In a sunlit office, a therapist sits in a chair with her notes, talking to a client who sits across her on a couch.
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My therapist told me to see someone else. What does it mean?

Therapists sometimes tell you to see a different provider. That doesn't mean there's something "wrong" with you. They might just be unable to provide the right care.

Eliana Reyes, Content Strategist
Eliana Reyes, Content Strategist

Eliana Reyes is a content strategist and writer at UpLift.

10

min read

You’ve found a therapist that checks off some of your boxes. Maybe they came through a referral or you found them through your insurance. In your first session, you faced and overcame the fear of sharing what you want to address and asking for help. 

And then they told you to see someone else. First, let us reassure you that it is not because you or your problems are “too messed up.” Everyone has different challenges and deserves care. Second, though being told to see a different provider is difficult news after opening up to someone, it’s not only normal but can also be the right care for your therapist to provide you. 

First sessions are for learning about each other

For many therapists, the first session is considered an “intake session,” which is used to gather information and provide recommendations. After learning more about you, a therapist can determine if they have the right experience to provide the care that you need. 

It’s also an opportunity for you as a client to get information about the therapist you’re meeting. Here are some questions you can ask a therapist to decide if they are qualified or have the right experience to support you: 

  • What kind of areas do you specialize in? 
  • What do you consider to be your expertise?
  • What sort of experience do you have working with clients in the area I want support in?
  • What is your approach to supporting clients? 
  • What approaches have you found effective for this area? 

Mental health providers have different expertise

One of the biggest reasons your therapist could suggest you see a different provider is that they don’t specialize in the area where you’re seeking change. Mental health professionals often have different kinds of expertise, called “specialties,” and are trained to support people in that field. 

It’s the same as with your physical health. You wouldn’t go to a cardiologist who specializes in heart conditions if you had a brain tumor. You would go to a neurologist and a neurosurgeon, who specialize in brains, nervous systems, and doing surgery. 

A good therapist wants to make sure you’re getting the right kind of support for your needs. If their specialties don’t overlap with your desired change, it would be irresponsible for them to try to work with you. Referring you out to a provider with a different speciality would be the ethical action. 

Here are a few types of therapists to give you an idea—and this list is by no means exhaustive: 

  • Addiction Therapist
    These kinds of therapists help people navigate addictions. That can include addictions like gambling or adrenaline-seeking behavior, but also includes substance use disorders. Qualified therapists may also require a license to treat substance abuse, such as a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC) license. 
  • Trauma Therapist
    Even within trauma, therapists can have specific focus areas. Some therapists specialize in sexual trauma, others combat trauma. Some might be more qualified to treat childhood trauma. Therapists get training and experience to support clients with these specific experiences. 
  • Grief Therapist
    Sometimes called bereavement counseling or loss counseling, these therapists support people going through or anticipating loss. It doesn’t just have to be death but can even be grief over losing a job, a relationship, or something else. 
  • Marriage and Family Counselor
    Balancing the dynamic between multiple people to navigate their relationships requires specific skills and training. Additionally, these therapists also may choose not to accept individual clients. If you are in therapy for one of your relationships and individually, you’ll likely need multiple providers to avoid conflicts of interest. 
  • Youth Therapist
    Child and adolescent brains differ from adult brains. Therapists need to be trained to work with developing minds, and may even have specialties within that, such as for abuse. 
  • Financial Therapist
    A somewhat newer and rarer field, there are therapists who help people talk about how they feel about their money, managing it, experiences with it, and also how it affects their relationships with others. 
  • Art or Music Therapist
    Sometimes, therapy isn’t always verbal. These therapists help clients using visual or audio art, especially if they have difficulty expressing themselves through conversation or writing. There’s a diversity of ways we can communicate with each other. 

Besides that, a therapist who specializes in eating disorders may not specialize in borderline personality disorder. Or someone who specializes in bipolar disorders may not have the knowledge to support someone who’s experienced sexual abuse. 

Finding a good fit as a therapist also means finding someone who’s qualified to help you the way you need. 

Providers have different approaches

Even providers who have the same specialty may use different approaches—or “modalities”—to support clients. Though every provider tailors their approach to each individual client, sometimes, it’s still not the right fit. With so many kinds of therapy and modalities, one provider can’t be trained in every single one. (Which is something to remember: be skeptical if someone says they can use every modality.) 

After a few or even several sessions, you or your therapist may feel you aren’t making any progress. It’s okay for you to end things with your therapist at any time. You may feel you aren’t connecting. You might not find their approach useful. 

It can be more jarring when your therapist points this out. You may feel betrayed that your therapist wants to end the therapeutic relationship. After all the work you’ve put in, this doesn’t feel good. 

Ideally, your therapist wants you to make progress and has suggested another provider because different treatment may be better for you. It’s like how the diet of someone with diabetes may not be right for someone with Celiac’s disease. The same thing doesn’t work for everyone. 

There are many reasons that a provider may refer you out to find care from someone else. While not foolproof, there are tools that make it easier to find providers who specialize in what you want to work on and have open time slots. And if you don’t find the right one on the first try, UpLift offers tools to rematch with a therapist that works for you—because everyone deserves access to quality mental health care.

About the author
Eliana Reyes, Content Strategist

Eliana Reyes is a content strategist and writer at UpLift.

Edited by

Meredith McClarty

Fact checked by
Our fact checking standards

Every UpLift article is created by our team or other qualified contributors, and reviewed for accuracy by clinicians.

Kathleen Coughlin, LCSW

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