How to tell a therapist it's not working
by Maggie Jordan
If after 2-3 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 the dating world, a therapist is a professional and won’t take it personally.
Use these strategies to politely tell your therapist it’s not a good fit:
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 ok 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.
Communicate in a way that’s comfortable for you
If a direct 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, try a session with another therapist, and make a more thoughtful decision about what you did and didn’t like.
That said, if you do schedule an appointment with a therapist and later decide it isn’t a good fit, beware of cancellation fees. Most therapists have a 24-48 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).
One way to avoid this is to say at the end of your session, “I may try a few other therapists first. Can I get back to you about scheduling our next session?” This allows you to keep your options open in a respectful and understandable 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.
Keep your options open
It’s also ok to find a therapist who is a good fit, but realize after a few sessions that due to scheduling constraints, life events, insurance issues, or your improved mental and emotional health, it’s not 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?”
Therapists understand that you get the most out of therapy when you are actively engaged and motivated. 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.
Research has shown that the client-therapist fit is the most important determinant of a successful therapy experience. At the end of the day, if you feel it isn’t a good match, your therapist will fully support you deciding to look for someone who better fits your needs-- they may even be able to offer suggestions for another therapist to contact.
Most people see two or more therapists before finding a great fit, so 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.