Psychotherapy is gaining popularity and widespread support. More than one in six Americans sought therapy for the first time in 2020. Research shows that most people who seek professional help feel and function better; one study found that approximately 75% of people who receive therapy reported finding it beneficial. Ultimately, however, treatment doesn’t happen in a bubble. The results you can get from therapy come down to the relationship you build with your therapist.
But like with any relationship, finding the right therapist may require some trial-and-error. Here are some signs it may be time to consider switching to a new provider.
Therapists have varying levels of experience and expertise. And while all mental health professionals receive foundational knowledge in mental illness, that doesn’t mean they have specific training for what you need. Some therapists specialize in specific mental illnesses or life situations (such as eating disorders, children and teenagers, or career counseling). There are also several different techniques or schools of thought therapists will use (like cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, or acceptance and commitment therapy), and not every technique works for every situation.
Sometimes, the need for specialized care becomes more apparent after starting treatment. For example, a client may reach out to a therapist wanting to process their recent divorce. But after a few sessions, they realize they need support for complex trauma and substance use. At this point, it may be beneficial to switch to a different provider.
It’s typical for therapy to ebb and flow; some sessions naturally feel more intense than others. However, it’s important that you feel like you’re moving toward your goals. After a few sessions of building rapport, your sessions should feel focused and productive.
If that’s not the case, it may be time to reassess your treatment. Therapy is a significant investment of time and money — if sessions don’t feel meaningful, you might need a new therapist.
Research shows that the therapeutic alliance is one of the most important aspects in predicting treatment success. You should feel safe and supported by your therapist. Moreover, you should be comfortable freely sharing your feelings without fearing judgment.
If that’s not the case, it may be worth addressing your issues directly with your therapist. It’s possible you misunderstood one another. A good therapist will listen closely and assume responsibility for any wrongdoing on their end. They will also be able to help you unpack anything that led you to feel worried or judged if it impacts other areas of your life, too.
But if you still don’t feel comfortable or you find yourself withholding important information, you may need to consider switching.
Very few therapists truly emulate a “blank slate.” Many therapists occasionally self-disclose, meaning they share personal information with their clients. When used appropriately, it helps clients feel validated and understood. It also often makes therapists seem more human.
It can feel uncomfortable if your therapist talks too much about themselves or shares overly personal details. You might even start feeling responsible for their feelings. This dynamic can undoubtedly affect your treatment.
Money undoubtedly causes stress and may affect how often you seek treatment (among other things), particularly if your financial situation changes. Good therapy can be costly, but it shouldn’t be so expensive that it stresses you out.
To accommodate their clients, therapists may accept health insurance, offer superbills (receipts you can give directly to your insurance), or provide sliding scale services. But if your therapist doesn’t offer these options — or if paying for sessions still feels tight — you may need to consider switching providers. Some companies offer free trials or support groups that might be a good stop-gap for your treatment when it gets too expensive.
It’s common for clients to feel attached to their therapists. You may feel like your therapist is the only person who truly understands you. And if you have a history of poor attachment or toxic relationships, some dependence is bound to occur.
There’s a difference between a therapist supporting you and a therapist enabling a sense of clinginess. Good therapy focuses on client autonomy and empowerment. Therefore, they shouldn’t bend boundaries or arbitrarily continue treatment after you’ve met your targeted goals.
Therapy can be uncomfortable. Untangling past traumas or processing heavy emotions feels vulnerable, and the work may be taxing.
But dreading or resenting therapy is a cause for concern. Your therapist might be pushing you too hard or too fast. Or maybe things consistently seem overly impersonal, and your therapist might not ask deep enough questions. This dynamic can cause you to feel bored or restless like you’re wasting your time (and money).
Regardless of the specific circumstances, if therapy triggers a continuous sense of dread, it’s worth exploring that feeling. It may mean you need to work with someone new.
All therapists should adhere to their professional board’s code of standards. They must discuss these laws and ethics during the informed consent process. In addition, your therapist may periodically review certain guidelines with you throughout your treatment.
It may be an ethical red flag if your therapist:
In a worst-case scenario, there are almost always ways to file a complaint about your therapist. Complaints are serious legal processes that can result in their license being revoked. Still, they may be necessary for ethically perilous situations like a dual relationship or if they don’t tell you they’re running an experiment on you.
When you’re ready to work, therapy can be one of the best decisions you make for your mental health. Effective treatment can provide tremendous value to your life, and a good therapist is a deciding factor between a so-so session and a transformational one.
That said, the therapeutic relationship is inherently unique and subjective. Dozens of variables impact your progression through treatment, including the therapist you see. So if something feels off and you aren’t getting the help you need, it may be time to make a change.