Q: I began psychotherapy two years ago for emotional intimacy issues with my wife. Treatment has helped my marriage and a slew of other issues, too.
But I think now might be a good time to stop going. I've gotten what I needed from it, and now feel it'll cause more problems if I keep going. I'd like my therapist to just tell me I'm good now and that I can stop. How do you know when you've outgrown therapy?
A: Therapists rarely tell their clients that services are no longer needed. Most mental health professionals believe that should be determined by the individual. Additionally, it's important to remember they're running a business where they aren't looking to turn down willing customers they feel they can help. You need to make this decision yourself.
It's rare that one outgrows therapy -- this idea suggests that leaving psychotherapy is linked with a higher level of emotional maturity. This is a misdirected idea.
We all go to therapy for different reasons. Some people require short-term, goal-directed treatment focused on behaviors and current life stressors. Others require long-term, psychodynamic-influenced work concentrated around personality issues, chronic patterns and trauma. There is also a huge range in between these two illustrations as well.
Leaving therapy should be based on your personalized goals and objectives. As you previously stated, your marriage has clearly benefited from your emotional investment. Building and keeping meaningful relationships is not an easy task, and your ability to do so is indicative of a strong therapeutic alliance that you've built with your therapist. It also indicates a profound trust in this therapist to help tackle issues of emotional intimacy, no easy feat for man or woman.
If you keep seeing your therapist and no longer find it useful, it may be counterproductive but it wouldn't cause problems in and of itself. Your reaction to feeling "over" the process might certainly disturb your ability to garner help from your therapeutic relationship. I would ask you to observe without judgment any new resistance you're carrying, which might mask feeling bored with therapy.
It may truly be time to move on. Take a look at the goals set forth before treatment. Aside from improving your intimacy levels, what other areas in your life have benefited from psychotherapy?
How are you handling sudden conflict in relationships? Do you feel more in control of your choices and confident in your abilities? Are you less plagued by the past and more settled in the present?
Nothing will ever be perfect. The question here becomes whether you wish to handle these questions without the assistance of a mental health professional. No doubt you can, but do you want to? A yes or no answer does not determine progress.
Lastly, check to make certain uncomfortable feelings that often surface during sessions don't have you running for the hills. This very unwise move could prevent some core discoveries from taking place. That would be a loss.
Regardless of your decision, I urge you to discuss it with your therapist. Do not just leave without a word. Some of the most important work can be done during the period of closure. You could discuss your possible next steps, post-therapy.
Perhaps the option of checking in from time to time, or knowing there's an open invitation to come back whenever needed, would be a great comfort for you to have in your back pocket.
Don't be afraid to bring up the topic and have the talk! You will come to a conclusion that is befitting of the work you've done with your therapist.
Thank you very much for the question and the willingness to listen.
Questions and comments can be sent to ASK NOAH at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a profitable and peaceful week,
This column was originally posted on TheStreet.com Feb. 22, 2013.
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