Breaking up is hard to do — especially when the split is with your shrink.
Patients often suffer the same crippling nervousness, embarrassment and feelings of guilt that bubble up when a romantic relationship is about to end. After all, the patient-therapist arrangement is intimate and confidential — like that of lovers — and the separation anxiety can be intense. But, experts say, parting ways is sometimes necessary and often the healthiest choice a person can make.
“There are times when it’s just not a good therapeutic match,” says Dr. Michael Brustein, a clinical psychologist. “Some people are afraid to address it. And it’s important.”
Here, New York therapists tell The Post the how and the why of saying goodbye to them.
When you should break up with your therapist
You’re stuck in a rut. While it’s normal for progress to be incremental, you shouldn’t feel like you’re accomplishing nothing on the couch.
If your weekly sessions. feel more like you’re meeting a friend for coffee, or if your symptoms just aren’t improving, it’s time to find someone new.
Your therapist is doing all the chatting. “If you find that . . . the therapist is talking to [you] about [his or her] personal life, then get the hell outta there,” says Diane Spear, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker based in the East Village.
You’re working with the wrong gender. “Some people will want to work through issues they have with men or with women, so they might seek out that gender,” says Brustein. “But they might actually need to work with somebody of a different gender because it’s bringing up too much that can’t be processed.”
Your counselor is giving you concrete answers. Therapists are neither theme-park psychics nor advice columnists, and they shouldn’t act like they are. “I always say, ‘If you find [someone] who’s gonna tell you to stay together [with a questionable romantic partner] or break up, walk away!’ ” says Spear. “That’s not gonna be a good idea.
How to do it
Don’t storm out — talk. “Open it up for a dialogue,” says Brustein. Then, “if the therapist doesn’t provide you with any tangible reasons for why proceeding makes sense, you should go with your gut and your impressions.”
The way you should phrase that talk, Spear says, is along the lines of: “I’m not hearing what you have to say; I’m not interested in what you have to say; I’m not feeling very warm; I’m feeling you are very critical of me.”
Don’t draw out the discussion. “If you just started working with the therapist for two to six sessions, one visit [for the talk] should suffice,” says Brustein. But for long-term therapy, it’s OK to take a little more time. “If you have been seeing someone for years, then three or more sessions may be helpful so both parties can reflect,” he says.
Don’t “ghost” your therapist. “Too many times patients don’t tell their therapists they’re unhappy with their therapy. They kind of drop out and might come up with a scheduling issue, or they won’t be up front — they’ll feel uncomfortable about it. That could be quite unfortunate because the problem that they’re having with the therapist might parallel the problem they’re having with other people,” Brustein says.
The key, he says, is to be honest. “Somebody who has trouble being assertive or trusting themselves may actually benefit by being able to voice that and express that, and to confront their therapist with it.