How to Know When It's Okay to Stop Therapy

And how to do it in the healthiest way possible.

person speaking with a therapist, illustration with a rip down the center
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Just like there are many reasons people start going to therapy, there are many reasons why some people consider stopping therapy as well — whether it's because they feel they've achieved their goals, have financial reasons, or experience poor rapport with a therapist.

Whatever your reason for ending therapy — or contemplating doing so — it can be daunting. Ever since you first committed to a routine, your therapist has been there to provide emotional support, validation, and a safe place to explore topics you may never have considered otherwise.

When it comes to "terminating" therapy (that's therapist speak for ending therapy), the process looks different for everyone. That said, there are a few things most people can expect. Here's a guide on how to navigate stopping therapy, according to therapists themselves.

Yes, You Can Stop Going to Therapy

Again, everyone starts a therapy routine for different reasons, whether that's to deal with anxiety, depression, relationship struggles, eating disorders, past traumas, or more. "Therapy is an excellent place to continue to process emotions, discover yourself, improve your relationships, and work on pursuing your own goals,'" says Kelly O' Sullivan, L.C.S.W., a private-practice owner who works with patience across New York, New Jersey, and Florida.

And as such, the amount of time someone stays in therapy typically depends on a few factors: treatment modalities, personal needs, and insurance or financial limitations.

"Some therapists take a very solution-focused approach, making therapy quite short-term," says O'Sullivan. Examples of solution-focused goals might be to "feel happier," "go out more," or "feel more confident speaking up in class." With your therapist, you usually determine a goal, then outline and take steps toward achieving that. "Others take on a more psychoanalytic approach, which tends to be longer-term," she continues. That might look like digging deeper into childhood traumas or relationships in adolescence and figuring out coping strategies.

For many therapists, including O'Sullivan, the goal is almost always getting a client to a stage where they don't need therapy anymore.

Certain conditions, however, may require a longer treatment plan. For example, "as an eating disorder specialist, I understand that many of my clients will need ongoing, long-term care," says Maggie Osinski, L.C.S.W., an eating disorder specialist. "This often involves helping clients maintain their progress through relapse prevention and ongoing support."

Others might come to therapy for intermittent care, scheduling appointments as needed throughout different points in their life, such as handling grief, work stress, a difficult breakup, or postpartum mental health issues, says Osinski. "Some clients will come in and out of therapy as needed — and that's okay!" Before you drop in and out of therapy, though, talk to your therapist about it; make sure they're on board with what you're looking to get out of therapy and how you can progress toward your goals.

And then there's the financial factor. It's no secret that therapy isn't cheap, so it's certainly possible that money could be the reason you need to terminate.

The specific cost and number of sessions covered by insurance vary greatly, and it's possible that you could have high co-pays or a limited number of sessions covered by your plan. For example, some plans may allow you to go to therapy for a year straight, others may only allow 10 sessions, and some may require you and/or your therapist to petition the company to have more sessions covered, according to information provided by the therapy app LARKR. (Here's more on how to decode your health insurance to find affordable mental health care.)

If you feel you need to stop going to therapy for financial reasons, consider bringing this up with your provider. They may be able to work with you on a sliding scale basis (a pay structure that accommodates individuals based on their financial means) or point you in the direction of some additional resources that you can use until you're ready and able to go back. (Read more: How to Go to Therapy When You're Broke AF)

Some Signs You Should Leave Therapy

A huge part of therapy is helping clients learn the skills to process and regulate emotions on their own, says O'Sullivan. As such, being able to cope with challenges on your own is a sign that you might be ready to terminate therapy.

While making progress in therapy is one reason to terminate, there are also other reasons why you might consider leaving. A very important predictor of success in therapy is the rapport you have with your therapist, so if the vibe and connection isn't there, then it would be in your best interest to ask for a referral and find someone else. Also, if your therapist isn't culturally competent or respectful of your values and religious beliefs, that's also a reason one might leave therapy. Therapy is a space you want to feel safe and heard, and consider it a red flag if your therapist is not fostering that environment.

There might also be a situation when you — or your therapist — feel that they can no longer help you move progress in your mental health journey, perhaps because you've reached a plateau or something has changed and you'd do better with a provider with more specific experience. Usually, your therapist will tell you this and help you look for different practitioners or inpatient facilities that can better treat your needs. (More here: Signs It's Time to Break Up with Your Therapist)

Sometimes it could even be that you think you might need a therapist who uses different methods. Let's say you've done cognitive behavioral therapy for a while, but it doesn't seem to be working as well as it used to; maybe you'd want to consider switching to a therapist who specializes in dialectical behavioral therapy or rational emotive behavioral therapy instead.

What Know If You're Thinking About Ending Therapy

It's not advised to straight-up stop therapy or "ghost" your therapist. (Leave that for the dating world.) If you just disappear, not only can that make things weird should you ever decide to go back, but it can also potentially hinder your progress and hard work. "Terminating therapy can help you to have a concrete plan in place for managing issues on your own," says O'Sullivan. "And it can help you feel less awkward returning to sessions, should you want or need to in the future." (FYI, if you ghost your therapist or have done that in the past, don't worry — it's not too late to reach back out.)

"A therapeutic relationship serves as a corrective relational experience and is often the healthiest, and most secure relationship clients have ever felt in their lives," says Osinski. "Processing the ending of the therapeutic relationship is a crucial part of the therapeutic process."

Exactly How to Stop Therapy

If you're ready to broach the conversation with your therapist, it can be as simple as saying, "I've learned a lot from our time together, and I'd like to talk about possibly stopping our sessions."

However, if there's something wrong with the therapy itself — the sessions or the methods — you can give them constructive criticism and be honest about why it's not working to see if they can offer any changes before ending the relationship entirely. For example, if you're looking for your therapist to be more involved in your therapy you could say something along the lines of, "I think you're a great listener, but it would be more helpful for me if you asked questions that added to the conversation." In some cases, improving your current therapeutic relationship might be easier than finding a new therapist, but sometimes a therapist just isn't a fit regardless of how much they try.

Believe it or not, therapists often see their own therapists as well, and they end those relationships sometimes, too — so they know what this process is like and how hard it can be on both sides. When it comes time to stop therapy, there are a few things your therapist should do to make the transition as smooth as possible, according to Osinski.

  1. Your therapist should review progress made during treatment, and empower you to continue to utilize what you've learned in treatment to maintain the momentum of all the work you have done.
  2. Your therapist should review any "warning signs" you can look out for that signal old patterns of behavior are creeping in.
  3. You and your therapist can come up with a specific plan for how you're going to maintain your progress and protocols for re-entering therapy if needed.

Maintaining Your Progress After You Leave Therapy

Just because you're not seeing your therapist anymore doesn't mean all of your hard-earned progress has gone away. There are some tips that can help you continue to implement the coping strategies and techniques you've learned in your life outside of the therapeutic relationship.

"One thing I love recommending to clients who are ending therapy is to continue to save our weekly time slot just for them — no work, household responsibilities, etc.," says O'Sullivan. "I encourage them to use it as a time to journal, get outside, meditate, or do something else they enjoy."

Simply, you should continue to practice what you've learned in therapy on your own. You have all the tools you need and you've put in the work; believe that you have the power within yourself to practice self-care without your therapist right by your side.

If the issue arises where a therapist is trying to get you to stay in therapy even though you've achieved your goals or have expressed some other reason for seeking alternative care, that's a cause for concern. "If you're terminating therapy because you've made progress and your therapist is pushing you to stay in therapy for other reasons that you did not intend, then that could be a red flag," says O'Sullivan. "It's a different story if a client still needs help in a specific area or is a danger to themselves or others, but if they are ready to be on their own, the therapist should respect the client's choice to make that decision."

"Terminating a therapeutic relationship can be a beautiful thing, as it can teach clients that they can have positive, healthy, successful relationships that end, and that is okay," says Osinski. "It is okay for people to come into our lives for a period of time, and then experience letting them go."

That doesn't mean you can't go back to your therapist if you see yourself picking up old habits. "If you experience a big life change or trauma, it may be a good idea to revisit therapy," says O'Sullivan. "If you find yourself 'backsliding' into old patterns, going back to therapy may help to process this and explore new coping skills with your therapist."

If you feel empowered to step out on your own, go for it — and know that even if you've left, therapy will always be there should you need it again.

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