The time comes in some relationships when it’s just not working out. So what do you do? Maybe you go through the motions in order to avoid confrontation. Maybe you lie and say everything is okay when they ask how it’s going. Maybe you tell yourself, just one more day, one more hour...maybe it’ll get better. But you know, deep down, it’s time to break up. Sometimes, this painful and awkward moment comes with our therapist or coach.
Whether the therapeutic or coaching relationship was never a good fit or it fizzled out, the time may eventually come when it’s time to break up with your therapist or coach.
So how do you actually do it and how can you better articulate to your new therapist or coach what you are looking for?
Think about how you feel during and after therapy or coaching appointments. While it’s totally normal to occasionally feel upset by the emotions that came up during your session or tired from the process of doing the work, it’s not ideal to consistently leave feeling worse than when you started. That could mean your therapist or coach isn’t a match for your needs or isn’t helping you find a way to cope, process, or move forward (if you’re wondering whether therapy or coaching is the best fit for you (spoiler alert: it could even be both!), take our quiz to find out).
Maybe you aren’t clear on your needs or maybe they’ve changed. Take some time to think about what you want in a coach or therapist and a coaching or therapeutic relationship because, like any relationship, you won’t be a perfect fit with everyone, and that’s okay.
When you are looking for an apartment or a job, you often have concrete ideas as to what you want, like location, cost, commute time, salary range, etc. It’s just as important to think about your ideal “must-haves” with a therapist or coach. That could be their gender, location, age, or specialties—whatever is most important to you.
“If you have been working with your therapist for a while and are feeling like you want to end the relationship, take a moment to consider the reasons for it,” said Daniel Sieber, a therapist and MyWellbeing community member.
“It is common for therapeutic relationships to experience impasses over time, and it can be helpful and transformative to address these issues head on,” he said. “An effective therapist will provide the space for you to speak about your concerns. This can actually become part of your therapy and may enable you to better assert yourself with people in your life outside of the therapy room.”
Maybe your schedules changed or don’t have much overlap. Maybe they are switching back to in-person full-time and you’d prefer to continue your sessions remotely. Maybe finances have become a problem (if so, you can ask if your therapist or coach offers a sliding scale or find out if you can access out-of-network benefits for therapy). Again, you can talk about these issues and work with your therapist or coach to come up with a solution or you can take it as a sign that it’s time to move on—either way, it’s important to talk about it!
The most important thing (aside from you getting the care and support you deserve) is not to ghost. Not only is it not a nice thing to do, but ghosting your therapist or coach won’t give you the time or information you need to process the experience and move on.
“Is your gut telling you that it is not the right fit after an initial session or sessions, or do you have a long-standing relationship?” said Daniel. “If you’re feeling that you and your therapist are not a good match, it’s okay to say so. Seasoned clinicians have had this conversation many times before and will not take it personally.”
Of course the person on the receiving end of your dumping is just that—a person. With feelings. So you can be open and honest, but remember the human being on the other end.
Really, there are two stages of the conversation: the first part, where you talk about your concerns or what’s not working and then, if necessary, the relationship-ending part. Ideally, you and your therapist or coach will have had the first part of the conversation in advance and had time to process or try to make it work. Otherwise, if things have been chugging along you end it seemingly out of the blue, it could come as a surprise (and they’ll probably still want to talk about it).
To kick things off, you could say, “When we started working together, I mentioned that my goals were X. It’s been a little while, and I don’t feel like I’ve made the progress I’ve been looking for. How can we work together to make sure I’m getting closer to achieving these goals?”
Your therapist or coach might provide insight or feedback right then. Maybe they’ll be surprised or maybe they will have similar feelings. Either with your therapist or coach or on your own, create a timeline or benchmarks that you’d like to reach so you know if things have improved or not.
If you haven’t made progress after your initial conversation and you’re sure you want to end it, here are some phrases you can try:
It takes courage to have a conversation like this, but you’ll be better off in the long run. And your therapist or coach might even be able to refer you to someone who might be a better fit for you.
Once you find a few potential matches, take advantage of the phone consultation to ask a couple of questions and get to know your therapist or coach and how you’ll work together. Think about your goals and communicate them in the call.
Talk about what worked with the last therapist or coach. Consider what you enjoyed about whoever previously helped you. Did they validate your struggle? Did they teach you skills to combat your stress and anxiety? Were they relatable? Did they share their observations? And be honest about what didn’t work the last time you saw a therapist or coach as well.
“Whenever I see someone for an initial session, I always ask about their previous experiences with therapy,” said Daniel. “This helps me understand what was useful or lacking in the previous relationship. Don’t be afraid to articulate what you’re looking for when you begin seeing a new therapist. Be mindful of the limitations in the previous therapy as well as things that may have been effective that you would like to continue when beginning with a new therapist. This can help build an authentic therapeutic alliance and deepen the work.”
Even if you find a therapist or coach who seems like a good fit, give yourself permission for your wants or needs to change over time. Listening to yourself and your needs and responding to them is an important part of your growth. Your sessions are for you, and through open and honest communication with your therapist or coach, you’ll be able to get the support you deserve.
Caitlin is an organizational change strategist, advisor, writer, and the founder of Commcoterie, a change management communication consultancy. She helps leaders and the consultants who work with them communicate change for long-lasting impact. Caitlin is a frequent speaker, workshop facilitator, panelist, and podcast guest on topics such as organizational change, internal communication strategy, DEIBA, leadership and learning, management and coaching, women in the workplace, mental health and wellness at work, and company culture. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.