Therapy is a hard process. As a result, we often find ourselves rattled by deep emotions as we uncover pain and hurt that we’ve been carrying with us. This is especially true when we’ve experienced great trauma (such as abuse) and work towards reprocessing those experiences. This painful work leaves many clients wanting to run for the hills — it’s self-preservation at work. At some points, therapy may even become so difficult that you find yourself avoiding it altogether.
Here are three common reasons people avoid their therapists.
1. You’ve Been Triggered
During this painful work, it’s possible more uncomfortable feelings come up. If you’ve been triggered during the therapy process, you might be avoiding your therapist. It’s not that you don’t believe the work can be helpful, but more so that the work itself is so painful that you don’t feel like you can make it through. You don’t think that you can withstand getting further in touch with your anger or hurt. This fear and avoidance is very common. After all, most of us choose to opt out of deep psychological pain if we can avoid it — again, it’s self-preservation. But, as many therapists know, this mechanism can also keep clients stuck in disruptive or dysfunctional patterns, keeping them from living full and healthy lives.
Your therapist is trained to help you through triggering moments in a safe way. Although it’s scary, therapy includes space to work through these difficult moments. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the work, try your best to speak to your therapist about it. Every therapy process can be adjusted, and knowing how you’re feeling enables therapists to pivot in ways that can be helpful and continuously productive.
2. You’re Feeling Angry or Resentful
We don’t often talk about the role of anger in therapy. But, as a therapist, I can tell you that there have certainly been times when clients have been angry with me in (and outside of session). Of course, it is never a goal for a therapist to cause a client pain, yet sometimes the work is contingent upon working through difficult emotions. And that can sometimes be angering.
Sometimes therapists will poke and ask questions about an issue that you’d much rather avoid. But, that exploration is likely beneficial to your healing. Without deep examination, chances are you may not have the chance to break through old patterns and unhealthy habits.
There is also, of course, those moments when you feel like your therapist reads you like a book (and that feels threatening) or you think they’ve got you pegged all wrong. Those are normal reactions and all can be explored in the space of therapy, despite how uncomfortable it feels.
3. It’s Time to Move On
In addition to the reasons above, if you find yourself avoiding your therapist it may be a sign that it’s time to move on from the therapeutic relationship altogether. This could be due to feeling like therapy is no longer addressing the need you want it to, or that you and your therapist have reached a point together that no longer feels progressive or productive. Many clients fear having a conversation about ending therapy, no matter the specific reason. But, knowing when to call it quits is an important skill.
The process of ending the relationship in therapy is called termination. Of course, it sounds much harsher than the practice most often is, but as a therapist I appreciate the formality of the name and the process itself. Termination honors the work that’s been done in therapy and the relationship that’s been built. And, most importantly, it creates a dynamic of mindful separation, not unlike Gwenyth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling.”
Termination as a process is important because, as many of us have experienced, relationships ending (whether by choice,death, or other circumstances) can often be chaotic and dramatic. Ending a working relationship intentionally can create a model to move through the ending of other relationships with a certain amount of patience, self-awareness, and grace.
If you’re feeling like it’s time to move on, share these thoughts with your therapist openly. We are trained to work through termination productively (even if our egos take a momentary hit) because, in the end, our goal is to be as helpful to you as possible. If you believe that we can no longer offer you anything, we teach ourselves to gracefully bow out and point you in a helpful direction for the next part of your journey.
These are just a few common reasons why you, as a client, might be avoiding your therapist. For many, working through the tendency to avoid our therapist is a part of breaking old habits that don’t ultimately serve our wellness. If you find yourself missing appointments or regularly showing up late, take a moment to ask yourself if you might be avoiding therapy for any reason (including the ones mentioned above).
No matter the reason, there’s always opportunity to address the concern with your therapist and chart the best next steps for you. But, if nothing else, try to challenge yourself to address any concerns as quickly as possible so that you can continue to move forward in your own process of healing.