Therapy FAQ

Making the Switch: How to Navigate Changing Therapists

Changing therapists can improve your mental health and is not taboo. Signs it’s time to switch include lack of progress, poor fit, or unprofessionalism. Take a deeper look at these signs and determine if the time has come for you to switch therapists.

Author Generic Image By Grow Therapy
Woman looking away in therapy.

Updated on May 29, 2024

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Have you ever left a therapy session, or even worse, been in the middle of a session and thought to yourself, “This just really isn’t working?” It’s OK to admit it; it happens.

Sometimes, the therapist you have is not necessarily the therapist you need. But how do you go about changing your therapist? Is it even OK to switch therapists? What are some of the signs it’s time to seek out a different therapist?

In this article, we are exploring the answers to all these questions and more, so you can approach changing psychotherapists with confidence in your decision and peace in the fact you know how to navigate the process.

Is Changing Therapists Considered Taboo?

Changing therapists can feel daunting, but it’s more common than you may think. Therapists understand that it isn’t always the best fit. At the end of the day, the overall goal is improving your mental health, and you can’t do that if your therapist is not the right fit for you.

Studies conclude that having a strong, productive relationship with your therapist is crucial to your success. This research indicates that the relationship you cultivate with your therapist is just as significant to your progress as the proper treatment method and modality.

Even therapists themselves welcome the idea of their clients seeking out the best options for themselves. Martinique Moron, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with Grow Therapy, likens finding the right therapist to finding the right partner.

“Finding a therapist can be like dating in a way. You must choose a therapist that you connect with and feel comfortable opening up to. We as therapists understand that not every person is going to be a great fit for us so it’s perfectly fine if you want to talk about switching to someone else.

“Remember–therapy is about you as the client, not me as the clinician. A good clinician is going to want what’s best for you, regardless of whether that means continuing with them or finding a new provider that may better fit your needs.”

Changing Therapists Can Improve Mental Health

Making a change in your therapeutic relationship can oftentimes lead to improved mental health. By seeing a new therapist, you open up the doors to start getting more out of your face-to-face and online therapy sessions.

Prioritizing your needs above all else when it comes to therapy services sets you up for a more successful experience. This includes the types of therapy, like talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), the different modalities of treatment, and their ability to make you feel safe being honest about difficult subject matter.

It’s also important to consider that therapists are people too. It’s impossible to get along with everyone we meet. In the case of a therapist, the ability to connect on a personal level is crucial. Sensitive material is often the topic of therapy, so if you struggle to open up to your therapist, you stifle your progress. To get the most out of a therapy session, you have to be willing to communicate.

Additionally, just like any other person, therapists make mistakes. There’s a possibility the diagnosis you received from your first therapist might not be the most accurate. Therefore, you are not receiving effective treatment in therapy. It could be as simple as needing a fresh perspective from someone with more experience.

Changing Therapists May Be Necessary

There are several situations where changing therapists extends beyond desire. You could find yourself in a predicament where your therapist is moving or your insurance changed. While it may not be ideal, these instances do happen. That doesn’t mean they have to impede your progress.

Additionally, sometimes a breakup with a therapist is because they “fire you” as a client. While this concept may seem detrimental to your therapeutic progress, everything happens for a reason. Situations can arise where a therapist feels the need to part ways with a client. There are several reasons why this could happen:

Just because one therapist fires you does not mean you should stop seeking therapy. You can ask your previous therapist to help set you up for success with your next therapist by providing a referral and bringing them up to speed on your progress, or lack thereof, in previous sessions.

Signs it’s Time for a Change

First and foremost, you need to recognize the signs that you’ve outgrown your therapist. It could be something unavoidable, like moving, or more to do with a cultural fit. Whatever the reason may be, there are some key indicators that it’s time to break up with your therapist and move on.

It’s Not A Good Culture Fit

If you feel unable to open up and be honest with your therapist, they will never truly know you or know how to help you reach your goals when it comes to improving your mental health. Maybe you feel like they don’t understand you or where you are coming from. Or even, worse, maybe you feel like they’re not listening to you. No matter the case, if your therapy sessions feel impersonal and you’re struggling to get along with your therapist, that’s a good indication you need to seek an alternative option.

You Haven’t Experienced Any Improvement

Another great reason to change things up in therapy is if you’ve stopped seeing progress toward your SMART goals. The point of therapy is to help improve overall mental well-being. If that is not happening as a result of your sessions, it may be time to move on. However, it’s important to remember that therapy does take time. So unless you just have major red flags, give them a few sessions before you start seeking out your next therapist.

They’re Unprofessional

Of the of biggest red flags to be aware of is if your therapist is acting unprofessional. When it comes to unprofessionalism in a therapy session, this translates into a number of different scenarios:

They’re Not Meeting Your Needs

Therapy can reach a natural ending, based upon your progress. It is quite possible to outgrow a therapist and their techniques. You may find a therapist lacking experience in a particular modality or intervention. At this point, it’s good to ask yourself if you require additional therapy to reach your SMART therapy goals. If you answer ‘yes,’ it’s time to consider a therapist who specializes in specific areas you’re seeking growth.

Sessions Feel Like A Chore

If you reach a point where you feel like you are struggling to even make it to your therapy appointments, that’s a good indicator that it’s time for a change. You may feel uncomfortable opening up and being honest because you do not like being there. When you are so overwhelmed with feelings of dread, you stand in the way of the progress you could be making in therapy.

How Soon is Too Soon?

According to Moron, it’s better to address the situation within the first few sessions, rather than attempt to tough it out and force compatibility.

I would say give it 2-3 sessions at minimum to decide if you need to consider switching to another provider.

- Martinique Moron, LCSW

“You may be able to recognize from the first session that you and the therapist are not a great fit. If so, do not hesitate to speak up about it. It could be due to anxiety or a need to warm up to one another. If you are unsure but are still open to building the rapport, I would say give it 2-3 sessions at minimum to decide if you need to consider switching to another provider.”

While it may feel hard to leap, you pay for this service. And just like any other service, you expect to get quality care that meets your standards and expectations. Changing therapists doesn’t indicate a failure of any kind. So if you’re able to pick up on signs your first therapist, or even second or third therapist is not going to adequately meet your needs, it’s OK to start looking for a new provider.

Take into Account Your ‘Why’

This is not to say you should switch from your current therapist each time you disagree with their techniques or medical advice. Taking into account the ‘why’ behind it all is very important. After all, you are seeking out therapy for self-improvement. That is not always going to be the most comfortable process.

Switching therapists disrupts your care, meaning it could disrupt your progress if you are switching too frequently. Feeling comfortable enough to open up to your therapist is important, but it is equally as important to be able to take feedback from a therapist without becoming defensive or blaming other people for your problems.

The Steps to Take to Change Your Therapist

Once you’ve made up your mind to switch to a new mental health care provider, take some time to do a bit of planning on the front end. This will be crucial to set yourself up for success with your new therapist. Here is a list of things you can do to start off on the right path with your next therapist:

Talk to Your Current Therapist: Just because you plan to no longer seek care from your current therapist, that doesn’t mean they are against you. Once you’ve finalized your decision, take some time to speak to your therapist.

Inform them you wish to discontinue care, outline your reasons if you feel safe doing so, and even go so far as to ask them for a referral. As a healthcare provider, they may know someone in their network who specializes in the type of therapy you’re seeking or someone who could be a better culture fit.

Set New SMART Goals: It’s always important to have clear goals when seeking out therapy. Now is a great time to reassess your goals and set new ones. Keep in mind, that the most effective way to set and achieve your goals is by setting SMART goals. These are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Once you begin sessions with your new therapist, you can review these goals to ensure you are getting the most out of your treatment.

Check with Your Insurance: Make sure to call your insurance provider and ensure providers you’re considering for mental health services are within your insurance network. If you are considering seeking therapy from an out-of-network provider, speaking with your insurance can help you navigate that process, prepare for additional costs, and inquire if they offer a sliding scale for payments. You can find the phone number of your insurance provider on the back of your insurance card.

Find Therapists Who Share Your Goals: The next step is to compile a list of providers you’re interested in seeing. Keep in mind that you want to locate a therapist who meets all of your needs. Here are things to consider:

Set Up Consultations: Once you have a working list of therapists you think you might like to start seeing, make some phone calls and set up consultations. This is a great way to break the ice and get to know if a therapist is right for you without too much commitment. Make sure to come with plenty of questions and be ready to discuss why you left your old therapist. Touching on your SMART goals may be a good idea at this point; just to see if they align with this provider’s approach. Remember, consultations are for informational purposes. You don’t have to make a hasty decision.

Prepare For Your First Session: Once you feel confident in your choice of providers, it is time to set up your first appointment and prepare for this introductory session. Do some research on the front end about what to expect during this session and come ready with your SMART goals. Remember, this is still an introductory period, at least for the first few sessions. Always remember that if this new therapist still isn’t a good fit, you can keep looking. Don’t stop until you feel absolutely comfortable opening up to a therapist during a session.

Tips on Starting Over

Starting over with a new therapist can seem daunting at first. However, if you take into consideration all that we have outlined, this process becomes much easier. Still, you might have some anxieties surrounding your first few sessions with a new therapist. Here are some useful tips to keep in mind during that initial session and the subsequent sessions:

Be Open and Honest: Your therapist may not be able to tell if you are being truthful in your sessions. While it can be hard to open up about past traumas or hyper-personal information, it’s often necessary for your therapeutic process. Make sure you are being as honest as possible in every session so that your therapist can provide you with applicable methods and perspectives to help you reach your SMART goals.

Take Your Time: Don’t rush to the most traumatic parts of your life during your first few sessions. Remember to take it slow and become more acquainted with your therapist before you bust everything wide open. Oversharing in the first session can be a red flag for the therapist, so make sure you are building up a relationship and rapport with them before diving into deeper topics.

Trust Yourself: Always trust your gut! If something feels off in the first few sessions, know it’s OK to switch your therapist again, and again, and again. You need to make sure they’re a good fit for you and your needs. If you’re experiencing feelings of discomfort in the first few initial sessions, take that as a sign this may not be the best fit for you.

You’re Always in Control

Changing therapists isn’t just acceptable; it may be an essential step in ensuring you receive the most effective and beneficial mental health support. Therapists understand that not every connection is the right fit for everyone, and your comfort and progress are the ultimate goals of therapy.

The therapeutic journey requires a comfortable connection between therapist and client. When this link falters, progress stalls. Addressing concerns within the first few sessions is advisable. However, if discomfort persists, changing therapists is a valid choice.

Therapy is about self-improvement, and your comfort and growth should remain central. Remember, you’re always in control of your therapeutic journey. Choosing the right therapist means prioritizing your needs and feeling comfortable in the journey toward self-improvement. Changing therapists isn’t a failure; it’s a vital step toward finding the support you need. Trust in this process, and prioritize your well-being above all else.

FAQs

  • If you’re not satisfied with your therapist, start by asking yourself why that is. If you conclude that this therapist is not meeting your needs, making you feel uncomfortable, or seemingly not listening to you, it may be time to switch therapists. However, it is very important to assess why you feel this way so you can avoid switching just because you don’t like what your therapist has to say.

  • When you start seeing therapy as more of a chore than a tool to help you navigate life, that could be a sign it is time to seek another therapist. Additionally, if you stop seeing progress or find it impossible to open up and be honest with your therapist during sessions, odds are you need to seek out a different mental health professional to help you with your journey.

  • Simply have a conversation with your therapist about your concerns and desire to switch providers during one of your sessions. Come prepared with your reason why you feel seeking alternative treatment is in your best interest and be prepared to ask your therapist if they would be willing to give you a referral. This oftentimes helps patients feel like they’re ending the relationship on better terms.

  • You should switch your therapist if you’ve experienced any of the following: •They make you feel unsafe •They are not listening to you •They are pushing their values and beliefs upon you •You feel like you can’t be honest with them

  • No. Not at all. Therapists often expect their clientele to change. They are humans too and it’s highly unlikely that each prospective client is a good match for their personality and therapeutic approach. Additionally, many therapists recognize there are certain specialty areas that other providers may have more insight and expertise in treating.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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