The therapeutic relationship is a relationship like any other. And when we are people-pleasing, conflict-avoidant or we otherwise have difficulty expressing our needs, ending that relationship can be difficult to do. While there are no hard & fast rules about when to terminate the relationship with your therapist, the most important thing is to be honest with yourself and honor your needs.
If you’ve had a good relationship with your therapist & have been helped a great deal by them, you might feel attached and/or like you owe them something by staying. However your therapist, of all people, wants you to do what feels best & most authentic to you. It reflects your growth and your confidence when you can appreciate the relationship for what it gave you while also knowing when it is time to let it go. While your therapist is a human who will likely feel some sadness about your relationship ending, they will ultimately understand and support your decision.
On the contrary, having a bad relationship with your therapist or one that is not feeling aligned might be hard for different reasons. Perhaps you’re afraid of what the therapist’s reaction will be – or like you’ll have to defend yourself for deciding to terminate. However even if this turns out to be the case, it will ultimately re-affirm your reason for ending the relationship in the first place.
The therapeutic relationship is incredibly unique. We stay for awhile & share our most vulnerable, authentic selves with this person – they peer into the depths of our soul – but we often don’t get to keep them in our lives forever. And that’s hard. But it’s also life and it’s also okay.
Q: So how do I know it’s time to break up with my therapist?
A: You start to dread your therapy sessions
And it’s because of more than the general discomfort that comes with being vulnerable. You start to feel stress or anxiety about it and it feels more like a chore and a box to check off than a helpful and productive use of your time. Maybe you’re not quite ready to dive deeper – or maybe you’ve gone as far as you are ready, willing and able to at this time.
A: You’ve stopped getting something out of your therapy sessions
Perhaps you found your sessions very helpful & productive at the beginning, but have since stopped getting a lot out of them. Maybe you’re having the same conversations or maybe you can almost predict what your therapist will say. Either way, you don’t really feel like you’re learning anything new.
A: You have less to talk about in your therapy sessions
Life is feeling pretty good and you’ve worked through a lot of the issues you came to therapy to discuss. You find yourself not really knowing what to talk about – and not because you’re avoiding something deeper, but you are also feeling pretty happy and at peace in most areas of your life right now.
A: You don’t feel able to be honest or authentic in your therapy sessions
You find yourself lying to your therapist often. And while it might be helpful to look inward about why this is – or to talk about it with your therapist – it can also indicate that you aren’t feeling safe enough to be honest. Perhaps you have felt judge by your therapist at times – or maybe you’re afraid they can’t relate to you. Either way, you’re holding back and it isn’t serving you.
A: You feel like you’ve learned & grown a lot through your therapy sessions and want to take the next step on your own
You and your therapist both agree that you’ve completed the cycle of therapy to its entirety and are generally feeling ready to move on. You want to take a next step of navigating life’s stressors on your own. You are also ready for the experience of ending a relationship in a healthy way free from anger, blame, avoidance, etc.
Q: Once I’ve decided it’s time, how do I break up with my therapist?
While we live in a world of ‘ghosting’ and it might feel easier to just stop showing up to or scheduling sessions, there is a lot of value in having a termination session with your therapist. Not only does it allow you to reflect on your progress and create a plan for your next steps, it also helps you to get closure on the relationship.
If you are feeling unsafe about sharing your desire to stop therapy, it is perfectly acceptable to just cancel all upcoming appointments. However, we are often used to relationships ending on a bad or unexpected note, so having a healthy end to the relationship with your therapist can be a reparative experience.
A: Tell your therapist in session that you are ready to stop therapy
While it might feel scary or uncomfortable, your therapist will probably be proud of you for this, especially if they know that honest communication is something that you struggle with. You can bring this up at the end of the session when discussing your next appointment – or at the beginning of the session as the topic you’d like to discuss. Bringing it up directly with them allows you to collaborate on a mutually agreed upon approach for your next steps, which will help you feel more at peace about it. It also keeps the door open for you to come back in the future.
A: Suggest shifting to biweekly or monthly therapy sessions with an agreed upon end date
If you prefer to taper off rather than going from all to nothing, you can talk to your therapist about adjusting your session frequency. This is often a natural next step after having weekly sessions for awhile. It will also give you more clarity about whether or not you are ready to terminate therapy and help you ease into it more slowly.
A: Write an email to your therapist letting them know you’d like to stop therapy
If you’re just not ready for the face-to-face dialogue about ending therapy, but you still want to share feedback or directly let your therapist know you won’t be resuming therapy, an email summary is perfectly acceptable. You can provide as much or as little detail as you want, but in most cases it is courteous to at least let the therapist know.
While it is always valid to end your therapeutic relationship at any time and for any reason, be mindful if you find yourself therapist-hopping or looking for reasons not to stick it out. This could reflect something deeper about your potential avoidance or fear of intimacy. As a general rule, end therapy when you have stopped growing and learning things about yourself or if your therapist makes you feel unsafe. Keep going if you are just generally uncomfortable or find yourself looking for reasons to stop.