by Anne-Marie Varga
Medically Reviewed by:
Danielle Wade, LCSW
by Anne-Marie Varga
Medically Reviewed by:
Danielle Wade, LCSW
For various reasons, you might be thinking about ending your sessions. Here’s my journey since doing so and a transformed perspective that’s helped me cope.
Well, the time has come. After 4 1/2 years, several breakdowns, one good ol’ severe depressive episode, and countless tears, I have stopped seeing my therapist.
This was not a decision I made lightly. In fact, it was a decision that was basically made for me. I no longer have health insurance, and I no longer have the job security to pay for sessions out of pocket. So, now I no longer have therapy.
I didn’t receive a certificate of completion for finishing therapy. No one made me a cake. I didn’t even get a card. There were no “Congratulations! You survived therapy!” messages from my family or friends. It was, at its core, just another session.
My sister is a neuropsychologist, and a few years ago, as we were chatting about the brain, I asked her if she ever thought about her patients outside of the clinic. Her answer was an easy no. I asked her if she thought my therapist thought about me outside of our sessions. Another easy no — though this one almost sounded like a laugh.
In some ways, it made sense. I don’t think about my dentist when I’m at home. Why would I expect my therapist to have any thoughts about me during her downtime?
It is her profession to help me. I pay for her services. She is not a friend but a health professional. Yet still, my sister’s easy answer hurt. It made me sad to think that my therapist, with whom I’ve shared my most intimate feelings and thoughts, might not care about me beyond the therapy room.
Did our time together not really matter? Did she see me as an obligation rather than a human? Had this professional relationship that we had cultivated been a waste of time?
I had a few months to prepare myself to stop therapy. In many ways, I dreaded it. I would miss my weekly chats with a woman whom I’d come to consider a confidante.
I was saddened to think that I would no longer be sharing parts of my life with her. I was saddened that she wouldn’t be “beside” me as I navigated some upcoming changes in my life. I was saddened that I would no longer talk to her and that we would become strangers.
But in some ways, I was excited. In recent months, I found myself eager to try the world on my own. Part of me — a proud and insecure side of me — felt the need to “show” others that I could handle the world and my emotions without a professional.
I worried that I had become too dependent on therapy. Whenever something “big” in my life occurred, my first thought was along the lines of, “My therapist is in for it next week.” When frustrating events happened, the first question my friends would ask was, “Have you talked to your therapist yet?”
I started judging myself. Why couldn’t I navigate these struggles on my own? Did my friends believe that I couldn’t think for myself? I had had my therapist’s guidance for 4 1/2 years already — when would it be time to take off the training wheels?
I like to consider myself an emotionally intelligent and emotionally aware person, but I will admit, since pausing therapy, I’ve found it quite hard to be more open with myself. I’ve found myself turning away from my feelings more often than I thought I would.
It’s as though therapy gave me the opportunity to flex my emotional muscles, pay specific attention to them, and grow them. Now, without my therapist guiding me weekly to train those muscles, I’ve found it easier to slack off.
A few weeks ago, I had a very, very bad day. It was one of the darkest I’ve had in a while, with unwelcome intrusive thoughts and emotional distress that I couldn’t seem to reign in. When anyone acknowledged me — even a simple “Hello!” — I immediately burst into tears.
I sat on my shower floor, crying. I desperately wanted to talk to my therapist — I longed for a session where we could unpack my emotions and try to get to the root of what was going on.
I soldiered through that day, and I’ve made it through a few following unpleasant ones. I’m proud of myself for taking care of myself and for using the tools my therapist has given me over the years.
But I’ve also found myself yearning to make an appointment with her and refusing the option. I tell myself that I should be able to “handle” life without her. It’s only been a few weeks. Am I really “giving in” so early?
I suppose these are judgments I should work through on my own: Why do I judge myself for desiring her support? Why am I so concerned about what others may think about me respecting and valuing my therapist so much? What’s so wrong with training wheels?
After all, I’m sure these are the questions she’d be asking me if we were still working together.
Most professionals will tell you that an appropriate time to stop therapy is when you feel as though your goals have been met. Perhaps you feel as though your sessions are more conversational than they are impactful. Or perhaps you simply feel that you can handle life’s stressors healthily and appropriately.
Reflect on your sessions — do you feel as though you’re still working through problems or behaviors in your life, or do you find yourself venting about that annoying thing your roommate did last week? Do you still feel connected to your therapist? Are they really helping you uncover deeper things in your psyche?
If the answer is no, perhaps it’s time to switch therapists or try a different approach.
My opinion — which is totally unfounded by science and is simply a personal belief — is that if you find therapy useful, there is no need to stop it. Humans are complex and complicated, and life is unpredictable and unreliable.
As we venture to new places or meet new people, we are programmed to evolve. I believe that we can always benefit from therapy — that it’s a beacon in navigating uncharted waters and a guide in exploring the unfamiliar territories of our minds.
There is always more to learn about ourselves, always more to unpack. Perhaps we may not need therapy weekly — perhaps biweekly, monthly, or bimonthly will do — but I believe that therapy can always challenge us to be better if done correctly.
So, that said, I suppose I shouldn’t say I’ve “stopped” therapy. It’s more that I’ve paused it. My therapist left the door open for me to return if I find the need — or the insurance — to walk through it.
My “last” session with my therapist was an emotional one. We reflected on the past few years about my electrifying highs and my devastatingly scary lows. I, ever the sap, teared up, expressing to her how much she’s impacted me.
She’s helped me tap into a deeper understanding of myself and my behaviors. She’s helped me uncover and develop self-awareness. She’s helped instill in me a deeper interest in myself and in others.
Through working together, I’ve become more curious, more thoughtful, and more centered. Because of her guidance, I’m a better friend, daughter, sister, employee, and person.
I was quite surprised — especially after thinking for a few years that I was nothing more to her than a client — when she, herself, teared up. She expressed to me that she found our time together incredibly meaningful. She said that she’s loved working with me and getting to know me, she’s proud of me and my growth, and that she’s learned from me and found deep joy in our sessions.
I have a gut feeling that I will return to my therapist in the future, that our goodbye was a “see you soon!” rather than a firm farewell. And if I see her again, I will have plenty to share with her and plenty of life updates to discuss.
Until then, I will be holding onto the words she shared with me during our last session. They were better than any certificate, cake, or card. She has found deep joy in working with me.
The feeling is mutual. I have found deep frustration, sadness, elation, discomfort, and incredible, indescribable joy in working with her.
For another personal account on coping with ending therapy, check out this article.
Medically reviewed on December 13, 2023
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About the author
Anne-Marie Varga has a dual degree in English Literature and French from the University of Michigan and a Master’s in Digital Media from New York University. She’s an aspiring novelist based in Brooklyn, New York, and is currently working in children’s book publishing. When she’s not writing, she’s most likely watching the Great British Bakeoff or doing her part to dismantle the patriarchy. You can check her out on Instagram, Twitter, or at her website.