Welcome to Tuesday Therapy Notes, the weekly series that examines the types of therapy there are and common issues associated with therapy. And this week we are talking about a common question: how do you know when you are done with therapy?
And in some ways this is a strange question to be discussing, since ultimately only you can answer that (perhaps with help from your current therapist). Yet I know personally I thought I was done with therapy several times and it turns out I wasn’t. And I know that I am not alone in this regard.
The first time I thought I was done with therapy was because my personal relationships were stable. In fact, they were actually going great. Yet I hadn’t yet worked out some of the underlying demons that kept tripping me up. And when I ultimately returned to therapy, I felt like such a failure.
I know now that I wasn’t. It has taken time for me to realize that recovery is messy, and certainly not linear. There is no shame on needing more support after feeling like you’ve been doing so well. After all, we don’t fault cancer patients who have a re-occurrence of their cancer and the same should be true for mental illness as well. Sometimes we move forward and sometimes the illness knocks us down. But hopefully never out.
The second time I ended therapy was because I was moving from the East Coast to the Midwest. It was a time when I had arguably the most change in my life, and on a related note was probably when I needed a therapist the most. Yet I was excited by the new changes and that caused me to turn a blind eye to the rising anxiety. However, this time when I returned to therapy, I felt no shame, knowing that this was just something I needed to do for myself.
And the therapist I found here in the Chicago was one I stayed with for several years. However, as I’ve mentioned, sometimes it is important to know when to find a new therapist. For me, I knew that it was time to find a new therapist because I felt like I had gone as far as I could with my former one. Don’t get me wrong, she was great, I just wasn’t getting as much bang for my buck anymore so to speak.
Yet this raises an important distinction, which is knowing whether you are done with therapy or just done with that therapist. For me, even though I knew I had gone as far as I could with my former therapist, I also knew that I still had demons that needed to be exorcised. When you still feel that anxiety or depression, when you’re still triggered by the demons of the past or the voices in your head, it is probably a sign that you should stay with therapy. There may be a time when you feel like you have a good handle on your demons, like you’ve addressed the issues that helped spawn those demons, like you can navigate the intersection of stress and relaxation. And that, that is when you should start asking, am I done with therapy? Because you might very well be.