Breaking up with your therapist is also hard to do

Breaking up, as Neil Sedaka sings it, is hard to do. Equally so with your therapist, as I discovered on Wednesday. I felt pretty angry afterwards, which is a good sign that the therapist was not supporting where I was coming from. At one point I told him, “Stuff you!” What I should have said was: “Shut the f… up, this is my session and you’re doing all the talking.” Now I’m bit embarrassed about the ‘Stuff you’ part but he was giving this whole speech without any regard for how it was coming across. I managed to put my side of the story (quite well I thought) but his blunt interpretations have also given me food for thought. Maybe he’s actually partly right, I realised today. Still, he’s a bully and an ass.

Now I hope the slightly flippant tone of this post doesn’t make you think that I’m taking this whole break-up thing lightly. Far from it. But I also think that we need to be able to laugh about the stuff that’s the most painful to us. After all, choosing your partner is probably the biggest decision of your life so there deserves to be a lot of agonising over it, right?

Coming back to the therapy break-up, I was interested to read other people’s experiences. In the NYT, Richard Friedman says:

With rare exceptions, the ultimate aim of all good psychotherapists is, well, to make themselves obsolete. After all, whatever drove you to therapy in the first place — depression, anxiety, relationship problems, you name it — the common goal of treatment is to feel and function better independent of your therapist.
To put it bluntly, good therapy is supposed to come to an end.

But when? And how is the patient to know? Is the criterion for termination “cure” or is it just feeling well enough to be able to call it a day and live with the inevitable limitations and problems we all have?

The likeable Dr Rob over at shrinktalk adds the following:

… some clients are not connecting with their therapist or are not making progress that is to their satisfaction. No therapist can work perfectly with every client , and good therapists understand this. Again, honesty is the best policy here, and simply telling your therapist that you would like to work with someone else is completely acceptable. However, some clients struggle with this, and will often leave me voicemails with specious reasons so as not to deal with perceived confrontation:

I’m cured
My insurance won’t cover it
It’s too expensive
Your office is too far away
It’s too cold out

You are too young
You are too old
You are incompetent (commonly relayed as “you suck,” or “you’re an arrogant ass”)
I want to work with someone with blond hair
I need a Jewish therapist
Fuck off and die

Now I know he’s just joking about the “fuck off and die” part but it feels quite therapeutic just to read that and imagine someone saying it to their therapist via voicemail. Of course, as Rob also points out, very often clients leave therapy because the therapy is touching a nerve and it’s uncomfortable for them to go there.

For me, the answer was yes and no. Yes, we were touching a nerve and no, I wasn’t running away from it as much as getting frustrated that he wasn’t helping me to make progress in working with it. Just let me be, I wanted to say, let me do this therapy at my pace. And it also didn’t help that he was trying to pressure me into making a longer commitment to the therapy. Ambivalence is not a healthy state to be in, was the message I got, so you need to commit to the process. Now I agree that it’s not that helpful to be ambivalent but it’s also not helpful to ignore the ambivalence by rushing into a commitment. That way leads to resentment. What I think he should have done was to try and hold the ambivalence and try and be sensitive to the underlying anxiety rather than trying to bully me into doing things his way.

From a reader’s point of view I enjoyed some of the comments over at Yelp:

Take him/her out to dinner, get a couple of drinks going, and say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Leave him/her with the check and SCRAM.

If it’s not working for you, be up front with him/her. Try to identify what it is that you are looking to work on and why that’s not happening. Maybe you’ve gone as far as you can go with this particular practicioner. You won’t know until you vocalize your concerns. … Sometimes it’s just time to move on.

As for the song, I like the Violent Femmes version.

8 Responses to Breaking up with your therapist is also hard to do

  1. Bee says:

    Condolences. Not to be flippant, but it’s hard enough to break up with a hairdresser — much less a long-term therapist.

    Many, many more thoughts — but I’ve decided to delete them. I’m feeling too muddled to offer anything other than sympathy.

  2. doctordi says:

    I can see the therapeutic benefit of “someone” imagining phoning up “their” therapist to leave “Fuck off and die” on their voicemail…

  3. litlove says:

    How did I miss this post? Did I repress it? Anyway, I’ve always felt there was something very healthy about saying: you are not doing me any good, as far as therapists are concerned. There’s self-protection in there, self-awareness, the willingness not to depend but to move on, a desire to look outwards, maybe, as well as inwards. You of all people ought to be able to distinguish between resistance and the simple recognition that this guy is not for you. A good therapist is going to work with compliance and non-compliance alike, right, and find something interesting and real to offer the client in each case. Sounds like this man just wants you to follow his plan, which is CBT not psychotherapy, last time I looked.

  4. Pete says:

    Bee – Now that made me smile thinking about the hairdresser. “It’s not you, it’s me! My hair is just not entirely happy here …” Would be interested to hear your muddled thoughts sometime ;-)

    Di – No, I’m far too polite. I was formulating a very polite email in my head (with a link to this post) but then I thought I’d just let the whole thing go. Will be interesting to see what he says in the billing email!

    Litlove – You will be pleased to know that it was partly through your encouragement that I had the courage to face him and call it quits at all! You’re right about the CBT part and although he doesn’t see himself that way I think it fits. But I also think that the breaking-up process is a great learning experience and I’ve learned a lot from all of mine ;-)

  5. doctordi says:

    Imagining, Pete, only imagining!

  6. Sue says:

    Therapists will manipulate you with “it’s your resistance” or “you really want to leave your father” because they don’t want to lose their fee. They’re so garbled into their psychologizing they’ve forgot what real life is anyway.

    • Cher says:

      I agree when it comes down to it, the bottom line is that it’s a business and it’s how they make a living.

  7. Zoe John says:

    I have had the fortunate opportunity of seeing my counsellor on a regular basis since last November.
    I have suffered & in recovery from an alcohol addiction, prior to losing my eldest sister through suicide & a very good friend who was getting support, March this year,my counsellor informed me during a session.
    She has supported me on a lifes journey, I was totally emotionally distraught when she told me get contract is ending in December, but as a leaf from her book, I have to accept it

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