My first therapist was like a parent to me. I started seeing her when I was 23 years old, and didn’t stop seeing her until almost a decade later. Over those 10 years, I grew up in more ways than one. I finally confronted the traumas of my childhood, I began to get a grip on my panic and anxiety disorder, and I explored what it meant to come full circle and start a family of my own.
I’d had a few therapists before her, but none had lasted more than a few months. She was the first therapist I trusted, which was why I ended up seeing her for so long. She made me feel seen. She called me on my B.S. in ways that felt comfortable and constructive. She helped illuminate the ways I’d been mistreated as a child. I was finally able to own some of the pain I’d experienced — pain I’d never had an outlet to safely process.
When It’s Time to Quit Therapy
It was soon after my first child was born that it felt like it was time to end things. But it wasn’t clear how I should do that, and my reasons for doing so felt vague. In all honesty, my main reason had nothing to do with the therapy itself, or the fact that I was ready for the change. It was entirely practical. She was in the city, I had moved to the city-suburbs, and it was getting really hard to find childcare for my baby while I schlepped for an hour both ways to see her.
Common reasons for quitting therapy
Like many people, the realization that it was time to stop therapy wasn’t as clear-cut as I imagined it would be. My reasons were mostly practical. But I was also feeling like maybe I’d done everything I was meant to do with my therapist — that now that I was a parent, it made sense to move onto a new therapist, to mark this change in my life. I also felt like maybe I wanted a break from therapy.
These are all valid reasons for ending therapy. There are actually many reasons to pause therapy, and all of them have validity. Here are some of the most common:
- You feel “done.” You feel like you have covered all the grounds that you set out to, and you feel equipped to deal with life outside the therapist/patient relationship.
- Your therapist doesn’t feel like the right fit. This is best figured out early on, but sometimes it can take several sessions, or even longer to understand this. It can sometimes be difficult to confront some of the things a therapist helps you unearth, but therapy should never make you feel less safe.
- Therapy doesn’t fit into your life anymore. Of course if you are still dealing with mental health issues, therapy should be a priority in the same way that going to the doctor when you are ill is. But sometimes our insurance stops covering our sessions, or our work schedule conflicts with times that our therapist is available.
- You just feel that it’s time to move on. Sometimes we can’t put our finger on the reason, but it just feels right, in our gut.
Ending Therapy In A Healthy Way
It’s one thing to do know it’s time to quit, but it’s quite another to have the wherewithal to bring this up with your therapist. It can be very anxiety-provoking to do so, which is natural. After all, this is likely someone you have grown to trust, and you have shared things with them you have shared with few other people on earth.
For me, I knew I was done a few months before I actually brought it up — I was that nervous. When I finally did, it was no big deal to my therapist, or at least she was good at hiding how she was actually feeling. It’s important to remember that therapists are professionals, and are taught how to deal with the endings of their therapy relationships. They may have feelings about the relationship too, but they know that ultimately you ending therapy isn’t about them, but about you and your needs.
Most therapists will suggest that you have a few “close-out sessions” to end things. In these sessions, you might discuss the whole trajectory of what you covered, and what your hopes and fears are for the future. Most therapists will leave the door open for you to stay in touch should anything new come up.
Don’t “ghost” your therapist
Some people feel more comfortable never having the goodbye chat with their therapist and end up simply “ghosting” them. Although this may feel more emotionally comfortable, this is not the recommended way of doing things. It not just because it may leave a therapist not knowing what went wrong (and if there was something your therapist did that turned you off, it’s good for them to know). But it’s also less healthy for you.
Ghosting your therapist can leave you with many unresolved feelings about the relationship. A gradual goodbye allows everyone to have clarity about the therapy as a whole, and gives the experience more lasting value.
Keeping the Door Open for the Future
Ending things wasn’t really traumatic with my therapist: the build-up in my mind was much worse than the reality. And there was no guilt or hard feelings from her when I told her it felt like time for me to end things. We had a few close-out sessions and that was that. Or so it seemed…
It turned out that things weren’t so cut and dry. I ended up having an increase in my panic attacks a few months after ending things with her. It wasn’t related to ending the therapy, at least not that I’m aware of. I was visited by a few major triggers (postpartum anxiety, my son being hospitalized, a major fight with my father), and suddenly really needed to see her again.
Luckily, when I called her again, she was welcoming. She was more than willing to see me again, and as usual, she was able to help me with my panic attacks. I ended up seeing her for another year or so after that, and then was able to close things out…for good.
Most therapists — unless there is a special circumstance involved — will see you again, even after you ended things, and regardless of how much time has elapsed. It’s always a good idea to discuss this option before ending things (another reason for those close-out session) so you know if the door will be open in the future.
Ending therapy can be either bittersweet or a huge relief. Usually it will be something you have strong feelings about, even if you were ready for it to end. That’s understandable, so be gentle and loving with yourself as you move through the process.