Are you thinking of changing your Counsellor or therapist? Me too. I’m a Counsellor and trainee psychotherapist and it’s been part of my obligation of on-going training to be in therapy for 40 weeks per year. I believe this is the right thing to do to ensure I am fully engaged with my own process. Now I’ve completed the formal training I’ve been wondering whether to continue therapy and whether I should seek a different therapy experience.
This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about changing therapist. Along the way I’ve considered this before. Here I outline some of the thinking I have done regarding my reasons for changing or ending a therapy relationship.
Can I talk candidly to the therapist?
Whether the relationship works will become apparent quite early on. Relying on instinct can be helpful here, as feeling comfortable enough being with the therapist is something you will feel bodily. Even if you find relationships challenging usually, you will have a sense of whether you can connect with and trust the person you are with. I think instinct is a useful tool, which we can rely on, even when we don’t know why.
Have we hit something difficult?
When we have told and re-told the familiar narrative of our lives, we can begin to go deeper, to another layer of experience and emotion. This can be tricky. It is harder to describe this unfamiliar terrain eloquently and it can be extremely challenging, surprising, painful and sometimes distressing. Shame can be stirred and the most resilient of us can feel like fleeing in these circumstances. It can also be liberating to work through this difficult material.
Is this a pattern?
It’s important to notice if wanting to leave or create change is a pattern of our lives. We can feel really uncomfortable when a relationship becomes increasingly emotionally intimate. This is similar in a romantic or a therapeutic relationship. Intimacy can make us feel exposed and vulnerable and many of us avoid feeling this way at any cost. To be seen as we really are threatens us with not feeling good enough, and being abandoned and left alone.
Has the therapist done something wrong?
Relationships are something we work at and don’t always get right. Despite training, therapists will annoy, irritate, say something which hurts or be mis-attuned. There is a school of thought that it is through this ‘rupture’ and ‘repair’ that the therapy relationship works. By working it out together the client and therapist can seek a good understanding of what is happening for the client. Moreover, if the client can bear telling the therapist what they feel about them, old relational patterns can come to light. We can learn about ourselves through uncovering, wrangling and resolving these difficulties. Of course a client must not tolerate behaviour which is unprofessional or downright abusive and this is not something I condone.
It can become clear that client and therapist beliefs about what makes humans tick are in conflict. The therapist might seem wedded to a theoretical perspective or trying something different hasn’t turned out as you hoped. This seems a clear cut reason to change therapist. If you are paying for a service it should suit your requirements.
An ending feels unbearable
Rather than wanting to end, for some people endings can feel unbearable. Ending a therapy relationship can be like this too. If we have experienced separations, bereavements and losses in our past the thought of an ending can fill us with dread. The spectre of abandonment appears. We might have a crisis at this point. This too can be a familiar pattern, where fear of abandonment interrupts real life relationships too. This is grist for the mill and therapy can be really helpful for these challenges.
The work is done
Of course a therapy relationship will come to an end, be it prematurely or timely. Some might say that an ending is the only sure thing about therapy. A desirable outcome might be that the issue(s) that were so prominent at the beginning have been transformed or a sense of acceptance achieved. Instead it might feel like one has become bored by continuing to talk about the issues, that moving on is preferable to dwelling in them. One might flee to health, where staying in the difficulties is just not possible and a return to familiar terrain is comforting. Maybe a break is needed for breathing space, trying things out and going it alone. What is clear is that therapy does provide an opportunity to do an ending differently to all those that have gone before. Maybe that’s the point.
Talking about ending
Whatever is going through your mind about ending therapy it’s really helpful to talk about it with your therapist. You might anticipate a particular reaction, based on endings you’ve had before. The idea of talking about it could be anxiety provoking. However, your therapist will welcome the discussion. Together you can see whether any of the factors I have described above, or others, are important. You will be able to work out whether changing therapist or ending therapy is the right choice for you right now. Your therapist may not think it’s the right time but your autonomy is paramount. The bottom line is you are paying for the service and it’s your choice.
Honouring the end
However endings have happened in the past, in a therapy relationship the ending will be honoured. A therapist will pay quite a lot of attention to this process to celebrate the work you have done together and be respectful of the intimate relationship. Sometimes we can feel like sloping off before the last session because it is an emotional event, which can make us squirm in discomfort. Showing up for the final session to say goodbye is not only doing it for the therapists benefit but it is showing up for yourself. Be proud to have invested in yourself, to have faced your inner world. Therapy has been really helpful to me, I believe in it. If this relationship ends now, I trust that the ending will teach me something new.
Janet Brandling is an Integrative Psychotherapeutic Counsellor and a trainee psychotherapist, trained at the Metanoia Institute. She works in both Bristol and Weston-super-Mare. She can be found at the Hut Therapy website to via email here