Leaving therapy

How do you know when the time is right to leave therapy? Much has been written about therapy and counselling, and here we’ll take a look at the process of ending this arrangement.

Who makes the decision to end therapy: you or your therapist, or both? Before I go into that, I want to say a little more about why I think 'leaving' is a poignant issue. First of all, let’s be clear that I am not writing about behavioural therapies, such as CBT, since those orientations are already time-bound and the point of ending is therefore set from the beginning. I am referring to analytic and humanistic therapies, which are treatments that inherently deal with beginnings-and-endings (attachment and separation) issues during counselling, and therefore need to address the ending when such emerges.

There are different leaving scenarios: sometimes the client decides to leave a few weeks into their therapy. At this point therapy is, on most occasions, not fully completed, so leaving at this stage is most likely happening because the client feels their issues are not being properly addressed by their therapist. In this instance it would be useful for the client to address this matter with their therapist, since any miscommunication between the two may be likely to somewhat mirror other miscommunications in the client’s life and exploration of such might therefore be of use to the client.

It is also possible that quite the opposite is happening, that therapy is indeed having an effect - which means that the client is heading deeper into matters which can feel daunting to face and therefore decides to pull out. I think psychotherapy and counselling is about addressing the irrational (unconscious) as well as rational thought: so whilst we may think that we are leaving therapy because it is not doing enough, the opposite could at the same time be the case and therefore worth exploring further before leaving without taking another good look at your reasons for considering the door.

A different scenario from leaving therapy prematurely would be that client and therapist continue to work together for a longer period of time, and as the work goes deeper the bond between client and therapist deepens too. So, how do you, the client, then go about separating from this attachment? In a ‘perfect world’ this separation goes as smoothly as leaving home when you enter into adulthood, when 'parent(s) and off-spring say their farewells and live happily apart ever after'. Yet, leaving home is frequently not like that: it is often hard to leave home even when leaving is something that we also strive to achieve. In other words, the act of leaving can be a conflicted process.

That is not to say that conflicted ending are to be written off, because endings often are conflicted. A conflicted therapy ending is thus the opportunity to yet again live through the difficulty of separating and to potentially come out of the separation differently from in the past. Clients are often cited as saying that they made more sense of their separation issues sometime after therapy had ended – which suggests that the effect of psychotherapy and counselling continue to take effect after the commitment to be in therapy has come to close.

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