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How to Break Up: The Therapist

Even if your fear of commitment extends to therapy itself, there’s still a way to let your doctor down nicely

Claiming your independence from some people in your life is easy. That childhood friend who wants to keep up with you on Facebook? Unfollow and delete their number. Unhappy with your barber? Go to a different shop. But other people in your life can be more difficult. For example…

Your very concerned therapist: While it’s true that a therapist may simply be doing their due diligence by checking in on you after you skip an appointment or three, in some cases, they’re just another annoyance that you need to ditch. But you’re dealing with the master of mind games here — they’ve been in your head, listened to you bare your soul and heard all your darkest secrets. How do you break off this very singular relationship without being made to feel like you’re the crazy one?

First things first: According to Ryan Howes, a psychologist in Pasadena, CA, disappearing isn’t an uncommon occurrence, and a large number of clients will simply stop showing up. “Every therapist has many examples of this happening,” he says. “Maybe the client has a hard time with endings, maybe they don’t feel any connection with the therapist, maybe they just want to avoid conflict.”

So depending on your circumstances, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if you did decide to just ghost on your shrink. Don’t worry about them being legally obligated to check on you if you do this, either: This only happens in cases where the patient is suicidal, has been involved in the abuse of another person, or has been referred to a treatment center by the therapist.

But ideally, Howes says a therapist and client should talk about the ending at the very beginning. The two of you would set out the goals you want to achieve through therapy, and agree on some kind of end date for resolving said issues (whether it’s working through your daddy issues, managing your fear of flying or whatever else you need to deal with). Ultimately, it isn’t a relationship that’s supposed to go on forever.

If you do decide to walk away before the job is done, be aware that your therapist may urge you to reconsider. Howes says that some of his brethren may do this for selfish reasons (everyone likes a paycheck), but most will do so because they think it’s not in your best interest, and that there’s still work to be done — and, quite possibly, that you’re just retreating from the issue. Or more simply put, this is a prime example of that fear of commitment they’ve been telling you about the whole time.

According to Howes, walking away from therapy early “requires the client to ask a hard, honest question: Do I want to leave because therapy is no longer working, or do I still have things to work on but no longer wish to do the work? This is a hard question, but one worth asking.”

The best thing to do if you want to walk, he says, is to tell your therapist and then arrange a final session where you review the work you’ve done and how you’ll handle problems in the future. With any luck, you can end it with no hard feelings — because you probably have enough of those already.