I Wanna Fire My Therapist!

A number of years ago I wrote an article with a tongue-in-cheek title, “How To Fire Your Therapist,” which is actually an article about how to get the most out of therapy so that you can graduate with confidence.

But there are other times when it’s actually appropriate to fire your therapist, typically after you’ve noticed a problem in the therapy or your therapeutic relationship, have brought it up with your counsellor, and the conversation has not gone well.

Sometimes clients are under the impression that they are “not allowed” to bring up concerns or that it will be weird and awkward to do so (yes, it could feel awkward) and decide to avoid the situation altogether. Unless your therapist is emotionally, physically or sexually abusive or exploitative (if so, run!), a conversation can help rectify a misunderstanding, address a therapist error for them to make right and generally improve the therapeutic relationship.

But when such a conversation does not work, you may be left with no other option than to fire your therapist. And, clients always have the right to end the therapeutic relationship any time, for any reason.

Let’s look at some of the reasons for saying goodbye to your therapist:

Not Making Progress / Hit an Impasse

There could be a few things going on here. You may personally feel that you have not made progress—that your goals have not been met, or emotional distress not sufficiently resolved—or, you may agree that you have made progress but that you have plateaued; counselling sessions may feel like you are “spinning your wheels.” Sometimes the therapist will raise this for discussion, but if they don’t, I encourage clients to do so as this can sometimes prompt movement or a breakthrough. But if, after discussion you are still feeling frustrated, I recommend trialling a new therapist.

Therapy Consistently Feels Awkward

Just like the fact that there are folks in this world that we don’t vibe with, this happens in some counsellor/client combinations too. This is not a situation of one person being “good” and the other “bad” — it’s just not a good match. Ideally, counselling clients will have a therapy relationship where they feel comfortable and at ease, although this can take some time, as therapy—particularly when we are just starting out—can be nerve-wracking!

Boundary Problems

This is the topic of a whole article and can include things like:

  • Therapist is chronically late for your sessions (occasionally lateness can happen if, for example, a crisis or traumatic disclosure occurs at the end of the session before yours, leaving the therapist needing to ensure that the preceding client is safe) and bringing this up with them results in defensiveness or lack of behaviour change.
  • Therapist repeatedly cancels your sessions for reasons that don’t make sense to you.
    Counsellor is flirtatious, asks to hang out with you outside of the session, requests money from you or propositions you for sex or sexual favours. This is never acceptable. Report them to their professional college or association, if they are licensed.
  • Counsellor is answering their phone or playing on their phone when they are in session with you (not to be confused with sourcing information and resources directly related to your therapy).
  • Counsellor is “too casual” in the session in a way that no longer feels professional. Examples could include: eating while in session with you, taking off their shoes (for non-medical reasons), lying down on the couch, appearing that they rolled out of bed or dressed in a way that was revealing and distracting.
  • Counsellor is pressuring you to answer questions that you do not want to answer, even after you have told them no.
  • The therapist insists that you continue attending counselling when you see no need or after you have made progress that feels sufficient to you. I recommend you take a break to reassess.
  • Your personal and confidential information has been leaked to others without your written consent. This is serious; I recommend finding out exactly what happened (was it intentional, a technology fail, did the therapist raise it with you/did you find out on your own?). Consider reporting this to the counsellor’s professional college or organization.
  • Fees or policies switched without informing you well in advance.
  • In a twist of events, it may feel to you that the counsellor is seeking emotional support from you! While sometimes therapists bring up personal examples, these should only be to help your therapy and not the other way around! Occasional therapist self-disclosure can help clients feel more comfortable (therapists are human and it can feel less isolating when they’re relatable) but therapists should not be making emotional demands of their clients.
  • You know your counsellor from another setting (either before or mid-way through your therapy). This is called a dual relationship and while this sometimes cannot be avoided, many times they can and must be, as they increase the risk of relationship confusion in clients’ therapy.

Counsellor is Discriminatory

The counsellor lacks cultural humility, cultural competence, or is racist. Or, the therapist does not respect your sexual orientation, gender identity, relationship status, body size, age and religion.

Counsellor is Judging You

I encourage you to read more about this topic in an article I wrote, because yes this could be happening OR when we have had repeated life experiences where we have felt judged, we may believe that it is happening more than it is.

You Have a ‘Funny Feeling’

I call this instinct, ‘spidey senses’ or intuition. Sometimes you can’t put a finger on it and you don’t know for sure what is going on. In this case I recommend starting with some journalling to see if anything clarifies for you. If you have a solid relationship with a family doctor or other health professional that you could describe your feelings to, this may also help you get clear. If you have a neutral friend or loved one, it may be helpful to run it by them too, to see what they think. Confiding in more than one neutral person can help widen perspective; it can be interesting to hear from folks that have both gone through their own therapy or conversely, have never been to therapy. But after talking with others you still feel confused, take a break from therapy to re-evaluate.

In Conclusion

I always recommend bringing up your concerns with your therapist if you feel safe doing so; it can be frustrating starting all over again with another counsellor when sometimes a discussion will move your therapy in a better and more positive direction. Of course, this is not always possible so knowing what is not ok in therapy can help you find out for yourself what actually is.