It’s Not Me, It’s You.
Maybe It’s Time to Break up with Your Therapist
It’s not an uncommon situation: You’ve been in therapy for what seems like a very long time, going around and around the same issues with no feeling of momentum and no end in sight. It’s unfortunate, but many people wind up in therapy relationships that have a kind of inertia and aren’t delivering what was initially sought out. It could be that the problem was solved long ago, and no one realized it was time to end therapy work. It could be that the kind of therapy you’ve been receiving isn’t the right one for your needs. It could be you’ve been working with someone who’s just not a very good therapist. Whatever the reason, if you’ve arrived at this point, it may be up to you to call it and move on.
Though not common knowledge, there are many kinds of therapy that are practiced today, and most of them are designed to treat a limited number of concerns. You may have found a therapist who was able to help a friend but has not been able to help you, not because there is something wrong with you, but there is something wrong with the kind of therapy your therapist is using. You don’t go to an orthodontist to treat your acne, so it doesn’t make sense to go to a psychoanalyst to help you reduce anxiety. There has been a great deal of scientific research into what sorts of interventions are best suited to different kinds of problems. We know what works. Unfortunately, the average therapy client doesn’t know or have access to this information, so they end up seeing their orthodontist (so to speak) for years, their acne never improving.
For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy, the kind of therapy we use in our practice, is a brief treatment that works best with people who want to make specific changes in their lives. These can include reducing anxiety and panic, curing OCD, curing depression, improving social skills, improving assertiveness and relationship skills, reducing addictive behaviors, and increasing or decreasing different behaviors. It focuses on the here-and-now, and is very good for treating here-and-now problems.
On the other end of the spectrum, psychoanalysis is a long-term treatment developed by Sigmund Freud, and it’s main aim is to improve insight into the unconscious. By discussing past relationships and dreams in treatment over several years, clients begin to make connections with patterns in their current relationships and experiences. It’s good for improving understanding, but the research is quite clear, if you’re in therapy to make changes, there are better and quicker ways to get there. For example, a landmark study conducted in 2000 showed that people in cognitive-behavioral therapy for general anxiety improved at more than double the rate of people in psychoanalytic therapy.
Sometimes therapy doesn’t work because of factors specific to the therapist. If you don’t feel at ease with your therapist after the first couple of sessions, it’s hard to imagine you’ll feel comfortable discussing the most sensitive issues in your life. It may be that the age difference between you and your therapist leads to you feeling misunderstood. It’s also possible that there’s just no chemistry between you and your therapist. Although these may seem like relatively trivial concerns, a great deal of therapy research has shown that without the client and therapist developing good rapport, it’s unlikely that much will come out of therapy.
Let’s be real: Not all therapists are created equal. If you’ve had several therapists over the course of your life, you know that each therapist brings their own particular gifts to the therapy session. Sometimes these strengths compliment the work that needs to be done, and sometimes not so much. Some therapists are truly gifted in what they do, and others tend to struggle much of the time. Alas, this is something that’s hard to know until you’ve worked with a therapist for a while. If you have a therapist who fumbles around in session or you don’t have a lot of confidence in… It’s unlikely that person can do much to help you achieve your goals.
Other indicators of therapist strength and weakness are more objective, and thus easier to suss out. One quick and dirty way of sizing up a therapist’s ability is to dig into their background to learn about their training. Did they attend a doctoral graduate school program that lasted six years, or a master’s program that lasted two? Does your therapist have specialized certification and training in what you want help with, or do they list every kind of therapy technique and problem on their website? Are they providing a therapy that is evidence-based for your particular issue, or do they have a by-the-gut approach that isn’t informed by contemporary psychology research? One of these factors all on its own is not necessarily an indicator of a good or bad therapist. For instance, there are many master’s level therapists who have excellent training and are brilliant therapists. Likewise, there are many doctoral-level psychologists who have years of additional postgraduate training who seem clueless. However, each of these factors are worth considering when choosing a therapist, and they are worthy of discussion with your therapist if you have a concern.
Breaking up Isn’t Hard to Do
If you feel you may be with the wrong therapist for you, there are a number of ways of remedying the problem. It’s usually a good idea to first discuss your concern with your therapist. If your therapist is open to the discussion, they may be able to address your needs better than you assumed. Your therapist may be able to more sensitively address your needs themselves, or they could also help you determine whether a referral to a different kind of therapist would be beneficial. Of course, there are therapists who are unable to hear feedback without taking it personally and respond poorly by dismissing your concerns, blaming you for lack of progress, or trying to convince you to stick with them anyway. If this is their reaction, unfortunate as it is, it makes your decision a little easier.
Though speaking to your therapist is often the best way to begin, it can be hard to express dissatisfaction with someone you have such a close relationship with. If this is the case, a second option is to shop around first to determine whether there is a therapist better aligned with your needs. Sometimes people see as many as three therapists for an initial visit, kind of like a second, third, and fourth opinion, getting fresh perspectives on an issue that has felt stagnant. You may find that everyone is in agreement, and that the current course with your present is what is best for you. More likely though, it may be easier to explore with a different therapist what hasn’t been working, and as a result, find new solutions you hadn’t considered.
If you do decide to end therapy, it’s best to be honest with your therapist. They may be able to help you map out a timeline for ending treatment. If you let your therapist in on your decision ahead of time, you clan plan together to create some sense of closure on the work you have done. Working together to end treatment can help your therapist help you to consolidate whatever gains you have made in therapy, so you don’t have to start from square one with someone better suited to your needs.
If you’ve read until this point, you’re probably looking for a change. We are a therapy practice that specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for specific problems, such as anxiety, depression, and relationship issues. If you would like to try something new, click here to learn more about how we might be able to give you a new direction.