A Beginners Guide to Therapy. Part 5: How to end therapy

Jeff Guenther, MS, LPC on Oct 07, 2018

Part 1: How to find a therapist 
Part 2: What to ask in the consult
Part 3: What to expect in the first few sessions
Part 4: How can you tell if therapy is working
Part 5: How to end therapy

You’ve come to the end of therapy. Hopefully it was a good experience and you’ve learned new things about yourself. Maybe it lasted ten sessions. Or maybe it lasted ten years. Either way, you’ve probably developed a pretty close relationship with your therapist. Therapeutic relationships are unique. And kinda weird. You’ve probably talked about vulnerable stuff and been very honest. Your therapist knows you quite well and probably in a different way than anyone else in your life. It’s a special relationship that is solely based on your growth and development. You should also know that it’s a relationship you can leave at any time and be accepted back with open arms. 

Before we get in to how you should end therapy, I want to address a few things that could come up when you feel like you might want to stop. 

If you'd like to search for a therapist now get started by entering your zip code at the top of this website.

Are you sure you want to end it?

Sometimes people end therapy instead of speaking up and asking for what they want in therapy. Your therapist is trying their very best to meet your needs, but sometimes they might be a little off. Maybe you feel like they are focusing on the wrong thing. Or they are spending too much time on your past. Or they don’t really get how you’re feeling. Or you want them to challenge you more. There are tons of things that might not be working for you that your therapist isn’t actually aware of. We therapists like to think that we can figure out what our clients need and want from therapy. But that’s not always the case. So even if your therapist isn’t asking for feedback, you should be more than willing to give it to them. Trust me, we love to get feedback on how counseling is going for you. It helps us become better. So before you think about ending therapy because it’s not quite working how you want it to, first try to ask the therapist for exactly what you want from them. It could change everything. 

Do you want a different therapist?

Maybe you have tried to give your therapist feedback and it just didn’t turn out right. Or maybe you don’t feel like continuing to try with your therapist because you feel it’s not a good fit. Before you end therapy completely, you might want to give another therapist a try. Part 1 of this series will help you find a new therapist

Even if you have worked with a therapist for a while, it may turn out that they are just not the best match for you. There could be many reasons for this. But what you need to realize is that all therapists are different. Therapists don’t practice the same way. We all have different ways of looking at things and treating issues. An amazing therapist for your friend could be a total bore for you. So before you quit for good, test out another therapist that has a different style. You may find what you’re looking for the second (or third) time around.

Maybe you just need a break

As much as I personally love going to therapy, I need a break sometimes. Therapy can be exhausting. A therapist will typically try to make sure that not every session is emotionally overwhelming. Clients would burn out from therapy if they had to do a ton of emotional work every single session. But even if heavy sessions are balanced out with lighter ones, it’s still totally fine to want a break. So check in with yourself and see if you just want to take some time off and go back later. Or tell your therapist that you’re not quite sure if you want to officially end therapy forever and that you might come back in the future. 

How do you know it’s time to end therapy?

Some common reasons you might want to end counseling are:

  • You don’t feel like your growing anymore.
  • You’re not feeling challenged by your therapist anymore.
  • You solved the initial problem that brought you in.
  • You’ve met all or most of your goals.
  • It’s just too expensive.
  • There are other things you’d like to do with your time that could bring more value to your life.
  • You feel like you’re not seeing progress or getting better.
  • You want to try a different healer, like an acupuncturist or life coach.
  • You’re emotionally exhausted.
  • It’s summer and you just want to have fun and maybe you feel like avoiding your problems for a bit. (This is a totally legit reason to stop seeing a counselor).

The list can go on and on. You don’t need the best reason in the world to stop seeing your therapist. But I would really encourage you to ask yourself, and maybe discuss with your therapist, if your desire to stop is because you want to avoid your problem. Avoidance is an okay reason to stop. But it’s better to be honest with yourself and your therapist if that is the reason. Because if avoidance is the main reason you don’t want to talk anymore, it might actually be a good idea to try and get through the discomfort instead of running from it. 

How do you end therapy?

When you decide to stop, it’s always a good idea to get some feedback from your therapist about ending sessions. If you want to end therapy then it’s appropriate to give your therapist a heads up. Bringing it up in person works best because therapists like to process why you feel it’s a good time to wrap up. But if you want to shoot them an email instead of bringing it up in person, that’ll work too. It’s likely that your therapist will ask for one final “termination session” in order to wrap things up instead of an abrupt end to things. You are not obligated to have one final session with your therapist, but it’s usually helpful if you do.

A termination session looks different for every therapist. But in general your therapist will want to go over the progress you’ve made. If there wasn’t enough progress made, then they’ll most likely talk about why they think that is. Therapists tend to be more direct in these sessions, outlining how they saw you progress and where they feel like you need to continue working. Clients can get really valuable feedback in these final sessions. It’s also a chance to say goodbye. Saying goodbye and ending an important relationship in a healthy way can be incredibly healing. In life, we don’t often have the chance to end a relationship in a really deliberate and honest way. Doing so with your therapist will give you a chance to see what that’s like if you haven’t ever experienced it. Sometimes ending therapy is really emotional. It’s not uncommon for you or your therapist to be sad and even shed a few tears. It can also be really exciting to end this chapter in your life and go it alone with new tools for coping and insights into who you are. 

How it feels after you’re done

You could feel a full range of emotions in the days and weeks after you’re done with therapy. You might feel grief and sadness. You could feel freedom and liberation. It’s really different for everyone. Hopefully, you really got something special out of the therapeutic relationship. Maybe you’ve integrated your therapists voice into your everyday narratives. So even if you’re not seeing them regularly, you can probably predict what they’d say to you. Which is super helpful when you’re checking in with yourself about a tricky situation. 

You should also know that you likely made a positive impact on your therapist and they have grown from the experience as well. Your therapist will remember you and think of you from time to time. They’ll be rooting for you and hoping for the best in your life. They likely will not reach out to you because it’s up to the client if they want to get back in touch. But if you feel like shooting an update about your life to your therapist every now and then, it will be received with enthusiasm and probably make your therapist’s day. So don’t be shy if it’s been a while.

Jeff Guenther is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Portland, OR.

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