How to Survive the END of Therapy
Your therapy is ending. Maybe you’ve decided, with your therapist, that termination is now appropriate or perhaps your therapist is moving to a new city. Maybe you want to terminate, maybe you don’t.
From personal experience, this is how you can survive the end of therapy!
1. Just say it.
This is your chance to get everything out, so don’t hold back. Ask the tough questions and express how this ending is affecting you. Give yourself a chance to work through the emotions that you are experiencing with your current therapist. Work them through together and be honest. Now, I don’t suggest going on a rampage of accusations or floundering about with romantic sentimentalism, but let the experience be genuine and real. You’ll thank yourself later when you have fewer emotional hang-ups about the ending.
What worked/didn’t work for you in therapy? Were there any strategies that benefited/hindered you? Share these with your therapist! It can help them to better understand how to continue to help other people.
This is the last time you’re going to likely have any contact with your therapist. Think about what is important to you that you want to say. Write them down and bring them up in session. Be calm but assertive. This is the last opportunity to figure out any lingering misunderstandings; work through it and find some closure. The last thing you want is to have regrets about what you wish you had said, when you can’t contact your therapist any longer.
2. Expect to grieve.
You’re losing a genuine relationship in your life, so expect to go through the stages of grief when the relationship finally comes to an end. Regardless of whether this is an official “end” or if you have the option of returning in the future, there is going to be some hurt.
The steps in the stages of grief are not rigid and you may find yourself re-experiencing some stages over and over again. The stages you can expect to experience are:
- Denial: This isn’t happening to me!
- Anger: Why is this happening?
- Bargaining: If I do this, then I can make everything right.
- Depression: There’s no hope.
- Acceptance: I feel at peace about what has happened.
Regardless of how well you hide things from significant people in your life, you may not be able to hide the grief you experience. You don’t have to explain everything, but be willing to accept comfort from those closest to you, even if they aren’t able to fully understand your experience (which they won’t unless they’ve been through it themselves).
Find healthy ways to comfort yourself; long walks, a hot bath, reading, sleeping, or listening to music.
Remember, even if it’s a mostly one-sided therapeutic relationship, it’s still a relationship. Don’t beat yourself up for experiencing the grief, rather allow yourself the time to mourn.
3. Leave it behind, but take it forward.
I think most therapy clients feel, at some point, that therapy IS their life. They spend part of the week looking forward to the session and the other half ruminating about everything that was said.
This gets even bigger when therapy is about to end. Try hard not to get caught in the trap of letting it monopolize your life experience by carrying any hurt, anger, disappointment forward with you. Say what you want to say, to your therapist, and leave it behind when you walk out the door for last time.
Of course, your therapy experience will remain with you, and it’s important that you carry that experience forward with you. Sound like the opposite of what I just said? It’s not.
Let the experiences you had, be the experiences you had. Try not to sensationalize them but have a sense of acceptance about it. Look back on your therapeutic relationship and look at how it can be a building life experience and ask yourself how you can continue to grow from it.
4. Set up support systems
This is a very important step that needs to be completed before you finish therapy, particularly if the end of therapy was not of your choice. Knowing you will be grieving, make sure you set up a support system so that you are not left on your own during this period.
The following are support system suggestions:
A. Contact/set up an appointment with another therapist.
B. Schedule to see your general practitioner/psychiatrist before therapy finishes.
C. Sign on to take a class at a local college/university.
D. Pre-schedule outings with friends (even once a week).
E. Start volunteering in an environment that encourages social stimulation.
This step is so important because you do not want to be left on your own at a time where you may be feeling the most vulnerable. Planning ahead is crucial.
5. Continue to move forward.
It is so easy to look back on parts of our lives with regret and get caught up in what we should have done, but didn’t. Take a look at where therapy has brought you to and to where you still want to go. How can you get there? What steps will you need to take? Take time to reflect on this and make the conscious decision to keep moving forward. Maybe you will continue therapy with another therapist or change careers. Maybe you’ll start that book you’ve always wanted to write or you’ll take a much needed vacation.
Even though it doesn’t feel like it will ever get better, it does. It sometimes takes the heart a bit of time to wrap its mind around the separation, but it does get there.
The important part, is to keep growing.
Got questions? Post ’em in the comments and join the discussion!