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Page Contents: How to tell if you are ready to leave psychotherapy.                    

 

I have been seeing my therapist for almost three years. It has been a slow, yet progressing process. I am not AS anxious or depressed as much as when I began with her. Yet, I credit myself with much of my success. My hanging on, seeking proper support, reading and truly working towards living life and then a better life, are components of my progression as well. Although my therapist and I have a bond, I have doubted our current progress a few times over the past four months. Her psychodynamic approach is not improving my anxieties and I don’t call her when I am in a bind or desperate anymore. I seem to have become more religious over the past three years too and phone my clergy mentors in lieu of her. I took an inspiring trip two weeks ago and came back stronger and “ready to leave” my therapist—and find someone who specializes in cognitive work. I told her and she said I’m free to go, but that this could be part of the process. In her office I break down and don’t like myself. I think this is a sign that I should try someone else. Is that a smart idea? Am I making a mistake?

 
You will know that you have a fairly good psychotherapist when you mention termination and the psychotherapist says something like, “Well, I can’t tell you what to do, one way or the other. If you feel ready to try it on your own, then you have my blessing. See what happens. You may find that you have more confidence than you realize. And if for any reason you want to come back, you’re always welcome.”

On the other hand, if your psychotherapist says something like, “That’s ridiculous. You know you will fall flat on your face!” then you know you have a “bad therapist” who is giving you a big dose of negative hypnosis to set you up to fail.

As you describe it, your psychotherapist seems to be quite supportive.

Actually, the whole point of psychotherapy is to teach you the skills necessary to function honestly in life without a psychotherapist. There’s no way to put a time limit on this process, however. For some persons, three years can be more than adequate. Other persons may need more time.

I say this because I can’t tell, just from what you have written, whether you have reached a natural termination point, or whether you are running from some deep issue still to be resolved.

Now, if you were to leave a message on your psychotherapist’s voice mail, 25 hours before your next session, and say, “I’m cancelling my appointment for tomorrow, and I have decided to seek some other form of treatment,” that would be a big mistake.

So, considering that you seem to have a competent psychotherapist, it would be a smart idea to spend some time talking with her about terminating. This sort of honest discussion will help you discover whether or not something still unresolved remains to be treated. If, however, you don’t find anything to prevent you from leaving, then you can depart the treatment with a clean heart, to face the rest of your life.

 


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
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