Is ‘You’ll know when it’s the right time to end therapy’ just a big myth? (And how do I unattach from my therapist to end therapy?!)

Hiya @barefoot , I'm so glad you've shared this concern. I've been in therapy now with my current counsellor for about 4 years. I've had breaks but always gone back. I was seeing him once a week now once every 2 weeks. But in November he contacted me very professionally and kindly saying something had happened in his life and he couldn't practice for several months. I was offered a new counsellor but have decided not to as of yet. I'll see him again roughly in March next year.

I don't think your therapist is being woolly about you thinking about stopping therapy. I think it's very good and very professional to say the things she's said to you to give you supportive options.

I switched to once every 2 weeks and it's great. It's my anchor. Or it could be once a month or just as and when you feel you need it if your therapist has offered that. Do I think it's best not to process these options and rip off the band aid...? No, not really.

You sound like your in a good place mentally to deal with this but the only true advice I would give you is "don't burn the bridge"!! If you want to live in the world without this person in your life and check it out then fine and good but allow yourself the option of going back if needed. Best wishes ❤️
My previous T suggested ending therapy after 2 years. Which was also for the best because we were running around in circles in the end.
My social life improved after ending therapy with her. I think therapy sometimes can backfire, in that you rely too much on him/her for support.
But I also reckon that if it literally *is* all you got, then it can be a lifesaver.
My current approach is hands-on work on stuff, with my new T, if I need support I go elsewhere.
Thanks for all the replies so far and apologies for not responding to them sooner. I have read all your comments as you posted them - I just haven’t had much headspace to properly process and gather my thoughts (just busy-ness over Christmas etc)

Still reflecting and mulling…

Will respond properly asap…just didn’t want anyone thinking they had spent time replying and then I hadn’t come back.

I appreciate all your input!
Good luck I let mine go awhile back. I don’t like not having that but looking for one is just not really? It’s just another thing that’s not getting done right now. But I can’t talk to anyone else at that level and I need that. There are lots of things that are therapist only. So quitting was hard and not having that? Real hard. But good luck anyway and I hope it goes smooth.
I think it might be time for me to wrap up therapy. But I’m finding the whole decision quite confusing and I just keep going round in circles with it...

As a bit of background: I’ve been seeing my therapist regularly for 10 years now (way, way longer than I ever imagined I would – I initially thought I’d have sessions for a few months tops. Ha!)

In terms of my mental health, I feel in a really decent place. I still experience some anxiety and low mood, and still get triggered sometimes. But it’s manageable. I’m functioning well. Busy with work/my business. Certainly not in any kind of crisis. I don’t believe that, without therapy, I’m going to collapse or cease to function or that I’m going to fall apart, not be able to cope or have a breakdown etc...

With therapy - we’ve done some deeper trauma work over the years…made some big shifts (key one: I don’t dissociate any more)…but also always seem to stall with the deeper, trauma-related stuff. We make some progress….then sort of stop. And, I always thought we were working towards doing more on that stuff….and I thought she had a clear plan about how to help me with those things (she didn’t ever share a treatment plan, but she has always spoken so firmly and authoritatively about the things we will work on and what we will achieve - so I just assumed she had a plan!) But I realised in a session a few months ago that there is no plan. Which was disappointing. Quite shattering actually. And, without any kind of plan and with her now saying that some of those areas I thought we were working on…those things aren’t going to change (they are out of my control) so they are what they are and they will continue to be upsetting and stressful…and with the fact that resistance always seemed to come up just seems pretty pointless now, me thinking that they are goals for therapy.

So - with those bigger, deeper, trauma-related topics off the table, it’s more just everyday stuff we have been checking in on lately. And, there is value for me in that. Even if we’re not talking about anything particularly deep or serious, I like having time and space carved out to reflect on myself and to talk through whatever’s going on (even if it’s pretty light stuff) I work from home and most weeks/months, my partner and my therapist are the only people I really have proper conversations with (I have work calls etc, but obviously not the same!) I do have some friends, but don’t see/speak to them often. And I don’t really get into serious chats with them when we do have contact. And I feel OK with that (I really don’t feel like I need more friends and really don’t want to start getting into regular deeper with chats with the friends I have etc) But, I suppose that context has maybe meant that my therapist has become really important. Because I don’t talk to many other people. Especially about how I feel. So, losing that (by stopping therapy) feels like a significant loss.

I am also very attached to her. It’s a weird thing with therapy, isn't it? That we are meant to build trust and relationship with them so that we share intimate stuff and the therapeutic relationship is supposed to be so crucial etc…but then, having built trust and relationship and intimacy, we’re then supposed to just turn the tap off and not be in relationship with them anymore.

I’m not overly reliant on her. I am not confused about our relationship (I’m very clear that it is a professional relationship - we’re not friends etc) But - she has been a really significant person in my life for a decade. And, while I think I will manage life without therapy, I will really miss her if/when I end therapy. And just the thought of losing that space, that relationship, having her to talk to…it is a very upsetting thought that makes me quite teary.

I always thought that, me feeling that way when I thought about ending therapy meant that I still had work to do and that it wasn’t the time for me to be wrapping up. I’ve also often heard people say ‘when it’s time to end therapy, you will just know.’ But I feel very confused about this. Because, over time, the distress I feel when I think about not seeing her for sessions anymore hasn’t reduced. It is still very intense. And I am starting to wonder if the whole, ‘you’ll just know…’ is a myth?!

I have mentioned the possibility of wrapping up therapy to her in recent sessions. And that has been a bit of a strange (and confusing experience) Because, she basically just says that it is my choice ie if I choose to end therapy, that’s my choice and she will support me (she said she would be sad about that) But she also said that I don’t have to put myself under the pressure of making a binary decision…that it’s not just about deciding do I want to be having weekly therapy now, or do I want to now permanently stop. She said things can be much more flexible and fluid. That, we could also pause, and I can just set up a session whenever I want. And she said that, even if we don’t see each other, the relationship (and the therapeutic container) is still there and still intact. So, I could contact her any time (in weeks, months, longer) to set up a session.

So, she was very much emphasising that a) it was my choice if I wanted to continue or stop and b) even if I paused/stopped therapy….I could still set up a session or a bunch of sessions any time in the future if I wanted to. And I think that was her way of trying to soothe some of the anxiety I have around stopping therapy. But, for me, it doesn’t really address the loss. And the pain of the loss.

Also, by being quite, ‘well, we could just pause and you could then just get in touch if you ever wanted to have a session’ - although that keeps it fluid and not so definitely final, which I think is good in a way….it also feels vague and woolly…and like there’s not really any intentional sense of wrapping up or completion about it…it just feels reeeeally open, with me just sort of drifting away not knowing if I’m stopping or not…

I thought the end of therapy would be…well...managed, I suppose. Managed and intentional and quite structured…reflecting on my progress, looking ahead to time without therapy….and doing something (I don’t know what….maybe spacing out sessions or something?) to work on managing the transition away from therapy and the therapeutic relationship. And, just generally, doing some mindful wrapping up.

I feel like I need to unattach myself from my therapist, but I’m not really sure how to do that. Or how I make this vague 'ending but not really but maybe…’ work. Or is this all a bit of a myth/BS as well. And, actually, those kind of endings don’t lesson any upset….they just draw out the process. Is it better to just do a short sharp, final shock - rip off the band aid?!

I’m not great at loss/endings…I tend to ghost people and drift out of relationships and had wanted to handle this one differently as it’s been so important to me and I suppose I wanted to honour that somehow. But I feel like my T is maybe as rubbish/avoidant at endings as me, hence this very vague ‘just pause and then get in touch some time in the future if you want to as I’ll still be here for you’ suggestion. (And, of course, a big part of me doesn’t want to stop at all, because I will miss her)

Any thoughts/suggestions/questions very welcome. It’s a confusing time.
Wow, your therapist and the relationship you have with the therapist seems so awesome and healthy. Maybe you could try once a month for awhile. I think it’s good that the therapist is leaving thing open ended…. maybe you’ll end up returning to work on specific issues. It’s good not to rip the band aid off - you have made a long term healthy relationship - even if it is a professional relationship. Everything you shared seems healthy. You may move on from consistent regular therapy but you now have a long term healthy professional relationship - you can reach out to during your life. It all sounds really good. Sending you the best….
man, as long as i am learning and growing I dont even think about leaving. That said, I am still learning but there are maybe two dozen therapists in my past that i graduated from. Some i would see again, some i only saw a few times and wouldnt go back unless it was out of curiosity- did they ever get over the timidity that flat bored me? Did they ever read another book and broaden their approach?
in the end, there are so many good approaches that pushed me further, why hold in one lane when there are like twenty lanes on this freeway?
In my REAL life, I didnt take one class over and over until i had four years and graduated, and graduation was just an entry into a career that has been full of extended learning, non stop. i cant see stagnating in therapy either, just me.
Apologies (again!) for how long it's taken me to come back to properly respond. Busy-ness around the time I posted, and some health issues...and, I think, probably some avoidance as well!

A couple months on from my OP and I am still in the same place, still not making a decision!

As a few of you have said, I think deep down I know that therapy has probably long got past the point where it was going to be very helpful on any of the deeper stuff. And I am in a better place now than a few years ago so, as I mentioned, it's not that I am worried that I'm not going to cope without therapy. I will cope. I will manage fine. I will just miss her. And miss having that time and space carved out for me to talk about whatever I want (whether it's something light/every day or something deeper) with someone I trust, who listens without judgement and who knows 'my stuff.'
I think this is probably the crux of it:

My guess is that your gut knows deep down you are ready, but the feelings of loss are blocking you from taking the step to end it.

And I understand the benefit of her stance of 'it doesn't have to be continuing regularly or a hard stop forever' and that I can have longer gaps before session, or decide to pause whenever I like but could always still contact her any time in the future if I wanted a session. I didn't mean what I said about that to come off as critical of her. As many of you have said, I think this is a positive thing, to be being fluid and flexible with it and emphasising that, if I get in touch in the future to schedule a session, she will be there for that and we will, no doubt, be able to just pick up again very easily.

I think maybe I am looking for some way to make a more definite decision. Because, all the time there is an option to book time with her, that's what a huge part of me feels drawn to do. So, then I panic and feel trapped and can't see I will ever make a decision to stop...sort of feeling trapped to keep going because I feel attached to her and will miss her. That's quite anxiety-making.

I don't want her to try to persuade me to stay in weekly therapy on the grounds that she thinks I really need it (because I know I'm not in crisis) or because she will miss me (unethical for her to persuade me to stay on those grounds!) or because she just wants to keep me as an easy, regular, paying-on-time client (again, that would be unethical!) So, it's not that I wanter to persuade me to stay. Nope.

At the same time, it would feel difficult to hear her tell me that she thinks I should stop.

So, what she has said, is probably 'the right thing'.

But I feel so internally conflicted. On the one hand, feeling like we have probably gone as far as we can with the serious stuff. On the other, not wanting to lose the time and space I have with her.

I think I maybe feel a bit pathetic that I do get value from just talking about everyday, light stuff. Because part of me thinks I 'should' talk to friends about those things. But I don't. And I don't really want to. So, it has been helpful to read that some of you use therapy that way too.

I soooo wish I just felt: 'ok, therapy has been helpful but I don't feel I reeeeeally need it now, so I will stop going.' And that that felt ok. And that it didn't bring up so much anxiety and teariness and painful feeling of loss :-(
Another thing this makes me think of....and I feel silly writing it but...

Early on in my time with T (when I saw her in-person), she casually mentioned that there were some clients that she hugged eg at the end of session. I had a massive reaction to that - got really triggered, felt really stressed/distressed...felt like she wasn't safe anymore... So, we talked about that in subsequent sessions, but it would often end in me dissociating.

I always found the experience of being in a room with her very intense. And I used to get very stressed if she was too close to me (even if she had to come and stand near me to close a window or whatever) And I was always very firm with her that I didn't ever want her to touch me. Not when I was dissociating, not when we were saying hello/goodye....not ever. I would get very agitated about that. It was a very clear, firm boundary!

Since Covid, we only now meet on Zoom. Although I sometimes feel that has some limitations, it has lessened the intensity of being physically in a room with her.

But - quite a few years ago (before the switch to online) I thought: when I finish therapy, I want to be able to hug her at the end of our final session. A bit of a goodbye/thank you hug, I suppose. So, even though the idea of hugging her then felt unbearably stressful and triggery, it was something that I suppose I thought I could sort of work towards. That, by the end, I would feel able to do that. And would want to do that. And that, I suppose, if I was in a place to do that, I think that would have been a way of me knowing that I was ok to finish if that's what I could do.

And, I was never actively working on anything specific to move towards one day having a hug. And I never shared this thought with her. But it felt like something sort of tangible that could work as an indicator of being ready to leave therapy.

But, we don't do in-person therapy any more. And I don't think she has any plan to do so again.

So, I am wondering if that is part of my confusion?! Even though I think that sounds really, to the point of being quite embarrassing really....but if I had decided that early on, being able to hug her goodbye at the end of our last session....that was going to be the barometer...if I could do that, that was my sign that it wa sa good time to stop. And now that isn't an option.... I didn't ever replace that litmus test with something else that was Zoomable!

And maybe this is why I feel like a decision to end should feel....'neat' in some way....rather than...I'm not booking anything in the diary for a next session now....but I might email you to set up a session in a few days/weeks/months/years!

Perhaps, what I thought was a useful future sign was just a neat, contained fantasy...and now, without it, I am floundering...?!

Ugh....I sound like an idiot, I think!
Omg, I feel totally the same.
I wrote in my diary that the thought of putting that laptop down for one last time seems SUCH an anti climax to a wonderful relationship.
What an odd, lonely, dispiriting way to say goodbye.
But......exploring that with her might be really good. I've not explored that yet with my T. Half of me wants her to suggest she would do an in-person last session. But another part thinks that would be so weird and embarrassing as I wouldn't know how to be in person with her.

Either way, it would be good to explore with her. She does these goodbyes so she knows how to help navigate them.

You are not alone in how you feel about this at all. And it's entirely reasonable.

Maybe there is a way to do a virtual hug goodbye? Idk??