Thanks to availability and acceptability, it might seem like everyone is clocking in extra hours on their therapist’s couch. However, if you are wondering if it’s time to check yourself out of therapy, you’re not alone!
We spoke to Jonathan Alpert – a high profile Manhattan psychotherapist, columnist, executive coach, and author of “BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life In 28 Days” – for some advice on discontinuing therapy. He’s known for his direct approach and this method has been effective for his many patients. It has also put him into the media spotlight as a columnist for the Huffington Post and Inc.com and as an expert TV commentator. Additionally, people are still debating his polarizing 2012 New York Times article, “In Therapy Forever? Enough Already”. We figured that he was the perfect expert to turn to for some insight and helpful tips on how to determine if it’s time to ditch or switch your therapist.
An End To Endless Therapy
Jonathan Alpert wrote his polarizing 2012 New York Times Opinion piece in response to a trend that he had been observing for years: ” I kept hearing story after story about people who were frustrated with traditional therapy that wasn’t effective or helpful, and was a strain on their wallets.” His goal was to educate readers on how to become better consumers of mental health services. Alpert wanted them to learn the efficacy of short-term therapy and realize the potential unnecessary cost of years of never ending therapy.
His article elicited controversy and a stir of criticism from many therapists. That reaction is exactly what Alpert expected: “After all, I called into question an approach to therapy that had been around since the days or Freud.” From Alpert’s studies, he doesn’t even think that Freud intended for therapy to be endless. Alpert cites a celebrity whose name is synonymous with psychoanalysis to prove his point: “Woody Allen was in psychoanalysis for decades, and then he married his adopted daughter. Need I say more?”
Treat Your Psychotherapist Like Your Auto Mechanic
Alpert believes that sometimes “people hold their automobile mechanic to higher standards than their psychotherapist.” You would not keep returning to the same technician who continues to not fix your car. So, why would you return to the same therapist every week who wasn’t helping you to effectively solve or manage your problems?
10 Signs That It’s Time to Switch Therapists
Alpert’s new patients often share why they left their previous therapist. Shedding light on their reasons can help other people make smart decisions about when to leave a therapist or to terminate therapy all together.
According to Alpert, you should find a new therapist if:
- Your therapist is a clock-watcher, calls you by the wrong name, or dozes off during your session.
- Your needs are not in line with the therapist’s expertise.
- You don’t feel comfortable with him or her or feel supported.
- You don’t walk away from your sessions feeling inspired, hopeful, and well understood.
- You are getting lots of vague utterances of assurance like “I see” or the classic cliched line, “And how does that make you feel?”
- Your weekly therapy sessions are essentially just weekly venting sessions.
- Your therapist’s treatment plan is not well-defined with a focus on providing insight, an outcome, and achieving goals.
- You don’t feel a sense of control that enables change within a few weeks of treatment. Note: Change doesn’t need to be drastic to bring about this feeling; it can come in small and measurable doses.
- He or she makes veiled threats like, “If you stop seeing me, then you’ll plunge into depression.” Note: This is nothing more than fear-mongering by a therapist who cares more about ego and money than the well-being of the patient.
- If you find yourself listening to your therapist’s problems, then that is a sure sign things have gone awry and another good reason to quit.
Signals That It’s Time To Graduate From Therapy (With Confidence!)
According to Alpert, it is time to discontinue therapy if you can you say yes to the following:
- You gained from therapy what you set out to
- You feel you’ve developed skills to help resolve problems and conflicts
- You have learned to cope with stress
- You have gotten past the things that have been holding you back
Break Up Advice
Have you ever had a friend who needed therapy to find a way to get out of therapy? Alpert has seen the same phenomenon: “I too have heard from people that they needed a therapist to deal with breaking up with their therapist.” He agrees that it’s laughable but “also not surprising given the intimate bond that is formed with one’s therapist.” People often share their deepest, most private, and perhaps even darkest secrets. Although this takes courage, it can often leave one feeling vulnerable. Alpert shares that, “There has to be a great deal of trust too in order to do this. So naturally breaking up with this person can be emotional and difficult.”
Here’s his advice on how to successfully do it:
- Find Your New Therapist First: Depending on the circumstances, it might be wise to shop for a new therapist while you still have the structure and support of the current one in place. The new one can help you with the transition.
- Make A Clean Break: The therapist might actually be bad for your mental health, fostering dependence. In this case feel empowered and simply tell the therapist you appreciate the service he or she has provided but at this point you’re looking for a different style or are going in a new direction. Or it isn’t even necessary to give a reason. You could just say you appreciate their effort and will be in touch in the future if necessary.
If you find this advice helpful, we have great news. Jonathan Alpert is joining the BELLA team as a contributing writer. Stay tuned for his first post. In the meantime, follow him on Twitter: @JonathanAlpert or check out his website: JonathanAlpert.com.