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What To Do When Your Therapist Quits?

Question:

I have been in therapy with the same clinical psychologist for 10 years. For the most part, we have seen each other or talked by phone every week for the entire 10 years. I did the work and became a new person. In the last year, repressed memories of abuse surfaced for the first time for which I am having difficulty processing. In this year, my life and the therapist’s life have fallen apart for different reasons. However, now the therapist tells me in a session that we are done. The therapist can not handle me anymore. I am kind of lost here struggling with memories and now the lose of this person who has been an integral part of life. Should I find someone else or go it alone?

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  • Dr. Dombeck responds to questions about psychotherapy and mental health problems, from the perspective of his training in clinical psychology.
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Answer:

It is very sad when a productive ten year therapy relationship ends. It doesn’t take much to see that you are grieving this therapy termination as a very profound loss. It is clear from your letter that this therapist was a very important if not critical support to you during trying times and that you have come to depend upon your therapist. It is very sad that this support and this particular therapy context can no longer be available to you. It is also sad that the timing is so bad now that you’ve got this new issue of abuse memories to discuss.

Still, the larger perspective here is that all human relationships have in common that they come to an end and therapy relationships are no different. You are worried that your therapist can no longer "handle you", but there are multiple senses of what that phrase can mean. You might be thinking that you’ve done something to cause your therapist to dislike you so intensely that he cannot work with you anymore. This is unlikely, it seems to me, especially after a 10 year ongoing relationship. A more likely occurrence would be that something has changed in the therapist’s life which is affecting his ability to see patients in general. Where I’m going with this is that whatever it is that is causing your therapist to terminate the relationship, it is probably not personal. It might feel personal, but try to keep in mind that it probably isn’t as this knowledge will help make the separation more tolerable.

If you feel you’ve got continuing issues that would benefit from continuing therapy, as seems to be the case, then by all means continue with therapy. You will need to find a new therapist, of course. Your old therapist can and should help refer you to a new therapist or two who might be a good fit for you.

Be prepared to resent the new therapist for a good long while. You’ve been rejected by the previous therapist even though I doubt it was personal. When you feel attached to a relationship and that relationship ends, you tend to take it hard. This is even more the case when it is your therapist who has needed to end the relationship. Therapists are supposed to have the power to cure (or so patients often think) and so it might feel a double betrayal that your therapist turned out to be just human in the end. You can and should talk about any such grief or anger feelings you have with your new therapist, and also expect to need to test and distrust the new therapist for a good long while. It’s normal to grieve significant losses (and yes, this qualifies as a significant loss); it hurts; As best you can, however, you move forward and you get on with the business of taking care of yourself and those you love.

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Comments
  • The Client

    Thanks. I am one the who had the therapist quit after a ten year relationship. Thank you for the gentle comments. I am going to try things on my own and see how it goes.

  • mentor

    I really appauld you for attempting to go it on your own but it would probably be in your best interest to search out a therapist that is sensitive to your particuliar needs so that he/she could help you get through the rough spots. Good Luck

  • Trisha

    I have been with the same PTSD/DBT therapist for (5) years and she decided that she didn't want to be my therapist any more because of my behavior. I have been thru many therapist. She knew this and stated that unless I attempted suicide she would never leave me. We had a contract and yet she broke the contract. She said I have been thru more trauma than any client she has ever had but she knows she can help me. She told me time and time again as long as I didn't break our contract she would not leave me. She said I would be her client until we are both old and gray. She told me I could trust her. I tested her alot thru our (5) years together but she never left me. We have dealt with many things together and my deep sadness and anger I had more trouble experiencing. She told me that I could trust her and I told her that I am scared that I'll never stop crying or wouldn't be able to control my anger. She said she is stronger than I think and she could handle anything that happened. Well, I began to experience some anger and fear and also deep sadness all at the same time. I went to her office and yelled at her and such because I just did not know how to handle what was happening to me. She put me in the hospital and then came the next day to the hospital and said because of my behavior she will not be my therapist anymore. I finally trusted her at her word, she said she could handle any feelings that I experienced and she would help me thru them and would never leave me. I did not break our contract and yet she decided to break the contract when the overload of feelings came out. Yet this was supposedly her goal since we have been together. So I am now experiencing the most painful feelings of abandonment and lonliness and fear that I have ever experienced. She knew I had many abandonment issues because of my childhood. Why did she think leaving me at the hospital and saying she will never have contact with me again would be the correct thing to do. All that did was cause me to be more suicidal than I have been in years. I trusted her at her word. I don't understand why she states she specializes in PTSD AND DBT and thinks it is okay to treat people who are already abused sexually, physically, emotionally and spiritually as children and the client truly gives their heart to them and trust them that it is okay to put them through all the same abandonment that they felt as a child. So now she leaves when the going gets tough. What a cop out. I don't understand why Marsha Linehan(created DBT program)and people who are over psychologist allow therapist to just give up when they get the client to the hardest part of the therapy. Why is it okay for psychotherapist to be considered only human when they know the emotional trauma that they will now cause this client who really believed in them. They may only be human but they also make promises and have taken courses for what they say they can handle. My therapist knew I was and challenge and said she could help me anyway. They tell us to never give up and yet they give up. The trauma from losing a therapist and the therapist state it is because of you, knowing that how you reacted is part of why you are in therapy. The DBT therapists state that they will teach you how to act differently when you mess up and that they won't leave you. Also, DBT states that everyone is human and deserves another chance as long as they give a repair. Well I gave my therapist many repairs, I cried out to her, it is so painful. The emptiness and lonliness and the open hole is even larger and now I am even more damaged emotionally than I was when I first came to her. She convinced me that I could trust her and that she was strong enought. What really hurts the most is that therapist learn how to detach, so when they abandon you the only one who is damaged is the client. DBT is suppose to be so wonderful and yet I feel so abandoned by my therapist and Marsha Linehan who states they can help people. Well, why isn't the therapist held accountable for their actions against clients who are already in so much pain and then the therapist decides when the hardest part happens to abandon you and make you feel like it is all your fault. You already hate yourself and now your therapist punishes you for actions that are normal for how you were treated and they cause even more painful abandonment issues. So I don't want to hear that they are only human. She studied and stated that she specializes in these fields. She also knew how I am and that I am suicidal at times. Yet, she convinced me to trust her and then she abandons me. She is causing more harm to her client than the client even felt before she ever came to her. Therapist seem to feel no pain and they can move on because they have the knowledge on how to detach. How cruel to make a client think they really care about them and that they can trust them and knowing their abandon ment issues, turn around and abandon them in the hospital. Leave when the going gets tough. I just don't understand why Marsha Linehan doesn't hold her therapist who are teaching DBT accountable for giving up and abandoning clients, when the whole reason she developed DBT was to help clients not hurt them. Yet no-one holds these therapist accountable. VERY INVALIDATING, MOST INVALIDATION I HAVE EVER GONE THROUGH!!! I feel so defeated and hopeless. I have decided to go into a treatment hospital which my therapist suggested a couple of years ago but my insurance didn't cover it then. Why, instead of abandoning me, didn't she try to send me to the treatment center for more help(she knew my new insurance covered it)and still remain my therapist for when I came out. There was no reason for her to do that cruel of abandonment. Just kick PTSD in full gear and wanting to rehurt myself and even wanting to commit suicide. The one person who said they believed in me, gave up on me. I feel very hopeless and so much pain. I feel like she hates me and I really cared about her and she told me she loved me. What a liar!!! You don't say all these things and make all these promises when you know the devastation that they can cause. Being human is not a good enough excuse when you have gone to college and have chose this career and have promised your client that you can be trusted and then do this kind of harm. Maybe, you are in the wrong field. I can't believe the cop out excuse of they are only human. Well, they are messing with peoples lives and they know how to get clients dependent on them and it should not be okay for them to be only human, not with people who have been thru so much trauma already. How do they sleep at night and justify how they treat their clients. It is manipulative and cruel.

  • Anonymous-1

    OMG,

    I just read the post regarding the Therapist leaving after 5 years ect. the exact thing happened to me to the tee, the only thing is my old therapist told me over the phone and said I have 1 month to talk to her and that is it. To make matters worse she said "I will have someone call you when I die" so you know that I'm no longer alive.

    We set a date to meet for the last time, she said I can do what ever I want... well she did not agree on anything I live 2 hours away from her so she came to see me after her camping thing...well, she brought a friend with her not only did she bust me with her friend knowing I'm a client but her friend called her every 2 minutes. I asked her if she was hungry she said no I already ate...so, there goes that...we attempted to walk down the path to the river, she gave me a glass rooster thing I still don't know why I ended up in the emergency room cause the roosters glass feet broke in my hand 3 stiches later that night, she told me she had another gift and will send it later 38 day's later it never came until I called her to ask why and behold some candles and a note came...what a bitch I spent so much money for 10 years. I think it's a bunch of bull and they are playing feelings to make money they don't care about you, they are abusers period.

  • Linda Mcewen

    My therapist did the same thing to me, abandonment. She hurt me so much that I am afraid that I may never recover from the harm. She actually told me I was a bad person and that she wanted me to die by suicide but not when I was her patient. I will never trust another therapist again. They don't really care and will lie to you to protect themselves. They put themselves before the client.

  • EJ Denkel

    I posted the original on 2/4/08. The answer from Mark Dombeck gave me hope and comfort. First, let me tell you that the therapist had gone a thru a divorce and then become very ill with surgery in a life threatening situation. So, the quitting was sudden. With the help of friends who were also professionsal therapist, I went on to find a trauma therapist who moved me thru the memories and processing quickly. It is now been over two years later, I am fine and the former therapist who I just saw in a social setting recently is good. It has been a long journey but well worth it. Thanks Mark, you really kept me on the road when I needed it. Ej

  • Bongo

    I fell upon this article by accident..After 7 years my therapist/friend is leaving... but this article did not , may I say...up lift nor give hope.. maybe because I am in the midst of this storm.. I have been blooging about my therapy/healing experience..my therapist is leaving in 3 weeks and as we get closer i have watched myself deteriorate ...to a non functioning adult.... I have been through hell and back and I have always functioned....but this has gone beyond...this is far beyond grief .....

    http://bongoisme.blogspot.com/

  • Anonymous-2

    I am in the midst of some of the worst pain of my life. My therapist dropped the bomb two days before Christmas. The worst of it? I have a bad case of erotic transference on the dude, who is 24 years younger than me, and he knows it. He never wanted to discuss it. Before the session where he told me, I heard him screaming at somebody over the phone. He's extremely attractive, and his wife is expecting. He was always saying borderline flattering/flirtatious things to me, but they never "took" until I cried one day at a crass remark he made about my sloppy appearance and he held my hand for ten minutes and cried minutes. I'd known him for nearly 18 months at that point and BINGO! in love for this old bag. I smell a rat, a BIG one. He claims he got a better job offer, but so quickly? I once mentioned that I was sexually attracted a much younger man and he said he was sexually attracted to some clients and that was normal. Inappropriate? You bet. At our last meeting he poured on the charm about how much he'd miss me, blah, blah, blah, how many times he'd catch himself thinking about me during the day. Total crap. The guy's a player. I am still hopelessly in love with an a-hole who loves to spout Jung (who, by the way, slept with a client) and is an atheist. I hate/love him for messing with my mind and leaving me feeling abandoned and nearly suicidal. I am sure I am NOT alone. An intuitive voice tells me he was fired.

  • Mental Health Help Does Not Exist

    I hope these comments serve as a warning to you all. NEVER EVER EVER TRUST ANY THERAPIST, PSYCHOLOGIST OR ANY OTHER KIND OF MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL.

    I knew one of the world's most famous psychologists (somebody courted by world leaders and celebs) and she became a very good friend after I contacted her for help with depression. Three years ago, she turned her back on me to concentrate on her TV work. It left me devastated and I have never recovered from it. My life was rubbish before she came along. But she allowed me to work with her on lots of things and gave me so much hope.

    To have it all taken away destroyed me and ruined my life. Absolutely no way would I ever trust anyone like this ever ever again.

    Be warned.

  • E J Denkel

    Well, here I am again - the original post. In the 2010 post, I told you I had moved on to a trauma therapist and was doing well. This therapist has helped to eliminate all my 'triggers' from the early childhood trauma. This therapist wants to quit. So, I am assuming it is me. I do have some problems and have decided I have enough tools to function thru life. The goal is not to be perfect just make it, eh? I am older and close to retirement. So, maybe I need to just say: this is who I am....and go with it.

  • Sira

    The thing about any therapist is that they are detached from the client but expect the client to become attached to them, and then the client does and then the therapist fires them or quits or gets sick and leaves them in the lurch. Now therapists are human so they will get sick if they live long enough or they will drop dead, but here is the problem-they rarely have any back up for the patient who is left to deal with their grief. If you go to a new therapist they will be the same and beware of anyone who ever, ever says that they are sticking around for the long haul. They are deluded or lying. In short, the whole relationship is built on dishonesty and is not healthy. Stay away from psycho-therapists of any sort

  • Anonymous-3

    I treated with my DBT therapist and psychiatrist for 18 months and when I committed to no self harm/suicide I kept my promise. Meanwhile when I was switched to Prozac and feeling hopeless than told to go cold turkey with no meds, they had me involuntarily admitted to the hospital. I stayed inpatient for 7 days and I said I would do anything to continue treating with them yet I was told over the phone while still in patient that they would not treat me again. I am devastated. Is it true they detach and they really have no feelings for the client? Is it really just a business and they needed to get rid of me for reasons I will never know?

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