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When are you done with psychotherapy?

It had been a total of three years that I had been in therapy when an acquaintance declared to me that, after her six sessions of therapy, she was cured of all her mental health issues and did not need to go to therapy again. Part of me wondered what was wrong with me that after a second course of treatment with a therapist and a total of three years in therapy, I still had a list of things that I knew I needed to work on. Another part of me remembered a time when I thought therapy had fixed all my problems.  I reminded myself that I had set myself for failure at that time.

The first time I went to therapy I received a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. At that time, insurances could still cap how many therapy sessions per year you could have. My insurance capped my sessions at 22 per year. When my 22 sessions were over, I believed that I would never have to go to therapy again because I had gained all the tools I needed to live a mentally healthy life.  The artificial boundary created by the insurance company had helped convinced me that I was done.   I was very surprised when, 18 months later, I was back in therapy for a different diagnosis.

Based on my experience as a patient, I would make the following recommendation on how to decide when to end therapy:

  1. Begin therapy with time limited goals on which you want to work on. As an example, people going to therapy for panic attacks could decide some of their goals can be mastering techniques to calm down during an attack, what their triggers are, and how to learn to deal with those triggers.

  2. While in therapy, focus on the original issue; if anything else comes up, “car park” those issues unless they are pertinent to the original problem. Remember it is okay to go back to a specific issue later.

  3. If you’ve completed the issues you’ve “car parked”, ask your therapist if he or she thinks that you are ready to be done. Your therapist has your best interest at heart and will let you know if he or she believes you are ready to be done with therapy.

  4. Ask yourself if you believe the problem you went into therapy for has become manageable to you. Do you think that you can comfortably control life’s difficulties on your own? If you can do these things, it might be time to finish with therapy.

  5. Just because you have worked out these issues, understand that other issues might arise and it is okay for you to go back to therapy. As humans, we never finish growing and we sometimes need help during a growth spurt, so know it is okay to go back to therapy.

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  1. Weriton says:

    Susan, If I ever move to Chester County in PA, I am definitely cillang you! You have the knowledge of your area to take care of anyone relocating and there’s so much information on your website.

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