Therapy can be a hugely valuable, even life-saving asset for managing your mental health. But a major part of a therapist's job is to give you the tools to manage your health on your own, meaning that at a certain point, it might be time to quit therapy. But how do you know when it's time?
"The goal of therapy is to make a client feel empowered to make their own decisions and trust themselves in their choices," therapist Kelly Houseman tells Bustle. "When a client feels like they can take on the world and anything it might throw at them on their own, it may be the most opportune time to stop."
The signs that a therapeutic relationship may be coming to its end can be subtle, but they're pretty distinctive.
“There are a number of ways you can tell when it’s time to end therapy," psychiatrist Prakash Masand M.D. tells Bustle. "First and foremost, if you have achieved your goals or overcome the main reason you started therapy in the first place, this is a stopping point for many patients."
"Often, individuals begin therapy with specific goals in mind or issues they'd like to address," explains therapist Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, of Take Root Therapy. "While doing the work, other challenges or patterns may come to light, causing the focus of the work to shift, which is fine and likely to happen." So how can you be sure you're 'done' if your original goals aren't necessarily a priority any more?
"You'll know that you're ready to wrap up when you have developed a new way of responding to the challenges and stressors in your life," Harouni Lurie says. "You may have received new tools or methods for responding to these things on your own." Therapists guide their clients through their problems using many different methods, including cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other tailored approaches. Harouni Lurie's clients "graduate," she says, when they're "feeling empowered and able to approach things with intention based on their new insights."
But there are other signs your relationship with therapy may be at its end.“Another sign it might be time to end therapy is if you feel the patient-therapist connection is no longer there," Masand says. "If at one time you looked forward to going to therapy because it provided you clarity and direction but now you don’t feel you are getting much out of it or worse, it feels like a major task, the connection has probably been lost.” This could also be a signal that you need to move to another therapist or approach.
The major signal that you're ready to end therapy, however, is if you don't have that much to talk about any more. If you're turning up to sessions with stories of success about therapeutic techniques applied to your life and no new difficulties, or feel like you have to invent things to discuss, it's a signal that your therapy has done its job.
“After time, a question that all patients should ask themselves is: do I just like going to talk and get things off my chest? Or, is my therapist still helping me actively work through my problems?" says Masand. "Sometimes after the actual therapy goals have been met, it’s common for patients to like going to therapy just to talk. While there really isn’t anything wrong with this, it is a sign that you could be confusing your therapist with the role of a friend.”
If you do decide that you're therapeutically ready to graduate from therapy, going through the transition period of ending therapy may be hard.
"Adjusting to post-therapy life can be nerve-racking," Houseman says. "It may be scary to think of life without a weekly check-in with one’s therapist; after all, they have been there to dissect every major moment for a length of time." However, the decision to move on should be one you make together, discussing whether you are ready to taper off sessions and what the final point will be.
"We recommend having a closing session where you can identify what's been helpful for you, what you want to do more of, and what you're going to continue to work on outside of therapy," Harouni Lurie says. "This could also be a good opportunity to identify any red flags that will alert you to reach out for some support in the future."
Because, experts say, once you leave therapy, that doesn't mean you can't come back. "While we would like you to go forth in the world without us, it is completely acceptable to check in again should a crisis occur." Masand says. "Sometimes it is because you are going to therapy that you have made progress and once you stop, some people experience setbacks."
If you're entering the post-therapy stage, pay careful attention to your mental health and prioritize self-care. "My hope as a therapist is that after therapy, my clients' self-talk will have taken on the same supportive and non-judgmental tone that they heard while speaking with me," says Harouni Lurie. "It can be difficult to be kind to ourselves, but it can be easier after someone else, like a therapist, has shown us how."
And Houseman says it's a good idea to think of your new skills as "tools." "Trust yourself," she says. "You have tools now that you never had before or were hidden. Remember the techniques, messages, and mantras they taught you when something is difficult. And keep in mind that although your therapist was a facilitator, you were the one who put in the effort and learned the lessons."
The post-therapy era doesn't have to be scary. It can be a seriously empowering time, as you step forth into a newly independent life, armed with a whole host of tools to get you through.