How to Know When You Are (or Are Not) Ready to End Therapy
Taking the first step to begin therapy is difficult and takes a lot of strength. And one of the most frequently asked questions at the beginning is “how will I know when to end”. As you are working in therapy, we begin looking towards the future. How will you know when you no longer need therapy? Therapy is meant for YOU so it is important that YOU are an active part of answering that question. Knowing what you are working towards in therapy, and what you need from the experience, it is crucial to answering the question of “when is it time to end this therapy”.
If you are beginning to think about where your therapy is going, here are some ideas to help you decide when to end therapy.
Have you reached the goals that brought you to therapy in the first place?
The intent of therapy is for you to complete all the goals that you set for yourself when starting therapy. You should be able to process your emotions and thoughts, identify helpful skills, then apply this new knowledge on a daily basis. That is the ultimate goal of therapy! When you and your therapist agree that this is occurring consistently, it may be time for you to step down to less frequent therapy so that you can practice this process independently.
Are you ready to address any new goals that have come up since beginning therapy?
Sometimes we are not ready to address issues in our lives. Being ready to address the issue and open the wound is crucial to making progress. It is important for you to be honest with yourself and your therapist if you are not ready to make changes or to address specific behaviors or thoughts. Vulnerability is required for progress. If at this time you are not ready to be vulnerable it may be appropriate to take a break in therapy and return when you are. Talk with your therapist about your feelings concerning if you are needing a break.
Does it feel like your goals are no longer aligned with your therapists’?
When doing the work in therapy, goals change. We are human and things change in our life. Sometimes our outlook of what we need to work on is different than what our therapist believes is crucial. These should be things that you are discussing regularly. If following multiple conversations, you are unable to reach an agreement on what therapy is focusing on, it may be time to take a break from therapy. Sometimes a therapist sees a specific topic that needs to be addressed. If you are not ready to address it, it is important to communicate on whether you can continue working together and realign your goals.
Is this therapy still the right specialization for your needs?
Every therapist has specialties and a personal style of therapy. As you work with a therapist, it may become apparent to you and/or the therapist that you need a different style or specialization. This does not mean that you or the therapist are not trying hard enough or you are bad at therapy. Instead, it means this therapist is not a good fit for you to most efficiently reach your goals.
Sometimes people simply just max out on the benefits from one particular style. In this case, it’s time to try a new style. Even then, it does not mean therapy was useless. Nor does it change the amount the therapists cares about you or believes in you.
Do you feel like you have a good personality fit with your therapist?
Your ability to connect with your therapist is so important. Trust and feeling safe with a new therapist takes time. If you have met with the therapist for over a month and are still struggling to connect, it may be time to look at why. Sometimes it is not a good fit and it is time to look for a different therapist who can connect better with you. Warning: if this has happened multiple times in a row, it may be that it takes longer for you to connect with a therapist. Allow yourself extra time and be honest with the therapist about your struggles to connect.
On the flip side, there are also reasons why you SHOULD NOT end therapy, even if you feel you want to.
Did therapy make you upset? This is not necessarily a reason to end therapy.
Therapy is difficult. It is meant to challenge you. It may be easy to blame the therapist instead of looking at the difficult emotions vulnerably. Avoiding difficult emotions by leaving the therapist (or the therapy) may be a part of a pattern of avoidance that isn’t working for you. The problem is that the emotions stay with you. Leaving therapy won’t solve the root of the issue. In these moments, it is important to power through the discomfort. Use the urge to quit as “grist for the mill” to explore in therapy what happens when things feel uncomfortable.
You don’t like doing homework.
Therapists often provide “homework” for the time in between sessions. It is important for the therapeutic process. It does add stress sometimes when you worry that you are forgetting your homework or doing it wrong. Do not let those worries or stress stop you from gaining skills and learning to do them on your own. Therapy doesn’t work if you don’t apply what you’ve learned beyond one hour a week in session.
You feel like you don’t have time for therapy anymore.
Therapy takes time. It is a fact. Life often challenges us by giving us so much to do that we need to prioritize. It is easy to push off therapy and focus on what others need from us. If the pattern of sacrificing self-care is prominent, saying no to therapy while saying yes to everything else may be part of the ongoing problem. This causes burnout quickly, as well as strain in relationships with others’. Taking care of yourself by allowing yourself consistent time to focus on you will make you more effective in everything else you do.
Ask your therapist about when it is time to end therapy!
Therapy is different for everyone. Some people want it forever. Some people want just for a period of time. There is no right or wrong. It can be difficult at times to know when changes need to be made or when it is time to end therapy. You need to make a decision based off what is best for you. This is figured out through exploration with your therapist.
It is important to take the time to assess where you are on your journey and to prevent impulsive decisions. While therapy is different for everyone and each person has a different timeline for reaching their goals, your therapist will always be open to discussing your thoughts about ending therapy to ensure the best path forward.
About The Author
Annie Bertran, LCSW-C is a licensed certified social worker-clinical and Therapist at Montgomery County Counseling Center in Rockville, MD. Annie obtained Bachelor’s degree in Social Work with a minor in Psychology from University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She then went on to earn her Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Annie has extensive training in Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). She has worked across several settings over the past decade and has extensive experience with adolescents and young people transitioning into adulthood. She also provides clinical supervision for LMSWs and LGPCs.