Leaving a beloved therapist can be difficult. Whether you’ve switched insurance, or moved to a new city and prefer to see someone in-person, finding a new, affordable therapist can be hard. And it can be even more troublesome finding a mental health professional you feel comfortable rehashing your life story to.
Like all of the relationships in your life, the therapeutic relationship is incredibly important. Per the American Psychological Association, your relationship with your therapist is just as important as the type of therapy you’re undergoing. Breaking up with a therapist during treatment can stall some outcomes and lead to some complicated feelings. It’s normal to grieve the relationship, or feel abandoned when it ends out of the blue.
Luckily, no matter what type of therapy you’ve been making strides in — whether it’s cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), or another modality — you can adjust to seeing a new therapist with these tips and tricks in your back pocket.
What are some common reasons patients might leave a therapist? How can this impact treatment?
People stop going to therapy for a lot of different reasons. Dr. Nicole Lacherza-Drew, Psy.D, says five of the most common reasons are “insurance changes, finances, lacking a connection to your therapist, outgrowing your therapist, or needing specialized care.”
Sometimes, there are other factors at play. Susannah Scheller, a tech professional who works in San Antonio, TX, was shocked when her therapist abruptly left the third-party service she was using to see her. “We’d been working on some very personal and deep-seated issues in our sessions, and it was like losing my lifeline in that area of my life,” she says.
Scheller says she had been seeing her therapist to work through some childhood trauma. But her trauma therapist left without warning, leaving Scheller with a new therapist. Unfortunately, her new therapist didn’t have the same expertise. As Scheller didn’t have the bandwidth to search for someone new, she says she began working with her newly assigned therapist with different goals in mind.
Leaving therapy too soon can prevent healing in many cases. “Ending therapy prematurely can exacerbate existing symptoms and might set the individual back on the progress they have made,” Dr. Lacherza-Drew said.
Other times, leaving your therapist can be a great thing! “You can ‘graduate’ from therapy after successfully completing your goals,” says Neena Lall, LCSW, MPH.
If this happens with your treatment, you’ll complete a complex discharge process to wrap things up. This can be lengthy, taking several weeks.
“You and your therapist will ruminate on the changes and growth you’ve experienced, identify signals or clues that you need support in the future, and reflect on the therapeutic relationship,” Dindinger says.
The time patients spend in therapy varies depending on their individual circumstances. About half all therapy patients require at least around 15-20 sessions to work through any mental health problems. However, patients working through multiple issues and those with complex disorders may benefit from therapy sessions for 18 months or longer.
“How long you see a therapist depends on what you want to work on, the nature of the problem itself, and the number and depth of things you would like to work on,” says Lall. “A brief crisis intervention to help you handle a particular stressor in your life can be as short as 1-3 sessions, or you can go to therapy for years to understand yourself more deeply.”
What can you do to find a new therapist you click with?
Now that you’ve parted ways with someone you likely trusted, you’ll need to find someone you’re comfortable being vulnerable with. For instance, once Scheller found a new therapist, she wasn’t immediately sure if she would fit the bill.
“I spent a lot of time asking her about her education and the kinds of patients she works with. Knowing her specialty, the methods of therapy she uses, and the kinds of patients she works with helped me determine whether or not she was going to be a good fit for me,” Scheller shared.
In addition to understanding a therapist’s experience and clinical practice, it’s also essential to figure out if you simply vibe on a personal level. “A foolproof way to choose a great therapist is to ask yourself three questions,” says Andrea Dindinger, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
- Do your schedules align easily?
- Can you afford their fee? (Check out our guide to paying for therapy.)
- Do you like their voice and how you feel when they speak to you?
It doesn’t take long to recognize when your therapist isn’t a good fit if you consider these questions carefully. However, Dindinger suggests waiting up to three sessions before you try to move on and find someone new.
Once you find someone new, what should you expect in your first few sessions?
Prepare to get in the weeds in your first session. That’s when you’ll talk about what’s been going on in your life and give an overview of your personal history.
“This usually includes paperwork and an in-depth interview between the patient and therapist,” Drew says. “In addition to medical and family history, your therapist will also ask about your symptoms, history of trauma, and details about previous experiences with therapy.”
Once the intake process is taken care of, you’ll be ready to begin regular work with your new therapist. Some people see their therapist weekly, while others only go once or twice a month. You and your provider can decide which frequency is most appropriate for you.
Adjusting to a new therapist takes time as you get to know each other and develop a sense of trust. Remember that the relationship you had with your old therapist didn’t happen overnight. Give it time and if you miss your old therapist, discuss it with your new one. They can help validate your feelings while also helping you move on.
Learn from Scheller’s experience. Her new therapist is working out well, even though she was initially skeptical. “My new therapist listens to both what I say, and how I say it, to provide the best kind of support for me,” she says.