The therapeutic process is a journey — one that looks, feels, and is different for every individual. If you've been on the journey for a while, you might find it challenging to stop and zoom out to see all of the progress that you've made. Here are a few ways you can work with your therapist to see if it's time for you to step back from therapy.
Length of therapy is different for everyone
How long therapy lasts is different for each person. It depends on how they’ve progressed in their therapy journey and other factors, such as their physical health.
One well-cited study shows that half of patients improved after eight sessions and 75% improved after six months. However, people with serious mental health conditions or chronic physical health conditions may need more therapy sessions and for longer periods of time, sometimes for 6 to 12 months. Some people may need mental health support their entire lives. People with chronic conditions may be working with a psychiatric provider for medication management while they pause talk therapy. But their therapy journey is ongoing and taking a pause does not mean the end of their journey.
When you end therapy is up to you and your therapist. Together, you’ll determine whether you’ve achieved the goals you set at the beginning and if it’s time to move on.
If you’ve been in therapy for a while and you’re feeling like you’ve made a good amount of progress, then it may be a sign that you're ready to lower the amount of sessions you need. If you've been going to therapy weekly, you can talk to your therapist about scaling back to bi-monthly appointments or even once a month.
Throughout this transition, it can be helpful to keep a journal of your thoughts, feelings, and any other issues that arise between sessions so that you can bring them up to your therapist. Know that feeling good 100% of the time may not be a realistic goal, but having the tools to deal with stressful situations or moments when you’re not at your best can help you get through the rough spots as you scale back.
Taking a full break
A full pause from therapy can be beneficial, as it allows you to gain some perspective on your unique healing process and put into practice the work you’ve done in therapy. If you set goals and intentions at the beginning of your journey, check back in with those to see if you've made the progress you set out to make.
If you are ready to take a break, let your therapist know as soon as you can so you can agree how to transition out of therapy and maintain your mental health. Remember that you don’t have to be completely free of your issues or typical symptoms to take a full pause from therapy, but you should always plan ahead with the right tools so you can be ready to get through the rough spots, or know when it’s time to go back to therapy.
Start by identifying resources and coping skills you’ll use when a particular issue, negative thought pattern, strong feeling state, or triggers arise. Going over all of these resources and writing them down in one of your last few therapy sessions can help you feel more confident and empowered while you’re on a full pause.
Discuss with your therapist and list your support system of family, friends, and other resources, and how you will use those during your break from therapy.
It’s also a good idea to know what your red flags are, so you know when to use the tools you learned in therapy or when you need to return to therapy.
What happens after therapy?
Therapy isn’t a one and done process. Just like how you see your primary care doctor for regular checkups, you can do the same with your therapist. You might want to see your therapist again a couple of weeks or a month after your last session to wrap things up. You also don’t have to wait for a crisis to see your therapist again. Sometimes you just might need a booster session to remind yourself what you learned before.
After the last therapy session and the months that follow, some people may have feelings of grief and loss for their time during therapy and may miss their therapist. This is a part of a natural process of letting go of the relationship with your therapist.
Always be open and talk to your therapist about where you are with therapy, whether it’s taking a brief break or if you are ready to discontinue therapy. Therapists always want what is best for you and can help you transition successfully out of therapy if you think the time is right.