It might surprise you to hear this, but therapy is not meant to be forever. "Generally speaking, in most cases, it's okay to end therapy or bring the course of treatment to conclusion," says Natalie Christine Dattilo, PhD, clinical psychologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School.
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Here, a look at some tip-offs that you may be ready to end therapy, along with the best ways to stop your sessions.
Signs You Can Stop Therapy
There are several reasons why you might be considering stopping therapy, from financial factors to feeling as if your current therapist isn't the right fit. Another big reason: You might feel better. Perhaps you no longer get much out of your sessions because you're making pleasant chitchat rather than diving deep or developing coping skills like you did in the earlier sessions.
The most important thing to know: It's OK to stop therapy.
"The goal of therapy is to eventually end it. The goal is not for it to be an ongoing, never-ending process, but instead be a return to function or better function without reliance on a therapist," Dattilo says.
Of course, there are some conditions where longer-term treatment is recommended. Or, you may be seeing a therapist for mental health maintenance — or self-improvement — without a diagnosable condition. Either way, stopping is your decision.
"It's up to the individual to determine what their intention of being in therapy is and when they would like it to end," Emma Giordano, MHC-LP, a therapist at Empower Your Mind Therapy in New York City, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Some indicators you might be ready to stop therapy:
- You've achieved your goals. It's common to set goals at the outset of and during the course of therapy. If you've accomplished those goals, stopping sessions may make sense.
- You don't have much to say. You might also notice that you're struggling to find things to talk about during those sessions, Giordano says.
- Your needs have changed. Perhaps you started therapy with one priority, but over time, another goal emerged. That may mean that the therapist you're seeing is no longer the right fit.
One thing to note: "Being ready to end therapy does not mean that your healing process has ended," Giordano says. "Growth and development are a lifelong process."
A desire to stop doesn't mean everything is fixed, but rather is an acknowledgment that you can handle things on your own. With that there is still opportunity for personal growth and improvement.
How to End the Relationship
No doubt you may be stressed or nervous about ending therapy. Even though the relationship with your therapist is a professional one, you may worry about how they'll take it. Are you letting them down? Will they tell you that you're still a major work in progress? Be mad at you? Judge you? Know that your therapist is expecting this and they've gone through this with other patients.
"Stopping therapy is not only normal, it is expected — and in most cases, celebrated," Dattilo says.
That anxiety — and again, it's completely normal to have it — may cause you to put off discussing the end of therapy until your last session, but don't cut yourself short of the meaningful work that can come out of the stopping process. "That denies the opportunity for a longer, healthy goodbye," Giordano says.
In short, therapists in general will welcome a conversation about terminating therapy and want to help guide you through the most effective, comfortable transition. When initiating this talk, be open and honest about why you're ending therapy and feel free to express that you're feeling anxious about it, Giordano says. You can bring up the skills you've learned and plan to utilize outside of therapy, the other areas of support you'll lean on and your personal goals for the future, she adds. If you'd like to express gratitude, go ahead and do that, too.
After you have this conversation, come up with a game plan on how to end those sessions. You can handle this in several ways. A few to consider:
Schedule Wrap-Up Sessions
Giordano recommends planning for three to four more sessions.
"These 'termination sessions' allot time for reflecting on progress, summarizing gains learned in therapy, and developing a plan for how to continue maintenance of gains," she says. That might be talking through the tools you learned in therapy or developing a self-care plan for mitigating stress.
Taper Your Sessions
Maybe right now, you're meeting weekly. In that case, you can move to have sessions every other week for a set time and then every month after that for a certain amount of time.
"You can get to a place where you feel pretty comfortable with not meeting with your therapist on a regular basis," Dattilo says. Your therapist can help develop a plan that you feel good about.
Consider Booster Sessions or Support Groups
You can think of the end of therapy as closing a door, but having the option to re-open it as needed. That is, there may be opportunity for "booster" sessions. This is essentially when you're in the maintenance phase of treatment.
"We're checking in — sometimes monthly, quarterly or yearly — and making sure things are still on track," Dattilo explains. If you are prone to relapse, you can come up with a plan together on how you'll handle issues that bubble up again and how you might reactivate treatment, if necessary.
If a booster session is not financially feasible, you may be able to check-in briefly via email, depending on your therapist, Dattilo says. At that check-in, you might ask to restart sessions or share a quick update. Either way, she recommends establishing clear boundaries about how to get back in touch and when.
Another option is to move from individual therapy to support groups, depending on why you sought therapy. These groups offer valuable insight and community to "help you feel less alone and continue supporting your healing," Giordano says.
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