Going to therapy is among the bravest — and for some, the most challenging — steps you can take for your own emotional well-being. After all, it’s not exactly easy to discuss your most vulnerable thoughts and feelings with a total stranger. Therapy should always be a safe haven to share freely, and with the right therapist, you’ll make tremendous progress and have a deeper understanding of self. A win-win all around.
But sometimes you’ll need to dump your therapist. And whether you’ve been seeing them for a few sessions or several years, it can feel surprisingly hard — it’s only human to feel mixed emotions about pouring your heart and soul out to someone only to later on tell them it’s not working out. (See: relationships, anyone?)
So how do you know when to stop seeing your therapist? According to Terri Bacow, Ph.D., New York-based psychologist and author of Goodbye Anxiety, there are several reasons why it could be time to terminate therapy, either by wrapping things up altogether or seeking out other treatment options.
Termination usually happens when one has “made progress and no longer needs to attend therapy,” says Bacow. “Sometimes people terminate therapy when it is no longer working for them or progress has stalled. In this instance, you may need a break from therapy or a different type of therapy approach” — more on this in a sec.
No matter the reason you’re ending things, however, Bacow says, “Do not be afraid to discuss termination with your therapist.” Yes, even if you feel awkward or nervous to have “the talk.” She adds, “It can be helpful to review your initial therapy goals and whether or not they have been met, as well as collaborating with your therapist to decide if termination makes sense for you.” You might also just need fewer sessions, with Bacow adding that “some therapists are comfortable with seeing you again for a check-in session as needed.”
Ultimately, people need different things out of therapy; some problems will take years to work through, while others need short-term assistance to help tackle a current issue. Here are the signs it’s time to dump your therapist.
You don’t feel like you’re clicking.
If you’re just not feeling it after a few sessions, there’s no shame in saying sayonara, because when it comes to therapy, it’s OK to shop around. Therapists specialize in different modalities and areas of expertise, so you’ll want to try and find someone who has training in your specific needs, if you can.
They talk about themselves too much or violate your boundaries in any way.
Each therapist will differ in how much personal info they’re willing to share with patients. But if your therapist isn’t holding the vast majority of your sessions for you — or if they cross any boundary of yours, physical or otherwise — move on. Your safety and security in therapy is paramount, and your therapist should always keep the relationship professional. You’re paying to be there, and they are not your friend, no matter how much you like them.
Your therapist is too impersonal.
Therapists are trained to be detached to a degree, but your therapist should also be someone who supports you and cheers you on when you make progress in and out of their office. If you’re getting vibes that are too cold or clinical, it’s possibly not the right fit.
You find yourself omitting the truth or flat-out lying to your therapist.
Therapy is a space where you should feel safe to speak openly and honestly without judgment, so if you find yourself afraid of telling the full truth, think about why that is. You should always feel seen, heard, and understood by your therapist. When you become fearful of being judged, it’s a sign to find a therapist who doesn’t make you feel that way.
You’re not seeing any new improvement.
Bacow notes that the number one reason people switch therapists is that they aren’t seeing someone who specializes in the right modality for their issues. “If you find that you are talking and talking and not really feeling better or getting anywhere, switching therapy approaches is always a good idea,” says Bacow. In this instance, it may be a good idea to shift from talk therapy to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a method in which you work on concrete strategies or tools for symptom reduction/problem solving. You can ask your therapist for a referral, or look online to find someone who practices CBT or another type of goal-oriented approach, such as DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) or ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy).
It can also go the other way; you are doing CBT but wish to just vent, or dive deeper and gain insight. In this case, insight-oriented talk therapy may be a better fit for you. Either way, checking in with your own progress is a crucial part of therapy, and if you don’t feel challenged or that you’re experiencing growth, you may need to move on.
Your therapist is forgetful or constantly distracted.
You’re likely paying a pretty penny to be in therapy, and that’s without mentioning the amount of time and energy in your day it takes to adhere to scheduled sessions. If your therapist is frequently forgetting things you’ve told them or seems distracted during your sessions, you deserve a better fit. Even minor distractions, like catching them looking at their watch or the clock on the wall, or checking their devices, can be extraordinarily disruptive.
They show up late and/or cancel sessions without notice.
Being respectful of each other’s time is crucial, and that respect goes both ways. If they are frequently late or cancel sessions without adequate notice, you have every right to find someone who will prioritize you and the efforts you’ve made to be there.
You feel too dependent on them.
One of the most important parts of therapy is having an objective guide through some sticky situations — which means that if you find yourself too attached, it might be prudent to completely detach. Similarly, you may need to cut the cord if your therapist is telling you what to do instead of empowering you to make decisions that feel right to you in your life.
Their values don’t line up with yours.
Theoretically, therapy should be an impartial zone. So, if your therapist makes questionable comments or jokes that don’t align with your values or beliefs, think about exploring other options. I briefly met with a therapist who was lovely and supportive, but knew she wasn’t right for me when she made a comment about listening to Joe Rogan — and that’s totally OK.
You’re going out of habit or just to complain.
Venting during therapy is totally normal, but if you find that you’re just using the hour as a gossip session or because you’ve been going so long, consider reducing your sessions or ceasing therapy altogether. You should always be aiming to grow and develop new skills and tools for problem-solving. If you find yourself just going through the motions, that’s a good sign you’ve hit a progress plateau.
Your therapist is too expensive.
Unfortunately, therapy is often cost-prohibitive. If your current therapist keeps raising their prices or no longer accepts your insurance, it’s absolutely acceptable to ask them to recommend lower-fee or lower-cost options, or to check in with your insurance provider about lower-cost providers accessible to you and your financial needs.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911.