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Taking a Break from Therapy

Posted February 12, 2018

Tags: advocacyself-care

(photo: "room to wait" by Several seconds is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“Taking time to reflect by yourself and for yourself is incredibly empowering.”


Ross and Rachel, Richard and Emily Gilmore, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez; our culture is no stranger to taking breaks. As a society, we’ve realized that sometimes what our relationships or careers need is a time to reevaluate what we’re doing, to take a deep breath in, and take time to find the right path.

When I told my former therapist that I wanted to take a break from talk therapy, it felt like a long time coming. My previous therapist who I had thought I had clicked with (although, upon reflection and many conversations with other mental health professionals, definitely made some questionable choices in regards to my treatment) had broken up with me suddenly when it looked like my eating disorder was resurfacing. Side note: to any and all mental health professionals, the worst time to end a relationship with a client is when they’re going through something really hard, makes the hard time even worse. 

My therapist referred me to one of the top psychotherapists in the city, and she came with a price tag to match. For an initial consultation, it was $700 and 90 minutes of absolute hell, as I had to recount everything that in the past 7 years had caused me to seek therapy. She listened, as all therapists do, with a clipboard and plenty of questions that made me feel like a bug under a microscope. I left that session feeling worse than I think I may have ever felt. I told her I didn’t think it was going to work out, that I didn’t like the way that she implied that I was bipolar or kept using clinical language even though I was uncomfortable. She told me to give it more time, to keep trying, and my old therapist wasn’t going to see me anymore, so I felt like I had no other choice.

I kept pushing myself to see this woman, and every time I set foot in her office, I felt like throwing up because I was so nervous. I dreaded seeing her walk into the waiting room, watching her long, manicured hands close the door behind me, and waiting for her to ask me “So, how are your suicidal thoughts?” at the beginning of every session, even though I had verbalized how patronizing I thought it was to act like I was unable of going through a single week of my life without thoughts of self harm. Every time I went to therapy, I felt worse, but that’s what it’s supposed to be, right? You feel worse before you get better, right? I was obviously doing something wrong–I wasn’t trying hard enough, I wasn’t open enough, I was the problem, and therapy was the solution.

Fast forward to me getting my wisdom teeth out, and being knocked out for a full two weeks. I wasn’t able to eat solid food, nonetheless embark on a 45 minute commute to go rehash my trauma for a woman who I was liking less and less the more I got to know, so I cancelled. Although I was on Percocet and in immense amounts of pain, I felt mentally better the longer that I went without therapy. I felt like I owned my body and my mind. Without someone telling me that I was doing badly and in need of intensive treatment, I was doing pretty well. I read like crazy, watched Gilmore Girls about 10 times over, added to my collection of piercings, and felt better than I had in a long time. I realized then that was the answer. I needed to stop putting myself in a re-traumatizing situation every time I walked through the door of a slew of doctors telling me that they knew me better than I knew myself, and that I wasn’t capable of owning my body or my mind enough to keep myself under control and alive.

Breaking up with a therapist is never easy, and like a typical millennial, I tried to end it with a text message. “Please respect and support this incredibly difficult and important decision,” the end of my paragraph long message read, and within minutes I heard back. “We’ll talk about this on Thursday,” she responded, as if she completely ignored me saying that I didn’t want to come in Thursday. On Thursday, I left her office feeling small and defeated by our conversation, as usual, but also felt hopeful and ready to embark on a journey on working on myself with the most important person in that equation: myself.

Taking a break from therapy can be a good idea if you need to feel back in control. It’s easy in a sea of doctors and medication and insurance to feel like you’re the person least in charge of your mental health, that you are so entirely dependent on treatment that you lose yourself and the essence of who you are. Taking time to reflect by yourself and for yourself is incredibly empowering. You learn that you alone are the person who is in control, you hold the reins to your future, and placing that kind of faith within yourself, especially when you’re not feeling that from your healthcare provider, is healing and important.

I didn’t realize that therapists are the people who take it the most lightly when you take a break from talk therapy, and that psychiatrists are some of the most difficult people on Earth. If you are looking to take a break from therapy, whether it be for financial, emotional, or other reasons, know that your psychiatrist might take this as an opportunity to tap out of treatment, even though this is the time in which you need to be the most on top of taking your medication. All medical professionals take an oath to do no harm, but that seems to go out the window when you run out of Zoloft and the doctor you’ve been seeing for a year now refuses to refill it because if you hurt yourself, it’s now all their fault legally.

I don’t mean to sound cynical or unfair to psychiatrists. As of now, I’m working with a great doctor who really listens to me, and has respected my choice to not return to therapy, at least for the time being. Taking a break from therapy is the most healing thing that I’ve ever done. It’s been about a month of me doing things for myself; going to the gym consistently, reading great books that move me, taking my medication everyday, and keeping up with myself on my own terms.

Unfortunately, society has created a situation in which mentally ill people going “untreated” is just as stigmatized as if you choose to seek treatment. “But, you’re sick, you need help” is a response I’ve gotten more than I’d care to hear. What people don’t understand is that I am getting help; I’m getting help from myself, from my body, from the treadmill at the gym, from Sylvia Plath’s poetry, from my new tattoo on my ribs that reminds me that I indeed own my body, and from my own faith in myself that I can go without formal treatment, and I am capable of living and thriving in my own skin.

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