September is back to school, back from summer vacation, and for many the beginning of a new year and a new beginning. In our lives, some things are always beginning, and some ending, but it often takes contemplation to know which should be which…
How in the world do you know when to end therapy? There are a number of scenarios, depending on you, your therapist, and your course of treatment. Leaving the good experience can be tough; ending a not-so-good, or a downright bad, therapy can be even more difficult.
Ending before you begin: What’s a fair amount of time to decide if this is the (right) therapist for you? What if you get a funny feeling early on? What if you’ve been given a referral by someone you trust, and you have a terrific initial conversation, only to find something comes up early on that really bothers you? Should you start with a therapist when you’re not so sure she’s the right one for you?
Here’s a shortcut to what I think is the right balance: you should feel comfortable enough to speak openly and honestly, but not so comfortable you feel as if you’re having coffee with a friend. Go with your feelings. If it feels right, dive in, if not, keep looking.
Ending in the middle: You’ve hit a speed bump. Maybe your therapist did something you didn’t like, or has turned out to have shortcomings you hadn’t seen before (I have certainly been guilty of both, and no doubt will again). Maybe your therapy’s veered in a direction that doesn’t quite feel on the mark. Maybe there’s something you just can’t bring up, maybe even bring yourself to face – about the problem that brought you in to therapy in the first place, about your feelings toward your therapist, about your thoughts or conclusions.
Bring it up. No matter what it is, whether you are “right” or “wrong” think you “should” feel this way or not, might “hurt feelings” or “make her angry.” Bring it up. Because that accomplishes two things: you get it out and realize you’re still alive (hopefully with a tour guide who’s calm and compassionate), AND you get to see how your therapist reacts. Does she minimize what you say, make you feel small or silly or just plain wrong or bad? Or does she listen, take you seriously, consider her part in your discomfort and work with you to get over (not around) the bump? Because that will tell you all you need to know. Can’t avoid the bumps, I’m afraid; can avoid feeling afraid to talk about the bumps with the therapist who’s meant to help you do so.
Ending when it feels as if you’ve been going forever. If therapy’s been uncomfortable and unproductive for a long time, if you find yourself leaving each session wondering why you bother, if you keep trying to communicate something but your therapist really doesn’t seem to get it/you, if you feel increasingly frustrated (maybe even angry), it’s time to reassess.
If, after months, maybe even years in therapy, you are feeling that you’ve hit a wall, chances are you have. If, after months, maybe even years in therapy, you are feeling unheard, you’ve got to wonder: what will it take for this therapist to get me? Actually, maybe you’ve got to stop wondering, and just start saying your goodbyes. Because if you’ve invested months and years in treatment and your therapist still doesn’t get it, or you’ve stopped learning anything significant about yourself long ago, or if you’ve gotten stuck in the land of diminishing therapeutic returns: it is time to go. Maybe time to end therapy, maybe just time to end therapy with this therapist. Doesn’t mean it hasn’t been real, useful, important; just means it hasn’t been for a while. A dry spell is one thing – every therapy relationship (geez, every relationship) goes through those – but a dry spell that lasts for weeks and months is more than a dry spell. It’s a dessicated therapy experience. And that is none too therapeutic.
Copyright © 2012 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.