When you should stop seeing a therapist
A good psychologist or counsellor will provide you with a safe space to unload, share your grievances and improve your life – but not usually forever.
While the nature of some therapists’ work is to provide a space for regular mental health “tune ups”, in many cases, the idea of counselling is to use it for a finite period of time to help you learn new coping or performance strategies.
Here’s how to know if it’s time to vacate the therapists’ chair.
When you’ve reached your goals
Whether you’re wanting to deal with a difficult life experience or you’ve got some career or relationship goals to achieve, Dr Jarrod White says the most common reason for a therapist-client relationship to end is when the “job” is done.
“Some therapists work on very goal-directed therapies, so it’s all about finishing those goals or reaching those targets and building the life you want to live. And these sort of therapists are more likely to say, ‘Okay we’ve finished up here’,” explains White, clinical psychologist from The Mind Room.
“There’s a timespan on it if you’re seeing someone for a particular issue, compared to if you’re seeing someone just to be able to debrief and have a bit of space.”
Sometimes a client will feel like they’ve got all they need from their sessions, in other cases a therapist might give the nudge that it’s time to wrap up.
“Ending a relationship with your therapist should be a discussion and something that you come to together,” Dr White says.
“If you really need to keep seeing someone, then ask your therapist to refer you.”
When you’ve become reliant
If you can’t foresee a life without your therapist, then Dr White says you may need to analyse this “safety net”.
“Ask yourself, ‘What do I need my therapist for? Can I imagine life without my therapist? Can I imagine what I would do without my therapist there?'” he suggests.
“From there, you might ask, ‘What’s keeping me with my therapist? Is it fear, and if so, what is it that I’m running from?”
Dr White says that if you fear being away from the therapist themselves, then that may be an indication that you are too reliant on them. Whereas if you fear other issues, then that might be a sign that you need to keep seeing them.
There are also occasions where a therapist will recognise that a client has reached a point where they would benefit from “going it alone” for a while.
“Sometimes a break from thinking about your mental health is what an individual needs,” he points out.
“If you’ve been thinking about something for so long, sometimes you just need to go and live without ‘working’ on it.”
When you’ve run out of subsidised sessions
One of the best gifts our government gives is the Mental Health Treatment Plan, which allows you to see a psychologist six to 10 times a year for as little as $10 or $15, thanks to generous Medicare rebates.
If you’ve come to the end of your affordable sessions, Dr White says it’s worth considering how you can continue to implement what you’ve learnt.
“There are so many online resources and support groups out there that you can reach out to, which are usually cheaper than a therapist,” he points out.
When the therapist isn’t the right fit
Every psychologist will have different strengths and personality traits and Dr White says it’s important that individuals work with a professional who they resonate with.
“Sometimes a therapist is not the match for you and sometimes you’re not the match for the therapist,” he says.
“There are so many different therapies out there and just because one relationship is ending, doesn’t meant that you’re left on your own.”
Developing romantic feelings for a therapist can also be a difficulty for some clients.
“If you’re developing sexual desires for your therapist, talk about it with them,” Dr White says.
“Because if you can’t talk about it with your therapist, then you’re not going to be having the open session that you need to have.”
How to make it easier to stop seeing a psych
If you’re feeling nervous about your post-therapy life, Dr White suggests you remind yourself of the practical things you’ve learned.
“Ask yourself, ‘What have I learned in my time here?’ and, ‘Where have I come from and where am I now?'” he suggests.
It’s important to put in place some other safety nets for you to turn to if you hit a roadblock.
“Do you have other people in your life or hobbies and activities?” Dr White asks.
“You need to know what to do or where to turn if you’re feeling stressed and like you can’t cope.”
Also know that things will get easier.
“Quitting a therapist can be difficult because seeing them can become a habit, and like quitting any habit – it becomes easier over time,” Dr White says.
“It will feel strange not to have that space, but know that it will get easier.”