The perfect time to end your participation in a therapy group is when the issues that you came into group to work on have been resolved and you have no other issues that you wish to work on. If you came to the group to learn how to learn how to be less self-critical, you’ll know that you’ve accomplished that goal when you are less self-critical you catch your self-criticism faster and have techniques to quiet that negative voice.
On the other hand, the worst time to drop out of a therapy group (or any kind of therapy) is when there is a conflict, either internally or interpersonally, and you are feeling upset and uncomfortable.
Why you should stay and talk it out
You might ask, “Why would I want to stay in therapy if I feel upset when I go there? Shouldn’t it make me feel better?” Yes, the goal of therapy is to feel better. But, as most therapists will tell you in the intake session, the road to feeling better can be a rocky one. Therapy has ups and downs and often clients need to get in touch with unpleasant feelings in order to progress. So, in most cases, those unpleasant feelings are indicating that something is actually working in therapy. Those unpleasant feelings are coming to the surface and can now be worked through. In fact, those upsetting feelings may mean that you’ve struck therapy gold.
Seasoned clients and therapists have learned to lean in to discomfort because that’s where the opportunity for growth lies.
Of course it’s understandable to want to move away from bad feelings such as fear, shame, inferiority, and anger. However, “what we resist persists.” Avoiding these feelings through dropping out of therapy is a form of resistance. Dropping out may eliminate these feelings temporarily but there is no resolution to those feelings. Whereas, if those feelings are addressed in therapy, they can either be resolved completely or reduced through understanding, processing or developing new coping strategies.
But it’s important to understand that neither of these successful outcomes will likely be an overnight phenomenon. It is possible for change to happen quickly, though. I’ve had major upsets in my therapy group evaporate in a moment when all the feelings are brought to light. But more often it takes a little time. You need to stay in the uncomfortable conversation long enough to work through it.
Don’t judge the present based on the past
Clients leave therapy when they hit upon something painful because in the past it didn’t lead to anything positive. They haven’t experienced the successful outcome of working through feelings. They haven’t experienced the freedom, resolution and repair that can arise from staying in a relationship and expressing themselves. There’s no trust that the therapist or the other group members will be able to help them. Maybe a client doesn’t trust in their ability to express themselves productively. If past conflicts just got worse or stayed stuck and smoldering in their bellies, than why would a client want to experience that again in therapy? But therapy is there to provide a different experience; the antidote to those frustrating occurrences. Therapy can provide a new, successful experience. Additionally, having positive experiences of repair in therapy will teach you to facilitate repairs in your personal relationships.
The difficulty expressing feelings
Some feelings are difficult to express, especially if you don’t have much practice sharing them. How can you express your anger towards your therapist, for example? Polite society tells us to bottle up those feelings. Therapy is not polite society, though. In good therapy, the therapist has encouraged the expression of all feelings. I want my clients to tell me if they’re angry with me or disappointed in me or afraid of me or want to be loved and protected by me. My intention is to provide a safe environment for the authentic communication of all feelings. Talking is so important! It helps us understand our feelings. For many, this is a very different experience than they experienced growing up. Many people grew up in environments where their feelings were invalidated, silenced or met with anger. A good therapist provides a healing experience of acceptance and validation that encourages feelings to be fully expressed and explored instead of stuffed down. This is the practice that will help you when you have to express yourself in the relationships in your life.
Having difficulty saying something is the perfect time to ask the therapist for help. Saying “I’m having strong feelings and I’m having difficulty talking about it” is a great way to begin. Talking about what makes talking difficult can start the process of revealing vulnerable feelings without diving head first into those feelings. Sometimes going too fast is the reason that people choose to flee.
Don’t make the decision alone
Ending therapy is an important decision. It’s best not to reach conclusions in isolation. Alone in your thoughts may be a great starting place, but not the end of the road. Talking about it with friends and family may help you hone your point of view, but it’s not enough. Friends can only agree or disagree based on the limited information that you give them. They have no knowledge of the other aspects of the story. It’s a one-sided point of view. On the other hand, discussing your thoughts about terminating with your therapist and fellow group members opens you up to hearing their perspectives. This can be annoying if their perspectives conflict with your desire to go. That’s the main reason people don’t talk about their decision-making process. They don’t want to be influenced by others. But if you really want to make a powerful well-informed decision, you need to let in all perspectives. What you may hear from others is what you cannot see yourself. Allowing yourself to see through another’s eyes could lead to a breakthrough.
If you’re afraid that other’s opinions will overwhelm you and invalidate your own feelings, making it difficult to stand up for your intuition…that’s a very important thing to work on in therapy. Group therapy, in particular, gives clients a great opportunity to strengthen their ability to balance being open to the positive influence of others while also holding on to themselves.
Good reasons to discontinue therapy
For the most part, I’m encouraging clients to thoroughly talk through their desires to quit therapy. However, there are some circumstances where it’s in your best interest to leave and you don’t necessarily want to discuss it. For example, discontinue therapy if your therapist makes romantic or sexual advances towards you; exhibits prejudice towards your race, sexual identity, religious background, etc.; or crosses your boundaries.
In conclusion, I’m encouraging you to consider that the work of therapy is about feelings. Not simply the feelings of the past or the feelings towards people who aren’t in the room. Feelings come up in the relationships in the room too. You don’t have to deal with it alone. This is a relationship that wants to hear what you have to say.
If you’re interested in counseling, contact Rena Pollak, LMFT for a free 15 minute phone consultation. I have a private practice in Encino where I see individuals, couples and also provide group therapy.
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