When to stop - II

Sometimes the impulse to stop treatment comes out of resistance, from motives in your inner life, rather than from rational, real world considerations. Resistance is unconscious (see Why psychotherapy, Personality, What’s the cure), resistance, but you may have clues that it is happening. This kind of resistance tends to express itself in unpleasant and perplexingly strong emotions. If, for example, after a long period of gratifying and productive work you suddenly find yourself furious with your therapist, bored with him, maybe unable to remember why you ever liked him in the first place and what you ever got out of treatment, these are signs that resistance is at play -- if only because these positions are so frankly irrational. It means that the therapy is beginning to stir up something in you that you are struggling to avoid. It may even be the result of your feeling better and thus beginning to think about the end of treatment; the separation might be scaring you. There are many possiblities. In any case, if you can get to it, therapy will take a jump forward.

But if you cannot, it is time to stop. Even in the worst case of this kind, when you are thoroughly and unreasonably disgusted with your therapist, you can both agree that no progress is being made and that at least a temporary break is in order. [Sara]

The thing to do, then, is to talk about your desire to stop with your therapist. Even if your therapist feels there is more work to do, you should be able to agree on the progress you have made up to that point, the changes that have occurred, and on where you stand currently. That may be exactly where you want to stand for the time being, or it may be as far as you can go at that point in time. Either way, it’s your decision. Whether you are fleeing in resistance or choosing realistically to stop because your therapist isn’t performing up to snuff anymore, it’s time to quit if you can’t move past this dissatisfaction. (For example, in the case of Sara it didn’t matter whether she was making an ogre out of me in an unconscious flight from our work, or was leaving because I really am condescending and judgmental. Whatever its true cause, the discomfort she was feeling came to dominate the sessions and I could not help her out of it. She was therefore quite right to end treatment.)

No matter what the situation, I think you should flee any therapist who can say only "You are resisting" when you disagree or don't understand. Any therapist who cannot help you to to see that resistance is happening, why it is resistance and not some simple difference of opinion, is useless to you, no matter how right he is.

Behavior Therapy

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