Updated: Jun 8, 2022
As a therapist, my main goal for my clients is that they feel relief in their lives and are better able to cope and understand themselves, their behaviors, and others, living more in line with their values and goals.
For some people, therapy is a long-term commitment lasting upwards of years at different intervals (weekly, bi weekly, monthly check in’s, etc.). For others, it is briefer, lasting an average of 8 sessions. There is no right or wrong amount of time someone should be in therapy. One of the benefits of making a relationship with a therapist is the ability to come back periodically throughout the years as new or old problems emerge!
The main question we should be assessing throughout the course of therapy is: do you feel satisfied with the level of relief you have experienced in your life internally and externally, or do you still feel there is more to be “actively” working on?
Much of the “work” of therapy goes on outside of the therapy room- it is how you take the ideas and concepts and apply them in your daily life that makes the difference. So, it is entirely possible that someone concludes that they have learned a lot, have been practicing it on their own, and are seeing enough results that they feel satisfied for the time being with their progress and ready to make the step to terminate therapy sessions.
Many clients agonize over how to tell their therapist directly that they feel ready to terminate. “Ghosting” your therapist is a common outcome that usually occurs by 1) not making a next appointment with your therapist but telling them you will be reaching out after the session to make one or 2) cancelling your appointment without explanation and not making any follow up appointment.
Goodbye’s are hard for many of us! Practicing how to have a “good goodbye” is important and letting your therapist celebrate with you that you feel ready to terminate can be a lovely step. It can also be important to cover other reasons why you may need to terminate with your therapist such as scheduling issues, financial constraints, jobs/moves, feeling unconnected to your therapist, etc.
Some of these issues may be able to be solved entirely or partially with your therapist’s help! Some may not, and it can still be good to discuss these upfront and part ways with a clear understanding between the two of you! Your therapist cares about you and thinks about you, and allowing them to understand your departure can be a gift to them as well :).
I always have IMMENSE respect for my clients and the work they do in therapy. But, I so appreciate when someone takes the step of terminating sessions (or even reducing the frequency of sessions) with me in person. I know goodbye’s and conflict are HARD and I appreciate their willingness to tolerate difficult feelings versus avoiding them.
I am most often genuinely happy for them in their progress and want to share my pride with them and wish them well on their journey. I also hate the idea that clients may feel too awkward to reach back out later in life for further sessions if they believe they “ghosted” me and imagine I am mad at them or do not want to work with them.
If you have ever “ghosted” your therapist before, please know they are likely NOT mad at all and would still welcome hearing from you in the future. Also, prepare yourself that you will likely need to talk about how sessions ended previously when you resume the sessions and that it is absolutely ok to discuss if you felt uncomfortable saying goodbye or imagined conflict.
To me, therapy is only helpful if you are invested and wanting to be there! Do not apologize about needing to take breaks in your therapeutic journey at times, and know your therapist would love to discuss that with you upfront if you are able!
Written by: Kelly Birkhold, LCSW