Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

When Is It Time To Stop Therapy?

When Is It Time To Stop Therapy?

Nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort.
~Theodore Roosevelt

All patients come to a point in their work when they wonder why they’re still there. Is there any point in still coming? What am I getting out of it? Maybe I should stop. I’m going to stop. I can’t afford it anymore. I don’t have the time – work is interfering with my appointments. I’d rather be spending time with my friends. We’ve been over and over the same issues and nothing is changing. What am I doing here?!

A myriad of reasons, justifications, or even “excuses” surface, all of which can usually be justified on some level. Sometimes it’s right to stop. But stopping the process of therapy (and it’s critically important to understand that therapy is a process) is as important as starting the process. And the best way to do it is to voice the concerns to your therapist.

If it’s early in the process, it could be that the fit between patient and therapist just isn’t right. In that case, a good therapist will recognize it, suggest you stop, and offer a referral to someone else.

But frequently, the reason someone gives for stopping is not what’s really going on. It’s possible – and often the case – that the desire to flee is because you’re getting to something deeper than the initial reason you came in, and confronting that issue is getting uncomfortable and scary. It’s normal to want to stop in this situation, though it’s usually precisely the reason to stay, however scared you are to approach the emerging material. You might not be fully aware of these fears. They may still be on the unconscious level.

It may too early in the process to work with these issues, and your therapist should recognize that you’re not ready, going at your pace not his or hers. When you’re ready, you’ll know it.

So a discussion with your therapist to examine your reasons for leaving is important. If you’ve done good work together, and you trust your therapist, you will come to an agreement that yes, it could be time to stop. But not abruptly. One of the worst things anyone can do is send an email, or leave a voicemail that says “I’ve decided to stop therapy. I won’t be coming in today.” Even worse, ghosting the therapist. It does you both a great disservice, you in particular. Bring it to a session as soon as you realize you want to stop. By talking about it with your therapist you’ll come to understand why leaving at this point would be premature. Having this discussion shows a level of integrity and maturity.

Be prepared for your therapist to disagree that now is the right time to end your sessions. Keep an open mind. If you’ve done good work up until now, but something is beginning to surface that makes you want to run, stick it out. In the long run, you will benefit. If you feel you’re at an impasse, stuck, not going anywhere, it might be an indication you’ve come to a place you don’t want to explore – you just “don’t want to go there” and on the unconscious level are stonewalling. If you trust your therapist, you’ll take the chance and continue. If it’s truly a financial issue, your therapist might be willing to adjust the fee, or agree to see you less often than your current frequency.

If you’re determined, however, for whatever reason, to discontinue your sessions, an ethical therapist won’t pressure you to stay. If that happens it might be an improper motive on the therapist’s part – the need to keep your slot filled, your fee coming in.

There are times when it’s a no-brainer why you should, in fact, stop. If there is inappropriate behavior on the part of the therapist, like dozing off, frequently looking at the clock, changing your appointment time for his or her convenience, or at worst, unacceptable violations of personal boundaries, it’s time to stop. Inappropriate personal violations should be reported to the state regulatory agency.

But these are unusual circumstances, and generally not the reason to give up your connection to the person who has helped you turn your life around, helped you break longstanding patterns that no longer serve you well (if they ever did), shone a new light on life that lifts your depression, quells some of your anxiety, is working with you when you just happen to meet the love of your life when all past relationships have failed.

The best way to end therapy is when both you and your therapist agree it’s time to stop, and you set a date in the future, several sessions in advance. A month to six weeks is optimal. This gives you both time to look at what you have accomplished, goals you have met, what remains unfinished that you think you can work out on your own, or come back to work on down the road. My words to anyone who leaves is are “my door is always open.” Someone I’ve worked with is always welcome to come back.

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise
~Victor Hugo

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