Knowing When to Call it Quits in Psychotherapy
Leaving a Therapy Relationship that’s Not Working Out
People may also want to leave psychotherapy because they find they are not accomplishing positive things with their therapist. This occurs more frequently with a new therapist. You can usually sense it’s not working with the new therapist because your personalities clash, your ways of dealing with issues differ significantly, or you don’t find the therapist supportive of your needs.
The key here is to acknowledge the reality as soon as you realize it and accept that it’s not working. Then you have to bring it up to your therapist in the next session. This is easier said than done, since a common part of the problem is that you may find it difficult to talk to a therapist that’s not working out. Sometimes it helps a person to write down their reasons for it not working out on a piece of paper and bring that into session with you. You can refer to the paper when you bring the topic up. Try to do so as soon as possible in the session – do not wait until you have 5 minutes left. You need time to discuss the issue with your therapist, and hopefully to get a few referrals from him or her.
Therapists sometimes have a difficult time with a client who wants to leave early, especially if it’s over an issue where the client doesn’t like or doesn’t feel supported by the psychotherapist. That’s their problem, not yours. Listen to their concerns or questions. Sometimes it may have just been a simple misunderstanding (especially if you’ve only seen the therapist once or twice). But if you are certain about your decision and have given the therapist a thorough chance, be firm in your resolve. Some therapists may try to argue you out of your decision. Be prepared for that and simply answer them with your feelings and beliefs – that you don’t feel working with them is working out or beneficial any longer for you.
Making a Clean Break
Whether you’ve spent only 2 sessions or 20 with your therapist, it’s always easiest to make a clean break from therapy. It goes most smoothly if both the therapist and client have agreed upon a set date beforehand – “Three session from today will be our last.” Be prepared! The last session is often difficult and can be emotionally draining. Sometimes clients will feel a sense of achievement, but others may feel a sense of loss. Acknowledge your feelings in session and let you and your therapist work together one last time.
Don’t be tempted to make a follow-up appointment for a month or three down the road just to “check in.” In some exceptions, this may be necessary for especially long-term or intensive psychotherapy. But for most people, the end of therapy (therapists call it “termination,” a term that seems a little harsh to me) should just happen and then it’s over. No follow-ups, no phone calls, that’s it. Congratulations! You’ve successfully ended your therapy.
It is all right, however, to send a thank you note or card if you feel so inclined. Therapists are often thanked for the work they did with a client at the end of therapy. But most of the credit should, of course, go to the client who does the vast majority of the work. Change is hard, and changing the way we think or our behavior over the years can be especially challenging.
Remember that seeing a therapist is just like seeing a doctor when you’re sick. Leaving therapy once doesn’t mean you’re set for life. Changes do occur in our lives and there may be a time when you may need to go back into therapy in the future. Just keep that in mind that the psychotherapy resource is available to you in the future if you need it.
This article has been updated from the original version, which was originally published here on November 20, 2004.
Grohol, J. (2019). Knowing When to Call it Quits in Psychotherapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 25, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/knowing-when-to-call-it-quits-in-psychotherapy/