7 signs it’s time to break up with your therapist

Ffinding an available and affordable therapist can seem like such an accomplishment that once it finally happens, stopping it can seem like a waste of time and effort.

But research consistently shows that having a good relationship with your therapist if you want to see results. And like any partnership, not all matches will be good ones. That’s why mental health professionals suggest paying attention to warning signs that your therapist isn’t a good candidate, and then talking about it instead of leaving it at that.

“You’re going to be in a vulnerable position and share things with this person,” says Traci Williams, a clinical psychologist in Atlanta. “The nature of the relationship demands that you feel safe.”

Sometimes when a problem arises, you and your therapist will be able to find a solution and the situation will improve. But it’s also fine to walk away, says Williams. There are a number of ways you can approach your exit: If you don’t feel comfortable discussing your reasons for ending the relationship in person, you can let your therapist know by email that you won’t be coming back. If you feel up to it, “it helps to have an account of what happened,” she says. This can be invaluable to the therapist, and practitioners are often happy to offer referrals to providers who might be a better fit.

Here, mental health experts outline seven red flags that your therapist might not be right for you.

1. They reject your reality of racism, sexism, ableism, bigophobia or homophobia.

Your time and energy in therapy “shouldn’t be spent proving that your experience is valid,” says Kate O’Brien, a licensed therapist in New York. She offers this example: Imagine a black person telling their therapist that they felt closely watched in a store – which could indicate racism – and the therapist responding, “Oh, I’m sure that person doesn’t didn’t mean it that way.”

If your therapist is ignoring your experiences in this way, defending the abuser, or going into victim-blaming mode, it’s time to move on, O’Brien says. You don’t have to provide an explanation – “educating others is not your job”. But if you do, it could prompt the therapist to engage in some overdue self-reflection, she adds.

2. Your therapist does not have the necessary skills.

Depending on why you are seeking therapy, it may be helpful to work with someone who has specific training, experience, and expertise. Williams recalls a recent TikTok video in which a woman explained that she had complex post-traumatic stress disorder, often abbreviated as c-PTSD. After reviewing the woman’s documents, a potential new therapist said, “They put a ‘C’ in front of your PTSD diagnosis. I’ve never heard of that, it must be wrong. Obviously, the two were not compatible.

There’s sometimes a misconception that therapists are generalists, like primary care physicians, says Michigan therapist Sarah Rollins. And while it’s true that most practitioners can treat mild depression, anxiety, or stress, she notes, some conditions and symptoms require more specialized training. Giving up on that “is actually a disservice to you as a client, because now you’re going to be in therapy longer and you’re going to be frustrated because you’re not improving,” she says. You can search for a therapist with relevant skills by applying specific filters in online directories, such as the one run by good therapy. Most therapists also list their specialties on their website.

3. The focus is not on you and your needs.

It’s not self-serving to expect sessions to focus on your own feelings and experiences, Rollins says. “A therapist’s job is to support you, listen to you, and provide you with tools to help you heal.”

But she hears about the opposite – therapists who only talk about themselves, their marriages, their financial constraints – more than you might think. “It happens all the time,” she says. “He’s one of my biggest pet peeves.”

If it’s also one of yours, Rollins suggests broaching the subject like this: “Would it be nice if we focused more on me, rather than what’s going on in your life?”

4. They push their own agenda.

Suppose you tell your therapist that you’ve decided to cut ties with your toxic family, and he or she immediately crushes the idea and says it’s the wrong decision. Take it as a sign that it may be time to seek care elsewhere. As Rollins points out, a therapist’s job is not to give advice, it’s one of the things that sets them apart from life coaches. “A therapist is supposed to help you figure out what’s best for you,” she says. “You bring everything to the table, and they don’t say, ‘Well, from what you said, I think it’s best for you to break up with your partner.'” Keep this principle in mind. : A good therapist will provide you with the tools to find a way forward, rather than unilaterally telling you what to do.

5. You don’t feel like you’re progressing.

Instant results are not realistic – therapy does not work overnight. As Rollins says, you wouldn’t expect six-pack abs after a stop or two at the gym.

That said, if you don’t feel like you’re progressing after a few months, talk to your therapist about what might be bothering you. Ask them what their expectations and goals are, and make sure you’re on board. Stalled progress “could mean the therapist isn’t right for you or other stressors are getting in your way,” says Rollins, which is why it’s important to discuss it.

6. Your therapist always cancels or is chronically late.

Sessions will inevitably have to be canceled or rescheduled at some point along the way. But if your therapist is constantly absent, it could interfere with your treatment, Rollins says.

Approach the situation by letting your therapist know that you were hoping to meet weekly or at some other agreed upon frequency. Then say, “I notice that this is not happening. Is there a way to get more consistent appointments? suggests Rollins. This will likely be more productive than explicitly calling them to cancel, which could put them on the defensive.

Likewise, if your therapist is always late, talk it over and see if the situation improves. Mention that for the last three sessions, you arrived 15 minutes before them, and since you value your time, you hope they do the same.

7. He or she crosses a line.

Ethical violations are unacceptable. This includes a therapist asking to see you outside of a session, frequently and casually texting you from their home phone number, touching you and making comments about your body or appearance, Williams says.

“If your therapist is starting to seem more familiar to you than a professional relationship, something is probably going on,” she adds. “These things happen more frequently than people realize” and may require a formal complaint to be filed.

Breaching confidentiality is also unethical. As O’Brien points out, therapists working with adults are required to keep sessions confidential unless the client poses an immediate danger to themselves or others. “You should feel comfortable that your therapist isn’t sharing with other people,” she says. “And if they are, that’s a huge red flag.”

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