In a therapeutic relationship — just like any other relationship — feelings shift over time. Sometimes in therapy, we feel bored or dissatisfied. When this happens, it’s hard to tell if we’ve just grown too familiar with our therapist or if it’s because this relationship isn’t a good fit anymore. But it’s an important question: what should you do if you suspect you’ve outgrown your therapist?
Therapy Progress vs Outgrowth
If you suspect it might be time to leave your therapist, consider: are these thoughts motivated by real progress or do you sense you’ve reached a stalemate? If you’re making any gains, the relationship might still hold some benefits. Here are a few differences between progress and stagnation:
Signs of Therapy Progress
- Healthier choices
- Fewer troubling symptoms
- Less conflict with other people
- Better self-esteem and confidence
- Continuing gains, even if they’re smaller than earlier in treatment
Signs of Therapy Stagnation
- No gains in your work
- Little sense of connection with this therapist
- Unclear therapy goals
- Lack of commitment to the work
If your therapeutic relationship looks stagnant, it might be time for a change, but there are some important considerations before you end therapy or switch therapists.
Outgrowing Your Therapist Doesn’t Mean It’s Time to Quit Therapy
Just because a therapeutic relationship feels as if it isn’t working for you, don’t assume you’re done with therapy. As in all relationships, sometimes the problem lies with us, not the other person.
For example, sometimes a sense that you’ve “outgrown” the therapist is actually a defense mechanism. It could be your mind’s way of avoiding going deeper than your day-to-day stressors.
This natural defense may be protective, but it’s not always healthy. In fact, it makes it hard to see our behaviors from an outsider’s perspective or to make a neutral, well-informed decision about therapy needs.
Defending Against Defense Mechanisms
Think about it this way: People often enter therapy to solve a specific problem or symptom. Once that problem is better, they think they’re done. Ready to move on with life, they avoid facing underlying patterns that caused the problem in the first place.
These defensive feelings are especially common when the therapist begins pushing you to do things outside your usual comfort zone. Therapists must maintain appropriate boundaries, of course, but it’s also their job to push you a bit beyond where you would normally venture on your own.
This process of gentle but persistent pushing allows people to challenge themselves and grow. It’s how you improve areas you might not have realized were lacking. Still, it can be intimidating and a little scary. Before you stop therapy, it’s important to determine whether you’ve really “outgrown” the relationship, or if you’re simply afraid of the next phase.
What to Do If You Suspect You’ve Outgrown Your Therapist
So, what if you think all these things through and decide it’s time to end this relationship? Even if it’s over, an abrupt, poorly-planned ending can still throw you for an emotional loop. Instead of just dropping your therapist, consider the following tips for healthier closure.
Identify why you feel this way
Perhaps make a list with a few examples to help you think it through. The old stand-by, a pros and cons list, can clarify your thinking so you don’t make a hasty, rash decision.
Discuss your feelings with a trusted support network
If you have close friends or family who are aware of your therapy, perhaps you can run your thoughts by them for some feedback before making big changes.
Discuss your feelings with your therapist
This might feel awkward, but therapists are trained to discuss your feelings about your work together openly, without judgment or criticism. Explain your thoughts and get your therapist’s opinion. You can work together to decide whether to take a break, terminate, or transfer to another provider.
Get a second opinion
If you tried talking to your therapist and couldn’t come to an agreement, you might be able to get a second opinion from another provider. Keep in mind, there are ethical guidelines at play here — therapists aren’t allowed to poach one another’s clients. Be honest about your situation with each provider. Then, they can cooperate to provide you the best care and make the transition as smooth as possible.
In most relationships, we usually don’t throw a person away flippantly. Therapy is no different. While it is certainly possible to outgrow or grow apart from a therapist, it’s important to determine whether that’s really what’s going on before you stop the relationship.
After all, understanding and managing difficult feelings effectively is the key to getting through tough times in all relationships. Therapy can be a great place to practice those skills, even if with a therapist.
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