By Andrea M. Darcy
Decided your therapist just isn’t cutting it? And does quitting therapy seem your only option?
Things to know if you’re thinking of quitting therapy
You’re no longer comfortable with your therapist, you don’t feel like you are making enough progress, or you are annoyed that your therapist is not noticing the progress you have made. Or maybe you just don’t like your therapist, 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 at last! And, well, perfect.
We then take this unrealistic idea of perfection and project it squarely onto our 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. And a lot of therapists are even in therapy themselves.
On a good note, accepting your therapist is a flawed human like the rest of us means that you can drop that perfection yardstick for yourself, too. You can start to see how your imperfections are just fine. Being an evolved human isn’t about constant happiness or looking together after all, it is about how to accept yourself as is.
2. If your therapist has fallen off a pedestal, it’s because you put them there.
Do many of the sentences you speak start with ‘my therapist says…’? You’ve fallen into ‘therapist idolising’.
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.
It’s inevitable that at some point you will feel let down by your therapist. Therapy is a relationship, 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 there 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.
Try at least 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.
If you are always giving up before four sessions, it is likely a trust issue. It is easier to see things wrong with people than 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. If you are thinking of quitting therapy ask yourself if you’ve been playing ‘hide-and-seek’.
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 admitting things aren’t going great as we aren’t giving the therapist the full picture to deal with? We tell ourselves, “Well they are a therapist, why can’t the see through me?”. We lay the blame on them and continue to play our 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.
5. Therapy is a rollercoaster ride. There are ups, but there are most certainly downs, too.
Therapy can feel incredible at first, especially if it’s 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. 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.
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.
Note 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 not suit your personality or issues. Don’t see this one failed round as an excuse for quitting therapy for good.
Keep it kind if you are quitting therapy
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, 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.
Therapy is an exploration of self, not a walk in the park
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 suggested it. This is just a time when you look at what you have achieved and how things are working for you, then set goals for where you hope the sessions can go in the future.
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 M. Darcy 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