real life

Is it time to quit therapy?

A few years ago, a friend and I discussed all the various ways to be an adult.

What jobs we'd need to have, how our homes would need to look and what new activities we'd have to be partaking in. 

She thought being an adult meant taking up a trade and living in the suburbs with her dog and boyfriend. I believed I would finally cross the magical bridge to adulthood when I found an apartment in the city that was paid for by my cushy desk job. 

As for the new hobbies? Gardening, pottery and hour-long weekly therapy sessions

Watch: The Truth About Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). Post continues after video.

Video via TED-Ed.

For those who can afford it, psychotherapy is considered a lifelong project; the constant in a sea of uncertainty. If all else fails, therapy is there to guide us onto the straight and narrow path. 

Therapy is also different for everyone, but the goal is the same: to be 'fixed' or at least have the tools to perhaps get there, eventually.

It's a life-altering decision to get therapy. But is it meant to be lifelong?

Here's what we know. 

Is therapy supposed to be life-long?

Except in especially rare cases, not really. 

Psychologist Carly Dober tells Mamamia that "psychology is about expansion rather than dependency, and while there might be times people have long-term working relationships with their therapists — it is not the goal." 


"Mental health care is a time-limited support system to assess, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions or to support people through life circumstances," she continues. "Like divorce, addiction, work issues, family issues, big life changes and other challenges life throws at us."

Dr Katherine Iscoe, a researcher and keynote speaker with 20 years of experience in the health and wellness space, agrees with Dober and adds that therapy is like a car.

"Sometimes you need a lot of work — for example after an accident or a long, long road trip," she says. "At other points in your life, you might be working fine but understand that tune-ups are a smart choice to extend the life of your car." 

When do I quit therapy?

Between 2020 and 2022, 17.4 per cent of Australians sought out mental health treatment. To begin therapy in the first place is an incredible privilege as it's not a treatment that's typically covered by insurance plans. 

And stopping therapy when it's appropriate for you isn't just good for your wallet, it opens up spots for someone else who needs the service more than you do. 

Nahum Kozak, who is a Senior Psychologist at Lighthouse Relationships, says quitting should be the "therapeutic goal". 

"The right time to quit should be when goals have been met, or when they [the patient] feel equipped and confident to manage moving toward those goals on their own," Kozak shares with Mamamia. 

"My aim from the start is to equip my clients so that I am made redundant as quickly as possible. This is usually within 8-12 treatment sessions."


Letting go of therapy can also come in the form of actually letting go of the therapist. 

"If you do not feel connected to your therapist — a good connection is highly predictive of good therapeutic outcomes," Kozak explains. "If there isn't a connection, and they don't 'get' you... feel free to quit and move to a therapist who does."

In Dober's experience, it's "exciting" when clients are ready to "graduate therapy".

"It signals that the acute stress or experience that was causing distress is much more able to be managed or over, that the working relationship was helpful to the person, and that the person feels more confident to manage life on life's terms," Dober tells Mamamia. "Because it is a working relationship with high emotional themes, it can also be very sad for all involved.

"Psychologist cares deeply about their clients and makes genuine relationships with them, so while we are excited for you there’s also a part of us that will think about you in the future (with boundaries, of course!) and hope that you’re doing well."

Do people quit therapy when they should?

In Kozak's experience, people actually move on from therapy much sooner than they actually should. 

"A client may feel a sense of control over their situation and understand what is at play after four sessions," he says. "They are feeling some relief and insight, and have more confidence in themselves, and may decide to quit therapy.

"Very often, this early in the piece, while the client has more understanding than ever about what is happening for them, they often don't yet have the depth of skill needed to cope when they hit a significant obstacle," he continues. 

"So, hanging in for a little longer in therapy to develop strategies to manage setbacks can be worthwhile and make setbacks or 'relapses' both less likely and less discouraging when they do happen."


Is it appropriate to 'go back' to therapy?

Dr Iscoe says it's pretty important to go to therapy to interpret your surroundings a little better.

"Sometimes you need a sounding board to better understand the people around you," she tells Mamamia. "Sometimes you need a dose of reality (in fact, there is a therapy that is literally called 'reality therapy')."

In terms of going 'back' to therapy? It's incredibly useful — mostly because you never stop needing help. 

"People often utilise psychologists and therapy for different life stages and they will pick different therapists based on what their specialty and goals are," Dober explains. "Someone might see one psychologist for an eating disorder support plan, and then revisit a different psychologist later in life when they become a parent for perinatal or postnatal support. 

"Often people might see a psychologist for grief and loss when someone close to them dies, and then at another stage in their life for something like anxiety. Each situation might require tailored and unique strategies to manage and this is something that is very common and welcomed."

Carly Dober is a Psychologist at Enriching Lives Psychology.

Nahum Kozak is a Senior Psychologist at Lighthouse Relationships.

Dr Katherine Iscoe is a researcher, keynote speaker and media commentator.

Feature Image: Getty.

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