Have you ever been in therapy and felt uncomfortable or like you weren’t meeting goals? If so, it may be time to dump your therapist.
Therapy should be a safe space — without safety, it’s unlikely that you’ll benefit from a therapeutic relationship.
If you’re in therapy but feel like you’re biding your time, uncomfortable, or they’re just not a good fit, it may be time to break up with your therapist.
There are several red flags that could signal it’s time to look for a new therapist.
How do you know if your therapist is not the one?
To determine this, consider asking yourself some of these questions:
- Do I feel safe?
- Do I feel heard?
- Do I feel accepted and comfortable?
- Am I meeting my goals?
- Does my therapist specialize in what I’m bringing to therapy?
You can also ask yourself if they do any of the following:
Forgets key facts about me
Most therapists will take good notes and review them before each session.
If you have to keep reminding your therapist about what action items they asked you to try, or what you’re hoping to get out of therapy, it may be time to vet a different therapist.
Takes a side in couple’s therapy (triangulates)
Triangulation refers to bringing a third party in, often to diffuse conflict. However, triangulation may not always result in conflict resolution, especially when in couple’s therapy.
You may find that your marriage and family therapist (MFT) is taking sides or is unable to be objective.
If a mental health pro is a good fit for you, they will let both parties be heard and help you work together toward a common goal. If they do not do this, and don’t teach skills for relating to one another equally as a couple, it may be time to change therapists.
Habitually starts sessions late or ends early
A typical therapy session lasts 45–60 minutes, but this largely depends on the professional. Sometimes, therapists see people for just 30 minutes.
If your therapist makes a habit of starting sessions late, this may mean they have too large of a caseload, or poor boundaries surrounding how many clients they can see in one day. The same goes for if your therapist is constantly ending sessions early.
If this is the case, you may consider talking with your therapist about it.
Therapists should model boundaries they want their clients to uphold. Some therapists may cancel your appointment if you’re running late. But, if they’re consistently late themselves or ending your sessions early, it may be a flag that it’s time to seek therapy elsewhere.
Looks at the clock more often than they look at me
If your therapist looks at the clock frequently during your sessions, they may not be actively listening to what you have to say.
A therapist that’s a good fit for you will not watch the clock more than they make eye contact with you.
Keeps offering to meet outside of therapy socially
One key reason that therapists can help you meet your goals is that they maintain objectivity. If a therapist offers to meet outside of therapy in a social setting, this is what clinicians call a dual relationship.
Not all dual relationships are bad — however, in this instance, if a therapist decides to meet you socially, it takes away from their ability to be objective and may complicate the therapeutic relationship.
A 2017 research article on boundary violations suggests that even nonsexual boundary violations with clients can create an imbalance in the therapeutic relationship, interrupting the clients’ progress in therapy and causing harm.
A good therapist will keep solid professional boundaries and not pursue relationships with clients on a social level.
This includes in-person meetings or social media. If your therapist is doing this, whether or not you welcome it, you may consider finding another clinician to meet your therapeutic needs.
Keeps suggesting I “get comfortable” by removing some of my clothes or touching me
If a therapist is touching you unprompted, making sexual advances, or making physically suggestive comments, this is a huge indicator that it’s time to end therapy with them.
Most ethics boards that regulate the behavior of social workers, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and marriage and family therapists have specific statutes against this kind of behavior.
Despite these statutes, it does happen, and clients are often harmed the most by this type of behavior.
For example, research in 1988 suggests this type of boundary violation affects clients in several ways:
- role confusion
- sexual confusion
- emotional lability such as severe depression or anxiety
- increased suicidal risk
More recent research from 2018 examined sexual boundary violations by healthcare professionals. They suggest that clients who experience sexual boundary violations may take years to recover from the harm done.
If your therapist is exhibiting any red flags mentioned above, it may be time to stop working with them.
Depending on the behavior and if you feel safe enough, you may want to talk with your current therapist about switching to someone who more closely suits your needs.
If you do not feel safe, you can always tell them in person or through email (at least 24 hours before your next appointment to avoid a cancellation fee!) that you want to end therapy with them, or find a new therapist on your own.
If your therapist is crossing sexual boundaries or making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, you can report them to your state’s licensing board.
A guiding principle of therapists is to not cause you harm. If your therapist’s behavior is harming you, and you want to break up with your therapist, you can.
You deserve to get the most out of therapy and find a clinician who’s professional and attentive to your needs.
Can a therapist dump ME?
A therapist may decline to work with you or may provide a referral to another therapist for various reasons.
- Realize their caseload is overbooked.
- Discover a conflict of interest and seek to avoid it proactively.
- Think that another therapist who specializes in your needs is a better fit.
- Opt not to work with you if they don’t think you’re ready to take therapy seriously — like if you lie in therapy, or cancel or miss appointments frequently.
If you’ve resolved that you need to cut ties with your current therapist, that does not mean that therapy isn’t for you.
You can always change therapists — and report them to your state’s licensing board if they have crossed any serious boundaries.
Remember: Your therapist should not harm you. If you feel they are, there are better options. You deserve the best treatment and support, no matter what you’re going through.