It’s a big step to recognise you need help and go see a psychologist. But what do you do when after all that, the relationship goes sour and you need to, for want of a better phrase, ‘break up’ with them?
It’s a situation Sarah*, a Mamamia employee who wishes to stay anonymous, recently found herself in.
“I had been seeing my psychologist for a few months to manage my anxiety and panic attacks. Naturally we talked about all parts of my life, from work to family and relationships.
“On my last appointment, I sat down in her office and she just went completely rogue. I told her I had been having a lot of trouble managing my anger and asked for some techniques to keep it in check. She sighed then said, ‘Can I tell you what I think your problem is?’ And then she unloaded.
"She told me I was in an unhealthy relationship and it was the cause of all my problems. She said if I had any chance of happiness I had to end it. She also implied he could be cheating on me. (I have absolutely no idea where she pulled that one from.)
"I hadn’t asked her to weigh in on my relationship or offer her opinion. And to clarify - we have a great relationship! Sure, we have our problems like anyone else, but there is nothing warranting intervention."
Naturally, Sarah was completely taken aback.
"I didn’t think it was a psychologist’s place to weigh in with their personal opinions. My first thought was, ‘well you didn’t really answer my question…’ But throughout our sessions we had developed a real relationship of trust so I thought I should listen to what she had to say," she says.
Listen: Has mental health awareness gone too far? (Post continues after audio...)
"That didn’t last long before I got really defensive. Then of course, I ended up bursting into tears and leaving our session in a state of utter confusion."
Part of the problem was the sudden change of approach.
"She had been really supportive and professional up to this point. We’d taken a really scientific approach to my mental health. She had taught me to recognise the early physiological signs of a panic attack. And practical advice to manage them like breathing exercises," she says.
Now, Sarah is left stuck. She hasn't been back since the explosive appointment and isn't really sure whether she even should. The thought of having to build up that close relationship again from scratch is 'exhausting'.
"Our dynamic has totally shifted. We had spent all this time developing a rapport and I finally felt like I could open up to her. But now? If I was to go back there is no way I could share anything about my relationship without feeling judged. And if you can’t be completely honest with your psychologist is there any point?"
First of all, it's important to realise that not every psychologist will be the right fit for every patient.
"Just like any relationship, there needs to be a level of trust and match for the non-tangible things like personality, the therapeutic approach utilised by the psychologist and so forth," explains Dr Brooklyn Storme, PhD Director & Principal Psychologist at Cerebellum Consulting.
"Signs that the relationship isn't quite working might include you, the client, feeling frustrated, missed appointments or a lack of engagement."
There's debate about whether psychologists should give such outright 'advice'.
"More often than not, they should be giving suggestions. The line I often use if I occasionally give my opinion is I will clearly flag it as my opinion but it's not my choice as I don't have to deal with the personal consequences," says Psychologist Dan Martin of Personal Enrichment Services.
"It may be the right thing for me to do but everyone has to make decisions for themselves."
He points out the exception would be if it became a safety issue, such as violence or drug related. In these cases, you might need to flag unhealthy behaviour.
In some cases, although it may feel out of line, the direct comments may actually be intentional from the psychologist to help the client make up their own mind rather than just going rogue for the sake of it.
"Psychologists use tools sometimes to help clients with this and from time the psychologist can and will be more directive as part of education process," explans Dr Storme.
"Sometimes it may be a strategic thing to push them [the client] a bit too far to reflect and think, 'Is that really what you want to do?' When you say it out loud it makes you realise it's too bold and can help get the patient clearer on their opinion," adds Martin.
Either way, the client should feel comfortable to give psychologist feedback and say why they feel uncomfortable. And it doesn't have to be dramatic or awkward.
"The ideal thing would be to be upfront. It can be a quick conversation, just a really clear 'I appreciate your help, you've given good strategies but some are not a good fit for me, we're going in a bit of a different direction and I think I might prefer someone who has a different style'," Martin says.
While it may seem like the easier option, don't ghost by disappearing and stopping returning calls.
"It's a good exercise for patients and clients to realise what they need and what they want and might inform them for the next patient," he says.
When finding a new one (or your first one), Martin says it's a good idea to 'interview' potential psychologists.
"Have one or two sessions before you lock into a regular schedule. Work out how they talk and ensure you feel comfortable," he says.
"It's a very personal relationship and you need to feel comfortable opening up and dealing with skeletons in your closet. Remember - if they were easy things to talk about, you already would have!"
Have you ever been in this situation before? What did you do?