Am I done with therapy?
February 26, 2009 4:08 PM   Subscribe

How do you know when you're "done" with therapy?

I've been going to weekly sessions for about 2 months now, just for some minor life transition stuff but I wonder if I'll just "know" when I've done the work I need to do. Will the therapist tell me? I'm already feeling like sometimes we just sort of stare at each other and have long pauses where there's nothing more to say. Is my therapist just not so good? Is this the way it's supposed to be?

I was never really in crisis so it's not like there's some major breakthrough to expect. I'm sure I could blab on for hours with my therapist about crap that annoys me and people who I think are stupid but I'm not sure there's much point to that other than not making my friends listen to my whining.
posted by otherwordlyglow to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've been thinking about this same question a lot lately. I think you do kind of have a distinct feeling when you're "done." I actually found it helpful to raise the question with my therapist, because it made me think more clearly about why I was there and why and when I might stop.

Here are some other thoughts. Blabbing in therapy about crap that annoys you can actually be rather illuminating, because you begin to see patterns in what annoys you and can begin to uncover why. It can be really constructive to identify those triggers, because often little things are symbolic of bigger things. And there are times I've felt that not making my friends listen to my whining has been good for my friendships, or has put into perspective what I really do find helpful to vent about and what fuels itself.

Two months doesn't sound like a long time. I found myself questioning the value of therapy for the first few months; after that it became exponentially more helpful. Just a data point, but I'd personally encourage you to stick with it for a bit and see if it starts to feel more helpful. You'd be surprised about what kinds of things you can have breakthroughs about.

(And I too didn't begin because of a crisis but more for general things I wanted to think about and work on.)
posted by bassjump at 4:19 PM on February 26, 2009

You should talk to your therapist. They generally don't tell you your done and most good ones are happy to work with you on what you want to do next. Therapists are, basically, sounding boards.

Long silences are not uncommon if you are new to therapy. There is always something to talk about but the impetus is on you. Questions, comments, and anything you think really should be discussed with her.
posted by chairface at 4:19 PM on February 26, 2009

I went for two years after my divorce. There was a pretty clear progression. First, I had to figure out what my issues were. Then, we worked on them. There came a time, though, when all we talked about was how well I was doing, how I encountered a trigger situation, but dealt with it as we had discussed. That's when we started talking about "breaking up," but the last session was a bit sudden. I was sitting in the waiting room, and I had absolutely nothing I wanted to talk to her about. Sure, some stuff had happened, and I'd dealt with it, but I didn't feel the need to discuss it with her. I didn't need her advice, or her encouragement. So I told her I was done. The last session, she gave me some areas for further exploration, stuff like that, but it was cordial and friendly, a bit teary, really, for both of us, with an open invitation to come back if needed.
posted by MrMoonPie at 4:29 PM on February 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If the reason for entering therapy was situational (e.g moved to a new city, job turned out to suck, you felt disconnected and gloomy) and the situation - or your attitude towards it - has improved, then yeah, you might be done.

If you went in for longer-term stuff (e.g. why do I always date someone who treats me like shit?), you may have hit a plateau, which is pretty common in my experience (I've been in therapy, but I am not a therapist). It usually takes longer than eight sessions to untangle a lifetime's worth of behavior and thought patterns.

Do talk to your therapist. You may want to drop from a weekly appointment (if that's what you're doing) to every other week, or once a month. I did that periodically when I was in therapy after my mom died (so, HUGE issues) and felt "stuck." After a couple of weeks I usually found that there was stuff I needed to talk about.
posted by rtha at 4:30 PM on February 26, 2009

Response by poster: All good thoughts so far. I'm going tonight so I might broach the subject with her but mostly I'm thinking "What can I think of to talk with her about tonight?" and I'm almost feeling pressure to come up with something notable. Nothing's happened or changed since last week and I don't feel stressed about anything in particular, though knowing that the outlet is there should I need it, is probably still comforting.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:46 PM on February 26, 2009

I'm in therapy. Have been for years. Originally it was for a very specific issue, but as we worked through that, there were other things that I found useful to work on. By all accounts (including my therapist's) I'm a very high-functioning, well-balanced, thoughtful, kind person free of any major issues, and very capable of managing the small issues that all of us deal with.

So why do I still go? Because it's very easy for me to admit that I'm not perfect, and I'd rather not settle for being a "good enough" person. I might be fine with it, but I want to give my partner the "best me" that I'm able to cultivate. My family and friends deserve the best me that I can give them. As long as I'm not perfect, I'm willing to work on the little things that could improve my life and by extension, the lives of those I interact with.

Will I be in therapy for the rest of my life? I don't know. I do know that an hour a week is a pretty small price for the dividends it pays.

I'm not suggesting that you might think about therapy for the rest of your life. Only that therapy is about self improvement. You're done with therapy when you are no longer interested in using that resource to improve. You will always have things to work on because you will never be perfect.
posted by ericc at 5:31 PM on February 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

The first time that I was "done" was a "fake" done. My therapist was very concerned about me and actually called me once or twice to make sure -- I wasn't done, I just didn't have any more to tell her then, but I definitely had a few spells where I NEEDED to be in therapy that year. I was back in and out of therapy, not on a set schedule, for another couple years. Then I decided late last year that I must still have some things to work on, but didn't really have much to say. At that point I stopped going and haven't made an appointment for about four months now.

When REALLY knew I was done was when I successfully managed to "self-calm" -- I felt a panic attack starting, and without taking additional medication, I managed to re-center my mental state to take into account the things that otherwise would've brought on a panic attack. That's really when I realized that I was empowered to control these things that otherwise would've sent me in spirals and circles. Since then, I still see my psychiatrist every few months, but that's mainly to address the physical side effects of getting off the medication that I needed while I was in heavy therapy. I still need some medication to an extent, but since everything traces back to what's probably a hereditary biochemical imbalance, I'll probably be on medication of one type or another until they figure out how to fix it.
posted by SpecialK at 6:05 PM on February 26, 2009

My relationships with therapists have just kind of casually ended. Eventually, I just stop calling to schedule appointments. Usually there's some reason why I can't schedule one at the end of a session and then it just never happens again.

Sometimes when I was in therapy, I didn't have anything to say for weeks at a time, only to have something that I really *NEEDED* to talk about the next week. I would say that I definitely got a sense of when it was just naturally over, as opposed to just in a sort of lull. I can't really define it, just a sense of being ready to take the training wheels off the bike for a while.

Which isn't to say that I'm "done" with therapy for the rest of my life, but I knew when I was ready to try wielding my mental health on my own.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:02 PM on February 26, 2009

A problem which may accelerate due to current economic challenges is that therapists occasionally are reluctant to release clients, because they fear losing the clients' regular income.

Some time ago, I attended a conference headed by a friend who is a well-known relationship counselor. (IANAT, however). During a round table discussion, therapists discussed this difficulty, and a few admitted that they allowed clients to continue, even when the clients really seemed to have completed their therapies, because they could not afford to lose the clients' weekly income.

If you feel as though you don't have a strong bond with your therapist, or that your initial concerns have been remedied, please discuss this during your next session. And if you're not satisfied with the answers you receive, or still feel concerned, consider visiting a different therapist (to determine if the bond is the issue) or taking a "sabbatical" from therapy.
posted by terranova at 10:43 PM on February 26, 2009

I was just wondering this recently, and brought it up with my therapist. I realized during the discussion that it was exactly what you say that I was dreading--mostly I'm thinking "What can I think of to talk with her about tonight?" and I'm almost feeling pressure to come up with something notable. My therapist told me I'm working too hard.

Now I think of therapy as my weekly "worry time", and if anything comes up during the rest of the week that is bothering me, I can easily defer it to my appointment time. It's great! I've also found that surprisingly, things DO come up to talk about, even when I don't think anything has happened. If all else fails, I can talk about my dreams.

I've been in therapy for just over a year.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:42 AM on February 27, 2009

Response by poster: So as follow-up, in my session last night my therapist asked me if I wanted to continue or if I thought I had reached the somewhat vague goals I had outlined when we started. This was after some discussion about how I was feeling generally and asking me some other very direct questions about my mood. So I didn't even really have to bring it up, I guess she was thinking the same thing! She left it totally up to me about what I wanted to do but also told me that she thought I was handling things well and wasn't concerned about anything. So I'm going to go back in two weeks (my idea) and re-assess in the intervening time. I think it's useful to have that outlet but I also would love to do something else with my Thursday evenings so maybe I'll consider myself "cured" for now!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:24 AM on February 27, 2009

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