Changing therapists is common and can be immensely conducive to helping you heal. Here’s how to make the switch.
Whether you’re living with a specific condition, dealing with a loss, or simply navigating life’s everyday stresses, therapy can provide a safe space for you to express your emotions and effect change.
Therapy is an intimate process. It’s critical for you to feel comfortable and connected with your therapist in your sessions.
In fact, based on a collection of meta-analyses, the American Psychological Association concluded that the quality of the client-clinician relationship has a significant impact on the outcome of therapy.
So, if your relationship with your therapist doesn’t feel quite right, you might consider making a change. Here’s how.
No relationship is static. The dynamic with your therapist is no exception.
Given life’s ebbs and flows, many people find that their needs and preferences in therapy change over time. What started out as a great fit may not stay that way.
Feeling uncomfortable in therapy isn’t, in itself, a sign that you should consider switching therapists.
Therapy is an inherently vulnerable and revealing process, and often brings up challenging feelings. But if you’re consistently feeling uneasy during sessions with your therapist, that could be a sign to look elsewhere.
Even if you feel comfortable with your therapist, there may still be reasons to switch.
Or maybe you want to switch to a therapist who understands the issues you might face based on your race, sexuality, gender identity, or cultural values.
As of 2020, only 4% of psychologists in the United States were Asian, 4% were Black, and 6% were Hispanic, while 84% were white. This means that People of Color often end up seeing a white therapist, which may not be ideal.
People of Color and LGBTQIA+ people, and those from other marginalized groups, may be more comfortable opening up to a therapist who’s a part of their community, or expressly welcomes them.
Learn more about the power of switching therapists in these Healthline articles:
The process of “breaking up” with your therapist and searching for a replacement may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
These five tips will help you navigate the transition.
1. Tell your current therapist
If you’ve decided to seek out a new therapist, consider talking it through with your current one first.
While this might feel uncomfortable, this “exit interview” of sorts can be valuable, assuming you have a good relationship with your current therapist. This discussion can help you to:
- find closure
- identify what’s missing from your current therapeutic relationship
- understand what you need from your new therapist
And if you have a tough time navigating any kind of confrontation or conflict, think of this as a unique opportunity to process that discomfort in a safe environment.
Ideally, this conversation would happen in person, during a session. But there are situations when it can make more sense to email or text your therapist.
For example, if you haven’t been seeing them for long, or feel uncomfortable with them for any reason, it’s fine to go with a less direct route.
2. Ask your therapist to transfer your records
If this applies to your situation, you can ask your therapist to transfer any notes or records to your new practitioner, or give you a copy to take with you.
In general, your therapist isn’t required to give you access to their “process notes,” which are simply notes that describe or analyze your sessions.
Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), process notes are considered distinct from medical records. So, you don’t have a legal right to obtain them.
But your therapist may still agree to release at least some of their notes, particularly if there’s a specific reason you’d like them to.
3. Identify what you need in a new therapist
In some cases, your needs for switching will be clear. You might realize you need a therapist who:
- comes from a similar background
- specializes in a particular therapy type, like cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- offers online therapy
- offers a sliding scale, which are income-based rates
- accepts your insurance
In other cases, you know that something isn’t quite right with your current therapist, but you’re not sure what it is.
If so, consider these questions about your sessions:
- Do I feel understood?
- Do I feel rushed or dismissed?
- Does my therapist seem to respect my background and beliefs?
- Do I have their undivided attention, or do they seem distracted?
- Are they warm and compassionate, or distant?
- Do they act more like an authority figure and less like a collaborator?
As you answer each question, ask yourself “Why?” a few times to drill down your needs.
It also can help to schedule a few consultations with prospective therapists to pinpoint what’s missing (more on that below).
4. Don’t be afraid to explore your options
Finding a therapist can feel so daunting that you might be tempted to settle for the first one who returns your call or takes your insurance.
But remember that as the client, you’re also a consumer. Therapy is a big commitment, both emotionally and financially, so there’s nothing wrong with taking your time and exploring your options.
These resources can help you locate therapists who fit your needs:
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Find a Psychologist tool
- Asian Mental Health Collective’s Therapist Directory
- Association of Black Psychologists’ Find a Therapist directory
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline and support tools
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Inclusive Therapists
One way to approach the search is to put together a shortlist of therapists who broadly fit your criteria and are accepting new clients.
Next, you could contact them to find out whether they offer a free initial consultation. This gives you the opportunity to ask questions and get a sense of their style.
Or, if you have a positive relationship with your current therapist, you could ask them for a recommendation.
5. Prepare for your first session
Depending on how long you’ve been seeing your current therapist, it may feel challenging to start over with someone new. But taking that leap can really pay off.
Before your first session with your new therapist, it might help to:
- make a list of key issues that you’d like to address in therapy
- journal about what you’re hoping for in your new phase of therapy
If there are specific reasons that you left your previous therapist, it’s advisable to discuss those in your first session. This way, your new therapist has all the information they need to help you.
You can be open with your new therapist about any feelings of sadness or fear you’re having about the transition. They’ve likely worked with many people in this situation, and may have insights and guidance to help you adjust.
Switching therapists is actually fairly common, and doesn’t have to be a negative experience.
The key is to home in on what you need in your future therapist. Your needs might include finding a therapist who has a certain background, offers online therapy, or specializes in a specific type of therapy.
Either way, remind yourself that your needs are valid. By attending therapy, you’re doing the work to improve your mental health, and you deserve to find the right person to support you in that journey.