Ok. So I lied: not ready to “go fishin'” yet. You see, it’s August, the traditional month most therapists take off (hit a beach on the Cape and you’re apt to see yours in a bathing suit). I, on the other hand, generally stay in the city and see patients. I figure just because most therapists take a break in August, psychological needs and interpersonal issues don’t necessarily.
So here I am, with a lighter load (many of my patients are off for part of August, too), thinking about the process of therapy. What helps, what makes it less effective, and, today especially, how to manage and understand the breaks: illness, vacation, I-think-I-need-to-try-this-alone-for-a-while. And ending therapy.
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. So let’s start with:
Part I: Leaving a good therapeutic experience. You’ve been in therapy what seems like forever. You look forward to your regular Monday afternoon sessions with Dr. Whoever. You save up stories during the week to share, you note things you need to discuss or get opinions on, you’re comfortable and always enjoy your sessions. You trust your therapist, even like your therapist (except, maybe, for that horrible taste in office furniture). So why in the world would you even think about ending therapy (we call it termination – but since neither of you are not terminating your life, just the therapy, it’s not a word I find myself using…).
If therapy’s gotten too comfortable, and you find yourself sharing views on the markets’ rise or fall, discussing the relative merits of one sort of restaurant (car, clothing line, gardening tip…you get the drift), or inviting your therapist to your son’s middle school graduation, it’s time to reassess. Maybe, hold on, even time to leave your therapist.
What! Leave, just when I’ve gotten comfortable, when I really trust this person?
Yes, leave. Graduate, perhaps. Or switch to another therapist with a fresh take, a different style, maybe even a different approach.
Therapy requires trust, a level of comfort, and communication to be effective. But really useful therapy, the kind that helps you learn about yourself and change, becoming more and more the you you want to be, that kind of therapy starts there, but moves on to so very much more. It’s not enough to get support, to feel understood and accepted. Crucial, but you can do better. And you should.
You should leave your sessions often feeling challenged to think in different ways, uncomfortable because you’ve felt emotions you haven’t in years, awkward because you are trying out new behaviors, angry because you’ve been pushed to confront something you’ve been avoiding, teary-eyed because your therapist ‘got it’. More than comfortable: growing, learning, taking therapy into real life, facing the hard stuff, sharing your fears and taking risks.
If that’s no longer happening in your treatment, bring the subject up in your next session. What have I learned and accomplished so far? What work remains to be done? What are my goals? What issues haven’t we tackled – and why? Do you think you can help me with the next phase, or have we done all we can together?
And then decide. Ending therapy. Ending therapy with this therapist and beginning anew. Getting a consultation. Or just taking a break and giving it some thought; maybe even with the help of the meditation you’ve been practicing.
Part II: The Not So Good Experience to come…stay tuned…
Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.