Michael D. Kimmel
Have you ever had a therapist? If so, how did you decide when your work together was done?
As a therapist for over 20 years now, I’ve had a few clients who found it difficult to tell me when they were “done” (or “done for now”). They usually don’t have to tell me, I can tell when we’re finishing up: the sessions start to become more social and less psychological. Often, it’s me who suggests that maybe the client has achieved what he/she came for – and – would they like to stop and integrate all that they’ve learned?
I’m excited when a client achieves what they came in for because it makes me feel good to be a part of their growth and progress. I don’t want clients to become dependent on me; that’s not what good therapy is about. Good therapy is when you come in with some things about yourself that you’d like to change and – by working with a therapist – you change those things.
Ending your work with your therapist might bring up lots of emotions. After all, your therapist may be one of your closest confidants. But if your therapy has reached a point where it isn’t doing much for you anymore, ending it can be a positive thing, like a kind of “graduation.”
If you’re not getting what you want out of your therapy, tell your therapist! It’s useful for us therapists to know so we can pivot and make sure that you get what you need. Clients’ needs change over time and good therapy always follows you, the client, and what you want. It’s not about the therapist; that’s why I think every therapist needs to have their own therapist, to keep our sessions totally focused on our clients, and not let our own stuff “leak” into their session.
Here are some ways to know that it’s time to “break up” with your therapist:
- You feel like your work with them is done.
- You feel like you haven’t made much progress lately.
- Your therapist disrespects your boundaries, (e.g., flirts with you, wants to be your friend).
- Your therapist isn’t open to feedback from you.
- Your therapist talks too much about themselves.
If your therapy isn’t giving you what you want, you’ve discussed your feelings with your therapist and they’re receptive, give them a few more sessions to see if there’s an improvement. On the other hand, if you‘re sure that you’re “done,” a good therapist will understand where you’re coming from and give you referrals to other therapists, if you want them.
One of the best parts of ending therapy is practicing saying “goodbye.” We often don’t get the chance to have clean closure in relationships, a face-to-face conversation in person or over video chat is a great way to do that. Talk to your therapist about why you’re stopping. Don’t just “ghost” them. It’s good for both you and your therapist to have an honest, respectful discussion of why it’s time to wrap it up.
As a therapist, I don’t take it personally when someone wants to stop coming in. I want to learn from the experience to see if there’s anything I can do in the future to be an even better therapist. It’s a growth opportunity for me, too. If your therapist gets upset or tries to talk you out of leaving, that’s another good reason to terminate therapy. Remember: It’s about you, not them.
At the end of the day, the only person who knows whether or not your therapist is being helpful is you. There are plenty of other therapists out there, so don’t stay with a therapist who isn’t helping you. It’s your time and your money. You get to decide where and with whom you want to spend it. A good therapist will respect and understand your decisions, and a bad one isn’t worth working with, anyway!
–Michael Dale Kimmel is a local licensed psychotherapist (LCSW 20738) in private practice and an author. You can learn more about him and his work at lifebeyondtherapy.com.