Therapy is hard work — sometimes the hardest part is just getting started. Therefore, it can be tough to stop before you’re ready, but sometimes life happens that way. Your therapist understands that you’re busy and things come up when least expected.
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Fortunately, if you have to stop or pause therapy, there are ways to make the process less painful.
Why Pause Therapy?
A number of things could prompt a pause, but common reasons include financial concerns, health problems, schedule conflicts, lack or time, money, or a move. Sometimes the problem isn’t with you, but with your therapist. Therapists are people, too — people who may relocate, retire or take a medical leave.
When you have to stop therapy before you’re ready, you will have to consider both the logistical and the personal sides of the change. Logistics involve the business-related stuff you will have to do to make the change. Personal matters include how to manage the emotional side of it.
The Logistics of a Therapy Change
Most logistical problems occur when it’s the therapist who must stop your therapy. But whether it’s you or your provider, there are several elements to consider.
Find a new therapist
If your therapist is leaving a group practice, can you go see another provider in that same practice? If not, can your therapist recommend someone who might be a good fit? You might consider online therapy as a replacement as well as a way to get matched with a new Talkspace therapist that is right for you.
Make arrangements for final payments and/or insurance claims
Insurance filing isn’t always done immediately after your appointment and then the company takes even more time to pay the claim. Ask your therapist what happens if problems arise with this process.
Find out how to get your records
Therapists usually don’t hand over notes the same way a doctor might give you a vaccination record. Therapists must follow certain guidelines about explaining notes, so you might have to schedule another visit and pay a copying fee. Transferring records directly to another professional is usually faster and cheaper — you only have to sign a release form.
Make arrangements for referral sooner rather than later
Wait times for mental health services can stretch to weeks or months, especially if your area doesn’t have many providers. If you’re transferring therapy, follow up on the referral as soon as possible. If you’re stopping but hope to go back, keep in mind that you might need to start the process two or three months ahead of time — try not to wait until you have an emergency.
The Emotional Side of Pausing Therapy
Therapy is such an intensely personal experience that stopping, even when you want to, can be quite unsettling. If you have a great relationship with your therapist, the change may affect your mood noticeably. Here are some ways to make the transition easier.
Ask your therapist about the termination process
Often, therapists arrange a specific number of ending sessions to allow time to discuss any feelings this change brings up. In some cases, the termination has to be faster, but it’s best to have at least one session identified as the “end,” so you can process the separation at least a little.
Think about what you want to cover in the time you have left
Your therapist can help you identify priorities and plan how to address those as much as possible before the relationship ends. You probably won’t be able to cover an entirely new topic in depth, but at least you can hit the high points on the work you’ve already begun.
Decide: is this just a pause or can you terminate?
Any time you plan to take a break, it’s good to consider whether you’re ready to stop altogether. Therapy has great benefits, but sometimes it becomes a comfort zone we’re afraid to leave. Your therapist can help you determine whether you should consider a short-term pause or a full stop.
Address feelings of loss or abandonment
These common reactions can make the end of therapy a time of sadness or even anger. Many people are surprised by the intensity of these feelings, but your therapist should anticipate them and help you process them. This is why it’s especially important not to skip final sessions or end treatment abruptly if you can help it.
Pausing or ending therapy isn’t always ideal, especially when you don’t feel ready. Nevertheless, procedures and safeguards within the profession make the process easier. Whatever you feel about it, you won’t be the first person to have felt that way. With some forethought, you and your therapist can work together for a gentle end. And remember, you can always return to therapy when the time is right. And if you’re interested in therapy that fits your schedule and budget, consider trying online therapy.