Why People Leave Psychotherapy Prematurely
Needless to say, most psychotherapists dislike when their clients decide to quit therapy prematurely. They have a variety of reactions. Some become upset when their clients complain about lack of results, and there are also those psychotherapists who throw a temper tantrum when someone informs them that they want to abandon therapy!
One of my clients (I’ll call her Joanne), a forty year-old woman, broke up with her partner because she caught him in bed with another woman! He kept contacting her on a daily basis. She felt attracted to him but was not sure about her feelings. Joanne told me that she was still in love with him but didn’t want to continue the relationship. She was anxious because her mind wanted to forget her ex but her heart desired him. She needed help to clear up her thoughts and emotions.
I asked her what she had done so far to solve her problem. Joanne explained that she had been seeing a psychotherapist for ten sessions without any positive results. She had spent about $700 for a therapy that wasn’t helping. For this reason, on the tenth session, she informed the psychotherapist that she decided to quit.
As soon as her therapist heard that Joanne didn’t want to continue the therapy, she became upset and threw a temper tantrum! The psychotherapist, a psychiatrist specializing in psychoanalysis, criticized her by saying things like:
“You can’t stop our therapy now because you are worse than you think you are.”
“You will continue your blind steps.”
“That trip you mentioned with your son, it’s just an excuse. Instead of spending your money on this trip, you should be coming to therapy twice a week!”
After few weeks, Joanne sought my help. It took Joanne three sessions to sort out her mixed emotions and clear up her thoughts. She overcame her anxiety and was congruent about her decision to avoid her ex and start her new life.
Most therapists don’t realize that they are selling a service. People have the right to hire and fire them. Clients bring a problem and want a solution. Competent therapists know this. First of all they are good at what they do and in most cases are able to make a difference in the lives of others. Secondly, they don’t get upset or blame the client for wanting to drop out prematurely.
It’s true that there are some clients that are difficult to work with and they sabotage the treatment. However, most people seeking help have a desire to cooperate, and if they show any resistance is because of fear of change. A professional therapist must have the necessary skills to help clients solve their problems, regardless of their degree of cooperation and resistance. Labelling a client as “resistant to change” denotes mediocre therapeutic skills.
Ogrodniczuk JS, et al. “Strategies for Reducing Patient-Initiated Premature Termination of Psychotherapy,” Harvard Review of Psychiatry (March–April 2005): Vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 57–70.