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4 Signs That It's Time to End Therapy

... and why leaving may still be bittersweet.

Key points

  • Clients should alway feel comfortable discussing termination with their therapist.
  • You may be ready to end therapy if you've achieved your goals or reached a plateau.
  • Instead of ending therapy entirely, some clients may choose to see their therapist less frequently.
Vadym Pastukh/Shutterstock
Source: Vadym Pastukh/Shutterstock

The decision to end therapy seems, on its face, to be a triumph. In reality, it’s often bittersweet. It’s a mark of growth, progress, and change, yet it also requires stopping or suspending a meaningful relationship. It can be hard to pinpoint the moment for that change—and hard to broach the topic itself.

Of course, some situations are clear-cut. If you meet with a therapist who isn’t a good fit, who doesn’t have the relevant expertise, or who exhibits any red flags, the decision to part ways will be easy. But for those who have worked with their therapist for months or years, experiencing setbacks and successes along the way, the decision will be more complicated. Here’s how to identify when to terminate therapy and how to discuss the topic with your therapist.

How to View the End of Therapy

Ending therapy can be seen as a kind of celebration—it signals that you have developed the ability to handle life’s challenges. Therapists view it that way too, so the topic doesn’t have to feel taboo or nerve-wracking or like you’re disappointing them. “You’ve been working toward this, and it’s something to be proud of,” says therapist Stephanie Sarkis. “When people don’t need to come in anymore, that’s a happy day for us.”

It can also be reassuring to remember that therapists are experienced in this domain. They are trained to handle the termination of therapy and have likely had this conversation dozens (or hundreds) of times before. Some may actually begin therapy by discussing termination, including the patient’s goals and what the end of therapy will look like.

In the rare event that your therapist doesn’t respond respectfully and professionally, that’s confirmation that you made the right decision to terminate, Sarkis points out.

Signs You May Be Ready to End Therapy

1. You accomplished the goals that you set when you began. For example, let’s say a client with ADHD came to therapy because they were struggling to function at work. Perhaps they developed coping skills, found a different job, or obtained medication, and work has now gone smoothly for a while. Or if a patient sought therapy due to social anxiety, and they eventually find themselves going to parties without dread, or even enjoying social gatherings, those accomplishments may signal that they’re ready to stop therapy.

2. You’ve reached a plateau. Patients should ideally be gaining new insight or implementing new changes throughout therapy. That process may eventually seem to stall. Perhaps a patient came to therapy due to a history of abuse and unhealthy adult relationships. As they unpack their childhood experiences and begin to develop healthy, stable relationships, they may reach a plateau.

3. You don’t have anything to talk about. A similar sign is repeating the same stories over and over again, says therapist Josh Gressel. This signals a lack of progress that deserves exploration.

4. Your needs have changed throughout the course of therapy. In this case, your therapist is no longer the best person to help you. For example, if a patient began therapy to explore relationship challenges, and later began the process of adoption, they may want to seek out a professional who specializes in adoption. This could pertain to the therapist’s style as well. Perhaps you’ve appreciated your time together but have begun to crave a therapist who pushes harder, probes deeper. “I hear this frequently: ‘He’s very nice but besides being supportive, I don’t know that we’re getting anywhere,’” Gressel says. “Being supportive can take you only so far.”

These signs can help you identify that it may be time to end therapy. But it’s also important to be aware of signs that you should continue, Gressel explains. For example, if you want to leave because you’re avoiding a difficult or uncomfortable topic, or if you receive pushback from your therapist, you should reconsider. Says Gressel: “Ask yourself honestly: Am I really done?”

Discussing Termination with Your Therapist

If you are wondering whether you should continue or not, the best thing to do is to ask your therapist directly. “Clients should always feel free to have this conversation. It’s much better for them to speak up than to be holding those feelings and not talking about them,” Gressel says.

You can begin by saying something like, “I think I’ve been doing pretty well. I wonder if it might be time to talk about ending therapy and what that looks like.” Or, “I’m nervous to bring this up, but I want to talk about stopping therapy.”

Your therapist can take the reins from there, and it will hopefully lead to an honest, authentic conversation. It’s also normal to not reach a decision the first time you bring it up. It’s OK to have the conversation over multiple sessions.

The same applies if the therapist raises termination, Sarkis says. This may sound something like, “You seem to be doing really well, so I’m wondering if you think you still need to come in every week.” In response, be honest and direct about your feelings.

The Door Is Always Open

Making progress doesn’t have to mean that you end therapy for good. Some therapists shift their client’s schedule from once a week to every other week. Some therapists suggest meeting once a month or once every few months, for what are sometimes called maintenance sessions. Most therapists will make sure to say that you’re welcome to return at any point, whether it’s for a single session or regular sessions.

Whatever the path forward, it’s normal to feel conflicted. “It’s a relationship that’s ending, so you should expect mixed emotions,” Gressel says. “That doesn’t mean you’re making the wrong decision. It just means you’re human.”

Your therapist can help you process those feelings. In the conversation, you and your therapist may reflect on your time together, what you have learned, and what you’re looking forward to in the future. “It can be a celebration of growth,” Sarkis says. “Parting is a sign of growth, but it’s still OK if you need to talk to someone. The door is always open.”

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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