Signs You're Ready To Take A Step Back From Therapy

As the stigma surrounding mental illness continues to decrease, more and more people are seeking out therapy. According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 2019 and 2021, the number of adults who received treatment for their mental health issues jumped from 19.2% to 21.6%. For those aged 18 to 44, the percentage increased from 18.5% to 23.2%. While it makes sense that a worldwide pandemic would usher more people into therapy, there are those who were already in treatment before we'd ever even heard of Covid. For some, therapy is a lifelong commitment and not something they turn to in times of emotional despair or personal setbacks.


There are many reasons why someone may go to therapy, and many reasons why someone might want to take a step back from therapy. Some people go into it to deal with something in particular that has happened in their life that they can't manage on their own, while for others it's something that they stay in, even when things are going smoothly, as a means of mental health maintenance per se.

Although the reasons for wanting to take a break are personal and only something that can be decided by you and your therapist, it's important to understand why you want to take a step back.

You want to take a break from the work it involves

Therapy is a lot of work and that work can be very exhausting. Even if you start therapy for a particular reason, like a breakup, the death of a family member, or you've reached a point in your life where you know you need professional help, once you make headway with that initial reason, you and your therapist may discover there are even deeper issues that need unpacking. It's not always easy for people to allow themselves to be so open and vulnerable, and do the work that therapy requires. That's why, for some, after a period of time has passed, a break can be a healthy idea.


"Sometimes a therapy break can feel like a relief, a chance to slow down the hard work of self-discovery and change, and focus more on putting your new learnings into practice," therapist Tami Sobell tells Glamour. "It may even feel exhilarating, like you've been learning to ride a bike and now the training wheels have been removed and you can venture out on your own, getting more and more confident. The important thing is to talk it through with your therapist and make sure you have a date set to check back in."

Because therapy is about understanding who you are on a very intense level, taking a breather doesn't mean you're giving up. As Sobell points out, it's about taking what you've learned and putting it into motion. You have the tools, now you're going to see how well you can use them in the real world.


You've reached your initial goals

Some people go into therapy with specific goals in mind that they want to work on, process, then move forward from. Not everyone who goes into therapy has a mental illness that requires long-term treatment; rather, they seek guidance during a difficult time. It's these people who, with a plan in mind of what they want to achieve, go into short-term therapy. When everything on the list gets checked off, patients can feel like they've accomplished what they needed and would like to end their sessions.


"One of the things that should be going on is identifying why you're in therapy," Talkspace therapist Amy Cirbus, PhD, LMHC tells Well+Good. "We're having an ongoing conversation about pushing you out into the world ... It's knowing that you can have a life that's manageable without having a therapist there."

Just like with taking a break from therapy so you can put all that effort and energy on hold, it's important to realize you can always return. Life isn't without its ups and downs, and when you hit a pothole that throws you off course, knowing that therapy is there to guide you again is an essential part of stepping away from it.

You've reached a plateau

In some cases, patients reach a plateau in their treatment. It doesn't mean that they've been cured or that their therapist has failed them in some way, but the progress they've made has put them on a different path. Different therapists specialize in different areas of mental illness, and how they treat their patient is always individual. When you reach a plateau, and you and your therapist agree that someone else will be a better fit, then this can be a good time to take a step back while you decide where you are in your therapy journey. Taking time off to figure out what's next is sometimes necessary to realize you've been given a new perspective on life thanks to the work that's been done, but there are other perspectives you'd like to have.


However, not everyone wants to or can take a step back from therapy. Depending on the reasons why you started therapy and what you plan to accomplish with it, therapy may be something you'll continue for the rest of your life — and that's okay! For some, feeling better and more steady isn't enough to take a break, because they like knowing that they have their regular appointments — there's comfort in that for them. Remember, when it comes to therapy or any mental health treatments, what's right for one person isn't right for everyone. Let your intuition guide you and allow your therapist to offer their input on the situation.