I recently broke up with my therapist. We had been together for almost two years and she has helped me a lot with job, confidence and all kinds of other issues. She was great. Until she was not helping me anymore.
It felt weird to take that step. And I was scared to do it. Scared of what she would say. What my friends and family would say. And of how I would move along after. I did not want to question her competence or her approach. I did not want to offend her by pointing her to what I felt was wrong. And I did not want to admit that I was getting nothing out of therapy recently, that I felt it was a waste of time on good days, a burden on bad days. But in the end, I knew I had to say something. I knew that she was not right for me. Not anymore.
I discussed the idea to break-up with my therapist and it was mutual. I would assume it is - or will be - in most cases. Because there are signs that things are not working the way they should be and a good therapist should see them just the way you may feel them. She was super open about that and told me she had the same feeling of being stuck. And we decided to leave it at that.
In my 15 years of therapy I have come across a bunch of problematic issues with therapists... and while the list is not exhaustive, the following indicators might make you want to reconsider the relationship with your therapist and the services they are providing towards your well-being at this point of your recovery:
1) Your therapist has a diet culture mindset
This is obviously a huge No-Go. I had this with a therapist who wanted me to gain weight “to look better” and “be more attractive”. She told me that once I would look more “feminine” I would be more attractive to men and all my issues with relationships, love, sex and - most of all - trust would just fall into place. Boooooom. However, it is not uncommon. In fact, I had another therapist tell me about the diet she was on and that she had “only 10 pounds to go”. She spoke about her caloric intake and made me guess the amount of calories in three almonds. Ouff... But yes, while there are some therapists who are specialized in eating disorder treatment, most of them are not.That does not necessarily mean they are not able to provide you with good treatment. Actually, the first therapist I ever had hardly any experience with eating disorders and she was amazing. She understood that talking about what my body looks like was not helpful. Rather, talking about what my body feels like, or most importantly what I feel like, was the key. But yes, if you have therapist who you feel is somehow in this diet culture mentality - judging you (or themselves for that matter) based on what your body looks like - please note and critically assess whether you can stay with them.
2) Your therapist does not accept your boundaries
This is a tricky one, as of course, you go to therapy to have your therapist help you make you get out of the rut you are in. Which regularly involves pushing boundaries. But there are certain things that might be a no-go for you. For me, my boundary was taking antidepressants. Do not misunderstand me: I have a lot of friends who are on medication and do very well on them. For me, it is just something I personally decided that I would not do. But it is not only therapy-related boundaries I am talking about. I have a friend who had to defend her religious beliefs in therapy. It might be a tattoo you have, the color of your hair, whatever. A good therapist will accept your boundaries and choices.
3) They're not listening
I have been in therapy appointments where I thought... who is the therapist in here? And who is the patient? Your therapist should listen to you. It can be helpful when your therapist mentions situations from their own life that are similar to yours. It helps build a connection and a level of trust. But if they are someone who over-shares or talks a lot about their personal lives, this is not appropriate. You are there for them to help you with your stories. They are there to ask the right questions and point you to the right answers. That is the difference between going to therapy and confiding in friends or family, Therapy is YOU-TIME. Claim it.
4) You are no longer comfortable with your therapist
This can be anything and everything. And it may be the most important thing. If you are not comfortable talking to your therapist, if you are scared of disclosing your thoughts, if you hide what you have done or cannot open up on experiences, it is not a good fit. I experienced this at early stages of recovery, I considered cheating in food journal when I lapsed because I was afraid to tell her the truth. It was hard to admit that it was not working for me because I felt a little like “a failure.”. If that’s how you feel, believe me: You are not. You are recovering at your own pace. Recovery is different for everyone. And you will find your path.
In all those cases, when the alarm bells ring loudly, please do yourself that favor. Talk to someone. Talk to your therapist. Address your concerns. And if you do not get the answers you are looking for, do not find a solution to make the therapist’s approach work for you or feel any improvement, then step out. Find someone new right away. Don’t waste time being scared, embarrassed or trying to live up to being the “perfect patient”.
There is the right therapist out there for you. It might take some time to find them, but it is time worth investing.
I still sometimes go and see mine, though. Yes, the one I broke up with. And yes, when I am back home, I see the one who initially got me into recovery. Oh, and yes, some of the ones in between. And it is fine. I am grateful for all they do for me. And I am proud of all that I did for me. Because that is what it ultimately comes down to: It is what you do to get better for yourself. It is what you do to appreciate yourself. It is what you do to restore your self worth and it is what you do to recover.
Jana Nysten graduated from Maastricht University and Penn State University with LL.M.s in International Law. She has a career in energy law and is an advocate of climate protection and sustainability. Jana believes in sports and performance in helping women to reconnect to their bodies and what they can do.