When new patients come to me, they tell me about their previous experience with therapy and why it ended – invariably, why the patient ended it. The reasons they give are troubling and all too common. Shedding light on these reasons can help people make smart decisions about when to leave a therapist or to terminate therapy all together.
It should go without saying that if people feel they are spinning their wheels and aren’t getting better, they should leave their therapist. Therapy can and should yield results and shouldn’t be limited to weekly venting sessions. While it may provide a temporary relief, the latter fosters dependence and ultimately reinforces the patient’s problems. Instead, therapy should focus on outcome and achieving goals. Treatment should be well-defined and not an interminable wait for change to happen. It shouldn’t be an endless exploration of childhood issues that bear no relevance to current functioning or the future.
From the start, the therapist should assist the patient in establishing realistic goals, and the patient should feel that these goals are being achieved. A patient should feel a sense of control that enables change within a few weeks of treatment. Change doesn’t need to be drastic to bring about this feeling; it can come in small and measurable doses. If this isn’t happening, then move on.
Sometimes it's an easy call: If your therapist is a clock-watcher, calls you by the wrong name or dozes off, you should move on.
Characteristics of the therapist also factor in as to whether one should move on or not. Just as important as the skill of the therapist is how comfortable you are with him or her. You should feel supported and as though the therapist is your ally, and you should walk away from the session feeling inspired, hopeful and well understood. If you don’t, and if the therapist does nothing more than nod his head and provide vague utterances of reassurance like “I see” or ask questions that might seem dismissive (like the classic “And how does that make you feel?”), then move on. This type of therapy proves ineffective while a more positive and engaging therapist is better able to help a patient achieve optimal results.
You should most definitely quit your therapist if he or she makes veiled threats like “If you stop seeing me, then you’ll plunge into depression.” This is nothing more than fear-mongering by a therapist who cares more about ego and money than the well-being of the patient.
If your therapist is a clock-watcher, calls you by the wrong name or dozes off, you should move on. Further, if you find yourself listening to your therapist’s problems, then that is a sure sign things have gone awry and another good reason to quit. Therapy is expensive, and you should be getting what you go in for: full and effective attention and help.
Finally, if you have gained from therapy what you set out to, if you feel you’ve developed skills to help resolve problems and conflicts, if you’ve learned to cope with stress, and if you have gotten past the things that have been holding you back, then the time has come to graduate from therapy, and you can do so with confidence.