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The importance of the therapeutic relationship and the risks of stopping suddenly

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Publication date: May 12, 2020

Head shot image of UKCP psychotherapist Martin Weaver Written by UKCP psychotherapist, Martin Weaver

The decision or recognition that therapy has come to an end can be uncomfortable for client and therapist alike.  To prepare for this possible discomfort there needs to be an acceptance from the start, or somewhere close to it, that the relationship is a time-limited one.  No one expects to be in school, or the same school, for their whole lives and so there is a system for measuring achievement and moving on. There is no such obvious measure or process in therapy.

There are many valid reasons why therapy comes to an end; you feel better, you’ve achieved the things that you wanted to in the first place, you are getting bored, financial pressure or you are feeling uncomfortable, stressed even fearful.  It might be that this conversation is too painful for you.  You might just decide not to turn up to sessions or to tell your therapist by voice-message or email that it’s over. This suggests that there are issues still to be resolved with the most obvious one being your willingness to say goodbye in person, face to face.

Stopping suddenly might seem to be the best option and yet doing so could leave you without support or guidance, feeling lost or even abandoned – again.  It may be that this is a pattern in your life, you get to a particular place in any relationship and then end it so that you are protected from likely future harm.  Some clients feel that if they haven’t been to therapy or if they haven’t spoken to their therapist for a number of days/weeks then their therapist will be cross with them and will not want to see them again.  If the decision to stop therapy is made suddenly or in a moment of emotional stress, then your therapist will want to meet with you again, to explore what was happening to you. Your therapist will understand if you want to stop, their main concern is your mental health and that you have support in place. They will not be upset if you decide to end your sessions and by letting them know that you want to end they can best advise you on what other options are available to you so you can plan your next steps.

There are boundaries to all relationships, including therapy, and crossing this boundary, of ‘end’ or ‘completion’ can feel very different for each of you – it needs to be explored, discussed and, hopefully, agreed between you.  This process of ending is a measure of the trust in the relationship that you and your therapist have been able to develop, as well as your willingness to accept and engage in such trust.

It is likely that your therapist will have noticed these challenging emotions and recognised that progress has slowed, is difficult or has stopped. They might ask if you have all you need, or if you feel confident to manage your emotions or relationships.  The direction of the therapy might take a different direction or focus for a short while as these important issues are resolved.

It may well be that you and your therapist have indeed made all the changes that you can and so referral to a new therapist, now or in the future, would be beneficial, giving you new energy and a new perspective.  Alternatively, you might agree to sessions over an extending period, from meeting weekly to every two or three weeks to every month.  As you end this therapeutic journey you grow as a more self-confident person secure in your ability to manage and resolve difficulties.

 

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