Like any relationship, it’s not uncommon for clients to experience feelings of disappointment towards their therapist at some point in the therapeutic process. Sharing this feedback directly with your therapist can strengthen the relationship — it may help your therapist change their approach, and/or help you understand how you react to negative feelings in other relationships.
While speaking directly with your therapist about what isn’t working can always be a great first step, if after three to four sessions you don’t feel a connection with your therapist and haven’t seen any progress, it may be time to move on. Telling your therapist it’s not going to work can feel like breaking up with someone – but unlike with the dating world, a therapist is a professional who won’t take it personally.
Here are strategies to politely tell your therapist it’s not a good fit:
Seguin Spear, LICSW‘s office in Providence, Rhode Island
Option 1: Be direct with the therapist
The best way to tell a therapist it isn’t working is to be open and honest. At the end of the session, when they ask if you want to schedule another appointment, say: “I really appreciate the time you’ve spent with me, but I don’t think it’s a good fit and am going to try to find a different therapist.”
It’s perfectly okay to leave it at that. However, if you’re comfortable providing more specific feedback, therapists appreciate the opportunity to improve their practice.
How to give feedback to your therapist
Giving feedback to your therapist may seem daunting, but therapy sessions are meant to serve your needs as a client. You can expect therapists to be open to feedback, and some might even check in during sessions to ask if you have any to offer. Those who don’t initiate these check-ins may be leaving the door open for their clients to be direct and honest when they feel ready.
“I think it’s important to create an environment in which a client is comfortable coming to a therapist with concerns, and with authentic feedback as to what is working or not,” says Sean Cook, a Marriage and Family Therapist in California.
Voicing concerns in a session allows you to talk through it with your provider, and incorporate it into the therapeutic process.
“If a therapist does not want feedback from clients, that to me is a huge red flag. I think it is the responsibility of the therapist to communicate — ideally in the first session, and repeatedly — that all feedback is welcome at any point,” says Carolyn Solo, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Pennsylvania.
However, if you feel unsafe giving feedback in session, you are certainly welcome to end the relationship with a phone call, email or voice message.
Even if you are already set on terminating the relationship with your therapist, many therapists still appreciate more context on how you came to that decision.
Some therapists may also offer a final session to provide closure and to wrap up any loose ends. This would be a good time to offer any feedback you might have. Letting the therapist know what was and wasn’t helpful gives them the chance to better serve future clients, and to respond if there was a simple misunderstanding.
(Not sure if your therapist is “the one”? Here’s how to find out.)
Option 2: Send an email, or talk on the phone
If a directly confrontational approach isn’t your style, you can always follow up by email or phone after the session. This gives you more time to reflect on how you’re feeling about your therapy experience. You could even try a session with another therapist, and make a more thoughtful decision about what you did and didn’t like.
That being said, if you do schedule an appointment with the therapist and later decide to switch, be mindful of cancellation fees! Most therapists have a 24-48 hour cancellation policy – and if you don’t give advance notice, you’ll be responsible for the full cost of the session. (Insurance companies don’t cover appointments that didn’t happen.)
Either way, if you do find another clinician, make sure to let the first therapist know so they can give your time slot to another client.
(Related: What to expect at your first therapy appointment.)
Option 3: Let the therapist know you may want to return in the future
Maybe you’ve found a therapist who’s a great fit, but you realize after a few sessions that – due to scheduling constraints, life events, insurance issues, or your improved mental and emotional health – now isn’t a good time to continue therapy.
If you don’t want to keep seeing your therapist now, but think you might want to work with them again down the line, you can say: “I’ve really enjoyed working with you but I’m not sure I’m ready to be in therapy right now. Can I hold onto your contact information and reach out when I’m ready to schedule another appointment?”
You get the most out of therapy when you are actively engaged and motivated – and therapists know that. If that’s not where you are for any reason, just let them know, and you can pick up where you left off in the future.
Remember: Most people see two or more therapists before finding a great fit. If it doesn’t work out with the first therapist, don’t give up on therapy altogether! Take some time for self-care and reflection, and then resume the therapist search process with a clearer sense of what you’re looking for. Your ideal therapist is out there.