It can be hard to walk away from a therapist who’s not the right fit. In this HelloGiggles article, Mindpath Health’s Summer Thompson, DNP, PMHNP, explains how to change therapists. And no, ghosting them is not an option.
Walking into your therapist’s office for the first time (or, lately, Zooming them) can feel like a rom-com meet-cute: You lock eyes across the room and a warm sense of trust floods your system. You see personal growth on the horizon, and you know this other person will help you get there — or maybe not.
Sometimes, even after months of regular sessions, you might not feel that professional chemistry. Maybe your therapist’s style is grating, or you just don’t think they’re what you need.
Moving on from a therapist that just didn’t work out is normal. Therapists expect it to happen. “As clinicians, we work with so many people. We’re not going to get weird about it. It’s not a bad thing,” says Summer Thompson, DNP, PMHNP.
How to change therapists:
- Trust your instincts.
“In modern society, we get gaslighted on things, and as a result, we don’t trust our instincts or our guts,” says Thompson. She suggests giving a new therapist two or three sessions to see how you warm up to each other. If your gut is telling you the therapist isn’t right after those sessions, listen to it.
- Get closure.
You shouldn’t ghost your dates, and you shouldn’t ghost your therapist. Thompson recommends keeping your message simple but direct by calling (versus texting or emailing) and letting them know that you’re going to look for someone else to work with.
And don’t worry, your therapist really won’t take it personally. “I think patients really worry that our feelings are going to be horribly hurt,” says Thompson. “I respect patients who end it because they are able to stand up for themselves, and that’s a very good therapeutic indicator that [they’re] doing okay.”
- Find someone new.
“When therapy is done well, it should be really uncomfortable,” says Thompson. Your therapist’s job is to sit down with you and discuss those hard topics that you find are limiting you from getting to where you want to be in your life.” It’s vital for you to start with the kind of person you’re going to feel comfortable doing that work with.
- Reflect on what didn’t work.
Just like it’s not a great idea to jump from one romantic relationship to the next without figuring out what went wrong and what you’re looking for, going from one therapist to another without sitting down and mapping out why you’re making that change isn’t recommended.
By reflecting on what didn’t work, you can reduce the risk of finding yourself in the same position again, says Thompson. That’s something you can then share with your next therapist.
- Share your story however you see fit.
If you were starting a relationship with a new primary care physician, you could ask for your medical files. While therapists do keep notes on their patients, they’re rarely comprehensive.
Most of their documentation is for insurance and billing purposes. They avoid keeping detailed notes because their records can be subpoenaed, and they want to protect your privacy. Mental health professionals who prescribe medicine, like Dr. Thompson, do keep notes on those decisions, but no therapist is likely to have a neat, synthesized file of your backstory and progress. Instead, the responsibility for delivering that context is up to you.
At your first session with a new therapist, you can come prepared with a summary of what you’ve covered in previous therapeutic relationships and a list of the things you’d like to work on, or you can let that information come out organically.
- Set reasonable expectations.
It can be hard to walk away from a not-quite-right therapist and look for someone who’s better aligned with what you need. But it’s worth it in the end.
“We learn so much from things that don’t work out the way that we thought they would,” says Thompson. “If you figure out what you don’t like about a therapist, and you learn something about yourself, then that’s a win.”
Read the full HelloGiggles article with sources.