Can a Therapist Fire a Client?

Yes, they can—but it’s my professional opinion that they shouldn’t.

If you’ve ever been fired from a job, you know it—and it totally sucks. 

But would you even realize it if your therapist terminated you?

They might say that you have done all the work together that you possibly can. 

They might give an excuse for ending things that, in retrospect, sounds suspiciously vague or flimsy. 

In life, relationships are generally a two-way street. Either party could decide at any time to dissolve the friendship / marriage / business partnership / you get the idea. Therapy is the big exception to this rule of reciprocity.

As a client, you should absolutely stop seeing a therapist if you spot red flags or feel like you’re not getting what you need.

But a therapist ending the relationship because of feeling irritated, bored, or turned off by your client? Nope! Not their prerogative. (Maybe so for a coach, but not a therapist… but that’s a blog for another time.)

failure,fired

Let me explain.

When a therapist feels like a client’s sessions aren’t going anywhere, it’s generally because the goal is unclear.

Hard to reach a goal if you have no clue what it is, yeah? No matter how long you two have been working together, it’s never a bad time to revisit the fundamental question of what your patient wants to get out of therapy.

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The Myth of the “Good Patient”

Think for a moment about an ideal prospective client for psychotherapy. This person is open about their past, present, and future. They’re unflinching in their self-reflection. Their insights come fast, and concrete behavioral changes quickly follow. 

What if I told you that, in my clinical experience, real and lasting change actually takes a lot longer for these “good patients”? Often, this kind of patient has an idea of what their goal is. They think they see the pathway to get there. They think there’s something to do

Any experienced mental health professional will tell you that the answers don’t always lie in “doing things” to get you “there.” There are times when all you, as a therapist, can do is regard your patient with benevolent curiosity, interest, and compassion—no matter the client’s behavior. 

Sometimes, this is the only pathway towards a place where the patient can regard themself with that same benevolent curiosity, interest, and compassion. Call it self-loving self-awareness

cartoon of stars

But let me play devil’s advocate for a second.

Say someone’s been in therapy for awhile, but they’re seemingly not willing to engage in any self-awareness. This person isn’t likely to get anything out of therapy, and that “failure to grow” is their own fault…right?  

Wrong.

As a therapist, I can totally understand feeling frustrated by a patient like that. But I can also say with confidence that any patient’s “failure to grow,” in most cases, is a failure of the therapist’s patience.

That’s because there is always something a therapist can be doing differently to guide that person to a place where they can engage in self-awareness—and start to find what they’re looking for. 

The dawning of realization doesn’t have to happen today, in this session. But maybe a year from now, with patience, skill, and care, a good therapist could lead that client to awareness of their own part in their own problems. 

I don’t use the word “care” by accident.

Therapy isn’t about fancy techniques or high-level strategies. What patients actually need is to trust their therapist enough so that they can feel comfortable in acknowledging that some of their problems might be their own fault (for lack of a better word). 

Sometimes there’s no “problem” to be “solved” at all. Maybe what that patient really needs is to just be “loved.” That patient needs to completely “fail” at a personal relationship (here, meaning their relationship with the therapist) but be “loved” regardless. 

Therapy isn’t always about fixing what’s wrong. Sometimes the therapist’s task is to just sit with someone in their dysfunctional behaviors—and in the pain that those behaviors are trying to manage or conceal. 

This simple practice of witnessing might seem like a waste of everybody’s time and money, but it’s not. Indeed, it’s some of the most essential work that a mental health professional will ever perform.

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TL;DR 

At the end of the day, if I as a therapist catch myself thinking, “I can’t connect with or help this person,” that tells me a hell of a lot more about myself than it does about that person. 

When it comes to “fit” between a therapist and client, what’s important is how the client feels about the fit, and whether they can talk to the therapist about it.

I don’t know who among my colleagues need to hear this, but: It’s not a bad fit. It’s that you have more work to do on yourself

The icon of Leah Benson, LMHC

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