Don't talk in circles or give up one hour a week if it's not working.
When you're down in the dumps, the last thing you feel like dealing with is dumping your therapist. (Um, wasn't your shrink supposed to make you feel better?) But just like with any other relationship, things don't always work out.
"Sometimes you need to try out a few different therapists to find the right fit," says Lindsay Henderson, Psy.D., a psychologist who treats patients digitally via the app LiveHealth Online. But couch surfing until you meet The One is worth it. "A strong relationship between a patient and therapist is one of the most important factors to a good outcome in therapy," she adds. (BTW, everyone should try therapy at least once.)
Therapists share the scenarios that are worthy of calling it quits:
1. You leave every session feeling disappointed. It's common for your emotions to be all over the place after meeting with your psychologist—it is therapy after all. But if you wrap up every appointment and feel like you didn't get what you needed, are confused, or seem unusually depressed, it could be a red flag, says Mia Biran, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Oxford, OH. "Of course therapy sessions can be very good and still elicit painful feelings, but if this is the case over a long period of time, something is wrong," she adds.
2. It got tense—and now things are weird. So you got into a heated exchange with your shrink? That in itself isn't automatically a cause for ghosting on your mental health care provider—emotions can run high when discussing deep stuff. If your therapist takes the lead in talking it out, it's likely you can move past the testy moment. But if things go unresolved and you feel misunderstood or awkward, it's an indicator that you need to leave the relationship, says Biran.
3. The advice doesn't feel right. It's true that your therapist is the pro, and you'll need to learn to trust in what he or she has to say. But if you're consistently disagreeing or feeling resentful about the person's opinion, this is a big deal breaker, says Biran. The psychologist's advice shouldn't be a distraction to your treatment. A disconnect can arise due to a generational gap, gender difference, spiritual approach, or a fundamental disagreement over the course of treatment.
4. There's a lack of experience. Just like you wouldn't go to your dentist to get your birth control, the same is true for therapy. Depending on what you're going through—daily anxiety, an eating disorder, trauma—you need someone who has a solid handle on what you're dealing with and has training in the methods that evidence shows will help you, says David Kupfer, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in private practice in Falls Church, VA. What your mental health care provider doesn't know could prove to be a real disadvantage to your recovery. "You want a therapist who has seen hundreds of people with your problem," says Kupfer.
5. One of your therapist's key qualities is flakiness. Bad behavior isn't just for dating. It can, unfortunately, happen in the professional setting, too, says Eric Endlich, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in Needham, MA. So if your therapist is always running late to appointments, cancels at the last minute, keeps a messy office, or takes calls during your visit, you may be able to find a better match with someone else. (Related: 6 Types of Therapy That Go Beyond a Couch Session)
6. You're experiencing communication issues. Being able to talk to each other is, you know, pretty important. You want someone who has a spot-on sense for when to probe and when to pass the tissues and sit back and listen. It's a troubling sign if your therapist is talking too much or not at all, Henderson says. Even deeper: Your psychologist should pay attention to what you want to get out of therapy, and be able to communicate with you so you can accomplish that, she adds.
7. You get a judgy vibe. What you bring up in therapy should never be something you feel ashamed or embarrassed about. If you get the sense that your therapist is being flippant or snide about your situation, say goodbye, says Henderson. In this situation, it's definitely them and not you.
8. Romantic feelings develop. It may sound like a chick lit plot, but it really does happen. Therapy is a very intimate experience and your therapist should never take advantage of that. But if boundaries are crossed, it's imperative you seek out another therapist immediately, says Henderson. (Related: Prince Harry Explains Why Going to Therapy Is So Important)
9. Your appointment feels like a gossip sesh. A good back-and-forth banter is great, but remember: You're not the sounding board. It's not a good sign if your therapist is talking excessively about him or herself, or about another patient, says Endlich. A gabby conversation hog? Maybe not the best trait for a psychologist.
10. You're getting nowhere. Therapy can be a complicated road, but if you aren't seeing any results, that's pretty telling. "Both patient and therapist may get comfortable enjoying the exercise of talking repetitively about emotional issues week after week and year after year," says Kupfer. While this long-term commitment might help your therapist pay his or her mortgage every month, your work together should include behavior change goals, and most problems should ideally have a time-limited solution. "Old-school therapy was expected to go on forever, but modern therapists are teachers—inviting patients to drop in, learn coping skills, and then go out and apply them in real life," he says.
11. There just isn't chemistry. It's important to feel a true connection with your therapist, says Kupfer. It's the secret ingredient to being able to accept constructive criticism from your therapist without feeling attacked and allows you to fully open up. How to know if the two of you have a "spark"? Here's your checklist: A comfortable conversational rapport, the impression that your psychologist genuinely cares about you, the sense that you're respected, a belief that the person understands how to help you change your behavior, and a feeling of safety.