Ready to Move On from Therapy … but How?

When the therapist I had been seeing for a very long time, on and off, suddenly became ill and had to leave her practice, I was miserable. I decided to see the therapist who was recommended to me to help me with my grief. That was four months ago, and I think I am OK with the loss. Now I don't really know why I would want to remain with therapy and what direction it would take. But I can't seem to end it. This was an issue with the first therapist as well. And I don't feel like exploring this as it hasn't helped me in the past. I wrestle with this issue almost constantly. My inclination is to go to the next session and tell her it will be my last. I just feel it would be the only way I could leave. Talking about leaving just isn't something I want to do. —Enough is Enough
Dear Enough is Enough,

Thank you for your question.

Saying goodbye is painful, but the ability to begin and end a relationship kindly and in full consciousness is a hallmark of acceptance of self and other—of reality. You write that you were in treatment on and off with your previous therapist for many years, and with this latest person for several months. It’s interesting that you don’t feel like exploring what it is to say goodbye, “as it hasn’t helped … in the past,” and that you “wrestle with this issue almost constantly.” Wrestling with something “almost constantly,” as you write, is a clear indication that the issue is important to you and hasn’t been resolved.

I imagined talking to you—saying a full hello and a complete goodbye, too, so I’ve put together a kind of make-believe conversation between us. I hope you don’t mind. And please feel free to add, change, agree, disagree, or comment on the following. I’d love to know what you think.

What are some reasons people can’t say goodbye? Here are a few, and I’m sure there are many more that you or someone else can add. So here goes our conversation, imagined by me, as I make believe that I am your therapist. You start the ball rolling; the italics stand for you, talking.

What if I can’t make up my mind?

If you can’t make up your mind, that’s an important thing to talk about. Do you have this issue in other areas of your life?

It’s so final. Does it mean we will never see one another again? Or think about one another again?

Of course we will think about each other sometimes. Why wouldn’t we?

We were close before. What happens to that closeness? To the history that we shared?

That history will always be a part of us.

What will you think of me after I leave? Will you still like me, or not?

My feelings about you don’t depend on your presence or your absence, but on who you are.

What will I think of you? What if I miss you? That would be hard.

Not everything is easy; missing each other is OK. Saying goodbye is sad.

What if I don’t miss you at all? What kind of person does that make me?

That will make you a person who doesn’t miss me. That’s OK, too.

I really miss my first therapist.

Ending the treatment with the new person symbolizes the end of treatment with the therapist you saw the longest and who probably means the most to you. Ending with your original therapist would have been more natural and better for everyone. Too bad that person is no longer able to continue working. It sounds to me as though you had a wonderfully warm and helpful relationship.

I feel defenseless.

You may feel defenseless, but you have learned strategies that will help you get along.

So, how do you end therapy? I want to just stop. Or go one last time and say, “This is it, I’m not coming back.”

Generally when therapy draws to a close, the therapist and the client choose an ending date together. The end of treatment, called “termination,” is a time when many important matters come to the surface and should be dealt with. This may take a few weeks or perhaps months.

I don’t know how I feel about all this. I’m sad and angry at the same time.

You may be experiencing many conflicting emotions at this time: sadness, love, and anger, for example, and you should let them out. Speak up and talk about your feelings.

So now what?

You may have many questions, like what happens next, or, what if I need treatment somewhere down the line, or even, what if I change my mind? State your feelings and ask your questions.

What if I’m not ready?

You may feel uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean necessarily that you are not ready. It’s just hard to do.

I think I’ll just stop. It’s easier.

Say goodbye face to face and eye to eye. People sometimes chicken out when they get to this stage. Do yourself a favor and say goodbye in person. It’s honest, caring, and respectful to all concerned. By the way, I’ve been a therapist for a long time, and I have many fond memories of the amazing people I’ve worked with. The door is always open.

Sincerely,
Lynn

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
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  • Farrell

    Farrell

    April 5th, 2013 at 1:56 PM

    If your therapist is like Lynn here, then you will know that you are always welcome to return. I don’t think that just because you are improving means that you have to end all contact. Why not just cut back on the visits and go a little less frequently? That way you keep the lines of communication open while still getting out there and trying all of this out for yourself. A little distance might be just what you need to get your confidence back that you can do this on your own.

  • d h

    d h

    April 5th, 2013 at 8:20 PM

    why would ending therapy be a sad thing? it means your treatment is complete and if anything you should be glad about it! this sounds like you find it tough to move on and accept changes. but please learn to. its always better because things are always changing in life.

  • Jenna Franks

    Jenna Franks

    April 6th, 2013 at 7:11 AM

    You will know when you are ready to leave. So if this isn’t the time, then why worry yourself over this? Just keep going until you feel strong enough to discontinue the treatment. Better to have too much than too little, right?

  • HEATH

    HEATH

    April 6th, 2013 at 11:42 PM

    Are you scared of leaving therapy or scare of talking about leaving?

    If it is the latter there is nothing to be scared of, you just need to say a goodbye.

    If it is the former then it seems like you have become dependent on therapy, with a guiding hand with you. Take help of a friend or family member and slowly but surely you should learn to walk on your own.

  • Matthew logan

    Matthew logan

    April 8th, 2013 at 3:54 AM

    And this is why I am not sure that therapy is for everyone, especially those who have to have a constant in their lives. Therapy is all abput evolving and changing too, and it should make you stronger and feeling more confident about turning things loose and letting go. You want to get to a point that it doesn’t feel like such a struggle to process things on your own, but in your case it sounds like you are still very dependent on having someone else in your life to lead the way. I know that it is scary letting go of that hand, but it sounds like this is the time to at least try.

  • AnonS

    AnonS

    August 13th, 2013 at 4:27 AM

    I’m not ready to say goodbye to Lynn after I read this. Afraid i’ll have serious issues when it comes to termination for me

  • Mark Kauffman

    Mark Kauffman

    October 24th, 2013 at 9:23 PM

    I had terrible allergies. I had to take allergy shots for 7years. I developed a relationship with the allergist. I got better and was no longer dependent on the shots to improve my life. It was difficult to say goodbye but it was time to move on. I have fond memories and am grateful for how much better I feel. I have a therapist. I’m starting to feel better, more independent, more able to build relationships outside the confines of a therapist’s office. I hope your therapist is really helping you too.

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