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Making the decision to switch to a new therapist can be nerve-wracking. An individual may feel like they’ve shared all of their secrets and struggles with their mental health provider, and it can feel awkward to end that relationship. Recognizing when it’s time to make a change, and more importantly, knowing how to do it, can provide peace of mind for those who wonder if they can get more from their therapy sessions.
A Therapist May Not Be a Good Fit
It’s normal for individuals to go through periods in which their feelings about their therapists change. In the beginning, when the individual is excited about gaining new perspectives and coping skills for issues that have bothered them, their admiration for their therapist may be high.
As time goes on, those feelings tend to wane. This can be due to a wide range of factors, including the types of issues the therapy sessions address, the level of stress that inevitably accompanies any change process, or factors separate from the sessions themselves such as the time or money commitment.
Occasionally, after a few sessions, individuals realize the therapist they chose isn’t a good fit. Maybe the sessions feel rushed or the therapist seems detached and distracted. The client may not feel heard or understood, or maybe there are concerns regarding confidentiality. Other times, the client realizes that there’s simply a personality conflict.
The truth is that all mental healthcare providers have had clients discontinue therapy at some point. While no one likes hearing that they aren’t someone else’s cup of tea, therapists recognize that not all clients are good candidates for their methods and philosophy, and personality clashes or differences of opinions can impede the effectiveness of counseling.
Additionally, therapists are generally very adept at reading social cues, and they often know when they and their clients aren’t connecting. As a result, they’re unlikely to be surprised to hear when a client has decided to seek help elsewhere. In fact, they’ve likely had to end therapeutic relationships with clients who they didn’t feel were benefiting from treatment.
Etiquette for Switching Therapists
The steps an individual takes to switch to a different therapist depend on the type of treatment they’re receiving.
For those who’ve taken advantage of online therapy platforms, ending sessions may simply be a matter of not logging in. Online counseling has several benefits, including affordability and easy access to professional help, but it doesn’t require the same degree of commitment as traditional face-to-face sessions. As a result, follow-through rates are considerably lower, and individuals feel much less guilt about ghosting their therapist.
Ending in-person therapy sessions requires a little more planning. Making the transition may feel intimidating to the client, but it doesn’t need to be painful. Following a few tips can help the individual tie up loose ends with as little awkwardness as possible.
Let the Therapist Know
At the beginning of their next session, the client should let their therapist know that they won’t be continuing treatment. They may want to prepare answers for basic follow-up questions such as why they are making a change, what they liked or disliked about their sessions, Therapy is proven to be highly effective, but the wrong therapist can negatively impact the client’s mental health journey. Knowing when and how to switch therapists can provide the confidence clients need to pursue their best treatment and what they’re hoping to gain by seeing a different therapist.
Get a Copy of the Mental Health Records
Clients are legally entitled to copies of their health records. While they may have to pay a fee for photocopying their records or sign a release form, it’s always a good idea to obtain these records before moving on.
In some cases, records have bare-bones information such as what time the therapy sessions began and ended and a generalization of what was discussed. However, some therapists keep more in-depth notes, which may be helpful to the client’s next therapist.
Ask for a Recommendation
Even if an individual doesn’t connect with their therapist, chances are that the therapist has a colleague that may be a better fit. When a client has been open about why they’re ending the therapeutic relationship and what they’re hoping to gain from future sessions, their therapist may be able to point them in the right direction.
When to Change Therapists
Some individuals stop going to therapy when it begins to feel uncomfortable. Even if their goal is to recover from addiction, overcome social phobias or treat a mental illness such as depression, the journey can be challenging. This discomfort may actually be a good sign, and oftentimes, the individual is better off continuing their sessions.
Occasionally, there are red flags that are good indications that it’s time to switch.
The therapist is overly familiar. Some therapists connect with their clients by finding common ground, such as shared hobbies and interests. While it’s normal for the focus of the first couple of sessions to be on developing rapport, after that, it’s time to tackle the main issues. If the therapist doesn’t make that switch, it may be time to move on.
The therapist is detached. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the therapist who’s impersonal. While a certain degree of professional detachment is necessary, that doesn’t mean that sessions should feel cold and clinical.
The individual doesn’t feel their treatment is progressing. Changing habits and patterns of thinking takes time, but after a few months, clients should be able to see progress. A good therapist establishes measurable goals from the beginning and can provide feedback on how their client is progressing. If every session features the same conversation and the same strategies without clear progress, finding a new therapist with different insights can be helpful.
The therapist lacks relevant experience. Most therapists are trained to meet a wide range of needs but specialize in a few specific areas, such as dealing with depression, marriage counseling, LGBTQ issues, or childhood trauma. While they may provide excellent care for addressing issues within their special areas of interest, they may not be a good fit for clients with different needs.
There’s a personality clash. Some clients prefer therapists who take a straightforward, no-nonsense approach while others are looking for a gentler, more diplomatic style. No matter how well-equipped a therapist is to help their clients navigate their issues, if there’s a personality clash, the sessions may not be beneficial.
Concerns About Switching Therapists
For those who don’t enjoy conflict, changing therapists can feel particularly uncomfortable. To avoid awkwardness, many decide to simply stick it out until they’re discouraged and decide to leave therapy altogether. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that a few minutes of discomfort is much better than getting burned out with ineffective therapy.
The top concern regarding switching to a new therapist is that it will cause hurt feelings. Once again, most therapists are aware when their clients aren’t benefiting from sessions, and many have been on the giving end of the break-up talk. Therapists understand that sometimes, things just don’t work out. If a therapist becomes defensive, this may reinforce the client’s decision to find treatment elsewhere.
Another common concern an individual may have is that they won’t have success with another therapist. While certain counseling methods are research-backed and widely used, techniques, strategies and approaches within a given theory vary from one therapist to another. Just because a client doesn’t click with one provider doesn’t mean that their next experience won’t be significantly better.
Making the Switch
Clients can take a few steps to make switching to a new therapist as painless as possible.
Talk openly. An open conversation that’s brief, friendly and to the point can ensure that the therapeutic relationship ends on good terms.
Learn from the experience. Chances are, the individual comes out of the experience with a better idea of what they’re looking for from a therapist. As they’re looking for a new therapist, gathering recommendations and reading client reviews, this insight comes in handy.
Arrange for a records transfer. Depending on how detailed they are, notes from previous therapy sessions may provide your new therapist with useful clinical and diagnostic information. Even when in-depth notes are not available, a copy of these records can help your new therapist be more informed about how to file insurance coverage claims.
Making the decision to pursue therapy can be hard, and it can be particularly discouraging when a therapist isn’t a good fit. Recognizing when to switch therapists and knowing how to make the transition as smooth as possible can help individuals grow on their journey towards mental health.