Is this how therapy is supposed to end?
November 11, 2017 6:23 PM   Subscribe

I am wondering what experiences other people have had ending a relationship with a therapist. I recently decided to terminate my relationship with my therapist, and the experience has left me feeling pretty terrible.

Here's the background: I had been seeing a psychiatrist, "Dr. S", for about eight months, twice weekly. Dr. S specializes in psychoanalytic psychotherapy. I mainly talked to her about my dysfunctional fucked-up family. In particular, I spent a lot of time talking about my sister who tends to be highly defensive and has shut me out for years at a time (we're both in our late thirties).

Seeing Dr. S almost always made me feel worse rather than better. I left our sessions feeling torn up, and alone in that feeling. I often felt judged rather than supported. In retrospect, I should have stopped seeing her sooner (I also think that she, as an experienced professional, should have recognized much earlier that our relationship was not working).

In my second to last session with Dr. S, we had a fight. I wanted to ask her about a point she's made in a previous session. Before even hearing me out, she interrupted me, saying that she didn't want to discuss specific points from a previous session. She said that if I wanted to question or disagree with something she said, I must do so in the moment (vs. bringing it up in a later session). She also noted that I had failed to address the issue in question in the moment because I have a fear of confrontation and a discomfort with my own aggression (she's not wrong on these counts).

I felt like Dr. S shut me down, and that, furthermore, there were topics that were off limits in therapy. I felt upset and angry and told Dr. S as much. At the end of this session, Dr. S apologized for her initial reaction, but stated that she was only defensive because I had "attacked" her at the beginning of the session. Looking back on this interaction, I feel genuinely confused. I had come to the session with questions for Dr. S and it was only when she refused to even hear me out that I became upset. Note that I didn't yell or scream or curse at any point, though I was visibly angry.

After this session, I thought a lot about our disagreement and our general rapport (or lack thereof) and decided that I didn't want to continue to see her. In my last session with Dr. S, I told her that I didn't think that it was working for all of the reasons outlined above. I was polite and concise. After, I asked Dr. S. if there was anything she wanted to say. I waited in silence as she wrote copious notes for a minute or two (excruciating). Finally, she said that she agreed with me: it wasn't working. She reiterated that her defensive reaction in our previous session was because I have aggression issues and because I had attacked her. I asked if she would be willing to refer me and she gave me the names of two other psychoanalysts. She said she was sorry it hadn't worked and that was that. My last session with Dr. S. lasted a total of about seven minutes.

I am upset with the way things ended. I was not surprised that she too wanted to terminate the relationship, but I am horrified, hurt and angered by the abrupt manner of the termination. I don't know what to do with these feelings. I don't know if I should send Dr. S a letter telling her how I feel, make an official complaint about her, or just write down my thoughts in a journal. The whole experience has left me with a bad taste in my mouth and a feeling of distrust and dislike of psychiatrists and psychotherapy. Ultimately, I feel like Dr. S treated me in the same manner as my sister (being defensive, shutting me out). Knowing me, I think she should have ended our relationship differently.

Has anyone else had a similar experience, and if so what did you find helpful to get though / past it? Should I call Dr. S out on her behaviour?
posted by PrincessCrouton to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Move on and forget her. Don't waste the emotional energy on this.

She sounds like a crap therapist. Topics off limits? You can't ask discuss specific points from previous sessions? No time for reflection? Seriously?

Her termination of the session, however, gets no call out from me. You said your piece, she said her piece; she apologized it didn't work and gave you references. That's all that's necessary. Why would you want to drag it on for the rest of the hour knowing that it was going to go nowhere?

If you want to journal and feel that would be beneficial, go for it. You might be better off just moving on with your life and finding another therapist.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:48 PM on November 11, 2017 [24 favorites]

Yeah, I second the suggestion to move on and forget her. It might be partly because of her chosen dynamic (psychoanalytic), but I think more than that she just sounds like an asshole. I strongly recommend that you don't write her a letter; it's not worth it, and I doubt she would react well. You can make a complaint if you want to, but I bet if you give it a few days you won't feel like putting in the effort to do so. Journalling about her might be helpful, but beyond that I think finding another therapist is the most useful thing to do. Make a point of thinking in the first few sessions of how you feel after you leave. And in my experience, therapists should be open to talking about what you want to talk about, including things from previous sessions or things about the therapeutic relationship that you share.
posted by lilies.lilies at 7:02 PM on November 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have ended therapy with three professionals and it has never ended this way. I'm sorry. This sounds like a bad match for you both.

Personally I would not take Dr S's recommendations for other therapists because I wouldn't trust they understand what you need; plus, it may just be that psychoanalytic psychotherapy is not the modality that works for you. There are other types, you know? In fact, none of the therapists I have met with have been psychiatrists; I see those as physicians who specialize in prescribing medication, not therapy. You might want to explore what else is out there.
posted by joan_holloway at 7:07 PM on November 11, 2017 [9 favorites]

I'm so sorry you went through all this. I hope it does not hurt your willingness to move forward with therapy.

To second a couple other things that were said, I would run from any psychoanalyst she suggested. I question her judgment, and I also wouldn't put it past her to give an icky referral about what are obviously her personal issues. I really like the therapist finder tool at . It's highly searchable and you can read what they say in their own words.

Finally, I agree that, whereas this therapeutic relationship was a trash fire, having a short last session is okay. It's not like you could get into anything with her knowing you're leaving, plus you already articulated why you two aren't a good fit. I can imagine, though, that given all the things you wanted (and deserved) from her and didn't get, that you would be holding out for some of that during your last session. It seems this is one of those times you'll have to make your own closure.

PS: Kudos to you for getting out when things got really bad and for articulating all of that to her. Good luck with your next therapist.
posted by mermaidcafe at 7:18 PM on November 11, 2017 [6 favorites]

It's bizarre she got so defensive and started accusing you of attacking her. She certainly didn't handle it well at all. To me it sounds like she's just not very good at her job.

On your part, it seems like you've known for a while this wasn't working out. I think it would better serve you in the future to end therapy sooner when there's such a clash.

Sometimes when you leave a session it's normal to feel upset. That can be the result of talking about upsetting things. However, I think you should always feel supported by your therapist, and know that they are on your side. If you start to doubt those things with a new therapist, I recommend bringing it up with them. You'll likely find out from that discussion whether they really do support you, and it's just hard for you to see, or if there's a clash between the type of therapy you need and the type they can provide.
posted by blackzinfandel at 7:28 PM on November 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

As someone who's gone through something very similar: it's okay if you can't move on and forget it. It was an absolutely shitty and insensitive way for a professional entrusted with your emotional well-being to behave. She's an asshole and if you feel like you want to make a complaint you're well within your rights to do so; imo her behavior goes beyond "bad fit".
posted by colorblock sock at 8:18 PM on November 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

I also broke up with a clinician (mine was a psych APRN) after one-too-many sessions that left me feeling worse than before. (Like, lots of interrupting, lots of Mars/Venus gender essentialism and homeopathy woo, lots of that icky feeling that our sessions were more about my validating her ego than anything else). Leaving that last-straw appointment felt icky but it was SO EMPOWERING to drive away saying, “Yeah, that’s it, I’m done, I’ll start all over if I have to.”

I agree that this provider might not be the best source of a re-referral. Depending on your coverage/network/whatever, you may have better luck contacting them for same: in my case, everything gets referred through an EAP, so I was able to phone someone and say “Heyyyyyy, I’m sure this kind of treatment would be great for some folks, but I was really troubled by the John Grey nonsense and the conversational bulldozing and how she delayed my appointments to open boxes of clothes in her office, so can I get someone who’s less about those things?”

I got reassigned to a PA who listens attentively, and types at a WPM that can capture my self-interrupting streams of logorrhoea, and doesn’t keep insisting I need (McDrug) for (condition I don’t have) because I’m a woman and we always have (condition I don’t have).

Before Nurse Ridiculous and Current Great PA, I also saw Bland Psy.D. who meant well but we just couldn’t communicate meaningfully. Something about me was too eager to impress him with my high-functioning-ness, so I downplayed all my issues, and SURPRISE! Nothing helpful took place.

Similar story with two LCSWs: one was very smart but had a hard time relating to someone with different beliefs/experiences, and the other was so well-suited (and helpful!) that I can still hardly believe she was real.

All of which is to say that some of this is probably down to your current doc being generally awful, and some of it is down to the fit between patient and provider. That feeling of distrusting the whole profession is COMPLETELY normal, but I swear there’s a clinician out there who can help you override that feeling and make actual progress.

If you’re anything like me, the sense of distrust is compounded by a natural tendency to second-guess your own icky feelings about this clinician. They might SEEM like proof that you won’t work well with any clinician because you’re Hopelessly-Pre-Broken and any good doc/nurse/counselor would have to leave you feeling permanently scarred or exposed and humiliated.

I call this the “Tingle Tells You It’s Working!” mentality. If this has the ring of familiarity, just remember that a caustic burn or searing throb is not the same thing as a tingle. You might feel vulnerable or wistful or spent-out or exhausted after a session, but you shouldn’t feel like you’ve absorbed more toxicity than you’ve released.

You can trust your judgment enough to use it on other prospective therapists. It may take a few tries to find someone who’s really compatible, but mediocre mismatches are more common than clashes as bad as the one you just survived. And you did survive it: you were smart enough to recognize that this was an unhealthy working relationship, and you were brave enough to walk away from it, so please give yourself some credit for that.
posted by armeowda at 8:44 PM on November 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'd be hesitant about her recommendations and at the very least would do a little background research to see what their other clients say. It's not completely impossible that she could recognize a good therapist even if she isn't one .. I'd just be cautious.

How would you have liked the session to end? I had one therapist I'd seen for a couple of years and when we terminated - on good terms - we had a sort of debriefing session which was the length of a full session. But in this situation it sounds like she doesn't have what it takes to make you feel supported and by the time you terminated, she knew it. Ending the session quickly probably saved you more unnecessary frustration and drama from her.

Or more or less what mermaidcafe said.
posted by bunderful at 8:49 PM on November 11, 2017

It's very limiting that she wouldn't let you discuss things from previous sessions. It doesn't sound like you attacked her. Being upset was valid, and you weren't mean about it. I'm sorry that she made accusations. Since she has been so harsh, I don't think that it's a good idea to try to talk to her about her behavior. I think she'd get even more accusatory, which you don't deserve. I don't think that it's a good idea to go with either of her recommendations. She doesn't understand you, so she wouldn't understand what kind of therapist you need. Psychology Today has a large directory of therapists.
posted by Eevee at 11:02 PM on November 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've ended two long term therapy runs in my life. The one with the extremely well suited therapist took three full sessions to wind down. The one with the poorly suited therapist took 10 minutes.

Still, firing your therapist (which I was definitely doing in the second case) sucks.

I'm not sure there's any way around that. I guess I would be asking yourself what Dr. S could have done or said in the last session that would have left you feeling better. And whatever that was, start giving it to yourself. :-)

Nothing you have described is the sort of thing that merits a formal board report, but engaging with a few doctor review sites might help you feel like your experience isn't for naught.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:57 PM on November 11, 2017

Therapists spending minutes jotting things down and then speak to me in a clipped sentence or two are automatically a bad fit for me. I think it was good you didn't have to spend any more time with her after you told her you were firing her. I agree she not only sounds like a bad fit, but also a bad therapist. Good luck on your next one!
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 7:35 AM on November 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

This sounds horrible! I'm so sorry this happened to you. Before I get to what what concretely I would do in this situation, let me respond to this:

"Before even hearing me out, she interrupted me, saying that she didn't want to discuss specific points from a previous session. She said that if I wanted to question or disagree with something she said, I must do so in the moment"

WHOA that sounds so harsh. I have a fear of confrontation too - especially with "authority" figures. And you know what my therapist does when I do exactly what you did - she *celebrates* it. She warmly accepts any questions - even criticisms - I have of her approach. She first validates my experience and feelings. She then explains from her perspective so that I have some insight into why she approached it like that - but never getting defensive or diminishing my experience. She *apologizes* for making me feel badly. She finishes by saying I should feel proud of myself for bringing up this difficult topic. She never criticizes how I bring it up - or when I bring it up. In real life, you are MORE than allowed to confront someone about an issue ANYtime. It doesn't have to be in the moment (though that's a wonderful thing to work toward). And you know what this does??? It makes me more comfortable with confrontation - more likely in real life to stand up for myself. I'm telling you this to assure you that there are wonderful therapists out there who won't make you feel shitty for standing up for yourself.

I think this is a great example of not only why this wasn't a match but why Dr. S sounds like a sub-par therapist.

So here's what I would do if I were you:

1. Write down all the feelings you're feeling - angry, sad, betrayed, alone, small, scared.

2. Write that letter to her - express your anger! Say how you want someone in your court, supporting you. Don't send this letter. Do what feels right with it - burn it or seal it in an envelope and put it in a special place.

3. Write a letter to yourself that you'd want to get from a therapist in this situation - saying how sorry you are that Dr. S. made you feel this way. That you don't deserve that treatment. That you deserve to me talked to in *this* particular way. Write down how you wish the situation would have gone down.

4. Once you do these things, if these feelings continue to come up - take very, very good, kind care of yourself. Feel the feelings, but don't grip them tightly or feel frustrated that they're not going away. Take baths, exercise hard, go for long walks, eat nourishing food - whatever makes you feel taken-care-of. Remind yourself - these feelings are temporary. You won't feel them as strongly in a week - and may not feel them at all in 2 weeks. Send love to yourself when these feelings come up.

5. Make an appointment with 2-3 therapists you find with different approaches. Reach out for personal recommendations from friends if you can, otherwise use the Psychology Today therapist search (that's how I found my wonderful therapist). You are *interviewing* someone for a job - for the privilege of working *for* you and being quite intimate with you.

6. In these appointments, tell these therapists about the situation with your previous therapist. Their response will give you insight to how they might approach a similar situation. Tell them how you felt shitty after sessions regularly. Tell them you're seeing a couple other therapists to find the right fit. ASK them if they think they're the right fit for you. Ask them what type of therapy they think would benefit you. Tell them you'll get back to them in a couple weeks if you want to continue sessions.

7. Once you've had these appointments with these different therapists, see who the right fit for you is. Remember that you can go to 3-4 sessions and reverse your decision! You're not locked in!

You can do it! You accidentally partnered with a bad apple. You can find a wonderful one in the next batch. You deserve it!
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 10:15 AM on November 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

She sounds like a shitty therapist. I wouldn’t call her out; I think you’d be better served by finding a therapist who is a good fit and processing it with them instead.

I’ve seen six different therapists for varying lengths of time. Two were really excellent and helped me enormously. Three were mediocre or a just bad fit (it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes), and didn’t help me much but didn’t hurt either. One was mildly shitty and definitely made things a bit worse than they were. I’m sorry that your experience was so bad, and I hope you can find someone better in the future!
posted by insectosaurus at 10:45 AM on November 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

I can't believe you were expected to pay someone who made you feel judged, put you on the defensive, put topics off limit and created more issues than they solved, making you feel worse than before.

What would make you feel better about this? (Personally I'd want my money back but that's just me and I'm pretty sure that's not a reasonable thing to expect!) Would you like to make a complaint, give a bad review, find a different therapist or just put the whole thing behind you and move on? You could call her out on her bad behaviour but it sounds like she's already acknowledged it herself, so....
posted by Jubey at 1:07 PM on November 12, 2017

"If I could have brought it up in the moment, I wouldn't need therapy." How could someone with a fear of confrontation bring things up in the moment? That you managed to bring them up in a later session is a good sign.
"Only" defensive because you "attacked" her? Is this person actually trained in psychoanalytic psychotherapy or is it just someone with a psychiatric degree trying things out? If she cannot deal with feeling attacked without responding in kind, she needs to go into another line of work. She doesn't get to explain her mistake by blaming your "aggression issues."

You need to find someone who isn't afraid of your anger. Ask potential therapists if they are able to deal with your angry feelings which may come out directed at them. And then look and see how comfortable they are with your question.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:54 PM on November 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

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