We are big proponents of seeking professional grief support and know that it can be tremendously helpful when struggling after a loss. Unfortunately, just like with any new relationship, things don’t always work out the way we expect. Finding a therapist can be tough and sometimes the relationship just doesn’t work out – you don’t connect, you aren’t getting what you want or need out of the relationship, you need to see other people. Sometimes things go well for a while until suddenly they don’t. Knowing if you should break up with your grief counselor can be tough, and navigating the breakup can be awkward. No one tells you how to break up with your therapist! So, we are going to go through a few of the circumstances that may have you contemplating a split and talk through some considerations.
These break-up feelings often fall into three major categories:
First Date: I just don’t feel that spark
Seven Year Itch: Things just aren’t that exciting anymore.
I’ve Outgrown You: The goals feel accomplished, I feel ready to move on, I just don’t need you anymore.
Let’s start at the third and work our way back. Before we do, it is important to say that if your reason for considering a break up is that your therapist is inappropriate, abusive, or threatening then you should bail. Immediately. No questions asked. If they don’t seem invested, forget important things you’ve shared, doze off, spend time talking about their own problems, or make you feel rushed by checking their watch, phone, etc then I would also suggest finding someone new without hesitation. You are paying for this service and you should find someone you feel confident is invested in you.
Now, back to some of the common causes for a therapist break up:
I’ve Outgrown You
If this is your reason for breaking up with your grief counselor, this is a good problem to have. The vast majority of grief counseling (and therapy in general) is expected to last for a finite period. There is no expectation of ’til death do us part with your therapist – you are going to improve and things are going to get better. The relationship is going to come to an end. You may be feeling that you have gotten what you wanted and needed from the relationship, you are ready to move forward, you are feeling pretty good (relatively of course). So how do you broach this topic with your therapist? Chances are, at some point, you and your therapist set out some goals for counseling. Even if you didn’t explicitly do that, there is a good chance you went into therapy with a sense of what you wanted to get from it. If you feel you have made the progress you hoped to make and no longer need counseling, let your therapist know this is how you are feeling. Review the list, discuss where you think you are now compared to where you started, and explain that you feel ready to stop your counseling. If your therapist agrees, that’s great! The breakup is mutual, you can stay friends, all is well with the world. If your therapist doesn’t immediately agree with your self-assessment, take some time to listen. Your therapist may have some valid reasons to consider continuing treatment. If that is the case, you may wish to heed their advice. If you are feeling especially antsy, this may be a good time to readdress goals and timeframes. Whether you end counseling right away or give it a little more time based on recommendations, you may wish to ease yourself out of treatment. You and your therapist should coordinate a discharge plan you both feel comfortable with to make sure your transition from therapy goes well.
Seven Year Itch
This has nothing to do with a specific length of time, but rather feeling that things have gotten stagnant. One wonderful thing about seeing a grief counselor (or other type of therapist) is that early on you may find yourself making a lot of progress. This can make it all the more discouraging if progress seems to stall. This is a reason to have a conversation with your therapist, for sure. But it may or may not be a reason to break up. Have a conversation about your concerns: in what areas you are hoping to make progress that you are not? Your therapist may have some ideas about why progress has stalled and some strategies to get things back on track. Finding and reestablishing a relationship with a new therapist can be tough. If things were going well with your current counselor give it your best effort to see if you can resolve the problem. Once you have had this conversation give yourself another 3 or 4 sessions to see if things begin to improve.
When you finally make the decision to see a grief counselor it is often after many emotional and difficult weeks, months, or even years. When everything is hopeless it can be easy to hope for a quick-fix from a therapist – think of this as expecting the dating equivalent of love at first sight. The reality is that this is just not how therapy works (though wouldn’t it be great if it did??). It takes time to establish a relationship with a therapist and determine whether it is a good fit. Though it can be tempting to go to one session and decide you don’t like a therapist, give it at least 3 sessions before making any snap decisions. If you do decide that it simply isn’t going to work out, let your therapist know. It may be tempting to just blow your therapist off – no-show appointments and blow off their calls. Though the boyfriend you’re dumping may not point you in the direction of a new suitor, a good therapist may actually be able to help you find a therapist better suited to your needs. Really. So have a conversation with them. And it is just a nice, common courtesy!
There Are More Fish in the Sea
Unlike ending a romantic relationship, in the case of a therapist, you want to be prepared to find someone new right away. Unless you ended things because you felt you had met your goals of counseling, be ready to start seeing another therapist. Your current therapist may be able to help with this or you can seek a referral from friends, family members, or your primary care doctor. Reflect on what worked and what did not work with this therapist, as it may help you in picking your next therapist.
There are some things you can do early to increase your chances that your relationship with your therapist will be successful.
1) Clearly establish your goals.
2) Discuss any thoughts on what you are looking for in a therapist (someone to listen, someone to give advice, etc).
3) Explain what has worked or not worked for you in the past (if you have had a therapist before)
4) Discuss your timeframes. If you have any limitations based on insurance, your own preference, etc, be sure to discuss this upfront.
6) Communicate each step of the way. If things are not meeting your expectations, let your therapist know that rather than waiting until dissatisfaction or frustration builds up.
7) Remember that therapy isn’t always fun – sometimes it can be hard and unpleasant. Don’t bail on therapy when the going gets tough.
At the end of the day, after thorough assessment, if you need to break up with your therapist, then go for it. You are paying for services and you need the support. There is no reason to let a sense of guilt, loyalty, or apprehension keep you in a relationship you just aren’t happy with. Good Luck!
Had an experience breaking up with a counselor? Leave a comment to share! And don’t forget to subscribe to get our updates sent right to your email.