When Is It Time to Take a Break From Therapy?

Medically reviewed by: Erika McElroy, Ph.D.
Thursday, May 9

The therapeutic process is a unique journey for everyone. The time it takes overall, how it’s done, and other aspects of therapy differ from person to person. While going on this journey, you might wonder if it’s time to take a break for a bit — or even longer. Or you may think about scaling back your sessions. 

How can you tell if you need this break? And how can you manage time away from therapy? We’ll explore some common signs that mean you might want to consider stepping away from your sessions. We’ll also provide helpful tips on what to do if you take a break from therapy. 

The length of therapy is different for everyone

The length of time people spend in therapy differs based on their progress and other factors, such as their overall well-being. For some people, symptoms might improve after 15 to 20 sessions. 

For others, such as those with co-occurring conditions, staying in therapy for a long period of time may be necessary. Those with serious mental health disorders might need therapy and other support, such as medication management, throughout their lives.

What about your own therapeutic journey? When you decide to stop therapy is up to you and your therapist. You can work together to determine if you’ve achieved your therapy goals and if it’s time to move on. 

Scaling back on therapy appointments

If you’ve been in therapy for a while and feel as though you’ve made good progress, it might be time to reduce the number of sessions you attend. For example, you might switch to monthly appointments if you’ve been going weekly. 

If you’re worried about losing progress during this transition, writing down your thoughts, feelings, and any issues that come up between therapy sessions can be helpful. You can discuss these with your therapist at your next appointment — and work on developing tools and skills to handle stressful situations as you scale back. 

Taking a full break from therapy

Why might you consider a total break from therapy sessions? Doing this helps you gain perspective on your journey. You can also put the skills you’ve learned from therapy into practice. Have you met your initial therapy goals? Reflecting on this during a break can help you appreciate how far you’ve come. 

If you’re ready to take a break, let your therapist know as soon as possible. Both of you can work on helping you transition out of therapy, while maintaining your mental well-being. You and your therapist can make sure you have the tools needed to handle rough spots after therapy — or determine if you should go back for more mental health support. 

Signs that indicate you should take a break from therapy

Should you scale back or take a full break from therapy? Determining when to do so may feel confusing. Maybe you’re happy with your progress — or maybe you feel like you’re not making enough. In the following sections, we’ll go over a few signs that show it’s time to consider stepping away from therapy. 

Recognizing personal growth and progress

When you start therapy, you set certain goals that you work on accomplishing. What happens when you make significant progress on this? It can mean that you’re ready to put the coping strategies you’ve learned into practice on your own. 

Using your skills and strategies outside the therapy environment can help you see how much personal growth you’ve experienced. Taking a break in order to do this allows you to manage and apply these tools independently. 

Feeling stuck or plateaued 

After going through multiple therapy sessions, you should see some progress. But what if you feel stuck instead? You might feel as though you’ve hit a plateau in your treatment and aren’t making any progress. When this happens, therapy no longer gives you new insights or breakthroughs that help you heal.

Staying in therapy in this scenario may not be beneficial. Instead, consider taking a break to reassess your goals. You may also need to reassess the methods used during therapy if they’re not helping you achieve your goals. 

Therapeutic relationship concerns 

The relationship you have with your therapist, known as the therapeutic alliance, is a key part of success on your journey. In order for this to work, you need to have a good connection with your therapist based on trust and understanding. 

Is this connection lacking? Or do you have other concerns about your therapist, such as unprofessional behavior, criticism, or other issues? If you’re not comfortable working with your therapist, consider taking a break to find a new one. You might also evaluate your therapy goals and needs during this time to ensure a better fit with either your current therapist or a new therapist. 

Tips for managing breaks from therapy

Stepping away from therapy — even for just a short time — may seem intimidating. You might worry about how you’ll handle stressful situations or triggers during your break. Or you might have concerns about how you’ll maintain your emotional and mental well-being. 

These feelings are entirely normal, and you’re not alone. Below, we’ll go over several tips to help you manage taking a break from therapy. 

Monitor your mental health 

Therapy might have helped improve your mental health, but it’s still important to monitor it during your break. Watch for any significant changes in your mood, behavior, or other aspects of your mental well-being. These may indicate that you need support again, depending on how severe or persistent they are. 

For example, if you sought therapy for depression, watch for signs that you’re struggling or experiencing symptoms again, such as feelings of hopelessness or losing interest in your usual activities. 

Using the strategies and skills you learned in therapy may help you manage these symptoms. But you might need to return to therapy sooner than planned if they get worse. 

Utilize learned strategies

Taking a break from therapy provides you with many opportunities to practice what you’ve learned. You can apply adaptive coping mechanisms, insights, and techniques from therapy to real-life situations. Putting these into practice independently helps reinforce them. 

Keep in mind that you might need to try different strategies or techniques in different situations. Through practice, you’ll learn what works best for various real-life scenarios. 

For example, if you have anxiety, you might use breathing exercises to calm your nervous system when faced with something that triggers you. Or you might challenge maladaptive thought patterns that contribute to anxiety. 

Maintain self-care practices 

Self-care plays a significant role in your well-being. Making it a priority during a break from therapy can help you maintain emotional, mental, and physical wellness. If you’re in the habit of practicing self-care, then you’ll have an easy time prioritizing it. 

If not, it might take more effort to make it part of your everyday life. Keep in mind that self-care isn’t being selfish — it’s investing in your health and well-being. 

What kinds of self-care practices might benefit you? That partly depends on your personal interests, such as any hobbies you enjoy. But there are also more general practices that anyone can benefit from, such as relaxation techniques and regular physical activity. 

Identify an appropriate time frame 

How long of a break should you take? That depends on how much progress you’ve made in therapy, how well you’re able to apply what you’ve learned in real-life situations, and other factors. 

How can you identify an appropriate time frame? Think about how severe your mental health issues are and whether or not you’ve met your therapy goals. If you still struggle with certain issues or still need to make progress, you might keep your break short, such as a few weeks or a couple months. 

If you’ve experienced a lot of personal growth and met your goals, you might be comfortable with waiting several months or even longer before communicating with your therapist or returning to sessions again. 

Being prepared for triggers as you scale back therapy 

During your therapy break, you’re bound to face triggers from time to time. Having a plan in place and the tools needed to handle these situations can help you get through these challenges smoothly. 

Think about the resources and coping skills you can use to deal with triggers, strong emotions, maladaptive thoughts, or other issues. During your final session, make a list of these resources, skills, and strategies to keep handy. For example, you might write down everyone who’s part of your support system, so you can call on them if needed.

Do you know what triggers  your mental health symptoms, and can you recognize when they’re happening? Being aware of these can help you determine which strategies to use — or when it’s time to return to therapy.

What happens after therapy?

Therapy isn’t a one-and-done process. Just as you see a primary care doctor for regular checkups, you can do the same with your therapist if needed. 

After the last session and the months that follow, you may have feelings of grief and loss for the time you spent with your therapist during your sessions. This is a natural process of letting go of your relationship with your therapist. 

Be open and talk to your therapist about where you are with therapy — whether it’s a short break or you’re ready to end therapy altogether. Your therapist wants what’s best for you and can help you transition out of therapy successfully when it’s time. 

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