Many people living in the United States are in psychotherapy to seek counseling for problems encountered in their lives. Psychotherapy is a method of interpersonal and relational intervention used by psychotherapists in helping people deal with their problems in life. During the process, the client usually develops a special bond with the therapist, a relationship based on trust and understanding because sensitive topics are usually discussed during sessions.
This special relationship between a client and a therapist, however, sometimes lead to emotional dependency either by the client towards the therapist, and/or vice versa. There are cases that both parties involved become mutually entangled with each others problems and lives that sometimes breaking up with a lover or spouse seem easier than ending a relationship with your psychotherapist.Even without emotional dependency involved, some clients still find it difficult to break away from the therapy because the therapist would advise them not to discontinue the treatment.
One writer recently tried and found it surprisingly difficult to end a treatment that began with a simple case of writer’s block that turned into seven years of intensive therapy. It all started when she got hold of a bookwriting contract and realized she was having difficulty writing it. She found the therapy very helpful and was able to finish a second novel. She even felt that her relationship with her husband has improved. However, when she decided to end the treatment, her therapist strongly resisted, which made her upset: “Why do I need therapy,” she wanted to know, “if I’m feeling good?”
This situation brings up two related, puzzling questions: How do you know when you are healthy enough to say goodbye to your therapist? And how should a therapist handle it?
Come to think of it, the ultimate goal of a good therapist is to make their clients be independent of their service the soonest possible time. Whatever it is that drove you to therapy, say depression, anxiety, relationship problems, you name it, should not keep yourself tied to your therapist forever. Whether the therapist or the client likes it or not, good therapy should come to an end.
But how does the client know when to end the therapy? Is the client at the mercy of the therapist as to when will the condition be declared cured or treated?
Even the term ‘cure’ is vague as there will always be problems to deal with everyday of our lives. The most important thing is for the client to be able to handle problems whenever it inevitably arises.
Another case involved a successful lawyer who had been in psychotherapy for nine years. The reason for his therapy was his lack of sense of direction and having no intimate relationships. But during the sixth and seventh year of the therapy, he had felt that he and his therapist were just wasting their time. Therapy had become a routine, like going to the gym.
“It’s not that anything bad has happened,” he said. “It’s that nothing is happening.”
It appears more like an expensive form of chatting than an overdue psychotherapy. Perhaps the only reason why he stayed is that the therapy is essentially an unequal relationship. Clients tend to be dependent on their therapists. No matter how problematic or unsatisfying the therapy is, that might still be preferable than giving it up altogether, or starting all over again with an unknown therapist.
Oftentimes, psychotherapy clients can also become stuck in therapy for the very reason that they started it, such as a dependent client who cannot leave his therapist; a masochistic client who suffers silently in treatment with a withholding therapist; a narcissistic client who is eager to be liked fears challenging his therapist, and so on.
The reason why therapists in would not call a timeout and question whether the treatment is stalled or isn’t working can be one of the following:
1.) It could be due to therapists generally enthusiastic attitude that they can always identify new issues for you to work on.
2.) Some therapists could have an unspoken and inherent financial motive in keeping their patients in continuous therapy.
3.) Just like most of us, therapists also have unmet emotional needs which certain patients satisfy. They may find some patients to be interesting, exciting or fun that they have a hard time letting go of them.
It is always the prerogative of the client to periodically take stock of his/her progress and ask the therapist for direct feedback. You may also assess yourself by asking the following questions:
1.) How close are you to reaching your goals?
2.) How much better do you feel?
3.) Are your relationships and work more satisfying?
You can even ask close friends or your partner whether they see any change in you. Independent consultation helps especially when you think you are better and are contemplating ending treatment but the therapist disagrees. Learn to take a break from therapy and see what life is like without it.