When therapists are the ones who decide it’s time to end a relationship with a patient, it can be a jarring experience. In this case, your therapist should first take the time to explain why they’re cutting ties with you, says Lily Brown, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. However, that’s not how script always goes. So below, your therapist may sever professional ties with you, and the best next steps to take if that does happen.
7 reasons your therapist might break up you
To be clear, therapists say it's not very common for a counselor to be the one who terminates the relationship with a client, so there's no need to live in fear that your therapist is going to ditch you. Every case and every patient is different, but there do tend to be common behaviors and issues that may lead a therapist to catalyze a breakup.
1. You don’t really buy into the idea of therapy
Psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, has broken up with a patient who didn’t believe therapy was helping. “She was coming every week but saying in various ways that the therapy wasn’t effective, that I couldn’t understand her, and she took issue with everything I did,” Gottlieb says. “I tried many different things, but sometimes, we, as therapists, haven’t figured out how to reach a particular patient yet.”
2. You’re trying to blame others for your problems
Taking ownership, at least on some level, for things you’re struggling with is crucial, Gottlieb says. “The people who are blaming everyone and everything around them are the ones to whom a therapist will say, ‘I don’t think this is helping you,’” Gottlieb says.
3. You don’t understand the end game
Some people don’t understand the goal of therapy and can get frustrated with the process—and that can lead to a therapist-instituted breakup, Gottlieb says, citing an example: “We’re not here to validate your low opinion of your partner,” she says. “We’re here to help you understand why you’re in that relationship and whether you want to be in that relationship.”
4. You’re not as committed as your therapist wants you to be
“Patients are only going to get out of their treatment what they put into it,” Brown says, adding that when she gets a new patient, she makes an agreement with them about homework that needs to be done between sessions. “It’s difficult to expect that therapy is going to be helpful if those basic expectations aren’t being met.”
5. You’ve canceled a lot
Things come up in life, and Dr. Brown says that therapists get that. But if you’re regularly canceling appointments, or even ghosting your therapist completely, the pro may decide it’s time to break up. “I don’t want a patient to waste their time in thinking that they’re going to therapy and getting their needs met in a situation where they might be taking a half-dose of the recommended treatment,” Dr. Brown says. “It’s the same idea as taking a half-dose of medication—it’s not going to work.”
6. They don’t take your insurance anymore
Insurance plans and coverage can change, and that can mean that therapy sessions that were once affordable are suddenly tough to manage. If you also don’t seem overly committed to your therapist, they might recommend that you see someone else. “Then, it’s less of a costly investment, and you’re losing less if you’re at a time when you need help,” Dr. Brown says.
7. You’re not sober
Sobriety can also be a huge issue, Gottlieb says. “When people are coming to sessions and they’re not sober…that’s a common reason for a breakup.”
What to do next if your therapist terminates your relationship
If your therapist terminates your relationship and doesn’t give a clear reason why, Dr. Brown says it’s important to ask for one: “Sometimes patients can feel a bit disempowered to ask theses questions, but it’s totally in your right,” she says. “I would really encourage you to find the courage to speak up about it. The best therapy happens when the patient can find the opportunity to be brave and vulnerable.”
"Find the courage to speak up about it. The best therapy happens when the patient can find the opportunity to be brave and vulnerable.” —psychologist Lily Brown, PhD
Once you get an answer, Gottlieb recommends actually considering what your therapist said instead of writing them off as a “bad therapist” and moving on without thought. Sure, sometimes it’s just not a good match, but if you can take what your therapist says into account and really consider its validity, you may be able to avoid being stuck in a similar situation with your next therapist, she says.
If the time and attention you're willing and able to dedicate is an issue from your therapist's point of view, the next step may be as simple as taking a beat to figure out when you can make therapy a priority in your life, Dr. Brown says. Because if the reality is that your schedule is simply too busy and you don’t feel that you can make the time right now, “you might as well take a break until you’re able to commit,” she says. If time isn't so much the problem area as effort you're dedicating to therapy, ask for concrete examples of what you could do differently the next time around.
Overall, know that your therapist almost certainly doesn’t think you’re a bad person if things don’t work out between you. “Most people who are coming to therapy are trying their absolute best and hardest,” Gottlieb says. “It’s more about having the readiness to do the work.”
If you ever do find yourself saying "my therapist terminated me," you might find yourself looking for a new therapist. In this case, check out the five questions to ask before your first session. And on the flip side, here's the top question a relationship pro gets asked by clients who are single.
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