I don't like my therapist. What can I do?
(Column: Ask the Therapist)
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Can you figure out just what you are unhappy about? Therapy is supposed to be an opportunity to figure things out about yourself. It is an opportunity to have a "corrective experience" -- which means you and the therapist give you a chance to work out how to live better than you learned to do on the way to becoming an adult. The corrective experience should help you to feel loved, unjudged, cared for, and able to talk openly and directly about difficult subjects. The tricky thing about not liking your therapist is to figure out what that dislike is about; and whether the dislike means you should get a different therapist.

If you are a consumer of many years of illness and treatment, then we need to trust that you may know more about professionals than we know about ourselves. If you have had accumulated mental health experiences, and you really feel that this is not working (you don't want to come to therapy, you don't look forward to feeling lighter after the session, you "forget" or break appointments more often than you keep them), then you need to find another therapist either in the clinic that you are in or in another one. Remember that it is important for you to leave with dignity and having gained something, so I would urge you to use a session or more to say goodbye. Therapy is one of the places that I know of that you can speak your mind without fear of retribution -- or it should be. Use your last sessions to be direct and honest, but not abusive. You and the therapist may just not be a good match.

Even if you are an inexperienced consumer, consider if you are disliking your therapist because s/he is making you work, or is confronting you about the stuff you need to do some work on, or is confronting you about yourself. For your own sake, you don't want to run from the very work that therapy is supposed to be about. Therapists call this resistance; and sometimes s/he will call it "resistance" when the difficulty is really about a poor fit in the relationship. But if it is resistance, you only gain by staying and having it out with your therapist. Most of us are "guilty" of resistance: we want to get well without having to examine ourselves; we want to be able to keep on being who/what we are familiar with and yet feel better, or function better. We want to adjust dosages of the medicine and not be open about it. We want to be loved and not have to work at it.

Sometimes we stay with the wrong therapist for the wrong reason. Sometimes we like her/him more than s/he deserves. We fall in love with our idea of the therapist; and we need to look at this love to see what it tells us about what is missing in our lives. I remember as a kid in grade school that I loved the teachers that were strict and fair. The ones that were mean were despised and feared; the ones who couldn't discipline and gave in were understood to be weak. It was the tough, loving teacher who held us to standards that we could reach who had the kids' respect. I think the same thing is true of your therapist. A therapist is not a friend who says yes to everything; neither is the therapist a police officer watching you for crimes. The good therapist is strict and loving, and holds out goals that you can aspire to.

I ask you to think about why you don't like your therapist. If you are intending to move on, give yourself the opportunity to say goodbye. If you are in love with your therapist, ask yourself what it tells you about what you need. But if you decide to leave, don't be afraid and don't be intimidated. There is more than one therapist, and more than one opportunity to do the work you need to do.
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