There are a lot of reasons you might want to “break up” with your therapist. Maybe you’re ready for something new, maybe you just haven’t connected, or maybe they aren’t meeting your needs. No matter what the reason is, even if you can’t quite explain why you want to break up with them, it is always okay to break up with a therapist. Unlike a romantic breakup, your relationship with your therapist is all about you, so if it isn’t working, you should explore other options. Your therapist will likely not take it personally, and they may even have recommendations for other therapists in the area.
There is one exception to this though. If your therapist has been doing something actively harmful, like trying to overcharge you, gaslighting you, or breaking your confidentiality, they may not react well when you try to break up with them. That was the case for me when I broke up with my therapist a month ago.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have a tendency to self-sabotage, namely by sinking into obsessive thinking that no one and nothing can get through. Logic, love, everything goes out the window and simply cannot get back in. I’m left with a swirling mass of hopelessness and fear, and anyone talking to me is left with a brick wall. This happened in our second-to-last session, and my old therapist did not handle it well. She took it as a dismissal of her expertise rather than one of my most prominent symptoms of mental illness, and as a result she lashed out in unprofessional and, frankly, hurtful ways.
When I first left her office, I wanted to try and salvage the relationship, because everything that went wrong was clearly my fault. My self-sabotage drove the whole session off-course, and if I just told her that was something I wanted to work on, we could still work together. I was desperate to hold onto her. I didn’t want to go through the process of finding a new therapist again, but more significantly, if we didn’t keep working together, I felt like it was because I drove her away with my self-sabotage. And if I can drive a therapist away, it just confirms my fears that I will drive everyone away. But after a few days I realized that even if my self-sabotage made for a difficult session, it is literally her job to help me through it. Over the last few months I had given her nuggets of my vulnerabilities and insecurities, and in an instant, she used all of them against me and made me doubt myself. I knew I had to break things off.
I decided to break up with her in person, but if you’re considering breaking things off with your therapist, a face-to-face confrontation is definitely not required. This is especially true if your therapist is like mine and crossed some lines and you’re worried about their reaction. Unlike a romantic relationship, therapy is all about you, so you should do what you’re comfortable with. You can call or email your therapist to let them know you’re “taking a break from therapy,” or “looking for something different from your therapy experience,” but you can also just cancel your next appointment, never schedule a new one, and dodge their calls. Again, this is not a romantic relationship. You don’t owe your therapist anything, especially if they hurt you.
Despite this, I wanted to meet with my therapist in person. It was important for me to confront her because it was important for me to take my emotions seriously as an understandable reaction to her behavior. Ironically, one of the things we had worked on together was accepting that when other people hurt me, it isn’t my fault and I am allowed to be upset. I decided to put this new lesson to use and meet with her and truly speak my mind.
Regardless of why you’re breaking up with your therapist, I recommend preparing by following the same four steps I did:
Get all your feelings out about this breakup, even if they don’t make sense, even if you know they’ll go away once you get it over with, just get it all down on paper. This will give you raw material to work with for step two.
- Outline Your Main Points
Make a general outline of what you want to say to your therapist. If you’re really nervous, you can write out exactly what you want to say and read it to your therapist or simply give it to them to read, but if you want to use it as a guideline while you talk, try to stick to bullet points. This will help keep your point as clear as possible.
- Let Someone Know What’s Going On
I keep saying that breaking up with a therapist isn’t like a romantic breakup, but there’s one area where they are the same: the emotional fallout on your end. Not all breakups will break your heart, but they are all emotionally taxing, and it’s best to have some support set up ahead of time. I just told my husband “Hey, I’m breaking up with my therapist today and I don’t know how I’m going to handle it, can we watch movies together tonight? P.S. I might cry a lot.” If you don’t have someone in your life you trust to talk to about therapy, you don’t need to give them all the details. You can just say you’re feeling sick and you’d like a buddy to watch some movies with, or whatever coping mechanism works for you.
- Dress Up
On the day of, I recommend dressing up. Not in an uncomfortable fancy way, just wear whatever makes you feel most confident. For some people, that’s their favorite pair of jeans and a ratty t-shirt that smells like home. For others it might be a sparkly dress. For me it was combat boots and a ton of eye makeup.
I have two last tidbits of advice. First, if you’re struggling to find the actual, real words to say out loud to your therapist to break up with them, I’ll type out more or less exactly what I said to my therapist. Feel free to steal it or use it as a starting point for your own words:
“I want to address what happened last session, and I want to say upfront that I’ve decided we shouldn’t see each other anymore. I just wanted to come in and discuss it with you face to face. I feel that you broke my trust in our last session, and I can’t see us moving forward in a meaningful way anymore.”
Is it stilted and somewhat clinical? Absolutely. But I could say it without crying or getting confused, so it worked for me. Something else might work better for you, but language like this that’s more objective and blunt made me feel confident.
Second, even though you’re coming prepared with things to say, make sure you listen too. If you’ve chosen to have a real conversation with your therapist about not seeing them anymore, in person or over the phone, you have a great chance to get some closure on the matter. Your therapist may be distant and overly professional, but they may say something sweet too, like how proud they are of how much progress you’ve made. If your experience is more like mine, they might say something awful, like, I don’t know, call you narcissistic and gaslight you by suggesting that they didn’t do anything wrong, you’re just projecting your issues onto them. That might sound devastating and scary and make you want to avoid all of this, but that’s a whole other kind of closure. After I broke up with my therapist and she said all those things, of course they wormed their way into my head and made me upset, but they also validated my decision not to see her anymore. No one needs a therapist who turns on you the moment you confront them.
So that’s my advice for how to break up with a therapist. More than anything, know that you’re very brave for recognizing that you need a change and taking the steps to make it happen. That’s so much easier said than done. May you find a new and more helpful therapist soon.