How To Fire Your Therapist

I work in a profession where my goal is to repeatedly get myself fired by my clients.  If I’ve done my job correctly, I will have helped clients help themselves, ultimately rendering my role as a counsellor obsolete.

Sometimes this takes one session, often more like 6-12, and occasionally this process is a longer-term one.  Ultimately, however, my goal is the same.

So, in other words, firing your therapist is a healthy step at the end of the counselling process and there are times when you may find it necessary to fire your counselor prematurely if you feel the counseling is not helpful.

Know Your Rights

Beware of any counsellor who tells you that the counselling process is indefinite, that you may never get better or that you will always need them in your lives.  You may have even had the unfortunate experience of trying to conclude counselling only to be told that by stopping you were “avoiding your issues” or “sabotaging” your therapy.  Maybe you are avoiding or sabotaging–possibly missing the chance to grow emotionally–but even if this were true, it’s your right and your choice.  It’s my belief that clients have the right to quit counselling at any time, for any reason and yes, by doing so, some issues may remain unaddressed or unresolved.

Talk Strategy

To help you get the most out of your counselling experience, communicate with your therapist about what is important for you to talk about any changes that you would like to make in your life. What are your goals? Put forth any ideas you may have about how to work towards them and get your counsellor’s input too.

Together, come up with a plan on how to get there.  Are there things that you can do outside the sessions to carry on with your therapy and bring it into your life?

Have a discussion with your counsellor about how you will know that progress is being made.  In my practice I use an outcome rating questionnaire which helps to ensure that we are on-track with therapy and that it is leading somewhere.  Other signs of progress include:

  • You think about your counselling in between sessions and see connections between topics you’ve discussed in counselling and yourself.
  • Your newfound knowledge and self-understanding changes some of the choices you make in your life, big and small.
  • The issue(s) that you came to counselling for is feeling resolved, or is being addressed in a meaningful way.
  • You forget that you have an upcoming counselling appointment until you receive the reminder from your therapist.
  • The general quality of your world is changing: better people, better relationships, better opportunities, better options.  You also see evidence of positive change.
  • You feel shocked when you reflect on what your life used to be like and how far you’ve come.
  • While you may be nervous about leaving counselling, you are feeling empowered to make changes on your own, or maintain the gains that you’ve made in therapy. You can problem solve bumps along the way.
  • You come into a session and you feel like you don’t have anything to say.
  • You take ownership for the progress you’ve made.

Saying Goodbye

This can happen for several reasons:

  • Dissatisfaction: you are unhappy with your therapist or your therapy experience
  • Circumstantial: you or your therapist is moving away, you have gone through a major life transition, or other life circumstances are getting in the way of you being able to attend appointments
  • Therapy has been successful: you’re feeling better and your reasons for coming for therapy have been resolved or adequately addressed.

How To Say Goodbye…When You’re Dissatisfied

Most people will cancel their next appointment or fail to show up.  Often a reason is not provided to the therapist.

Clients should not feel obligated to provide a reason to the counsellor, although when you do, several things could potentially occur:

  • You have a fruitful discussion which helps you to resolve issues in a meaningful way.  Sometimes this results in you continuing with the counsellor, sometimes not.
  • The therapist listens to your feedback and ultimately makes changes in their practice that could benefit future clients.
  • You feel relieved to have expressed unresolved concerns.
  • Yes, there is the potential that the therapist could become defensive or blame you for your negative experience.  If so, it’s definitely time to find a new counsellor!

If you do not want to return to therapy, please cancel any follow-up appointments you may have.  It wastes the therapist’s time when a client does not show up for a scheduled appointment and prevents other clients from using this time.  Even though I’ve discussed the potential merits of giving the therapist feedback, this is not necessary.  Stating “I need to cancel my next appointment” is enough.  If the therapist asks if you would like to reschedule, “not at this time” is a perfectly acceptable response.  If you fear conflict, use email instead.

How to Say Goodbye…When You’re Happy as a Clam

Whenever possible, it’s great to schedule a final session, even if you’re feeling good to go.  This is beneficial in several ways:

  • You and your counsellor review and consolidate your gains; it’s encouraging to see how far you’ve come!
  • You have the opportunity to discuss what worked well in your counselling experience, and any aspects of the therapy that weren’t helpful.
  • You discuss a plan for the future: specifically how you will stay well and what to do if you hit a snag along the way.

Endings, like beginnings, are very important and are a process that should start as soon as the therapy begins.