Have you ever had a few sessions with a therapist only to discover you aren’t benefiting from your time together? Perhaps the approach didn’t feel right, or the therapist dominated the conversation. All of these challenges are prime examples of why it is perfectly natural to leave the relationship. How can you depart without ghosting or hurting the therapist’s feelings while providing honest, constructive feedback? Let’s examine the challenge through a recent, personal example, the hard lessons I’ve learned, concluding with strategies you can employ, should you find yourself in a similar situation.
A Personal Example
One core component of being a Gestalt Psychotherapy student is the necessity to work with a fourth or fifth-year Gestalt therapist through the student clinic for fifty hours by the end of year three. The purpose is for people entering into the program to watch Gestalt in action, to begin the more profound work, and prepare themselves for the therapist’s chair. I believe the approach is of great value and benefit for both therapists and clients.
I recently worked with a fifth-year student therapist through the clinic — who will remain anonymous. Over a short time, I noticed the therapist did not align my expectations and reality. Given I work in the corporate world, I want upfront calendar invites from my therapist, including a link to our video call. Also, I desire the therapist to be on time and to remember our session commitment. Most of all, I want to be the main person talking on the video call and for the therapist to listen without personal bias while asking powerful questions to help me dig deeper into the process—all standard requirements.
At the onset of our relationship, I noticed my therapist didn’t have a contract outlining our responsibilities toward one another. Nor was space made available to co-create a mutually binding agreement. Today I feel this miss would have built a healthy foundation and allowed us to move forward positively.
Given I have time remaining toward the 50 hours, I’ve decided to depart the relationship while highlighting my therapist’s strengths and opportunities for improvement in a constructive yet warm manner. In our circumstance, I’ve opted to email first as the medium allows me to gather my thoughts, followed by invitation for a video call to close the loop on conversations.
Hi <therapists name>,
I hope you’re enjoying the weekend and able to push through this time of demanding university work.
In giving our text exchange thought over the week, I’d like to forgo our therapy sessions. At this time, I recognize my needs are a little different than how we are currently working together. While I understand and appreciate how busy schedules can become, I value kept appointments and knowing you will be on the call. In the future, you may want to consider sending clients meeting invites in advance and include the link. The experience has taught me a valuable lesson when I begin to sit in the therapist’s chair in October.
We are all learning, growing, and developing our practice. Everything takes time to fall into place, and I’m sure once you’ve completed university, a huge weight will be off your shoulders, and you can focus more intently on establishing and maintaining your client base. You will do just fine!
Like any relationship, I feel the therapist-client partnership is where we come together and “try on” whether we are a suitable fit. Now, having been in therapy for the last 8–10 years, I’m at a point where I want to take a break from experience; however, I’m unable to pause until the total 50 hours due to Gestalt requirements is achieved. To get the most of my time, I’d like to have more space to talk about what is happening in my life. Sometimes at the end of our calls, when I reflect, it dawns on me, I’m listening more than speaking. For example, in one of our sessions, I talked about how nail picking is a constant fixture in my life and one I’d like to overcome. While I’m glad I shared this aspect of my personality, after I brought up the topic, I felt we spent a lot more time focusing on your past fiance’s challenges, whom you shared had a secret nail-biting issue. I felt compassion when listening to your story and unclear how your experience related to mine and the potential endeavor I brought forth. My objective was to begin the work, and we didn’t enter into that space. All this to say, I do understand therapy is a process and takes time and practice.
Thank you for your patience and your sense of humor. From you, I learned what “peradventure” is — what a fascinating word! I’m more than happy to discuss any of the above with you on the phone or video call; my objective is to remain as transparent and open as possible.
Stay well, and again, thank you for our time together,
Hard Lessons Learned
The experience I outlined with my therapist had a profound impact on me. I know how I will operate my private practice and begin the interactive process with potential clients through our time.
- Conduct an initial free half-hour session. Time will be available in my calendar to meet with prospective clients to determine why the client seeks my services and perform initial discernment if we are the right fit.
- Next, hold one hour, paid discovery session. If the client and I determine we are ideal candidates for one another, a discovery session is required to co-create a design alliance, outlining how we will work together. Space is open for a frank conversation and to answer upfront questions. The client will receive a copy of the design alliance with the continued possibility to revisit the living, breathing document at any time to make adjustments.
- Follow up with a third prioritization session. Here, I will work with the client to prioritize what themes they want to work on and begin the collaborative work. The client is in control of the direction they want the sessions to take, and I guide the individual on their journey of self-exploration. During the second session and onward, I will continue to gauge if we are the right fit for one another.
- A full-functioning website with calendar sync. On my forthcoming website, I will ensure functionality is available for clients to pre-book sessions based on availability while ensuring an automatic invite sends to the client’s calendar. The link to our session will be pre-populated inside the invitation.
- Be on time. If I have a client call, I will be online or in-person at our designated time slot.
- Be prepared. Having been a client for nearly a decade, I know when therapists are rushed and ungrounded. From the onset of a call or an in-person visit, I want my clients to know I am ready, open, and available for our time together. And when we end our session, I also desire the client to feel they had my full attention and are the most critical person in the room.
- Ensure technology works. While on the surface, this feels like a no-brainer, I can’t tell you how many times the internet has failed or the therapist is using a free video platform offering poor quality service. I will have a secure internet connection, supporting video, and purchasing a premium video conferencing account.
- Be camera-ready! If the client and I meet over video conferencing, I have learned through experience to ensure proper lighting allowing the client to see my face, expressions and feel my presence. Part of the experience includes pointing the camera at my face — not the chin, neck, or even stomach! Yes, I’ve had deep conversations with my therapist’s belly before and had to redirect the individual to place the camera in the proper location.
Strategies To Break Up With Your Therapist
To conclude, if you are experiencing challenges with your therapist and feel your needs are unmet, here are personal suggestions on overcoming the situation in a tactful yet meaningful way. Sure, the experience may be uncomfortable to talk about; however, you are worth fighting for when it comes to paying someone your hard-earned money and spending your valuable time.
- Be honest with your expectations. If misalignment exists, contact your therapist at your earliest convenience rather than waiting, open the discussion and assess your therapist’s reaction. If the therapist is willing to change their approach, perhaps there is a way to salvage the relationship. And if the therapist exhibits resistance, you have your answer to move on.
- Provide concrete examples of improvements. When delivering feedback to your therapist, use specific examples to illustrate your point. For example, if you say, “I don’t feel like you listen to me enough,” the statement is vague, and the therapist will most likely try to pinpoint a time when the issue surfaced. A better illustration is, “When we spoke about my uncle’s death, I sensed you backed away from the conversation and didn’t feel you were present. Is there any truth to that?” Notice the established timeline and specific details provided, allowing the therapist to reflect and respond.
- The client is in the driver’s seat. You, yes, YOU have control to decide whether the relationship continues or ends. Perhaps the therapist you are currently working with doesn’t possess the necessary skills to tackle the issue you want to work on. For example, I wouldn’t see a talk therapist to deal with pre-natal abandonment issues stemming from adoption. No. Instead, I sought out a trauma specialist who utilizes EMDR techniques. A great therapist knows their limitations and will offer you other solutions when the challenge you bring forth is beyond their capacity.
In my example, I used the above techniques to articulate where the challenges lie in the therapist-client relationship. I provided specific examples in the timeline while balancing both positive and negative aspects of the quality of the interaction between my therapist. If you ever find yourself in a similar circumstance, my hope is you, too, will be more prepared to engage with your therapist using honest, constructive feedback while departing on good terms.
- Thinx: How to Break Up With Your Therapist
- Self: Here’s Exactly How to Break Up With Your Therapist
- PsychCentral: Therapists Spill: How to End Therapy
- GoodTherapy: How to Navigate the Termination of Therapy with a Client