Good, Possible, And Iffy Reasons To Quit Seeing Your Psychotherapist
There are all kinds of reasons someone may want to stop seeing their counselor. Some of them are clear cut, no-brainer grounds for quitting. Others could go either way - you're not sure about something, but it would be better to talk to your therapist first and see if changes can be made. Lastly, some reasons aren't going to help you feel better in the long run, and are coming from your old baggage, insecurities, and counterproductive relationship patterns.
Before I get to the lists of reasons I'll make two disclaimers: First, if you're working with a counselor by choice, and aren't court ordered or whatnot, then you obviously have the right to quit for whatever reason you want, even if it's an "iffy" or "irrational" one.
Second, if you stop seeing your therapist for an "iffy" reason, it doesn't make you a bad person. We're all doing the best we can with the cards we've been dealt. It's not your fault if you had a difficult childhood and it, for example, makes it difficult for you to trust people. Sometimes an old wound will get triggered, and we can't help but get caught up in the feelings it stirs up and pull away from a relationship.
Totally valid reasons to stopping seeing a counselor
This part is the quickest to go over. Here are some sensible reasons to end therapy with a particular counselor:
- You've met your therapy goals, are feeling much better, and don't need to see them anymore
- You're happy with the work you've done with them, but would like to try a different type of therapy that they don't offer (e.g., they helped you with some more hands on strategies to feel more stable day to day, but now you'd like to start processing your old traumas, and they aren't trained in that)
- Even after giving things an honest try, you know for sure their approach isn't helping you enough
- They've done something blatantly inappropriate and unethical, like asking you out on a date
- They've said something ridiculously hurtful and tone deaf, like telling you your horrible trauma was all your fault
- They make a ton of smaller mistakes, like talking about themselves too much, or giving you unhelpful lectures telling you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. They keep doing it even after you've told them it isn't helping you
- They've consistently been unreliable and unprofessional, e.g., constantly canceling or rescheduling sessions at the last second
- Even after trying to work through it, your counselor brings up feelings in you that interfere with therapy too much, e.g., she reminds you of your critical Mom, and you can't help but feel defensive and shut down around her; you've developed intense, distracting romantic feelings for them you know you won't be able to set aside
- You know for sure you won't be able to afford them any longer, like they told you they can no longer take your insurance
- You or they are moving away, and their license prevents them from continuing to see you from the new location
Signs your therapist may not be the right fit, but you might want to talk to them about your concerns first
Again, if you want to stop right away if one of these things comes up, it's your call. Though they can sometimes be resolved if you bring them up with your counselor and they adjust course.
You feel like the therapy isn't helping enough
I'd recommend you let them know about how you're feeling. Unless they're really touchy and unprofessional, they won't be offended. You may be able to chart a better path. Maybe the particular interventions they're using don't click with you, but they can switch to one that hits the mark. Though if you still don't find something that helps after trying a few alternatives, it makes sense to look elsewhere.
You're not feeling your therapist's overall counseling style
Good counselors realize everyone responds best to different things, and are often able to make adjustments. Like some people prefer therapists who are non-directive supportive listeners, and provide space for their clients to get stuff off their chests and come to their own solutions. Others want a counselor who's more active in giving out hands-on tools and strategies. It's reasonable to quit if they can't be flexible in their approach.
You had a tense moment with your therapist
There are lots of ways this could happen, but maybe you were feeling frustrated and misunderstood toward the end of a session and angrily told them they don't know what they're talking about. These "relationship ruptures" don't always spell doom. It can be hard, but if you're able to talk it through with your counselor you may end up in a stronger spot than where you started. For example, they acknowledge they used a poor choice of words and genuinely apologize for it. Your parents never admitted any wrongdoing, and it's healing to work with someone who can own up to their mistakes. At the same time you're able to examine what led up to you losing your temper so you can avoid getting set off like that again. Of course, it doesn't always go so well. Sometimes a charged, uncomfortable moment in a session is the first sign things are a bad fit.
You get nervous around your therapist
Counseling in general could make you uncomfortable. There might be something about this particular therapist that makes you anxious. They're not doing anything obviously sketchy or insensitive. Maybe you think they don't like you or fear they'll judge you for your choices. Whatever the reason, there's a chance it has more to do with your own baggage than anything the therapist is doing or thinking. I know it can be unpleasant to put yourself in situations that make you jittery, but it could be fruitful to stick around and explore why you're feeling this way with them. If you find you just can't get past your nerves with this one provider, then you could see if there's someone else you feel more at ease with.
You're not too sure about their personality style or values
They might be too serious and business-like, or too bubbly and expressive in a way you find cloying. Maybe it's clear they're in a different place in life, and you don't share all the same values. It's not that any of their beliefs are opposed to yours or that they actively make you feel misunderstood, you're just on separate wavelengths. It's possible these differences may be too grating for you to have a productive therapist/client relationship. However, some people feel their therapist isn't someone they'd ever want to hang out with as a buddy, but know they're skilled at their job. If you give them a chance you may find they're able to help you feel better, even if you don't feel much compatibility otherwise.
You're having trouble opening up to your counselor right away
Some clients can start gabbing with their therapist right away. Others take a while to warm up. They may feel shy, ashamed, or untrusting. They may worry their therapist will get sick of them if they don't start sharing more soon. Counselors understand some people need more time to get comfortable with the process. If you give it a few more sessions you may find yourself feeling more open. Though you may realize after another month you just won't be able to drop your guard, and will have to look for someone you feel more relaxed around.
They said one thing that was a tad invalidating or tone deaf
It wasn't offensive or clueless enough to make you drop them instantly, but it raised a flag. If you talk to them about it they may explain their thinking, and you'll realize it was a misunderstanding, or they may say sorry for their insensitive phrasing and be better from then on. If they get defensive, dismiss you, or keep saying inappropriate things, then it's an obvious call to leave.
You're starting to develop some uncomfortable, distracting feelings toward them, like romantic attraction, dependence, or becoming guarded and untrusting
These kinds of feelings are common in therapy and counselors are trained to work with them. After discussing it you may be able to get past the issue and have a solid professional relationship. For example, you realize you have a hard time trusting any authority figure because of your past, but decide therapy is a safe space to explore this dynamic. With time you may find these feelings still interfere with the work too much, and it would be better to find someone who doesn't set them off (e.g., working with a male counselor if you tend to get a crush on any woman who acts kind and nurturing toward you.)
Therapy is too much for you to handle right now, either because it's going too fast or the rest of your life has gotten more stressful and busy
It might be the right move to stop, or at least take a break. However, if you mention your change of circumstances to your therapist, hopefully they can adjust what they're doing so it doesn't seem so overwhelming. Maybe they can slow down, or change the focus of your sessions to riding out the busy patch.
You had one challenging or mediocre session
If it was emotionally heavy, you may worry you won't be able to handle this level of intensity any longer. If it was mediocre you wonder if the counselor is right for you. If the work has been going okay up until now, maybe give them more time, and talk to them about how it was tough for you. That single challenging or meh appointment may not be the start of the end.
Your therapist has done one ambiguous thing that's bothered you, like canceling a session at the last minute
It really gets under your skin. You see it as a sign they're hopelessly unprofessional, disorganized, uncaring, and incompetent, and that things will only get worse from here. While it's understandably annoying when, for example, a session you were counting on or looking forward to gets postponed an hour ahead of time, I think it's only fair to give your therapist the benefit of the doubt. If they keep doing the same thing then it's appropriate to speak with them, and end the relationship if they keep being inconsiderate or undependable.
You found their personal social media account and it's a bit cringey
Nothing on there is an out and out dealbreaker, but it shows they're not the kind of person you thought they were. Maybe some of their photos or posts are corny, immature, or show some lack of judgment. I think a mildly questionable social media presence is a yellow flag, not a red one. I'd say give them more time and judge them by their clinical work. They may be an effective practitioner even if they're not someone you'd want to hang out with in real life. However, if you find you still can't let it go then it's okay to move on.
Your schedule has changed and you can no longer see your counselor during their working hours
There may be nothing you can do here, but let them know just in case. Maybe their availability has changed since you last talked about it and they'll be able to fit you in somewhere.
Your financial situation has changed and you're assuming you can no longer afford them
If you tell them they might be able to offer something that can make it work, like a sliding scale fee.
Iffy reasons to stop seeing your counselor
These are in no particular order. A few of them could have arguably been in the previous section, or vice versa. Lists like this aren't an exact science.
You want to punish and hurt your therapist by quitting
Your counselor did something that upset you. You want to get back at them by dropping out of treatment. The problem is your therapist very likely won't be wounded if you stop seeing them. For one, they may not even know what you're trying to do. Like if you give them a reasonable excuse for stopping in a politely phrased email, they'll probably take you on your word. Even if they know you're trying to punish them they'll look at the situation through a detached, objective, professional lens. They may think it's unfortunate that you're ending the relationship, and prolonging your recovery, out of a desire to hurt them, but they won't be all that bothered otherwise.
You're trying to get your therapist to chase and win you back
You've told your counselor you'd like to end therapy. Maybe you've done it in a respectful manner, or you might have impulsively, angrily announced you never want to see them again. Either way, you don't actually want to quit. You want them to run after you and try to convince you to stay. You're likely acting out an old relationship pattern where you fear someone will abandon you, so you seek reassurance by doing something to disrupt the connection, then having them reach out to you to repair it.
Like with the last point, this strategy may backfire if the therapist takes your quitting at face value and doesn't chase you. Many counselors take the approach that they respect their clients decisions, and won't try to finagle them into carrying on if they want to stop. Some therapists will follow up and try to get you to come back, especially if they know this is a pattern for you, but that doesn't mean it's a healthy reason to quit.
Your therapist seems like they'll actually be able to help you get past your issues
Perhaps you've started seeing a new therapist and you can tell their approach is promising. Maybe you've been seeing the same person for a while, and after some hard work you sense a big breakthrough is around the corner. Something about that really, really spooks you. A part of you wants to get better, but another part is scared of what that may entail. For example, if you recover from your depression you'll be expected to start working or dating again. As difficult or limited as it can be at times, you're often comfortable with your current life. You may be tempted to stop therapy and stay in your comfort zone for now. That will temporarily make you feel better, and if you want to go that route it's your choice, but obviously you can't get better while you put everything on pause.
You're starting to get to a difficult phase of the work
You're not afraid of the final outcome, where you're totally past your issues. You'd love nothing more than to be free of your unpleasant symptoms. It's the process of recovery that makes you hesitant. You don't want to face your fears. You don't want to focus on and process your painful trauma memories. For a while your therapy was in a lighter, preparatory phase, but now it's time to do the hard, uncomfortable stuff. Even if you do things to take the edge off, you know there's a level of unpleasantness you can't avoid.
If you honestly think you can't handle the next phase there are options. You could take a strategic break and replenish your fuel tank. You could spend more therapy time on building up your capacity to handle what the next steps will require. However, just stopping with no plan for how you'll eventually deal with your issues won't help in the long run.
You "know" your therapist dislikes you
They haven't said or done anything solid to indicate they feel that way, but you're just sure they find you annoying, or whiny, or that they're frustrated with your lack of progress, or so on. You think you'll be doing them a favor by quitting and sparing them from having to put up with you.
If a client feels like this it's usually a reflection of their core insecurities. They assume most people dislike them for X reason, so why would a therapist be any different? As awkward as it can be to bring up, it can be really useful to tell your therapist about how you worry they don't like you. It can be a jumping off point to start exploring your low self-esteem and the assumptions that spring from it.
You "know" your therapist is going to abandon you, and want to at least get it over with early on your terms
Maybe your therapist hasn't done anything to reveal they plan to drop you as a client, but your gut tells you it's going to happen. Or it might be that usually you feel secure, but if they say something like, "Let's review your progress on your goals" your fear gets triggered - "They're going to ditch me because I'm not improving fast enough!" Either way, you can't stand the thought of being rejected and left alone, and would rather quit now so you feel some sort of control over the "inevitable".
If you have childhood scars around abandonment you may find yourself thinking like this, even if another part of you knows it's not logical. As I keep saying, the best move is to bring up your fears with your counselor. The idea isn't to get reassurance from them that they'll never leave you, but to explore what's behind your worries.
You believe you'll never get better, so you may as well quit and stop wasting your time on a pointless pursuit
I don't mean that you think this particular therapist can't help you, but that no one can because your problems are impossible to fix. Many of the issues people come to therapy for can be significantly improved, if not resolved altogether. This kind of pessimistic thinking is often a symptom of a depressed or hopeless mood (which are also things we can recover from).
Yes, there are challenges that don't have an easy solution, like the death of a loved one, or acquiring a permanent disability. However, even if you can't reverse the situation itself, you can often eventually change the way you feel about it. For example, even if you'll never totally get over a loss, you can get to a point where grief doesn't consume you day in, day out.
You haven't been fully honest with your therapist, and would rather quit than admit it
Maybe you've started drinking again, but have been pretending for months you're still sober. Maybe you've been seeing someone for your depression, and never told them you're also dealing with trauma and dissociation. Maybe you've told your counselor you've been dutifully practicing your mindfulness and relaxation exercises between sessions, but actually got bored of them after the first week. Whatever it is, you're uncomfortable with how long you've been untruthful and would sooner bail then face the awkwardness of coming clean.
If you're in this situation please seriously consider telling your therapist. You won't be the first client who's kept something from them. They understand there are all kinds of reasons someone may lie in therapy, like a fear of confrontation, embarrassment about what they're struggling with, people pleasing tendencies, or worries about getting in trouble with an authority figure. As much as you may wince your way through fessing up, at least once you've told them you can both proceed with all the information on the table.
If you reveal certain things to your therapist, like that you're also dealing with an issue they don't feel qualified to treat, there is a chance they may end the relationship and refer you to someone who's a better fit. As tough as this can be, it's ultimately for the best because you'll be able to see someone who can better help you.
You did something you're embarrassed about and want to quit out of shame
You broke down crying during the last session, and you've never done that in front of anyone. You confessed to your therapist that you have a crush on them. You got overwhelmed and lost your temper. You had a full blown panic attack and bolted out of their office to throw up in the bathroom. Whatever you said or did, you can't bear the thought of facing them again. It would be easier to quit and start over with a new provider.
Unless they're really new, I assure you your counselor has seen this kind of thing before and isn't judging you. If you keep working with them it could be a good opportunity to explore your shame, and see firsthand some people can be compassionate and accepting.
You're afraid of disappointing your counselor
You're a total mess. You're not making much progress. You don't put any of their suggestions into practice. You keep putting off work you know would help you. You're sure you're the worst, most frustrating client they have. You can't stand the thought of disappointing them further and want to cut ties.
This is yet another feeling that's a reflection of your own wounds and insecurities. Odds are your therapist isn't disappointed in you. They might have moments where they wish they could help you more, but they don't get that personally caught up in the progress of their clients, like they might with their own kids. They realize everyone's in their own place, and makes changes at their own pace.
You're scared of hurting your therapist's feelings
You're not finding counseling as helpful as you thought it would be. The latest technique they tried totally missed the mark. They said something the other week you found clueless and a bit hurtful. A part of you wants to tell them all this, but another part worries they'll be crushed to hear it. It seems simpler to quit than cause them emotional pain.
Sure, therapists are human and sometimes take critical feedback a little personally, but for the most part they're able to be objective, focus on what's best for the client, and are willing to make course corrections. If you tell them about something that didn't land for you they'll probably be happy to know. They'd rather fix their mistakes and switch things up then obviously carry on with an approach that isn't helping.
Your therapist did something to make you angry and you're quitting on the spur of the moment
Maybe they challenged what you said, in a way you thought was insensitive and invalidating. It pissed you off and you told them you were done and closed the video chat window. Maybe what they said was a true deal breaker and it is a good idea to quit. Who's to say? But you should make that decision after cooling off and giving it some more thought. It's usually not a good idea to make big decisions about the course of your treatment while you're caught up in a strong emotion.
Your therapist enforced a common professional boundary or policy
For example, they charged you for canceling an appointment with less than 24-hours notice, in accordance with their policy (and after giving you a free pass the first time you did it). You think it's outrageous. You couldn't help that something came up at work. How could a so-called helping professional be so low in compassion?
I totally understand that it can be aggravating to be charged for missed or late appointments, or be told your therapist can't answer your calls outside of sessions. If you have certain needs, like someone who can accommodate an unpredictable schedule, it may make sense to look elsewhere. Though most therapists will have similar policies around cancellations and whatnot. It may make more sense to stick around than go looking for greener pastures, especially if you're otherwise doing good work. If the policy hit a deeper nerve, like it triggers your fear of abandonment when people tell you 'no', that's something to explore.
You're frustrated your therapist hasn't cured you in two sessions
Some clients have unrealistic expectations for therapy and bail when they haven't resolved all their problems after a handful of appointments. This is more likely to happen if they've built up a certain professional in their mind as a miracle worker. Maybe the therapist is well known in their niche, or they have a good YouTube channel, so the client assumes they're this uber-expert.
The fact is even with an incredible therapist who specializes in your issues, therapy sometimes takes a while. Even if it goes relatively quickly, it's rare to get those two-session cures. It happens every so often when the stars align, but it's no reason to quit if it doesn't turn out that way for you.
You think you know better than your therapist, and all therapists
Some clients have defense mechanisms where they think everyone around them is an idiot. When they start working with a counselor they can't help but find fault in everything they do. No one is qualified or competent enough to treat them. No one really understands what's going on with them.
It's one thing to have one, or even a few, so-so therapists and rightly discern they're the wrong fit for you or mediocre at their job. Sometimes you just end up with a poor match. But if you think every therapist is useless, that's coming from your own baggage. You'll need to stick with one long enough to explore it, as hard as that may be.
Your therapist failed a hidden test you gave them that they couldn't possibly have passed
At times it's appropriate to secretly test a therapist. For example, if you're from a misunderstood, marginalized group you may offhandedly mention something related to your struggles and see how they respond. Do they show they're knowledgeable about your group and get what you're going through, or do they react in a knee-jerk ignorant, judgmental way?
There are other hidden tests that no one could pass without being a mind reader. Like a client may purposely start an argument with their counselor over something small, and want them to respond in a very specific, unconventional way. They see any other type of reply as a failure, and a sign they need to quit. Or they may have a rule that if the therapist glances at their clock even once it means they're bored and just going through the motions.
The client may have an emotional scar that leads them to believe they can't feel safe around a therapist unless they meet their very particular criteria. Maybe their test's Pass condition is impossible to meet, so they feel justified in not working with anyone. Again, they're not a horrible person for acting from these old wounds. Arbitrary tests just aren't a helpful way to decide whether to stick with a mental health provider or not.