After several weeks or months of therapy, some of clients just go away. And this is okay, although I do prefer them to cancel or just not reschedule. No shows are a waste of my time and are particularly frustrating when I have others waiting for open appointment times.
Still, I get it. Knowing how to leave the therapy experience can be difficult. Therapy is by nature a connected interaction. Regardless which particular theory any counselor subscribes to, they’ve all be trained to offer a sensitive, aware presence to clients. Therapists are taught to listen. We’re trained not to judge because 1). it doesn’t help the therapy process and 2). we all screw up sometimes. Some therapists are better than others at conveying warmth and acceptance–even when you struggle to accept yourself.
Seeking therapy can feel weird. Clients walk in, sit down and pour out their most personal struggles to a complete stranger. Weird.
If the therapist is good at her job, clients leave with both a feeling of having been accepted and with some insight about the difficulties in their lives. This is after all, the point of the whole thing.
I often tell clients that I’m in the business of working my way out of a job. I hope to assist to the point that clients no longer need to come in. It can be awkward, however, for clients to know how to leave. Some people grow beyond the struggles that brought them into therapy–they learn how to handle their challenges. Some decide they don’t want to deal with–or can’t decide how to deal with–the issues that brought them into therapy. So they stop coming. Of course, some clients just don’t click with a therapist and don’t get anything out of their sessions. This is usually evident to the client–although not always to the therapist–pretty early on in the relationship.
At the end of sessions, I habitually ask clients whether they want to call if they’d like to reschedule or if they want to set up a time then. I do this to avoid the impression that I’m in charge of this therapy–this is your situation and you have the right to decide how to proceed. Yes, I’m the highly-trained professional. I have no problem reflecting your dilemma and presenting the various options to the challenges you face. But I’m very aware that you get to drive your own therapy. This is your life and your call. It’s totally your game.
Some clients, after developing a relationship with me as their therapist and having found value in returning for sessions, have a hard time knowing when to stop coming. I just want to say this–you can tell me when you think you don’t need to come in again. I’m certainly okay with this. The whole purpose of our time together is for you to make your decisions/decide how to handle your complicated relationships/come to recognize ways to handle your depression or anxiety. When you’re less distressed and ready to leave therapy, just tell me. I’m all good with that.
Sometimes when a client expresses success or improvement, I talk gently about seeing them every other week or about them calling me if they’d like to see me again. I don’t do this because I’m tired of their problems or because I think they should handle things on their own. I just want clients to know that I’m okay with them not coming back.
The whole point of this thing is for you not to need me anymore. Some clients express anxiety at the thought of not coming back for their regular sessions. I always point out their successes and stress they can always call me, if difficulties again arise. I’m not going anywhere.
I love your feeling better. When you get tired of coming in or when your life is smoothing out, just tell me.