"Ghosting" someone is a term for abruptly ending a relationship without providing any explanation or follow-up communication. It's common for ghosting to happen in relationships, including the therapy relationship. Maybe you've heard about clients ghosting their therapists, or maybe you've been a client who's ghosted their therapist (I know I have!).
Knowledge is power. The more knowledge we have about our behaviors and why we do them, the more we're inclined to have empathy, self-compassion, understanding, connection, and kindness, which ultimately lead to healing. If we can dig deep and explore the various reasons behind ghosting behavior, we can learn to meet ourselves with more compassion and understanding than before, encouraging us to find ways to express our emotions that fully honor and value us as complex humans.
Fear, Avoidance, and Difficulty Expressing Emotions
The therapeutic process can be overwhelming, especially when diving into trauma. It can be difficult for people to confront painful emotions or memories, and the thought of facing these issues can lead to avoidance. Not to mention, it can be challenging to communicate feelings of disappointment, anger, or frustration, for their own circumstances and/or trauma or with their therapist. Some people have a pattern of avoiding difficult conversations in various areas of life. Instead of having difficult conversations with their therapist, some clients choose to escape that discomfort by ghosting. It feels safer to leave the relationship than it does to have a conversation.
If you're someone who finds yourself leaving relationships versus having hard conversations, take a moment to reflect on how communication was modeled to you in your family as a child. Chances are, people in your home were not safe for you to express to them how they made you feel. In therapy, we often model the relationship dynamic modeled to us inside our childhood home.
Shame or Embarrassment
There are many reasons why you might be ready to terminate therapy, and some of those reasons might make you feel ashamed or embarrassed. This could include feeling like you're not making progress, your therapist isn't a good fit for you, financial concerns, or worries about being judged by the therapist, even if that judgment is unfounded. The fear of judgment often stems from concerns about disappointing the therapist, or feeling like you're meeting the therapist's expectations of you.
Here's the reality: therapists exist to give you a safe, judgment free space to explore and process whatever it is you're wanting to process, at your time and at your pace. Because the therapeutic relationship is one of the most important parts of therapy, you have every right to terminate the therapeutic relationship if you feel unsafe, unsupported, and judged. It might even help to talk about your fear of being judged with your therapist in order to give you more clarity.
When it comes to financial concerns, many therapists offer sliding scale options. Therapists want to help people, so if you're struggling to afford therapy, don't be afraid to ask your therapist if they offer sliding scale. This isn't an offensive question to therapists. If your therapist isn't able to offer sliding scale, they can help you find a different therapist within your budget, or they can work with you on decreasing the amount of monthly sessions what fits within your budget.
Ineffective Therapeutic Relationship
We've all been there: the therapist just isn't a good fit. When we have a therapist who isn't a good fit for us, it's common to feel disconnected or unsupported. Typically, instead of discussing these concerns with the therapist, we choose to discontinue therapy without explanation. This is probably one of the most common reasons people ghost their therapist: who wants to have the hard conversation with their therapist that they aren't a good fit?
No one. It's definitely easier to ghost your therapist than talk about why you want to go your separate ways. But, I want to challenge you a bit: your therapist already knows that they aren't going to be the best fit therapist for every person on the planet. That's why therapists specialize in different techniques, or have different areas of expertise and modalities that they use. If you notice that your therapist isn't a good fit for you after the first few sessions, it's okay to tell them that...because they likely already know it. Therapists should always want what's best for the client, even if that means not continuing therapy with them.
Other Ways to Terminate Therapy
Ending therapy is a big decision. If you're looking for other ways to end therapy that don't involve ghosting, consider these alternatives:
Schedule a Termination Session: Request a specific session to discuss the termination process. This allows you and your therapist to have a dedicated space to explore your reasons for ending therapy and talk about any concerns you might have.
Be Honest & Open: Honestly talk about your reasons for wanting to end therapy. This can include your life circumstances changing, shifting of therapeutic goals or feeling like you've met your goals, financial concerns, etc. Open communication can help you and your therapist gain insight.
Express Gratitude: If you're in a positive place and are ready to terminate therapy, you can acknowledge the positive aspects of the therapeutic relationship and express gratitude for the support provided by your therapist. This can help create a sense of closure for you.
Provide Feedback: Feel free to offer constructive feedback to your therapist about your experience. This can help your therapist understand your perspective and make adjustments in how they conduct therapy, if necessary.
Explore Referral Options: If your decision to end therapy is based on a need for different services or approaches, your therapist can provide referrals to other professionals who may be better suited to give you the help you're looking for.
Discuss Follow-Up Plans: Even after termination, you can schedule follow-up sessions of check-ins. This can provide a sense of continuity and support during the transition.
Leave the Door Open: If you're open to the possibility of returning to therapy in the future, you can express this to your therapy. Leaving the door option for future contact can be reassuring for you.
It's important to note that you don't ever owe someone an explanation for something, including your therapist. Therapists are aware that clients may choose to end therapy for various reasons, and while we may encourage open communication about termination, we also respect the autonomy of the client in making those decisions.
If you're considering ending therapy, it's typically more beneficial for you to discuss your concerns and reasons with your therapist. It's not so that your therapist can "convince" you to stay, but more-so to serve as a therapeutic exercise for you in having hard conversations, finding your voice to discuss your needs, and allowing the therapist to offer support or address any misunderstandings.
If you choose to terminate therapy, ghosting doesn't have to be your only option if you don't want it to be.
At Root Counseling, we're passionate about helping clients understand their behaviors. To schedule a session with one of our therapists, you can visit us here.