesn’t involve ghosting.)
Keep reading for tips on how to end your relationship with your therapist.
Follow the “3-session rule”
As anyone who’s used a dating app can attest, it takes time to feel comfortable with a new person. And it’s certainly not typical to meet a stranger and tell them intimate details about your life within the first hour. That’s why Steven Schlozman, MD, suggests going to three sessions with a therapist before judging whether the chemistry is “off.” You may find that your rapport builds as you get to know each other.
Be open about your concerns
If you’re still not vibing after three sessions, Dr. Schlozman recommends talking to your therapist about your concerns. It can be as simple as saying This isn’t working for me, and here’s why, says the doctor, the co-director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Therapists aren’t mind-readers, and your relationship could improve if you share what isn’t working for you. (For instance, maybe you wish she’d share her opinions instead of saying And how does that make you feel? for the thousandth time.) Of course, if you just know that it’s not going to work, Dr. Schlozman says you shouldn’t feel obligated to continue.
Try not to feel guilty
It’s common to feel guilty when you’re giving any type of relationship the axe—and it can be valuable to discuss these emotions with your therapist, says Logan Jones, PsyD, a New York City-based clinical psychologist. “Your exploration can be illuminating and may help you develop a new skill, such as becoming more assertive, communicating authentically, or dealing with confrontation in a healthier manner,” he says.
It also helps to remember that your therapist isn’t likely to take your breakup personally. “This is a trained professional who hears all the time that people are ready to end therapy. They can take it,” says Elizabeth Cohen, PhD, a New York City-based clinical psychologist. And if they do try to change your mind via a guilt trip, know you’re making the right decision. “Do not let a therapist attempt to coerce you into staying. A good therapist will respect your wishes and support you through the transition and termination,” says Dr. Jones.
Think of the breakup as therapy in itself
Instead of worrying about your therapist’s feelings, Dr. Cohen says you should focus on how you can grow from the breakup experience. “See if you can stretch yourself during this process. This, after all, is all about you,” she says.
Translation: Avoid the temptation for a slow fade. (You know, when you leave a message canceling an appointment, then never call to reschedule.) “Termination is a time to evaluate the work you’ve accomplished, celebrate the progress, talk about which goals weren’t reached, and explore any disappointments,” Ryan Howes, PhD, a California-based clinical psychologist wrote in Psychology Today. “Sometimes this overview helps it all come together, as seeing the work in the rear-view mirror lends perspective.” You won’t get the most from the entire therapeutic experience if you ghost your therapist.
End on good terms
So you and your therapist agree that you’re truly in a good place and treatment isn’t necessary for you anymore? For a mental health expert, that’s cause for celebration. “Taking a break from treatment isn’t a bad thing when you are in a good place,” says Dr. Jones. “The break gives you the opportunity to apply everything that you have learned in therapy to your life.”
That said, there’s no guarantee that you won’t want to reconnect with your therapist down the line. So save your future self some awkwardness and say a proper goodbye—you never know when you’ll want to give your most intimate relationship another shot.
If you’re not ready to move on from therapy altogether, here’s how to choose the right mental health pro for you. Or, for a free counseling sesh, you could always score tickets to Demi Lovato’s tour.
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