There were signs early on that it wasn’t working, that it wouldn’t work, but I ignored them. He was often late, and our time together felt rushed. It didn’t seem like he really listened to me, or understand me for that matter, and he always wanted to talk about himself. Worst of all, we just didn’t seem to be connecting – and I wondered if we ever had.
He wasn’t my boyfriend. He was my psychotherapist of a couple months, and something was off. With my own longtime boyfriend, I’m quick (perhaps too quick) to pipe up whenever something bothers me, but I was hesitant to do the same with my therapist. If I told him the fact that his often starting a few minutes late and ending a few minutes early bothered me, would he say that rather than this being a reasonable complaint (which, dear reader, it was), it was just me unhealthily obsessing over time and money, as I tended to do, both on and off the proverbial couch. Or, if I mentioned that his sharing lengthy personal anecdotes from his own life wasn’t all that helpful or interesting (especially when I was only getting 35 or 40 minutes of my 45-minute sessions to begin with), would he diagnose me as a narcissist? And, what if I pointed out that I really didn’t need him to explain the most basic psychological concepts – say Pavlov and classical conditioning – would that come across as bitchy? Maybe it wasn’t him, maybe it was me, I told myself. And so I continued going, week after week, diligently leaving work at a decent hour and forking over my $40 co-pay with a twitchy mix of dread and resentment. How do you know when your relationship with a therapist just isn’t working and it’s time to end things?
“Trust your gut: Your relationship with your therapist should feel right,” says Elisabeth Abbott, a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern with her own Los Angeles practice, Fulfilling Life Therapy. But she says “that doesn’t necessarily mean it should feel good – therapy often won’t, especially as you’re digging together through painful memories.” Other signs that he or she isn’t the one? “She should challenge you, but never push you further than you’re ready to go. And she should maintain professional boundaries: If she asks you to dinner or friend-requests you on Facebook, she’s being unethical, and you should probably find another therapist.”
Kate Muller, a clinical psychologist and Associate Professor at Montefiore Medical Center of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, cautions that patients should allow some time to see if a therapist relationship is right. “Every relationship, even a therapy relationship, needs some time to form,” she says. But, “If you’re uncomfortable sharing information with the therapist, there may be a ‘mismatch’. You need to feel that you can be open with the therapist – if you can’t, the therapy is unlikely to work.” If it isn’t working, and you do decide to call it quits with a therapist, Muller says, The patient should be as honest as they can be. There’s no need to make excuses or even to ‘disappear’. Good therapists want the feedback; we can learn from it.”
When it came time for the big breakup with my own therapist, I was as honest as I could be. I fired up my laptop, ejected the CD that he’d given me (homemade meditations, not the New Pornographers bootleg that might be part of a more traditional relationship-breakup cycle), and fired off an email, that was – at least in part – truthful. It read: “I think I’d be happier with a woman.”