This may be scary, but it will be empowering
Epstein recognizes that calling on clients to end their relationships with therapists in person is “a huge ask in a culture where ghosting is the norm,” but that having this direct and honest talk can actually help you.
“It can feel pretty empowering to know that you can have a difficult conversation with somebody and the world won’t end,” she says. “It can be healing to see somebody (the therapist) accept feedback gracefully. It can be important to learn to have those difficult conversations. It also allows you the space to ask for a recommendation for another therapist.”
Don’t wait for the end of the session to do this
Use your full session time to discuss your decision to change therapists or quit therapy.
“Don't wait for the end of the hour to tell the therapist, bring it up right away and use the time to talk about what worked and didn't work for you,” says Brigham. “While your instinct might be to ‘ghost’ your therapist and just not schedule another appointment, in the end it would serve you to take the time to have the conversation.”
Your therapist is probably on the same page
If you’re feeling a disconnect with your therapist, they’re probably feeling it, too.
“If a client comes and does not feel connected to me or feel like I ‘get it’, I can guarantee that I felt it too,” says Lynn R. Zakeri, a licensed clinical social worker. “I have never been surprised by this.”
“Therapy is really difficult work especially for those who have never really said a lot of their thoughts out loud before, ever,” Zakeri continues. “Sometimes it is just overwhelming and returning is not something they are ready for. Again, I am right where [the clients] are. I am never going to push you or say you really need to be here.”
Walfish says that if your therapist “becomes defensive and either denies accountability or points a finger at you and entirely blames you, you can be certain you are not with the right-fit therapist. It is time to leave ASAP.”
Key language to use
What exactly should you say? The more specific you are about your reasons for leaving, the more your therapist can understand you and whom to potentially refer you.
In addition to specifics, Kelley Kitley, a licensed clinical social worker recommends saying something along the following lines:
“Thank you so much for the work we’ve done together but I’m going to take a step back from therapy.”
Or: “I appreciate the work we’ve done together, I’m wondering if you could refer me to someone who might…(fill in the blank) have more of a direct approach, might be in network, has more availability for certain day/time, [etc.]”
If you just can’t do it in person, an email is okay
If a one-on-one talk just isn’t doable for whatever reason, write a polite email.
“If you are struggling with saying it, prior to a session you can write an email stating that while you are grateful for the time your therapist spent with you, you think it is time to move on,” says Viciere. “You can have one last session or not, but that is your choice. Be clear and direct in the email.”
Tell them what did work as well as what didn’t
If you made breakthroughs with your therapist, let them know. This is hard work for them, too, and any acknowledgments of your successes with them will be valued.
“I really appreciate it when clients say, ‘I am feeling so much better, and I learned so much and I don't feel I need to continue therapy’,” says Zakeri, who recalls one client who ended therapy in a way that felt celebratory of all that they had accomplished together.
Your therapist should gladly recommend someone else
Be sure to ask your therapist for a referral to another clinician if you wish to continue therapy elsewhere.
“If you can end a therapeutic relationship with your therapist honestly and openly, they may be able to help you find somebody who is a better fit,” says Epstein.
Brigham says she’s always happy to help a client find that better fit.
“I appreciate anyone who tells me why they're not happy and what it is they're looking for in a future therapist,” says Brigham. “If I'm not the right fit then I would love to be able to help you find the right therapist for you — then it feels like it was a successful and productive experience for everyone involved.”