Terminating therapy prematurely happens with both newly warranted therapists as well as well-established ones. In fact, psychologist Michael J Lambert carried out a study which found that 25% to 50% of clients don’t return after the first session; some cancel right before the session, without an explanation, and others just don’t show up. Thus, the question boils down to ‘why do people quit therapy prematurely?’. When it happens, it sometimes leaves therapists feeling inadequate and with a sense of failure. However, here are some reasons why people choose not to return to therapy;
- Therapy isn’t what they thought it would be – It’s normal not to know what to expect when starting therapy for the first time. However, having misconceptions can lead to clients sabotaging their therapeutic experience. For example, some individuals might have the idea that therapy is all about giving advice on what they should or shouldn’t do. When, in reality, it’s far from that. Thus, when not given the advice wanted, it leaves clients feeling dissatisfied with the outcome of the session. This may then lead them to quitting therapy.
- Opened a can of worms – A client might go to therapy with the thought of tackling one issue, and leaves with an explosion of other issues which they weren’t aware of. They feel overwhelmed, taken aback and not ready to handle what’s coming their way. I can understand that it would be too painful for some to explore these deeper issues, but therapy would be an ideal way to do so. If this ever happens to you, I encourage you to go back to therapy and explore them when you feel ready.
- Client wants a quick fix – The therapeutic journey takes time; it’s a process. It takes time to become aware of underlying changes and then to make healthy behavioural changes. Individuals need to trust in the process and not try to rush it. As well as this, at the end of the day, it’s up to the client to put in the work and adjust their life accordingly. Therapists can guide, give feedback and support their client but never be able to fix their issues for them. To avoid disappointment, due to unrealistic expectations, talk to your therapist about it, and work through any questions or expectations together.
- Resistance – Sometimes people are resistant to change. They are used to their patterns so they would prefer to stay as they are rather than try something unfamiliar. By being resistant to therapy then it won’t be helpful. People need to be open to experiment when in therapy, as this can be a positive way to bring about growth.
- No bond forms – There are instances where a client and a therapist fail to form a bond. Building the therapeutic relationship is vital in therapy, thus, if therapists and clients clash then therapy cannot happen. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be another therapist who you’ll connect with.
Consequently, as a therapist, next time clients choose not to come back, try not to take it to heart. If, on the other hand, you’re a client who decides to stop therapy prematurely, reconsider whether you are actually doing better or not without therapy. Therapy isn’t easy, but it’s an important stepping stone to help you heal and bring awareness into your life. Just remember that one element for growth is consistency.
Mandy is a Gestalt psychotherapist who enjoys working therapeutically with adults on various issues. These include general mental health and wellbeing. She also has experience working with anxiety, victims of domestic violence and eating disorders.
- Lambert, M., J. & Barley, D., E. (2001). Research Summary on the therapeutic relationship and psychotherapy outcome. Psychotherapy, 38, 4, 357-361.
- Lu, G. (2013). Why Do People Leave Therapy Prematurely? – GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/why-do-clients-leave-therapy-prematurely-0627137