Mental Health Experts Break Down How You Can Tell When You're "Done" With Therapy
Therapists are meant to guide you, and give you the tools to help manage your mental health. Those hour-long sessions become increasingly valuable as time goes on, and eventually, there comes a time when you hit a peak. You’ve made a ton of progress, so instead of having pressing issues to sort through every Thursday at 2 p.m., you’re searching for things to talk about on the drive over. It’s not always easy to know when you’re done with therapy, and, trust me, I know how scary it can be to not have that weekly commitment to lean on. Still, when you feel confident enough to face your struggles on your own, you might want to consider stopping treatment to see how it feels.
Of course, progress is subjective. For some, popping into therapy for a few weeks might be enough to help them cope with whatever’s bothering them. For others, coming to terms with how they’re feeling, and sorting through a converging trail of messy thoughts, could take months, or even years. Neither timeline is the "right" one; it all depends on the person.
According to Dr. Sherry Benton, chief science officer of TAO Connect, research on psychotherapy effectiveness shows that “the greatest change occurs in the first five sessions," and will continue to happen throughout the next 12 to 20 sessions. This is what she refers to as "intermittent brief therapy," though she adds that it doesn't necessarily work for everyone. “The exception is for people who have very severe, complex, and difficult-to-treat disorders," Dr. Benton tells Elite Daily.
When it comes to navigating whether or not you’re ready to put treatment on pause — temporarily or altogether — clinical mental health counselor and owner of Bloom Recovery, Alex Runolfson, tells Elite Daily that, if you had a clear, targeted goal going into therapy, asking yourself whether or not you’ve reached that goal can be helpful. For example, let’s say you were in a car accident and were experiencing panic attacks, fear, and nightmares around driving. Runolfson says the clear goal in this scenario would be to put a stop to these symptoms so that you’re able to function the same way you did before the accident — without anxiety, fear, or nightmares around driving.
“The moment [a patient] reaches that point [where they've met their original goals], then therapy is no longer needed,” he tells Elite Daily. “Things get complicated when there are multiple events or issues, but the notion is still the same: Set goals, and once the client has reached those goals, you can discuss setting new goals or terminating therapy altogether."
On that note, if you find that your therapy sessions have become a sort of coffee talk, during which you tell your therapist about how you’ve taken what you’ve learned from them and successfully applied it to real-life situations, this could be another tell-tale sign that it might be time to stop therapy, or, at least, cut back on how many times a week or month you’re meeting with your therapist. In other words, once your conversations start to focus on issues you used to have, rather than issues you're currently navigating, Dr. Lawrence Weinstein, chief medical officer of the American Addiction Centers, says that that’s when it might be time to start planning an exit strategy.
Last but not least, one of the most obvious signs that you’re done with therapy is how you feel going into each session, and how you feel coming out of them. Once you’ve stopped learning, and you aren’t having as many significant revelations, this can mean one of two things: You’ve either learned all you can from this specific therapist, or you’re ready to stop treatment because you’ve progressed as much as you possibly can.
“When a patient is nearing the completion of their treatment, they often report feeling at peace, empowered, and much more confident, which is one of the biggest signs that the patient is ready to close that chapter and start life anew,” says Weinstein. “Having friends and/or family who have commented on your new demeanor speaks to this,” he adds, but the most important thing to take into consideration is how you feel about your progress, and where you’re at in your treatment.
So, if you’re at a point where therapy feels unnecessary, and you’re confident that taking a break is the best decision for you, that's great. You should be proud of the work you’ve put in, and the progress you’ve made along the way. It’s a big step, and though it’s certainly something to feel good about, I completely understand if you’re also feeling a little nervous about stopping treatment, if not for any reason other than having to tell your therapist you’re ready to discontinue your sessions — at least, for the time being.
When approaching the subject, keep in mind that your therapist knows you went into therapy with a purpose: to cope through a certain issue, to learn how to deal with similar situations moving forward, and, ultimately, to feel at ease, and confident in yourself. But it's also important to remember that your therapist has a goal in mind, too: to prepare you and get you to a point where you don’t need them anymore. The last thing you or your therapist should want is to foster a kind of dependency, says Dr. Benton, so if you feel you can “start working through day-to-day issues without hands-on guidance,” by all means, she says, “have this discussion.”
“Good therapy empowers the client to cope with life on their own,” Dr. Benton tells Elite Daily via email. “An occasional booster session can be useful, and some additional brief therapy (six to eight weeks) when something highly stressful is occurring, but the vast majority of people do not need to be in therapy for months or years.”
Remember, leaving therapy doesn’t have to be a permanent thing; you can always go back if you feel it’s necessary. You might even consider making it a point to schedule wellness check-ins throughout the few months after treatment ends to make sure everything still feels right. Just make sure you are always putting yourself, and your feelings, first, because at the end of the day, only you know what's best for your mental health.