By Catherine Bishop.
I think we often focus on how to start therapy successfully and how to know if it is working but we can forget that ending therapy well is just as important. Here are some quick tips for ending therapy well:
1) Start with spacing sessions out
Talk with your therapist about increasing the amount of time between appointments. If you have been seeing your therapist fortnightly consider spacing sessions to monthly and then maybe to every second month. This is a good way to allow time to strengthen the skills that you have already learnt in therapy and to see if there are any other skills that you may be missing. Spacing sessions out is a good way for you to see how you will manage when you are no longer seeing your therapist and if there are any other challenges that you had not spoken about yet.
2) Don’t end therapy as soon as you start feeling better
A lot of people make this mistake of cancelling all their appointments as soon as they start to feel good. I find that many people that do this will then quickly return to therapy when things start to slip again. It is great that you are starting to feel better but it is important to remember that this is a really good time to get more practice in the skills you have been learning in a supported way. It is often easier to practice the skills when your emotions are not as overwhelming as when you first came in. It also means you have the opportunity to plan ahead for future challenges (see the next tip). It is often forgotten that therapy is not just for people who are struggling with their mental health - sometimes when you are feeling well this can also offer a chance to explore other opportunities for personal growth and living a more meaningful and fulfilling life as you are no longer so consumed with big emotions.
3) Have a staying on track plan
Make a staying on track (or relapse prevention) plan with your therapist. This should include strategies and skills that you have for coping; difficult situations that may come up in the future and how you are going to handle them; warning signs that things are starting to go downhill (so you can catch it early and use your strategies to get back on track); signs that you need some extra support again; and ways to get extra support (this may be from friends, family members, a partner, or professional supports such as your therapist). Having a written plan is really useful for you to be able to go back to if you are stuck. Hopefully you don’t need it but it’s better to have it in case you do – it’s kind of like taking your first aid kit on a bush walk – you don’t take it with the intention of getting bitten by a snake but it’s there if you need it.
4) Keep practising your strategies after therapy ends
Keep any handouts and your staying on track plan in a safe place and review these regularly. Practice the skills you have learnt so you don’t get rusty and can easily use them when you need them. Otherwise it can be very easy to forget. The first question I ask people if they return to therapy is if they have been using their strategies!
5) Remember that you can always come back
The door won’t lock behind you. Sometimes life challenges can bring up old problems again and you may need some support in refreshing your skills or learning some new ones. Sometimes people just need a few extra sessions as a top up, kind of like your booster shot when you have a vaccination. Often it is easier the next time as you already know how it works!
Catherine Bishop is a psychologist and clinical psychology registrar at Healthy Mind Centre Launceston.