I’m not saying don’t go to therapy. I am a huge promoter of attending psychotherapy for the innumerable benefits it can provide emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and even physically over time. What I want to convey is that it is okay, and even recommended, that you take breaks from seeing your therapist. I’m sure your therapist would be happy to see you every week just as they would be happy to see you every other week, or less, or really, whenever you want to go. You see, the beauty of it is that in therapy you are in control. You know what works best for you and you can make modifications as you progress through life.
One of the main benefits of taking a break from psychotherapy is that you can practise your skills. Over the time that you have been seeing your therapist, you have acquired certain skills and tools in order to cope with life. My favourite skills are the sense-oriented ones which help me to regulate my emotions. Those include things such as taking a deep breath or using lavender oil for self-soothing. There are cognitive skills which are learned: things you can tell yourself or not tell yourself, and focusing your attention elsewhere. But I find those skills more difficult to employ than the ones which include physical motion or senses.
Either way, you have skills. And in each moment that you are not in your therapist’s office, you are hopefully using those skills. It takes a lot of practise and patience with yourself in order for skills to become effective. As an example, if you are seeing your therapist every day, you are probably in crisis. You are relying heavily on your therapist to help you use your skills. Thus, you don’t have much of an opportunity to practise the skills without help and on your own initiative. Choosing to say “no thanks” to seeing your therapist for a day, or a week or two could be hugely beneficial. You could even see it as a challenge to see how well you do without them.
You will also have lots to report during your next session in terms of how you fared. You can discuss moments which were challenging for you or during which you resorted to what we call “old coping.” This means you may have chosen to use a coping mechanism which you have used in the past and which you had gotten used to. That coping mechanism may not always be healthy. It’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to fail. That just gives you an opportunity to do better the next time. It’s a part of the learning process.
Sometimes you don’t have a choice and the choice is made for you in terms of not seeing your therapist for a while. At times they may not have availability on their schedule or they might want to take some time away from the office. Sometimes that can be scary, the idea of not being able to see your therapist for a given amount of time. What if something comes up and you need to talk about it? Well, this is where we seek outside support. We all know that if it is an extreme emergency, we can call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. But aren’t we supposed to have balanced lives, and in balanced, I mean engaging in social activities rather than isolating? The more you see a friend, the more the relationship can become solidified and closer. Ideally, you would then be able to rely on that person for some emotional support. We need to have several people like this in our lives, in case one isn’t available. Then all you have to do is pick up the phone.
This is also a time for planning ahead. If you know you are not going to see your therapist for a certain amount of time, it might be a good idea to plan to meet up with some friends. That way they can hold you accountable and you can practise opposite action. That is if at the last minute, you really don’t feel like stepping out of your home you do it anyway. Then you give yourself lots and lots of praise for that accomplishment. You can even choose to reward yourself afterwards with a treat.
One of my personal favourite reasons for saying “no” to psychotherapy is for the virtue of practising saying “no.” Saying “no” feels powerful. It really does! Have you ever tried saying it on purpose and then noticing how you felt afterwards? You are asserting your will and demanding others to respect your ultimatum. If they cannot respect it, it’s their problem, not yours.
There was a time in my life whence I did not say “no” enough. Sometimes I didn’t realize that I had the right to say “no” because that “no” was disregarded so much, I didn’t feel as if I had a choice. I felt as if I was strongly obligated to go along with what was being demanded of me, even when it came to letting my own boundaries be violated. I’m not putting the blame on myself, but I used to. This happens frequently to people who have been victims of abuse, including sexual abuse and domestic violence.
Those who have been traumatised because their “no” was not respected, can particularly benefit by saying “no” to a lot of things. What better place to practise saying it than in the safety of a psychotherapist’s office? Several years back, my participation in therapy included a lot of resistance. The resistance was important to me. Only when I truly believed that I could trust their intentions did I let my guard down.
There were also times in therapy when I could not bring myself to talk. I felt so traumatised that putting words to what had happened felt unbearable. During those times I wrote, drew, or engaged in play therapy, which was much easier than talking. It’s easier to make a sand tray of how you feel when you have been hurt so much that you cannot open your mouth lest it makes the trauma seem too real. Saying “no,” to me, is an acknowledgement of my strength and of how far I have come. You can come up with your own positive reasons for the practice of saying “no,” as long as you can relate to those reasons. You will know when it feels right to say it. Trust your instinct.