Research shows that one of the biggest keys to success in therapy is a positive relationship between a client and the therapist. So if you haven’t been feeling the love at your therapy sessions lately, it may be time to move on.
But it’s hard to leave someone who knows your deepest, darkest secrets. So, how do you let them go? And isn’t it a pain to find someone new and catch them up to speed?
Thankfully, experts assure us that the process is doable. HuffPost chatted with a few mental health professionals on how to break up with your current therapist ― and, most important, how to start over with someone new. Check out their tips below:
To start, figure out if your current therapist is a good match.
Vinodha Joly, a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice in Pleasanton, California, suggested asking yourself the following questions when assessing your current therapist: “Do I feel understood?” “Do I experience the therapist as empathic, present, competent and nonjudgmental?” “Are there clearly stated goals in therapy and do I see positive movement towards these goals?”
“If you find that you are leaving most sessions feeling uncomfortable, dissatisfied, unseen or unheard, that’s an indication that there’s not a good fit,” added Sharon Saline, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of What Your ADHD Child Wishes You Knew.
At end of the day, it’s best to trust your gut. If you’ve been attending regular sessions and aren’t feeling it for whatever reason, it’s likely time to move on.
“Sometimes you simply know it’s a bad match,” explained Michele Blume, a clinical psychologist in Hermosa Beach, California.
Break up with your therapist if you feel he or she isn’t the right fit.
The best way to end therapy is by being direct, according to Saline.
“There’s no point to beating around the bush if you’re not satisfied with what you’re receiving from him or her,” she said, noting that you don’t have be confrontational but should aim to be clear about why things aren’t working and your desire to move on.
Saline said that most therapists will want to discuss this decision with you and try to make the changes you’d like to see. But if that’s not what you want, it’s OK to politely decline sticking it out.
Whatever you do, don’t just disappear on your therapist without warning. Give them some sort of notice before moving on.
“Don’t ghost them. It would be a disservice to the therapist and to you,” said Dori Gatter, a psychotherapist and relationship expert in West Hartford, Connecticut. She stressed that directly communicating to your therapist that you want to try someone new is “a step into your own personal power” and a means of achieving a healthy sense of closure.
In an ideal world, your therapist would probably like to have a final exit session before parting ways, according to Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles and professor of psychology at California State University.
“If you just want out, then get out, but if you just want a change in direction, then you can at least have a final session, re-cap some of your work and perhaps walk away with some recommendations,” Durvasula explained.
Take some time out in between therapists, then do a trial run.
”When a client leaves one therapist and considers going to work with another, it might be a good idea to consider taking a few weeks off from counseling to recharge the battery,” said Patrick Di Vietri, director of therapy services at Hope Therapy and Wellness Center.
He explained that therapy can be a very draining process. When you transition from one therapist to another, he said, “it can feel a lot like writing a 10-page paper, losing it and having to write it all over again.” A break in between may help you enter into a new therapeutic alliance with a refreshed outlook.
It’s also important to take your time when finding a replacement mental health professional. Blume suggested asking for a referral from friends or family members and really seeking out an expert that addresses your specific needs.
“You want to leave your first session feeling as though you have a general understanding of how this new therapist works as well as having had the opportunity to communicate your needs. But just as important, you want to leave feeling that this is a safe person with whom [you] can share [your] deepest wounds and darkest parts,” Blume said.
And don’t be afraid to try out several new therapists before committing to a standing weekly appointment.
“I encourage all of my first appointments to let me know that in the first session they are checking me out to see if I am a good fit for them,” Gatter said. She added that finding a new therapist is a little like dating in that “you need to trust your gut and you will know when you have found ‘the one.’”
Look into ‘shortcuts’ that will catch your new therapist up to speed.
Starting over with a new therapist generally involves reiterating your backstory. One way to avoid having to go all the way back in time is to sign a release of information, which allows your previous therapist to share his or her notes with your new therapist, according to Matt Smith, a therapist with Charlotte Counseling & Wellness.
“That’s one way at to pick up where you left off in your previous work,” he explained, noting that this can save you from the hassle of having to dedicate several sessions to providing your background information to your new practitioner.
The downside to this option, Smith warned, is that your former therapist’s notes may color your new therapist’s impressions of your situation, which is not always ideal, especially if you’re looking for a fresh start with a new therapist. But while giving your new therapist information on your family dynamic, career and background can be helpful, you don’t always have to start at the beginning.
“I give my new clients the option of how they want to start,” Blume said. “If they want to jump right in, great. If they want to start from the beginning, I can do that, too.”
Blume stressed that therapy is an organic unfolding and the client’s needs determine this. So whatever you want to talk about with your new therapist is perfectly acceptable. And if your new therapist has information that they’d like to know, they will eventually ask.
Tell your new therapist what you want to get out of your sessions.
One thing that you should make clear in your first meeting is your treatment goals, Gatter said.
“Take a lead by letting the therapist know what you are looking for in a therapist, what issues you are looking to get help with, and asking any questions you may have of the therapist,” Gatter explained. “As a therapist, I really like it when new clients come in and share all of this.”
When starting out with a new therapist, it’s also a good idea to share specific previous therapy experiences, Smith added. This includes communicating what you liked and didn’t like about your other sessions.
“As a therapist, I always ask my clients about what’s been helpful for them and what hasn’t been so helpful in their work with other therapists so that I can I build on what’s worked well for them in the past,” Smith said.
Additionally, if your previous practitioner put you on any medications, you’ll want to bring that up immediately to your new therapist. It’s important to have the psychiatrist who prescribed your medication sign a release of information document to talk with your new therapist so they can coordinate your care, Gatter said.
Most important, be patient as your journey with a new professional begins. Success in therapy doesn’t happen in one session.
“Relationships don’t build over night and change takes awhile,” Blume said. “You won’t pick up with your new therapist where you left off with your last one. You will need some time to adjust and for your new therapist to get a handle on how you communicate and what your needs are.”
Talking Therapy is a HuffPost series that will teach you everything you need to know about doing therapy. We’re giving you informative, no-B.S. stories on seeking mental health help: how to do it, what to expect, and why it matters. Because taking care of your mind is just as important as taking care of your body. Find all of our coverage here.