Tips For Ending Your Relationship With A Therapist In A Way That Won't Derail Your Progress

A therapist can be an invaluable asset in your mental health journey, but that doesn't mean every therapist will work for you. You might realize, whether after a couple of sessions or a couple of years, that your provider doesn't fit your needs. According to Mollie Forrester, a licensed social worker and mental health expert at UW Medicine, it's best to end your relationship with a therapist if they don't understand your needs, you've stopped making progress together, your sessions lack professionalism, or you don't feel comfortable talking to them.


Another reason you might break up with a therapist: You've reached your goals and no longer need regular sessions. Therapy is generally only temporary, and in some cases, it's possible to get too much therapy. If you've reached a point where you feel okay without seeing a mental health professional, it might be time to let yours go.

Though ending things with a therapist is perfectly normal and even to be expected, it can be a stressful experience, much like breaking up with a romantic partner. If you're thinking of calling it quits, here's how to do it without letting your mental health backslide.

Pause and consider why you want to break things off

Ending your relationship with a therapist is a personal decision, and you know better than anyone else when that decision makes sense. Still, it's a smart idea to do a quick self-check before saying your goodbyes to ensure you're doing so for the right reasons. Before you quit, Catherine F. Eubanks, a clinical psychologist and therapy researcher, says to make sure you're not falling into old patterns. "Ask yourself, 'Is there something familiar about this?'" Eubanks told The New York Times Magazine. If you tend to pull out of relationships just when the going gets tough, consider if your decision to break up with your therapist might be similar.


If you're thinking of swapping your current provider for a new one, pinpoint exactly what you want your next therapist to bring to the table (a different type of therapy? an identity that better aligns with yours?). Think of it like dating — it helps to learn your deal breakers and boundaries from a failed relationship before starting a new one. Get clear on what you like about your therapist, as well as the incompatibilities you hope to remedy by finding a new one. That way, you know what to look for next time so you can get the support you need.

Have a backup plan in place

Your mental health journey doesn't end just because you decide to stop seeing your therapist. Even if you've reached the goals you hoped to achieve in therapy, self-care and healthy coping strategies are still a must going forward. To avoid straying from the progress you've made, create a plan for yourself before you end things with your therapist. "One thing I love recommending to clients who are ending therapy is to continue to save our weekly time slot just for them — no work, household responsibilities, etc.," Kelly O'Sullivan, a licensed clinical social worker, revealed to Shape. "I encourage them to use it as a time to journal, get outside, meditate, or do something else they enjoy."


If, on the other hand, you're planning to find a new therapist, consider locking one in before abandoning your current mental health professional. "Sometimes it can be comforting to check out another therapist before moving on, to make sure you're covered," psychologist and author Dr. Tamar Chansky explained to Self. Dr. Chansky added that it's especially critical to have a new provider lined up if you're dealing with severe mental health conditions, such as serious depression or a condition that requires medication.

View the breakup as practice

One of the benefits of going to therapy is being able to prepare for real-world challenges, and ending your relationship with your therapist is no exception. Treating the breakup as an opportunity to use what you've learned — setting boundaries, asserting your needs, and confidently dealing with life changes, for instance — in a safe environment can take some of the pressure off. That way, cutting ties can feel like a practice run for your life outside of therapy, rather than a monumental, stress-inducing event.


This mindset can make the whole experience much smoother — and honestly, kind of gratifying. "It can feel pretty empowering to know that you can have a difficult conversation with somebody and the world won't end," Sarah Epstein, a marriage and family therapist, told Better by Today. "It can be healing to see somebody (the therapist) accept feedback gracefully. It can be important to learn to have those difficult conversations." That doesn't mean you should rush into ending things with your therapist just for the personal win, but it can make the process much less scary.

Talk to them about your intentions to quit

Though ghosting your therapist might seem like the easiest way out, experts generally recommend confronting them directly to discuss your plans. "In an ideal world, ending the relationship would be discussed in session, either in person or virtually, so that everyone is on the same page and any concerns or issues can be addressed together," Lauren Johnson, an Atlanta-based therapist, shared with People.


Don't wait until the last minute — open up at the beginning of your final session or, ideally, during an earlier session so there's plenty of time to tie up loose ends and create a discharge plan. You can also use the conversation as an opportunity to ask for a referral for a different therapist that will actually fit your needs.

If your therapist made you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, know that you don't have to meet again or explain your reasons for quitting. This is especially true if your provider violated ethical guidelines. According to Medical News Today, this may include making sexual or romantic advances, trying to forge a personal relationship with clients, or sharing private information. In these instances, it's better to report your therapist and cancel any scheduled sessions.


Focus on yourself, not on your therapist

Whether you love your therapist or not, it's important to remember that your relationship with them is strictly professional and that you won't hurt their feelings by choosing to stop seeing them. Just as you started therapy to improve your well-being, quitting is an act of self-care too — and your therapist will be okay if you no longer show up in their schedule, as long as it's what's truly best for you.


If you have people-pleasing tendencies, struggle with conflict, or may be an empath, resist the urge to lie to make your therapist feel better or over-apologize for breaking up. As Dr. Kelly Anderson, a licensed clinical psychologist, explained to Byrdie, therapists are trained to deal with clients' feedback and decision to end therapy — it's literally part of their job. There's no need to take extra steps to try to manage their feelings.

Ending your relationship with a therapist can be difficult, and you might even grieve your time together once it's done, but this in no way means you're making a mistake or should feel guilty for your decision. Stay focused on yourself and your own progress, and make whatever adjustments will most help you and your mental health.


If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.