Successful therapy requires a strong relationship with your therapist, characterized by mutual trust, open communication, and shared goals. But as with any relationship, you may experience disagreements and disappointments with your therapist along the way. At some point you may feel hurt, misunderstood, confused, or angry.
When problems arise, you may be tempted to call it quits, but quitting therapy in most cases should be a last resort — particularly if you have seen the same therapist for a while.
Certainly, serious problems with the therapist — racism, flirtatious behavior, or failure to show up for appointments, for example — are reasons to end the relationship right away and find a new therapist. But many disagreements can be resolved and even result in a stronger bond with your therapist.
There are many potential areas of disagreement or discomfort that can interfere with the therapeutic process. Some you might experience are:
Disagreements or issues with your therapist can sometimes be ongoing and represent a serious problem in the therapeutic relationship, or they can simply be a normal part of therapy. What’s important is that many of them can be resolved.
To decide the next steps after a disagreement, consider your overall relationship with your therapist. Do you feel uncomfortable only when your therapist pushes you to examine difficult feelings or do you dread every session? Are you generally on the same page as far as treatment goals or do you feel that you disagree on almost everything? Do you feel like you have made progress with therapy or have hurt feelings or anger with your therapist made you less willing to even try?
If your experience with your therapist has generally been a positive one, particularly if you have seen them for a while, you’ll probably benefit more from working to repair the relationship than ending it.
Regardless of the problem or area of disagreement, it is important to be honest and open with your therapist about it. The sooner you speak up, the better. Start by letting your therapist know what they have done upset you and how this incident or disagreement makes you feel. Speak respectfully but assertively.
Allow your therapist to respond, and listen. You may have misunderstood a comment or your therapist’s motivation for pushing you to explore topics that make you uncomfortable. If you believe your therapist was in the wrong, let them know. Give them the opportunity to apologize for their role in the conflict. Humility is powerful.
If you’d like to salvage the relationship, let your therapist know. Share any ideas you have for resolving the conflict. Ask for any ideas your therapist has as well. Work together on a resolution, then let it go. Your therapist is a professional whose job is to help you, but they are human. Be willing to forgive and move forward.
Conflict in life is never pleasant, but some conflict in relationships is inevitable. Your relationship with your therapist is no exception. Research shows that working to resolve differences with your therapist can lead to a stronger relationship and a better outcome from therapy. Working through conflict can bolster trust, and honesty and transparency in the face of disagreements is important. Doing so can also help you develop skills, in the context of a safe therapeutic environment, that may serve you well for addressing conflicts and disagreements that are bound to arise with the others in your life.
APA Dictionary of Psychology. (n.d.). Therapeutic Alliance.
Goldsmith, J. (2013). The Value of Difficult Moments in the Client-Therapist Relationship. The Family Institute at Northwestern University.
Schmidt, J. (2016, May). Recognize, Repair, and Resolve: Understanding Ruptures within the Therapeutic Alliance. Retrieved from Sophia, the St. Catherine
University repository website: https://sophia.stkate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1670&context=msw_papers