How to tell a therapist it's not working

How to tell a therapist it's not working

by Maggie Jordan

If, after two to three therapy sessions, you don’t feel a connection with your therapist and haven’t seen any progress, it may be time to move on. Telling your therapist it’s not going to work can feel like breaking up with someone – but unlike with the dating world, a therapist is a professional who won’t take it personally. 

  Seguin Spear LICSW 's office in Providence, Rhode Island

Seguin Spear LICSW's office in Providence, Rhode Island

You can try these strategies to politely tell your therapist it’s not a good fit:

Option 1: Be direct with the therapist

The best way tell a therapist it isn’t working is to be open and honest. At the end of the session, when they ask if you want to schedule another appointment, say: “I really appreciate the time you’ve spent with me, but I don’t think it’s a good fit and am going to try to find a different therapist.”

It’s perfectly okay to leave it at that. However, if you’re comfortable providing more specific feedback, therapists appreciate the opportunity to improve their practice.

Was it their approach that didn’t work for you? Or did they say something that rubbed you the wrong way?

Letting the therapist know what was and wasn’t helpful gives them the chance to better serve future clients, and to respond if there was a simple misunderstanding.

(Not sure if your therapist is “the one”? Here’s how to find out.) 

Option 2: Send an email, or talk on the phone

If a directly confrontational approach isn’t your style, you can always follow up by email or phone after the session. This gives you more time to reflect on how you’re feeling about your therapy experience. You could even try a session with another therapist, and make a more thoughtful decision about what you did and didn’t like.

That being said, if you do schedule an appointment with the therapist and later decide to switch, be mindful of cancellation fees! Most therapists have a 24-48 hour cancellation policy – and if you don’t give advance notice, you’ll be responsible for the full cost of the session. (Insurance companies don’t cover appointments that didn’t happen.)

Either way, if you do find another clinician, make sure to let the first therapist know so they can give your time slot to another client.

(Related: What to expect at your first therapy appointment.)

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Option 3: Let the therapist know you may want to return in the future

Maybe you’ve found a therapist who’s a great fit, but you realize after a few sessions that – due to scheduling constraints, life events, insurance issues, or your improved mental and emotional health – now isn’t a good time to continue therapy.

If you don’t want to keep seeing your therapist now, but think you might want to work with them again down the line, you can say: “I’ve really enjoyed working with you but I’m not sure I’m ready to be in therapy right now. Can I hold onto your contact information and reach out when I’m ready to schedule another appointment?”

You get the most out of therapy when you are actively engaged and motivated – and therapists know that. If that’s not where you are for any reason, just let them know, and you can pick up where you left off in the future.

Remember: Most people see two or more therapists before finding a great fit. If it doesn’t work out with the first therapist, don’t give up on therapy altogether! Take some time for self-care and reflection, and then resume the therapist search process with a clearer sense of what you’re looking for. Your ideal therapist is out there.

Maggie Jordan is Zencare's Therapist Success Manager. She is deeply committed to increasing access to care by streamlining the therapist search process, and particularly enjoys connecting LGBTQ+ folks with culturally competent therapists. She is a graduate of Brown University where she competed as a varsity swimmer.