Therapy and the idea of going to therapy is a lot more commonplace and a lot less stigmatized than it used to be. Everyone from Carrie Bradshaw to the Kardashians has a therapist they march to whenever life gets crazy. But what happens when you’ve been seeing your therapist for a while? Is there life after therapy or do you just stay there forever? I’ve recently started on my journey of life after therapy and I wanted to talk a little about what therapy is, what it isn’t, and what life after looks like.
I have had three main therapists in my life. The first was a grief counselor for when my mother passed away. The second was a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist who specialized in OCD and my last therapist was an Analyst (think Sigmund Freud). All of these therapists have helped me immensely. My last therapist however was really wonderful. She was fantastic at telling me what my dreams told me about my subconscious, sorting out habits that came from my upbringing and allowing me to better understand my anxieties.
I had kind of resigned myself to seeing her for the rest of my life…I mean, that’s what you do when you find a good therapist right? WRONG! and this is what made her such a good therapist. She pointed out that a lot of my insecurities came from just having a lack of self-confidence, and in a way, she was preventing me from developing that. You see, I had started to see her like I would a parent. It was so bad that in some ways I’d even give her some attitude when she pointed out something I didn’t like about myself. So I was basically starting to come to her to get reassurance that what I was doing was in fact the right thing to do. She would confirm it and I would feel safe and stable knowing that my surrogate parent thought I was being good.
A lot of long term therapist’s capitalize off of this. Their patient comes in, project on to them the same feelings they had for their parents, they get reassured and then leave and the therapist makes their money. My therapist is good because she understood when my process was no longer serving me in terms of growth or when she was in a weird way preventing me from learning by constantly reassuring me (even though I really liked that reassurance).
The truth is, I had learned what I needed to from her, and while the prospect of not getting that reassurance was really in some ways terrifying, I understood what she meant when she would say things like “parent yourself”. It was about knowing what was best for me, and what I needed to continue to grow into my best self and giving myself compassion when things didn’t go how I hoped they would. Easier said than done right?
If you are fresh off the therapy boat and asking yourself “What now?” here are some suggestions I have to help you on your way.
1.) Understand that there’s Never Really a Good Time to Leave Therapy: I went to therapy because I struggle with anxiety, depression, and OCD thinking (where I obsess about a fear or life issue). Did my therapist magically cure me of these issues and now I walk around as an enlightened being? No. Did she give me tools to understand how to navigate these parts of me? Yes. I’ve had anxiety, depression and OCD since I was really little mostly caused by a stressful upbringing. Because they’ve been a part of my life for so long, it’s not a stretch to think that I might always experience those emotions to some degree, but knowing your weaknesses and how to work with them is WAY BETTER than not knowing them and succumbing to them every time they come up.
So if you think that you’ll be ready to leave therapy when you are “normal”. Think again. Normal is relative. What’s normal for me, may not be normal for someone else. It’s more about do you feel adequately prepared with coping tools to help you navigate when your issues pop up. Life is life. You will have good times, and bad. There will always be opportunities to grow or to revert to past issues, but it is all up to you. Having a therapist as your security blanket will not stop you from feeling uncomfortable moments, but they may be stopping you from growing from those moments.
2.) Assess what You’ve Learned: It’s good to take a moment to consider what you’ve learned and how far you’ve come. I follow a lot of uplifting things on Pinterest as well as a few positivity tags on Instagram. It’s always helpful when I’m reminded throughout the day of little things I remember learning in therapy. If you’re not so tech-savvy then I would suggest getting out a piece of paper and writing down little things you remember hearing in therapy that helped you feel safe, reassured, or even helped you understand a concept you may still struggle with.
Growing up I had test anxiety. I would study and could talk all about a subject until I sat down to a test and my mind went absolutely blank. Any time I feel pressure it’s easy for me to blank out. Leaving therapy felt a little similar. I sat there thinking “Wait, what? Did I learn anything? I’ve been seeing this person for two years sometimes multiple times a week! OMG, I didn’t pay attention! I didn’t learn anything!” If you’re here, take a deep breath. It’s all good. Somewhere in your head, you’ve learned a lot and it feels so natural to you now that you may feel like you don’t know what you learned because it’s already integrated into your personality. Trust that just like a bird knows how to fly when it leaves the nest, you know how to live your life after therapy.
3.) Understand that Life without Therapy is Normal: That’s right! People walk around this planet, sometimes ruling over entire countries unstable. In fact, I’m willing to bet that if you looked closely at your own life you’ll see people who should have seen a therapist but didn’t. Some people go their entire lives without seeing a therapist…Mind…Blown.
When you’ve been seeing a therapist for years and then suddenly you aren’t it can feel awkward. For me, it actually took a second to remember that there are some people who live just fine without a therapist. You have plenty of tools you’ve learned about, and you are ready to join the crazy masses (most of which haven’t ever seen a therapist).
4.) Take Stock in Helpful Resources to Remind You of what You’ve Learned: One of the signs that I was ready to leave therapy was that I started seeking out answers to my life issues outside of therapy. I am not Buddhist but for me, the lessons in Buddhism were very similar to what I learned in therapy. So I like listening to Ajan Brahm on YouTube. I like reading books from the Dalai Lama and self-help books were very often supplements to my therapeutic process. Start to look for ways to remind yourself of what you learned. Read books, use the internet, even venture into spirituality, or looking into how other belief systems answer their problems. The worst case is that you don’t learn anything that resonates with you. The best case is that you enhance your self-care practices and learn how to nurture and reassure yourself.
5.) Journal: Meet your new therapist. I’m not joking. Investing in a journaling practice is almost essential to being without a therapist. Journaling gives you space to vent, work out your problems, and even reflect on what you think and be your own therapist. If I could suggest anything, it would be to write as the patient and read as the therapist. Pretend that you’re a therapist (or maybe just a really good friend) reading a message left by your patient or friend and imagine the advice you’d give them (aka yourself). You might find that an hour of journaling takes the place of your weekly hour in your therapist’s office.
6.) Take the Time to Look at Your New Schedule: Speaking of time you spend in your therapist’s office, you now have that time free. At one point I was seeing my therapist Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. That’s three hours a week! Now granted she slowly took away days over time, but still, that’s three hours a week that are no longer occupied. Be careful how you fill that time. If you take that extra hour to just sit and watch TV or do some other equally mind-numbing hobbies, you might slip back into feeling the way you did before therapy. I would suggest that you continue to keep that “appointment” for a while and use it to continue to connect with yourself. Read your self-help books, journal, or pursue self-confidence building things that keep you feeling good about yourself.
7.) Reassess what YOU want YOUR Life to Look Like: It’s easy to fall into wanting to make your therapist happy. It was for me anyway. I wanted my therapist to see I had it all together! However, that meant that I started viewing my life through what would make her happy (just like I did with my parents), instead of what I wanted to do. Take a deep breath and ask yourself what do you want your life to look like, considering it’s just you living your life in the first place. Make sure your hobbies, friends, and lifestyle make you happy! For me, I had to closely look at everything I did and ask myself why I was doing it and for whom. It takes time, but it’s worth it.
8.) Know that There’s Always Help: It can feel like you had the only good therapist in the world. This is not true. I really liked my Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, but she ended up closing her practice a little more than halfway through my therapy process. I was fine for a while but then I went through some seriously stressful situation and I realized I needed more therapy. I called her up but she was clearly not interested in putting her therapist hat on so I had to find a new therapist. That’s when I found my most recent therapist (the analyst) and she really got to the heart of a lot of my issues! What I’m saying is that you may be able to get your old therapist back, but maybe not, and that’s okay. Your issue may have changed. For example, when I needed to find a therapist again, my issue was no longer solely an OCD problem. It was a “why do bad things keep happening to me?” situation. Someone trained in CB Therapy may be able to help, but an analyst is going to be able to spot life patterns and explain where they came from so you have the closure to start changing those things.
If you ever find that you might need a therapist again, also know that it’s not because you failed. It’s because you are now ready for a new step in a different direction in life. You may have not noticed a pattern that desperately needs changing, or you might be ready to address some tough childhood stuff so that you are able to be more you now as an adult! There are all kinds of therapists, so don’t ever feel hopeless.
I hope this post has helped you feel more secure. You can do this life thing. If you want to be notified of future posts like this, please be sure to SIGN UP HERE. Know that if you ever need to talk feel free to either leave me a comment, email me, or contact me on my social media platforms. If you feel like you’re in a scary place and need to talk to someone immediately please contact The National Suicide Prevention Hotline. I’ve called those people (and then even do text) and they’ve been extremely kind and helpful. You are a wonderful, beautiful, person and while life may not get easier, you have gotten stronger. Hang in there. -Heather Astaneh