When is It Time to Switch Therapists?

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Your relationship with your therapist is very different from other relationships, but one thing is the same: sometimes you need a change. How can you tell when it’s time to switch therapists?

Are You Comfortable With Your Current Therapist?

Sometimes you just don’t click with a person. Maybe your styles are different, or maybe you sense criticism or judgment. If that person is your therapist, it’s hard to share your innermost thoughts and feelings.

On the other hand, sometimes you can get too comfortable. In a close friendship, it’s common to call at all hours, text throughout the day, or tag each other on social media. With a therapist, however, good work requires good boundaries.

It’s normal to feel discomfort when you’re just starting therapy, and again when you tackle more difficult material along the way. It’s also normal to feel closer to your therapist over time.

Ideally, a therapeutic relationship should be comfortable enough to open up without fear of judgment, but not so close that it mimics a friendship. It should feel more like a teacher/student or doctor/patient relationship — a professional partnership with specific goals.

Are You Making Progress?

Therapy can be a long process, but usually you’re working toward a defined finish line. Unfortunately, “progress” can be difficult to assess.

If you’re training for a 5K, you can easily measure your finish times to see progress. Therapeutic progress is harder to quantify, but there are ways to make sure you move forward.

Does your therapist have a plan or goals?

Some therapists give you a written plan, while others keep a general outline somewhere in their notes. Regardless of the style, you and your therapist should have a general sense of where you’re going and how you’ll know when you get there.

Does your therapist ask about your progress?

You should be able to have frank discussions about your gains — or lack of them. You should also be able to get feedback from your therapist about what might be interfering with your goals.

Does your therapist use evidence-based interventions?

When you get your car fixed, you might not care exactly what your mechanic did or why. Similarly, you might not really care why your therapist chooses particular methods, but it’s ok to ask the basis for those choices. Many therapists draw from a variety of theoretical approaches and validated methods, depending on the client’s needs.

Are There Red Flags?

Most of the time, your choice of therapists is a matter of personal preference, but beware of red flags that suggest poor or unethical care. Here are just a few to look for.

Confidentiality Problems

Except under certain legal circumstances that require therapists to contact authorities, your care is always confidential. If you have any concerns about confidentiality, ask questions.

Too Much Contact

Your therapist may be crossing boundaries if there are frequent calls, texts, or social media contacts outside of formal therapy sessions. Of course, this will be different if you’re engaged in a text-based therapy arrangement like Talkspace, but the contact rules should be clear and consistently enforced, regardless of the modality.

Too Little Contact

On the flip side, a therapist you can’t reliably reach raises concerns. Therapists are free to set rules about how you can reach them after hours or outside of sessions, but if you’re following the rules and still can’t get your messages returned, you might need a change.

Management Problems

If there are problems with late or inaccurate billing, late or broken appointments, or other indicators of practice management problems, consider investigating why. Every practice has busy seasons or staff changes that cause occasional operational hiccups, but persistent problems raise a question about whether your relationship with this particular therapist will be stable over time.

Making the Move

Therapy is hard and requires persistence, but like any other relationship, sometimes a change is necessary. If you decide you need to switch therapists, consider the following before you break it off.

Discuss it

If possible, try to have a direct conversation with the therapist about your decision so you can end on good terms.

Use the experience

Use the end of this “relationship” to determine what you’re looking for in a therapist. Sometimes you just don’t fit well with another person, and it’s OK to use this experience to figure out what might work better.

Arrange records transfer

Even though you end this relationship, the content covered could still be useful for your next therapist. In addition, your new therapist can navigate insurance coverage and technical matters best when they can talk to your former therapist or staff.

Sometimes the hardest part of therapy is just getting started, so it can feel devastating if the therapeutic relationship isn’t a good one. A thoughtful approach makes for a smoother transition, one that you can learn and grow from as you continue your therapeutic journey.

Published by

Tamara Stevens

Clinical Psychologist