Dear Dr. Darcy:
I’ve been in therapy for 14 months and I’m at an impasse. I see my therapist weekly and I’d like to take a break from therapy but I’m not sure I’m ready to. Should I wait for my therapist to suggest it or should I? How does one end therapy? I think I’m better but what if I lose it during the break? Will she let me come back if I need to or is this considered offensive?
I’m going to try and answer this without going into a tirade about traditional modes of therapy and the ambiguity around criteria for ending a service that ABSOLUTLEY should have an endpoint.
Therapists are service providers. Clients come to us with a problem or a goal and I believe that it is our responsibility to guide the client through the process of reaching that goal and in the event that the endpoint is ambiguous or is for some reason not obvious to the client, I believe that it is our ethical obligation to hold up a sign that says “Great Job! You Did It. Now let’s decide if you want to continue therapy or if you’re done paying for my house in the Hamptons.” Unfortunately, my beliefs are unusual and it is more common to hear tales of people who find themselves ready to depart from counseling without knowing what the protocol is.
Protocol involves being direct about your feelings and thoughts. Therapy should be the place where you practice being as direct and honest as possible. Try something like this: “When I began working with you, my issue was XYZ. It’s been 14 months and I’d like to talk about my progress and discuss a timeline for termination.” Your therapist should be open to having this discussion. She should be open to hearing your concerns about ‘losing it’ and you can request that she help you map out a game plan to employ in the event that you ‘lose it.’ All in all, this conversation should be a positive one that confirms the hard work you’ve done since entering therapy.
Taking a break from therapy is not considered offensive. If your therapist appears to react negatively, ask her about how it’s making her feel. Let her know that she looks [unhappy, sad, angry]. Hopefully she can be human for a moment and own her own feelings. After 14 months, one would hope that there is enough safety for the two of you to have this conversation in a mutually respectful way. In the unlikely event that this doesn’t go well, let me know and I’ll be happy to guide you further.