Have you decided your therapist just isn’t cutting it? You’re no longer comfortable with them, you don’t feel like you are making enough progress, or you are annoyed that they are not noticing the progress you have made. Or maybe you just don’t like them, and it’s as simple as that.
Sometimes it’s true that firing your therapist is the best thing for all involved. But before you think of quitting therapy, here are some essential points to consider first.
1. There is no perfect therapist.
When we start therapy for the first time, we might suffer the common illusion that therapy leads to being the together person we always meant to be. With enough sessions, we will be happy all the time, organised, and, well, perfect.
The next step is to take this unrealistic idea of perfection and project it squarely onto your therapist.
No matter how much we all want psychotherapists and counsellors to be pillars of perfection, they are (gasp!) humans. They too have families, relationships, and careers that don’t always go to plan. They will occasionally be tired or frazzled, and they might not always seem happy. Likewise, they might also show up in a funny outfit, or smelling like cooked food, or with really messy hair, or some other small thing we find unacceptable and deem a sign of not ‘being together’.
On a good note, if your therapist will never be perfect and they’ve done a lot of work on themselves, it means that you can drop that yardstick for yourself, too. Being an evolved human isn’t about constant happiness or looking together after all, it is about how to accept yourself as is.
If you feel your therapist should be ‘more together’, ask yourself, is this about them, or about me? Am I projecting my own inability to accept myself as gloriously imperfect onto them?
2. If your therapist has fallen off a pedestal, it’s because you put them there.
It is very common to fall into ‘therapist idolising’. You know you suffer from this syndrome when many of the sentences you speak start with ‘my therapist says…’.
Looking up to someone we respect and see as in a place we want to be in is natural. Psychotherapy also creates a strong bond of trust you might not have experienced before that can increase your sense of thinking your therapist is ‘different’ then others.
But if you have put your therapist on a pedestal, you’ve really only given them one further option – to fall off it. And that’s not really their fault. They never asked to be considered special or better than you. A good therapist would in fact do anything but encourage such thoughts.
It’s actually inevitable that at some point you will feel let down by your therapist. Therapy is a relationship between you and your therapist, and, just like a partner or family member will do things that make you feel disappointed, so, too, will a therapist. They will not hear something you said correctly, or not notice that you have that book they recommended is sticking out of your rucksack, or not agree with you on something.
If you are thinking of quitting therapy, ask yourself, have I wanted my therapist to be above me and better than me? Have my own insecurities given me unrealistic expectations that no other therapist will live up to, either?
3. Therapy can be like dating – first impressions are rarely reliable.
Nor second, for that matter…!
If this is not the first time you have decided that a therapist isn’t good enough, but this seems to be a recurring pattern of trying a few sessions then bunking off, it might be that you are not giving things a chance.
It can time time to get comfortable with your therapist. And, again like dating, you might suddenly click just when you thought it was hopeless.
Try four sessions before making a decision. Why not the ‘rule of three’ like they say with dating? With therapy, the first session can be taken up with admin and assessment, the second with nerves, and the third with overanalysing and judging your therapist. The fourth can see you both relaxing.
f you are always giving up before four sessions, it might be less about the fact that the therapists themselves aren’t able to help you and more about a trust issue. When we like someone at first, but then suddenly just see many flaws when we get to know them better, it’s often not that there is anything that wrong with them per se but that we are sabotaging their getting to know us better.
It is easier to see things wrong with people then to face up to the fact that we are uncomfortable with intimacy.
Be honest with yourself. When it comes to dating and friendships, are you constantly protesting that ‘they just weren’t what I thought’, or, ‘I should have noticed there was something wrong with them the first time I met them’? If so, it’s likely that you are intimacy phobic and are just repeating this pattern with your therapist, the very person who could help you break it.
4. With therapy, playing hide-and-seek never works.
Many of us who end up in therapy are there because we have troubles with relationships. Often we are insecure.
So it’s not uncommon to go to therapy and find yourself not telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth because, well, you want your therapist to like you….. So you tell your therapist you had affairs with two people instead of three. You glaze over the fact you went on a weekend drinking binge when you come in to a session tired. And, naturally, you don’t tell your therapist that you are not sure therapy is working for you.
Instead of then realising the therapy isn’t going well as we aren’t giving the therapist the full picture to deal with, the next step in this particular game is to think, ‘well they are a therapist, why can’t the see through me?’ In other words, we lay the blame on them and play a game of hide-and-seek.
And yet we chose to work with a psychotherapist, not a psychic. And a good therapist is never going to force you to show your hand before you are ready. It’s up to you to decide to open up and be transparent.
If you have decided the reason you are moving on from your therapist is because ‘they don’t get me’ or ‘they can’t see through me’, then it might be time to gather your courage and try one more session where you bravely ‘lay it all on the line’ and see what happens.
5. Therapy is a rollercoaster ride. There are ups, but there are most certainly downs, too.
Therapy can feel incredible at first, especially if its the first time you’ve told someone about certain things. You can feel relief, and have so many new understandings arrive about yourself and your life it can be its own sort of buzz.
But the buzz of revealing your true self doesn’t last. Inevitably, there will be a levelling out, and there might be a plateau, where it feels like week after week you aren’t making progress like you did at first.
But don’t be fooled. Sometimes those drudgery weeks are the most valuable in the long term, as they can suddenly add up to an even bigger revelation, or be the very weeks that you process and release long buried deep emotions. So yes, you’ve heard it before, and it’s true; therapy is a process. Keep going.
Are yourself, am I under the illusion that psychotherapy or counselling should lead to personal revelations week after week? What would happen if I just decided to trust the process?
6. Of course, if your therapist really is not a good fit, DO ‘fire’ them!
Therapy is at its heart a relationship. And sometimes two people just aren’t made for each other. If, despite all of the above, you really don’t feel it’s a good match, then say so. It’s your money, your time, and your life.
It might not be them at all, but that the type of therapy they offer is not for you. From CBT to psychodynamic to person centred, there is a seemingly ever growing list of therapy types to choose from. The school of therapeutic thought your therapist works from might suit your personality or goals. Don’t see this one failed round of therapy as a reason not to try again.
There is no need to make a big deal out of your decision to move on. If you explain to your therapist it’s not working for you honestly and kindly, who knows, your therapist might even be able to recommend you to someone more suitable for you.
If your therapist at all tries to coerce you into working with them, see it as a red flag. No therapist should try to make you do anything against your will, so if this is the case, it really is time to walk away.
Make the experience of firing a therapist a learning by doing it differently when you next hire one. Hiring a psychotherapist or counsellor is like hiring any other employee. You have the right to ask questions first, such as, what techniques do you use? What do you see the purpose of therapy as? Can we have regular check ins to discuss how we are getting along?
7. In summary, therapy is an exploration of self, not a walk in the park.
There will be moments when your therapist gets on your nerves, or upsets you. Remember, entering into therapy is entering into a committed relationship with your therapist. Have you ever had a relationship where this didn’t happen?
Your therapy is in your hands, and it’s up to you to take steps to keep it going the way you want it to. It can be a good idea to ask for a ‘check in’ every month or so, if your therapist hasn’t already suggest it. This is just a time when you look at what you have achieved, and how things are working for you, set goals for where you hope the sessions can go in the future, and can be honest with your therapist about how the process has been.
The secret is to stick with it. Results do happen, and often just when you have given up hope, or after you have stopped your sessions and suddenly realise how much of a different perspective you see the world with. And, okay, maybe that bit IS fun…
Andrea Blundell is the Commissioning Editor of the Harley Therapy blog, and worked her way through six therapists in two years (!!) before learning the above wisdom the hard way.
Have you switched therapists lately? Want to share the experience? Do so below, we’d love to hear from you.
Photos by James Nash, Powerhouse Museum, Chris Beckerman, Shawn Rossi, Fredrik Rubensson