When you seek talk therapy with specific goals in mind, it’s natural to wonder if it may be time to stop it when you achieve those.
Sometimes parting ways is more bittersweet than sorrowful. Such may be the case when you stop seeing that therapist who knows your most intimate thoughts and helps you navigate difficult moments.
It isn’t uncommon to feel unsure about ending therapy for good. Should you perhaps take a break?
You may not need to make this decision on your own.
A therapist will address time expected in therapy as part of the discussion during the first session, says Dr. Gregory Scott Brown, an MD and psychiatrist based in Austin.
“If the therapist is not bringing it up, I do think that patients should ask those questions at the first appointment,” says Brown, who also recommends questions such as:
- How long am I going to be in therapy?
- What are things I should expect from therapy?
- How will I know when it’s time for me to stop therapy?
But what happens if you’ve been in therapy and this conversation never came up? Or what should you do if you no longer feel at ease with your therapist?
There may be a few aspects you could keep in mind when deciding whether to quit therapy.
Yes, it is OK to pause your therapy sessions, although the length of time may depend on why you’re attending in the first place.
There are many reasons to seek therapy. Some include the treatment and management of symptoms of conditions such as anxiety, depression, or grief from the death of a loved one.
The time it takes to see progress will likely depend on why you’re going to therapy, says Beth Westbrook, PsyD, a clinical psychologist specializing in psychotherapy in Portland, Oregon.
“There may be times when stopping or pausing therapy is necessary,” says Westbrook.
But there also may be times when you want to stay at it a bit longer until you achieve some milestones. For example, if you’re managing:
In some cases, quitting treatment suddenly may intensify some of your symptoms or delay your healing process.
You might want to work with your therapist in setting goals for what you want to achieve. Then, you could create a timeline to accomplish those goals.
It’s also possible that there are other reasons you’re factoring in when contemplating quitting therapy. For example, financial constraints.
If this is your case, you might want to discuss with your therapist what other affordable options are available to manage your symptoms while you take a break from therapy.
Westbrook suggests lining up alternative support to turn to if needed.
“This can be self-help groups, supportive family and friends, or a mentor,” she says. Support groups may also help.
Talking with a professional about the challenges you’re facing can be difficult. Therapy can take time, and you may feel that progress isn’t quick enough for you at times.
But feeling uncomfortable or even resistant to attending therapy may be part of the therapeutic process. And quitting therapy for these reasons could lead to you missing out on a personal breakthrough.
Before you quit therapy for good, first consider tapering visits to fewer times a month. Such a transition can be a good place to start before scheduling your therapy finale.
When you do this, it might be surprising to find out that you miss the work you were doing in therapy, or feel like you need that therapeutic relationship, says Brown.
“I think that’s why it’s important to talk about what to expect before you just call it quits,” he adds.
Brown also notes that part of the goals of psychotherapy is gaining skills to cope on your own once you stop and learning what may signal that it’s time to return.
“Goodness of fit” is a term some therapists use for the strength of the professional relationship between a client and the therapist, says Brown.
Like with any other relationship, not everyone is a good fit. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the person isn’t a good therapist. But, perhaps, you may prefer another psychotherapy approach or may not feel the chemistry.
Also, like any other relationship, things can change. What used to work for you might no longer be the case.
This is natural. Still, feeling uncomfortable in therapy doesn’t always mean that it’s about you and your therapist.
You may want to identify the reasons behind your desire to quit and move on from therapy or this therapist.
If you still need therapy but see some red flags that could signal that your health professional isn’t the best option, finding a new one may be the next step.
Devising a plan along with your therapist can be the smoothest way for you to transition out of therapy.
You might also want to explore how you feel and your goals from now on.
Stopping therapy may be an option if you feel you have achieved all the goals you set and you’ve developed the skills to move on. You’ve learned how to manage your symptoms or have found a way to move through a challenge.
Consider switching to a new therapist if:
- You persistently feel uncomfortable or unsafe with your current therapist.
- Your needs have changed and you need a therapist with a different specialty.
- You feel like you’re going around in circles with your therapy without making much progress.
- You don’t feel heard by your therapist.
- You’d like to try another type of psychotherapy.
There are many possible reasons you could feel you need to stop therapy. While it’s important that you feel safe and supported during therapy sessions, feeling emotional or uncomfortable isn’t always a reason to quit.
You may want to discuss with your therapist how you feel. They might suggest a transitional period of fewer sessions a month or may explain why they think quitting is the best option right now.
If you’ve lost trust in your therapist but still see the benefit in attending therapy sessions, you might want to consider switching to a new professional.
“Therapists are professional communicators,” says Brown. “We’re trained to have difficult conversations. We’re trained to have comfortable conversations.”