I Think My Therapist Wants to Terminate Therapy

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Reader’s Question

I have been working with a psychotherapist for two years, and we recently discussed how I’ve had a lot of difficulty because of my defense mechanisms in therapy. I owned up to the fact that I had felt needy; that the therapeutic relationship triggers me; and that sometimes I leave hating her. I know it’s not her fault, because I’ve had these reactions many times before. In fact, I’ve avoided relationships for a long time because of the discomfort it brings up in me.

I thought the session was going well, because I was talking about some deep-seated issues that have severely affected my life. Then she floored me by saying that she thought we weren’t a good match, and that maybe I should terminate seeing her. I said that wasn’t what I wanted, and I thought I was making progress in therapy despite my discomfort. I then said I sometimes feel unwelcome, and that it feels like she wants to get rid of me. She seemed to use my feelings as evidence that we shouldn’t be working together. She asked if I wanted to cancel a future appointment, and I said no. When I was walking out the door, she said to play it by ear and contact her for another appointment (i.e., she cancelled the appointment, although I had requested to keep it). I got the distinct impression this is what she wanted, but she wouldn’t own up to experiencing personal difficulties because of my stuff.

I’m now completely gutted. This person has been a lifeline for me, and I felt like I was learning and growing, despite my difficulties with the process. Now I’m wondering if I was just kidding myself all along. I’m wondering who this person is, and if she has my best interests at heart. I also feel that if I brought up this subject, she would use it as an excuse to terminate therapy because, as she put it, “We’re not a good match.”

Please give me some insight here.

Psychologist’s Reply

I know it’s easy to forget, but therapists are people too, and we have our own issues. Ours is a profession that deals mostly with others, so it is often easier for us to deal with other people’s discomfort than our own. Some theoretical orientations (the perspective from which a therapist operates) help counselors deal with their own feelings within the therapy session, but others do not. Consequently, therapists who have not received training in what to do with their feelings in therapy frequently do not know what to do when they have them. It sounds like that is where your therapist may be, because she is letting you know that she is uncomfortable.

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Therapy is a relationship and you have to view it as such. Although there are some relationships that last a lifetime (e.g., family members, some friendships), many are ones that work for the phase of life in which we find ourselves, but do not last forever. Therapeutic relationships can be like that as well. You and your therapist worked well together for two years and you made good progress. As I think it is important to do for any relationship, celebrate the bond for what it was and what you gained from it, grieve for its end, and then prepare to move forward.

Ideally, your therapist would have handled the termination more gracefully (at a minimum, she should offer you some referrals) but the end result is that she is probably correct: you are no longer a good match. It could be that she has taken you as far as she is able to go, and so, in order to continue your therapeutic journey, you would need someone who is willing to handle the discomfort. Hopefully, if this is the case, you can use the gains you’ve made in therapy to figure out the questions you need to ask when you interview new therapists. I always recommend interviewing therapists in order to find the person who is right for you because, as you discovered, the match is very important. However, keep in mind that the “match” goes two ways, so be on the lookout for someone who doesn’t always need to be liked (their end of the match), and with whom you feel safe enough to grow and develop (your part of the match). In fact, the process of finding that ideal therapist may in itself be an important part of your healing process.

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