How I Knew It Was Time To Break Up With My Therapist
“It’s not me, it’s you.”
Breakups suck. I’ve had my fair share of romantic breakups and even a few platonic friendships that have come to an abrupt end. And as awful as they can be, at this point in my life, I feel like somewhat of a breakup veteran, if you will.
However, it wasn’t until about a year ago that I had my first break up with a therapist.
I’d just graduated from college and was settling into a new job, moving back in with my parents, and transitioning into post-grad life. After graduating, I had to stop seeing my therapist (who I loved) at my university’s counseling center. And because of the numerous life transitions, including many of my friends moving away, I was very much in need of a space to talk everything out.
I began the search for a new therapist with a few requirements: My therapist had to be a woman with an office close to my job and whose services were within my budget. I took to PsychologyToday.com and it wasn’t long before I found someone (we’ll call her Theresa). I quickly scheduled an intake session.
Intake sessions, I’ve found, are very much like first dates. As the patient, you share a little bit about yourself, as well as what you’re looking to get out of therapy. The therapist then assesses whether or not they can meet your needs.
My intake session with Theresa seemed incredibly promising. She was warm and reassuring. Even her office— furnished with a comfy couch that seemed to swallow you whole—felt safe and inviting. She had me fill out a worksheet on which I outlined my goals and hopes for our sessions. She reassured me that she’d worked with patients like me before and that she could help me. I felt good about the direction our relationship seemed to be headed.
The Warning Signs
The first couple of sessions with Theresa elicited similar feelings of warmth and safety, as we worked through the goals outlined on my worksheet. However, after a few sessions, I started to notice how often she interrupted me mid-thought with her personal input. While I appreciated some of her nuggets of wisdom, it was difficult to feel like I had control in the space.
After a couple of sessions, I told Theresa that I’d prefer for our sessions to function as a space where I could express my thoughts unfiltered and uninterrupted. I was clear on the fact that I needed her to listen more and insert less. After our talk, I was under the impression that we’d come to an understanding. But this was not the case. In fact, it only got worse.
In the sessions following this conversation, Theresa continued interrupting me and interjecting her personal narratives, which often didn’t resonate. At some point, she even called me “clingy” after I’d expressed I was experiencing anxiety about a friend who’d recently moved away.
It soon became clear that Theresa and I were completely incompatible. While I was looking for a space to vent and work on personal growth, she seemed to have the mindset that she needed to change me by enforcing her narrative on my life. After her “clingy” comment, especially, I began to feel unsafe in our sessions. With my old therapists, I’d always anticipated our time together, but with Theresa, I began to dread our sessions. I didn’t want to continue seeing her solely for the sake of going to therapy.
Though I had made some positive progress, my intuition was pointing me elsewhere. Deep down, I knew what I had to do. I decided to break up with my therapist.
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Though I’d had many breakups before, I was never the one doing the breaking up (if you know what I mean). Of course, when I told Theresa that I thought we should end our sessions, she pushed back. She tried to convince me that therapy works best when you see the same therapist long term. I told her that while this is often true, our case was more an issue of compatibility. She admitted that she was probably more of a hands-on therapist than I was looking for, and I agreed.
At the end of the conversation, she left the door open for me to come back whenever I wanted. My trust had been breached, though, and I knew I wouldn’t be going back. However, instead of letting the experience turn me off to therapy altogether, I allowed it to serve as a lesson for my next experience.
A few months later, I found myself sitting in another intake session with another therapist (we’ll call her Jane). I told her about my experience with Theresa, and I let her know it was important for me to have space to express myself unfiltered. I could only hope that Jane would take my requests seriously.
Luckily, Jane and I had (and have to this day!) a very compatible relationship. During our sessions, I can express my thoughts in a stream-of-consciousness manner, and Jane listens, asking helpful questions from time to time. She continually points me back towards the goals I set during our very first session, reminding me of the path I hope to carve for myself.
Though much of my success with Jane has to do with her style of therapy, expressing my wants and needs at the beginning of our relationship was a game-changer. Sharing about my bad experience with my previous therapist gave me the power to steer the direction of our sessions from the get-go.
In my experience, the best therapists have always allowed me the power to decide how our sessions are utilized. My sessions with Jane always leave me feeling more empowered, unlike my sessions with Theresa, which left me feeling drained and unsure of myself.
Therapy as a Collaborative Experience
I think a common misconception is that it’s the therapist’s job to “fix” the patient. For me, though, therapy has always been a collaborative experience between patients and therapists. Therapy is not a space where I succumb to the direction and counsel of my therapist without question. Instead, it functions as a space where I become more confident of who I am and the path I’m on.
Finding a therapist that was right for me was quite the process, to say the least. However, finding someone compatible with my needs has made the experience all the more valuable. In retrospect, breaking up with my therapist was an essential exercise in self care. The experience was a great reminder that I’m in control of my path. That while it is necessary to seek help from others, it is equally as important to trust the voice inside of me.
Celeste M. Scott is the Social Media Coordinator at The Good Trade. She is a writer and photographer who is passionate about film and Internet culture. She can often be found sifting through the racks at her local Savers. You can find her work on her website and Instagram.