Making the decision to see a therapist is a huge step. It takes a ton of courage to seek help for a problem you can’t tackle on your own or even just open up to someone in the spirit of being a healthier version of yourself. But what about when you’ve been in therapy for months or years and you feel like you’re ready to move on without your regularly scheduled sessions?
Nobody really talks about how to know when you’re done with therapy, so we talked with three therapists about how you’ll know when you’ve gotten the most out of therapy — and the steps you and your therapist should take to successfully make the transition.
It can be a scary prospect. After all, if you’ve been meeting with your therapist regularly for a significant amount of time, it can feel frightening to actually let go. But our experts tell us this is a perfectly normal and healthy part of the process, because treatment is rarely supposed to last forever.
HelloGiggles spoke with Dr. Racine R. Henry, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Natalie Feinblatt, Psy.D., and Adriana Alejandre, licensed marriage and family therapist, about how you’ll know you’re well-equipped to handle whatever issues brought you in to therapy without your weekly sessions.
All three experts agree that there’s no set time frame for a patient to be in therapy, and it truly varies based on the reason you came in and the severity of the issues you sought treatment for. According to Dr. Feinblatt, certain diagnoses, like Major Depressive Disorder, might take years of therapy, whereas someone coping with a bad breakup might be finished in a few months. Dr. Henry echoes this statement, adding, “The more people who are involved in treatment (i.e. couples therapy or family therapy), the longer that therapy can take due to the need to address each person’s stance and role in the problem.”
And how will you know that you’re ready to begin ending treatment? Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that you will wake up one morning cured of all your problems — but there are some telltale signs that you’re ready to move on.
According to Dr. Henry, “When the therapy process is nearing the end, clients will feel more confident and at peace. The stressors or triggers from the past won’t impact them the same way and they will be [better] able to cope with new things that come up.” Alejandre adds that it will feel more natural to use the coping skills you’ve learned, saying, “The skills come up easily during moments that were once crisis, and moments of conflict.”
And your loved ones might take notice too, she explains. “People close to them mention a positive change, or clients have reported that the problematic patterns of people around them have ceased.” Your topics of discussion while in session might change too. “Sessions become less about problems or symptoms and more about daily life activities and/or minor stressors. It is when there is more inner peace within the client overall that leads us to close the therapy chapter,” she says.
If you think you might be ready to take this next step, how do you handle it with your therapist? Dr. Feinblatt says that honesty truly is the best policy.
She says, “I’m not going to speak for all therapists here, but I so appreciate it when a client tells me this straight up! A lot of clients get worried that if they say this to their therapist that one of two things will happen: Either their therapist will get upset and/or mad at them, or their therapist will try to convince them to continue therapy. When it comes to [the first] I tell clients to please trust that…we do not take it personally or get upset. And quite frankly, if your therapist does start crying or yelling at you in response to this…get out! You should not be seeing that person for therapy anyway if they can’t be more professional than that.”
Feinblatt adds that even though it might be easier to just stop showing up — don’t.
After you’ve discussed an exit strategy with your therapist, all of our experts agree that you’ll work together to come up with a plan moving forward that works for you. Dr. Henry says, “The first step of termination is to have less frequent sessions so that the client can start to adjust to life without therapy.” As sessions become less frequent, your therapist should “provide you with any relevant resources that could help you live a healthier life once therapy ends and you can provide an outline of your plans for the future.”
Once you’ve walked out of your therapist’s office for the last time, should you check in at all or should contact cease? Our experts varied on this, with Dr. Henry saying, “Depending on the rapport and boundaries set by the therapist, a client may be able to check in down the line,” noting that it’s totally fine to come back in later on for a “tune-up” or to address any other new issues.
She adds, “If a client thinks they are done with therapy, they should ask themselves if they feel equipped to handle life’s ups and downs without weekly guidance from a therapist… Clients should always feel like they know where to get help in the future should they need it and not feel ashamed about being a repeat customer of therapy.”
Lastly, you should feel immensely proud of yourself for tackling these issues in your life — it takes a tremendous amount of bravery to seek help when you need it. Bravo!