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PSA: You're Allowed to Break Up with your Therapist

As part of the intake process with new clients, one of the questions I always ask is:

"Have you ever been to therapy before?"

I like to know what their past therapy experiences have been like. What they appreciated or disliked, or found hurtful or counterproductive.

What they liked helps me understand approaches that work for them. There are a few reasons why one might have a bad experience in therapy. One is bad therapy, another is good therapy that wasn't the right fit.

One example that arises sometimes, is clients who found their therapists too pushy about scheduling, pursuing the client who said they wanted to think about whether to continue, or even pressuring them to come in "to discuss it further" when a client said they didn't want to come in again.

My own practice, and that of most of my respected colleagues (as far as a I know) is the opposite.

At the end of the first session, I say:

"Please don't schedule a follow up session right now. Therapy is a relationship, and it has to be a good fit. So I suggest you to take a little time to think about whether you'd like to continue. If you would, just text or email - later, tomorrow, next week, if or whenever you're ready, and we can schedule the next session. If you decide you don't want to, you don't even need to let me know. I'll wish you well either way."

I also tell my clients: "The only session you're committed to is the one at a time you've scheduled. And even that can be canceled up to 24 hours beforehand; no explanation needed."

One of the ways we build trust with our clients is by trusting them to know if, when, or how to proceed with meeting. Pressuring clients to come can possibly come from a place of really wanting to help (too much- it's up to them if they want our help, not us,) or from a place of really wanting to have clients (not cool- we're here to meet their needs, not the other way around.) It's off-putting and smothering for a client to feel like a therapist "won't let them go."

Some therapists like you to commit to a certain number of sessions or weeks, or to having a parting session. I'm not a fan of that, but if they're up front about that agreement, then I guess it's clear.

Some clients appreciate a therapist checking in on them between sessions, or if it's been some time since meeting. I wouldn't like that as a client, so I don't do that to mine. I trust that they will reach out if or when they want to.

If you're seeing a private therapist, and you're not sure you want to continue, or something came up that bothers you, and you want to discuss it with your therapist, that's you're prerogative, and may prove fruitful.

Otherwise, please know that you can tell us at any point in treatment that you don't want to continue; you don't owe us an explanation, or a session to discuss your departure.

(*Please note, if a therapist is concerned about a client's physical safety to themselves or others, this may impact how treatment is terminated.*)

To learn more about being an informed therapy client, see this.


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