When Should You Consider Changing Therapists?
Therapy is an integral part of addiction treatment and most people will continue therapy, at least intermittently, throughout recovery. In an ideal situation, your therapist is your partner in mental health.
You work together to figure out what’s not working in your life and what to do about it. However, as with any relationship, your relationship with your therapist might not be very good or it may start out good and later fall apart. Here are some times you should consider finding a new therapist.
Obviously, if you’re moving, you may have to find a new therapist. Consistency is important in therapy and if you have to drive an hour or more to appointments, it will probably wear you down eventually. However, geography is becoming less of a barrier to treatment these days.
Many therapists were already expanding to remote sessions and that number has probably increased dramatically, since, at the moment, we’re all under quarantine to slow the spread of the coronavirus. So if you like your therapist and you’re moving, see if remote therapy is an option. Otherwise, consider asking your therapist for a recommendation for someone who can see you remotely or who works in the area you’re moving to.
Unprofessional conduct is definitely a sign you should consider switching therapists. It depends to some extent on how bad the conduct is. For example, breaching confidentiality or making sexual advances should make you dump your therapist right away. These behaviors are pretty rare, given that the vast majority of therapists genuinely want to help people and they depend greatly on their professional reputation.
Other forms of unprofessional conduct might include missing appointments, showing up late, or canceling appointments last minute. Sometimes these things are unavoidable, so it shouldn’t be considered unprofessional unless it becomes a pattern. Behaviors, like looking at their phone during your session, eating, or otherwise not paying attention, are also not encouraging. If you generally like your therapist but you’re bothered by these behaviors, it might be worth a discussion before moving on to someone else.
You Feel Like You’re Not Making Progress
You may get to the point in therapy where you feel like you’re not making any progress. Ideally, you will have set out some goals for therapy and some benchmarks so you can tell how you’re progressing, so it should be fairly obvious when you’re stuck. Another way you can tell you're stuck is if you feel like every session is the same.
You come in and complain about the same things for 50 minutes, then leave and nothing seems to change. Therapy can start to feel like a chore if you’re not getting anything out of it. If this happens, discuss it with your therapist. Perhaps you can change strategies or re-examine your goals.
Your Needs Change
Sometimes people find that they make a lot of progress in therapy at first and then somehow they get stuck. This is often because your needs change as you go. For example, maybe when you first started in therapy, your biggest challenge was coping with drug and alcohol cravings but as you got those under control, you found the biggest problem in your life was your relationships.
Yet your therapist keeps focusing on managing cravings and so you feel bored and stuck. Typically, your therapist will check in from time to time and make sure your needs are being met, but they are not mind readers. If your goals have shifted, you need to let them know. Usually, you will be able to refocus and work on your new priorities.
However, therapists, like everyone else, are better at some things than others. It’s possible your therapist was great at helping you deal with cravings but not so good at helping you improve your relationships. If that turns out to be the case, it may be time to look for a therapist whose strengths better match your needs.
You Feel Like You Can’t Speak Freely
If there’s one thing that’s essential in a therapist-client relationship, it’s that you should be able to speak freely. This is why confidentiality is so critical. You can’t be worried about whether your therapist is going to testify against you in court or blab all your secrets to their barber if you’re going to share what’s really bothering you.
However, confidentiality isn’t the whole issue. If you feel like your therapist is judgmental or critical, it can be just as hard to speak openly, as if doubting their discretion.One skill every therapist should have is non-judgmental listening. As a client, you should feel heard and validated.
That doesn’t mean your therapist has to approve of everything you say or do, just that you shouldn’t be made to feel like a bad person. However, we all have our prejudices and sore spots. It’s not always possible for your therapist to refrain from judgment. If you raise the issue and it doesn’t improve, it might indicate that your therapist isn’t the best person to help you with your particular issues.
Your Therapist Has Boundary Issues
Healthy boundaries means you protect what’s important to you and you respect what’s important to others. A good therapist might give you suggestions but they shouldn’t try to control you, tell you what to do, or otherwise violate your autonomy.
Nor should they be too familiar. While you should feel like you can be open with your therapist, your therapist is not your friend. If they share too much about their personal life or try to have a relationship outside of therapy, it signals a lack of boundaries and you may want to find someone else.
It’s important to keep in mind that it can take a little while for a therapeutic relationship to develop. It may take several months for you to feel comfortable opening up and it may take that long for your therapist to get a clear picture of your background and needs. For those reasons, it’s always better to talk it over first if you are not happy with the way therapy is going. It’s usually better to fix a problem if it can be fixed rather than start over with someone new. However, some problems just can’t be fixed, at which point, you should just move on. At The Foundry, we know that mental health is a key aspect of a strong recovery and we use evidence-based methods to treat substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health issues. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
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