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Is It Me or Is It My Therapist? When to Lean In When Your Relationship With Your Therapist is Difficult and When to Walk Away

Woman speaking to therapist

More than anything else, our relationship your therapist will determine how beneficial your therapy experience will be.


Sometimes it’s hard to know if the difficult dynamics are due to a disconnect with your therapist or if they are a result of relational dynamics that brought you in to therapy in the first place. There are times to lean in when it’s difficult and there are times to recognize when you’d benefit from change, but sometimes it’s hard to know how to move forward.


Therapists vary in personality, experience, mindset and modality. It can be hard to know what you’re looking for in a therapist and it’s impossible to understand the difference between all the modalities, let alone which ones you’ll relate to. Most therapists offer a free 15-20 minute phone call to determine if you are a good fit for each other. If the fee is within your budget and their personality feels agreeable, tell them a little bit about your situation and get a sense for how they work with your problem. If you’re not feeling a connection, keep looking until you feel like you’re spoken with someone who “gets” you.


Once you’ve started with your therapist, it may take a handful of sessions to get a clear sense of whether their approach and personality resonate. If you feel out of sync with your therapist or uncomfortable with their style, you’ll have a sense of this fairly quickly. It’s important to consider whether they are a good fit for you. I wouldn’t advise you to stay with a therapist when you don’t feel the connection is right. You wouldn’t keep dating someone if it didn’t feel right and it’s ok to keep looking for a therapist that aligns with your needs.


That being said, if you’ve struggled to feel seen in relationships or have trust issues, your relationship with a therapist can be a difficult to navigate. If you have been made to feel unsafe, misunderstood, like a burden, or powerless in previous relationships, it’s normal that you bring these fears into your relationship with your therapist. This makes being honest and vulnerable challenging. A good therapist will understand your hesitation and support your autonomy, while also creating safety to talk about hard things and encouraging you to lean in to the work. 


I want to be clear before addressing conflict in the therapy relationship, if your discomfort is in response to a therapist that is in any way inappropriate, abusive, doesn’t respect boundaries, or acts unprofessionally, you should not hesitate to find another therapist.


If you’ve been with your therapist for a while and have felt good about the way they practice and are still feeling unsafe or something starts to upset you, it’s worth pausing to consider whether the experience you’re having is familiar. If you’ve felt this way in many of your relationships, it’s possible that a relational pattern is showing up. This could be a powerful opportunity for healing. Before you decide to end therapy or switch therapists, know that being vulnerable about these feelings and exploring them with your therapist can be a powerful process. The therapy space is a laboratory to help us understand what you’re experiencing, learn how you got here, work toward healing, and experiment with different ways of relating to others.


Therapists are human and we’re going to misunderstand things at times, say the wrong thing, or do something that annoys our clients or hurts their feelings. Our goal as therapists is to create a safe space for you to have an affirming experience when communicating your concerns and asserting your needs. A therapist can only do that if you take the brave step of naming your experience. You deserve to be seen and understood. It may go against every fiber in your body, but if you know your therapist to be understanding, bringing up your concerns could be a powerful experience in building trust. 


A good therapist will be able to hold space for difficult conversation, but may not always provide the type of resolution you want. Depending on the importance of the matter, this may be a time to consider whether the therapist continues to be a good fit for you. And, as you grow, you may find that your needs shift. Outgrowing your therapist is a beautiful thing! Your therapist may be able to shift with you or they may be able to recommend other resources and providers that will you support you better on your journey forward.


Finding a therapist you can build a safe and trusting relationship with is super important in the therapy process. It sets the foundation for the difficult and uncomfortable work of shifting patterns and having a healing emotional experience. Points of dissatisfaction or frustration in your relationship with your therapist are inevitable and these can be opportunities to voice your needs and work through the conflict in a supportive and understanding environment.

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