When someone tells me they want to stop therapy, I like to say in response: "There are two mistakes I can make right now. Mistake #1 would be to try to talk you into staying when really you have done the work you came here to do, and it’s time for you to go, no matter what I think. Mistake #2 would be to say ‘Okay’ and let you go when I should try to convince you to stay because there's a lot more benefit you could derive from staying.”
So which is it? And how can you know?
First, let me acknowledge an obvious consideration for both the therapist and the client: We need to rule out the therapist wanting the client to stay because it helps fill out the therapist’s schedule and finances. That is a real concern, and one it’s worth making explicit in the room. Do I want a client to stay to help pay my bills? Therapists are running a business like anyone else, and this is a consideration like anything else.
But let’s assume you have an ethical therapist who has done their own internal accounting, and the conversation is as it should be: all about you.
When it's time to stop therapy
There is no one answer as to when it’s time to stop therapy, but let me suggest several possibilities:
- You don’t think you can go any farther with this particular therapist, for whatever reason, ranging from rightness (or wrongness) of fit to simply having learned all you can from this person.
- Your outside life is so demanding you cannot keep to a consistent schedule and therefore are not in a position to develop any kind of internal momentum.
- You feel done—not like there’s no more to learn, or all your symptoms are gone, but you just don’t feel like you have the energy for any more self-exploration at this particular point in your life.
- You have developed a relationship with your own unconscious process. This can feel like having internalized your therapist’s voice: “What would he/she say in this situation?” And having an inkling of the answer. You know how to work with your stuff — whether through dreams, or journaling, or any way you have developed to pay attention to signals from your unconscious.
When you should continue with therapy
When is it time to push forward and continue with therapy even when you feel like quitting? Again, here are some possible answers, though the list is not complete:
- Some part of you knows you don't want to deal with something, that something is making you uncomfortable, and quitting therapy is one way to stop dealing with it.
- You feel you have a lot more potential that you’re still not living, and you’re working with a therapist you think can help you get there, even if it’s taking way longer than you thought it would.
- You know you have a history of needing to push yourself or be pushed to get through things that are uncomfortable, and that left to your own devices you will likely just drift. Choosing to stay is therefore somewhat akin to having a trainer in the gym because you know you won’t exercise otherwise.
- You trust your therapist completely, and he or she says you’d be making a mistake if you quit. I’ll never forget my first therapist, who told me when I was going to quit that if I did so I would be “screwing up the rest of your life” (she used more profane and direct language). She was right, and I knew it in that moment, and so I stayed.
So if you’re thinking about quitting, let your therapist know your thoughts. No matter which direction your decision goes, it’s a very rich and rewarding conversation to have.
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.