Dedicated, skilled, and caring therapists will, together with you, discuss the right time to end therapy. Usually they’ll discuss it with you in the first few sessions so you can be prepared for about how long therapy might take. They’ll share with you possible treatment time-frames, and together you’ll decide how to proceed.
Your therapist and you will schedule regular progress check-ins, every few sessions or even once per session, and assess how effective the therapy is for you. If it isn’t after a reasonable period of time, a responsive therapist will try other approaches with you or might even suggest a different therapist.
But suppose that you decide your therapist isn’t for you and you are planning to leave therapy, either to work with someone else or because you feel you no longer need therapy—what should your course of action be?
If you are comfortable with your therapist, and they’ve been helpful, supportive, empathetic and respectful, it may be a very good idea to schedule a final session in person. The term “closure” has become so cliched that it has lost much of it’s meaning, but discussing what you’ve accomplished in therapy, why you feel ready to leave, and where you are headed, can provide a sense of authentic closure, as well as achievement and future direction.
But what if the therapist you’ve been working with has been throwing out all sorts of red flags? What if you feel they are not helpful, and even possibly harmful?
If possible, I suggest you discuss with a supportive friend or adviser whether or not it is time to move on. This can help you determine if you have the objectivity to make the call. I think determining this is often a case-by-case basis.
Sometimes in therapy, a client might feel they want to quit just when they are approaching challenging and ultimately helpful discoveries about themselves and their lives. Uncomfortable feelings may arise and a good therapist will help you process them.
But you could also be experiencing very real red flags and it very well may be definitely time to move on. In this case, it is probably not a good idea to schedule a final appointment. The truth is, it is up to you.
If you feel you have legitimate complaints, have given serious thought to them and have preferably discussed them with a member of your support system then why pay for another session?
I believe there is nothing wrong with calling up and telling a red-flag therapist that you won’t need their services anymore. You can say you are moving forward or that you no longer have time or room in your budget for therapy. I don’t recommend you discuss why you are letting them go if their neglect has been serious; if they are someone unethical and manipulative, the conversation could be very uncomfortable for you. The therapist could also try to talk you into scheduling just “one more appointment.” *
If you are feeling very vulnerable, still in need of therapy, but feel strongly that this therapist is not for you, call and cancel your next appointment and say that at present you are not ready to schedule another appointment. This will give you time to find another therapist.
You might tell your new therapist that your experiences with your previous therapist have been less than helpful, and sign a release giving them permission to speak to your old therapist. They can call or write to them, requesting session notes and treatment plans so that there is some basic continuity of treatment. This way your old therapist will certainly get the message that their services are no longer required.
If you have had the unusual experience of your therapist causing you to feel intimidated or extremely uncomfortable and you feel you simply cannot cope with speaking to them again, try calling their voice mail when you know they won’t pick up. Leave a message saying you will no longer be coming to therapy.
*There can also be legitimate reasons why a therapist will want to schedule an appointment and ask you to reconsider leaving therapy. A caring and skilled therapist will want you to get the help you need whether or not it is with them.
More on this topics in this post can be found in Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On.