Signs Your Therapist Isn't Working Out (And That's Totally Okay)

Therapy can be a wonderful, even life-saving resource for those who attend. There is no wrong or right reason to see a therapist, and over the past two decades, those turning to therapy as a resource have grown significantly. More than 41 million Americans sought therapy in 2021, according to Statista. And as therapy has become more commonplace, so have the particular ins and outs that engaging in therapy often entails. One of these is knowing when to break up with your therapist.

Although there is no right way to show up in a session, there can definitely be a just-right therapist for you — one that makes you feel heard and supported, and one that you connect with. Finding the right therapist can be treated as something of a job search, with interviewing and research, and reading available reviews. That way, when you finally find one that feels promising, you have invested a significant amount of time and consideration in your choice. But when you have a feeling that it's not working out, letting go of the connection you once hoped for can be disheartening and difficult. 

Speaking with Byrdie, Dr. Jon Reeves, a clinical psychologist, suggests, "Assess whether you want to break up with your therapist because the relationship does not seem like a good fit, if it feels like progress has stalled, or if you think the therapist is actively doing you harm." Having this clarity is the first step toward finding better counseling.

Identify what you need

Before you take the step toward ending your therapy sessions, reflect on what it is you need out of therapy. Write it down, if it helps. Why did you pursue therapy in the first place? What are the ways in which you feel your therapist could best support your personal goals? Was there a specific session, or words that were said, that did not sit well with you? Of course, your therapist may gently challenge you at times, but it should not make you feel bad. 

When you are unsure whether you want to continue working with your therapist, be aware of some major red flags to look out for. First and foremost, your therapist should validate your emotions. A therapist worth working with will verbalize this validation. Should your therapist not be proactive in validating your emotions or trying to understand your point of view, you might feel even worse than where you started, as though your therapist is not hearing or seeing your pain. 

This can be a troubling experience and one that you do not need to continue putting yourself through.  Again, this does not mean your therapist should always agree with your perspective. But another red flag to watch out for is if you feel your therapist is shaming you or your feelings when you feel vulnerable. At no point should you feel judged by your therapist, who should first and foremost prioritize how you feel. 

Further red flags

Another red flag could be that your therapist does not have a certain critical context surrounding your identity or culture which makes it hard to engage in your personal growth. For this reason, some people may choose to seek out therapists that might identify similarly to them, based on factors like their race, religion, or sex and gender identities. And while successful therapeutic partnerships do not need to hinge on shared identities, your therapist should be open to understanding how your personal identity has impacted your experiences. When you feel you are always explaining this context to your therapist, or that your therapist is not completely understanding where you're coming from, you may feel some barriers to trusting your therapist, or that something is missing from your sessions. Put simply, you may not feel seen.

Other concerns may be more quantitative than qualitative. Perhaps your therapist has limited availability and cannot often accommodate your changing schedule. Or, perhaps you simply feel as though you are not making progress on your goals. No matter what it is, keep in mind that there's a therapist out there who can meet your counseling needs.

Remember to be honest about what you need from a therapist, and what you do not. This could be anything from an approach that works best for you, to certain expertise you wish your therapist to have. And of course, you are always free to change your mind.

Move forward

Remember that, as you go through the motions of cutting ties with your therapist, you have not done anything wrong — nor is it your fault that the pairing is not a right fit. Alongside the connection you may have built with your therapist, they are also a trained professional who wants you to receive the care you need, whether it's with them or not. Knowing this can ease the burden of leaving the partnership, and make this next part easier. You have to talk to them about it.

We know, this conversation can be hard. But the alternative is not better. Ghosting your therapist, especially after spending multiple sessions together, does not do either party any favors. What might you learn from talking to your therapist about what is not working for you in session? What insight can you glean from your therapist as you consider a different path forward? 

Although it may feel strange at the moment, give your therapist a heads-up that you are considering moving on. This step is especially worthwhile should you take medication or have a mental health diagnosis that requires continuous management. That way, you can discuss your path forward together. Psychologist Dr. Tamar Chanksy tells Self that when it comes to your therapist, "It's not about hurting that person, it's about what you need." And pursuing what you need out of therapy is far more important than any temporary feelings of discomfort.