Why would you need or want to replace your therapist? There are actually several reasons why and changing therapists isn’t uncommon.
Your therapist could be moving or retiring. Another reason is that you aren’t connecting with them or they with you any longer.
Whatever the reason, switching to a new therapist can, and often is, stressful. This alone can exacerbate your bipolar symptoms. Then there is the question, where to look for a new therapist that can actually be beneficial to your bipolar treatment plan.
What Not To Do When Your Therapist Leaves
Finding out that your therapist is leaving can be traumatic. Especially, if you have been with the same one for years. You have established trust and have come to depend on your therapist to help you through all the good and bad times.
Losing someone that you trust and confide in can be enough to trigger a “bipolar episode”.
Depression can set in or even mania. Feelings of anger and betrayal are also common. You may even feel like you are being abandoned.
One important thing to remember is that your therapist is NOT leaving to hurt you, it is just something they need to do. Whether it is a move or retirement.
Once you learn that you will need to find a new therapist you may be tempted to forego the search, but this is one of the worst things you can do.
There are a few other things you do not want to do. Not only can it comprise your treatment plan but also other relationships in your life.1
- Do not rely on your parents to fill the void. They might want to help but there are some things that you would normally tell your therapist and not your mother or father. Sometimes it could embarrass them or you. After all, do you really want your parents to know every intimate detail about your life?
- Relying on friends to let you know if you are being paranoid, manic or depressed can strain the relationship. There is nothing wrong with asking them for help but you can’t except your friends to provide the same advice a licensed therapist would.
- Talking to your co-workers about issues you would normally discuss with your therapist is something you do not want to do. Chances are you often discussed your co-workers with your therapist but this doesn’t mean that you can discuss these same issues with them. While, you are encouraged to disclose your bipolar diagnosis with your bosses, HR department, etc. This doesn’t mean that you should use your fellow employees as substitute therapists.
- Food can be comforting. It can help you stay calm but overeating due to the stress of losing your therapist is never a good idea. Not only can the inevitable weight gain lead to depression, chances are you are not snacking on healthy treats. This can lead to other health problems besides putting on extra pounds.
- Don’t ignore your therapist’s recommendations. Before your therapist leaves you will probably be provided with a list of other mental health care professionals that are licensed and capable of meeting your unique needs. Do not ignore this list. It might take awhile to find someone that you are comfortable with but it is better than ignoring this important part of your bipolar treatment plan.
You need someone to talk to other than friends and family. It really is important. There are things that you tell your therapist that you might regret discussing with others in your life.
When Do You Need a New Therapist?
Sometimes it’ll be clear that you need a new therapist. Other times it might be a shock to learn that your current therapist no longer feels like they are able to help you. Whatever the circumstances, you will need to start looking for someone else to be a key person on your bipolar support team.
How do you know when it is time to switch? There are several signs that could indicate a change is for the better.2
- Your therapist has problems remembering something that is important to you. It could be anything from a relationship to a specific occurrence that triggered an episode of depression or mania. You should never have to continuously repeat yourself every session.
- Values that you do not believe in or fit your lifestyle should never be pushed on you by a therapist. While part of their job is to point out and help you refrain from dangerous behaviors, it is not part of their job description to try and change your core beliefs.
- Mental health professionals do have lives outside of the office, but you do not need to hear about it during your session. Your therapist should be focused on you, not on their own problems. If you find that you are spending more time listening to your therapist, rather than the other way around, it is probably time for a change.
- Therapists are human and they have opinions. However, when it comes to certain subjects these viewpoints should be left out of the conversation. One of the most common involves weight. It is common knowledge that some prescribed bipolar medications can cause weight gain. If you are comfortable with your body, physically healthy and most importantly your medication is working, you do not need your therapist criticizing your appearance. You are in the office for help, not for a critic.
- If you suddenly realize that your therapist is not paying attention to you, it is time to switch. Taking phone calls, texting, skimming through Facebook or constantly checking the time are all signs that your therapist is not there for you.
- Comfort is key in therapy. If you are not comfortable sharing all of your thoughts and problems, you won’t benefit from the sessions. Sometimes, this has always been an underlying problem and other times it can suddenly seem to appear.
- When you feel like you are no longer being challenged during your sessions to “get to the root” of the problem. There are occasions when your therapist may no longer be able to help you. If this happens don’t blame yourself. You and your therapist may have just taken the process as far as it can go.
The main point to remember is if you find that you need a new therapist it is not your fault. It is just one more step you have to take to continue with your treatment.
How To Find a New Therapist
Finding a new therapist can be scary. You often feel like you are “starting all over”. You have to build a rapport that includes trust, and this is not always easy to do.
Some people get lucky and “click” with the first new therapist they visit, while others may spend months trying different ones.
The most important thing is to NOT give up. There is someone that you will feel comfortable with.
In most cases, your current therapist will provide you with a list of colleagues in the area. You can usually find their profiles online so you can do a little background check to get a general idea if they are a good match for you.
If you belong to a bipolar support group ask other members who their therapist is. Their feedback can be invaluable.
There are also listings for mental health professionals in your area online. This is another good way to get an idea of what services they offer, along with the methods they use.
One resource you probably do not want to use are the “yellow pages”. All the information you will get is simply an address and phone number. You won’t be able to tell what type of therapy is offered, nor will you have the advantage of reading what other patients have thought. Sometimes, the reviews from past and current patients can be invaluable. Though, it is important to remember that not all positive or negative reviews are accurate. Often it is only based on one person’s experience, whether it was great or bad.
What you do have to prepare yourself for is the possibility of going weeks or even months without a therapist.
What to Do Without a Therapist
Whether you saw your therapist once a week or a couple times a month, not having that support can leave you feeling alone.
What you shouldn’t do is feel self-pity or try and substitute a friend, family member or co-worker for your therapist.
While you are in-between therapists there are a few things you can do to help prevent triggering a bipolar episode.3
- Meditation can help relieve stress and pressure. Find a quiet place and simply relax. Think about how you feel and what you can do to prevent negative thoughts from controlling your life.
- Stay up-to-date with your journal. Reread it often. Know what your triggers are and what helped to prevent depression or mania previously.
- If you are not part of a bipolar support group, consider joining one. Sometimes it helps to talk to other people that understand what this mood disorder can do to you and others in your life.
- Try an online counseling service. There is a fee but you do get to talk to a mental health advisor. You do want to be careful about which one you choose, not all offer the same quality of help.
- Talk to your priest, pastor, rabbi, etc. If you are a member of a congregation and are comfortable with a leader in your church, they can provide advice. If nothing else, they could be good listeners. Just remember they will not be able to provide all the answers, but sometimes it helps to just talk.
Don’t forget about your personal bipolar support group. You should have a select group of a few trusted people in your life who are always there for you.
This typically includes close friends, family members, your spouse or significant other. Religious leaders, if you are close and comfortable with them, can also be a part of the group.
Let them know that you are “without” a therapist and might need to lean on them a little more frequently. Ensure that they are ready and willing to tell you when you are exhibiting signs of mania or depression.
You Will Find Another Therapist
It’s upsetting, when you have to find a new therapist. Regardless of whether it is your choice, theirs or circumstances beyond your control, your life has changed.
What is important is to not dwell on it. Hopefully, your therapist provided the help and support you needed. If not, you have the chance to find the right therapist for you.
Lean on your support group, whoever it involves but do not use it in place of therapy. For most people with bipolar disorder, they need both.
Take your time and don’t rush. However, this also applies to your first meeting with a potential new therapist. Give it a few sessions, see where it goes. It really will be worth it in the end.
If you are interested in finding more information about the risks of foregoing therapy here are the links to some relevant studies.