Therapists are like boyfriends and girlfriends: Not every relationship is a match.
Whether you’ve put in a couple sessions and it’s still feeling clumsy, or months have gone by without feeling the click, switching therapists is pretty common, especially at an early stage. “A lot of therapists and clients just don’t match with each other, and that’s okay,” says Alyza Berman, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of The Berman Center, a mental health treatment facility in Atlanta. “This is one of the reasons you might see a few therapists before you find one that seems like a good fit.”
Use these tips to determine whether you’re really not vibing, or if it’s something else (“maybe it is me!”).
Tactic #1: Do a Gut Check
There’s a fine line at play. It’s not like you tried a new hairstylist who gave you bangs when you asked for a split-ends trim (talk about nightmare fuel). To a large degree, you’re supposed to feel challenged by therapy—discomfort is often part of the work. How can you know if it’s the therapist putting you off, or if you’re just blaming that instead of really unpacking your stuff?
“It’s tricky, because you may be getting uncomfortable because you’re addressing feelings that you weren’t facing before,” says Berman. “In some ways, that might be a big sign that it’s a better fit than you realize.”
The more telling emotion? Indifference. You feel no spark and suspect you can’t really open up. Then you feel resentment that nothing seems to get resolved.
You’re not always going to feel super-connected at first session throw. But after about three sessions, says Berman, with the right person you’ll feel like you can drop your guard and be honest. Like you can cry and not feel embarrassed.
Tactic #2: Ask the Right Questions
Who wants a partner you can’t really open up around? Same for your therapist. You might want to break up if you’re just saying what you think the therapist wants to hear, says Mary Gay, Psy.D., evening program director at The Summit Wellness Group in Atlanta. She suggests asking yourself questions like:
- Do they have experience treating conditions like mine?
- Do they make me feel heard or understood?
- Am I able to confide in them completely?
- Are they challenging me to think in a different way, or are they trying to force certain ideas on me?
- Do they judge me or make me feel ashamed?
No matter the answer, the fact that you’re working through questions like these is a good thing! After all, part of the reason you’re in therapy is to learn how to navigate through uncertainty and conflict, and acknowledge what’s important to you. Just as crucial is the next step: addressing it.
Tactic #3: Talk It Through
While ghosting your therapist may seem like a fantastic option, don’t disappear. Though you’re not obligated to talk about why you want to quit, Dr. Gay says bringing it up in person (over the phone or on a telehealth app counts) has its benefits—you might even discover you’re a potential match after all.
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“If you discuss your concerns, they may introduce some different methods or different ideas,” she says. “A good therapist will use their knowledge base but adapt to your individual needs.”
Willing to give it another go? Be open to a new strategy, or tell your therapist specifically what you’re looking for—don’t worry about knowing clinical terms. “Maybe you want some kind of goal or assignment at the end of every session, or you want someone to confront you on your B.S., or you just want someone who lets you cry and holds space for you,” says Berman. “Every session where something isn’t working leads you closer toward what does.”
Tactic #4: Ask To Be Set Up With Someone Else
Let’s say you have THE TALK, and you decided it’s best to move on. It wasn’t wasted time, Berman believes. “Maybe it feels scary to have the conversation, but this is actually a life skill that’s worth practicing,” she says. “You’re stating, in a clear way, why you want to make a change. That’s applicable to a range of difficult situations.”
Plus, now your therapist becomes a resource, not a dead end. Ask if someone in their network might be a better fit. Berman says offering referrals is considered a “best practice” for good therapists.
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