I Want To Switch Therapists, But Don’t Want To Hurt My Therapist’s feelings?

by Aaron Pawelek LICSW Sunday, November 29, 2015

I recently closed my therapy practice in Dallas, TX to relocate to the East Coast to be closer to aging family members. I decided to give my 50 or so active clients 2 months notice to provide ample time for them to prepare and for me to arrange continuity of care. Those 2 months were extraordinary! Because I initiated the ending, I set in motion what therapists call the “termination phase” of therapy. I had told people: “Get ready. We are going to say goodbye”. And we did. What’s extraordinary is that real goodbyes so often never happen for therapists. When clients are either frustrated with their progress or are legitimately ready to end treatment, they either fade away or just disappear.

Here is my advice (It may sound a little harsh, but hear me out): tell us what’s going on, say goodbye, and don’t worry about our feelings. If you’re ready to finish work with us, we will have feelings about it, rest assured. We will miss you! But if we let those feelings cloud our professional judgment, or if we take your departure personally, then we’re not keeping our part of the bargain. Remember, when we agreed to work with you, we agreed to ensure your best interests.

Here’s why I really want you to say goodbye when you’re ready to leave. Goodbyes are hard. They hurt and often bring about profound expressions of sadness and grief. In many ways, this is the essence of psychotherapy: learning how to communicate deep and painful truths in caring ways and developing the courage and willingness to do so. By practicing “goodbyes” in the therapy room, you will learn how to do it successfully in life.

Furthermore, it may be time to switch therapists. If you don’t feel comfortable telling your therapist, then there may be unaddressed issues in the therapeutic alliance. It’s possible these issues—at least your role in them—reflect the very things you are trying to resolve in your personal relationships. By intentionally entering into the termination phase of therapy and saying goodbye, you give yourself and your therapist a chance to explore and resolve these issues, so you don’t carry them into your relationship with your next therapist. Your therapist may also help with a referral to a therapist who may be a better fit for you, but cannot help if he/she does not know.

One more thing—sometimes clients want to switch therapists because the therapy has stagnated or become stuck. Again, bring it to our attention. That may be just what your therapist needs to hear to get the treatment going again. You might find it’s not goodbye after all. Maybe we just needed a nudge!

Aaron Pawelek, LICSW, has been providing psychotherapy to adults, couples, and teens for 10 years. He is a graduate of both the Boston University School of Social Work and the Boston University School of Theology. He is in private practice with the New England Pastoral Institute in Salem, NH. Prior to moving to New England to be closer to aging family members, Aaron was the training director and a staff therapist for the Pastoral Counseling Center of Dallas, TX. Aaron has a variety of clinical interests including working with people with disabilities, adults raised by parents with mental illness or addiction, people in addiction recovery themselves, couples in crisis, and people in the GLBT community. As a pastorally oriented psychotherapist, Aaron helps people integrate their spiritual and religious resources into the therapy process if they wish.


Tags:

Advise | Anxiety | Healing | Intimacy | Self-Awareness | Self-Care | Therapeutic Relationship | Therapy | Wisdom

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