I noticed that someone found my website by searching “when your client quits therapy”. I’m not sure if the person is a therapist, client, or none of the above, but since I hadn’t written on that subject, I figured that I should.
I feel like one of the things that separates therapy from other services is in the way that clients typically quit services. I may be wrong, but it seems to be different from other types of services. Before I was a therapist, I worked in food service and when people “quit” coming to your restaurant, you could tell that they had quit! The quitting was often very vocal, angry, and dramatic!
As a therapist, I’ve never had anyone quit coming to therapy the way they quit coming to a restaurant. For the most part, everyone acts normal, and then just suddenly stops coming. I think this is what bothers therapists the most, the always wondering why the client stopped coming when there was no warning or indication whatsoever. One day they just stop and if you call or email them you get no response. Of course, this isn’t how all clients quit therapy. Some stop therapy at a mutually agreed upon “final session” with the therapist. This is the best way to end therapy, but we know from research that most people just choose to suddenly stop coming.
The natural reaction when someone drops you like a bad habit is to think that you must have done something really awful in the last session. So you review the entire last session, and maybe a few before that, to try to find any clues of you acting offensively. This process usually leads to a grasping-of-straws when you’re left thinking “Oh my God, it must have been when I sneezed while she was crying. How callous of me! No wonder she dropped out of therapy. I’m such a horrible therapist!” We end up criticizing and beating ourselves up over it worse than any abuser, when the truth is we have no idea why they quit therapy and probably never will.
I’ve been in private practice long enough now where I see some of these clients come back. I remember there was one client where I really blamed myself for her sudden dropping out of therapy. She was one of my first clients in private practice and I blamed myself so much for her dropping out that it actually changed the way I do therapy and set my policies. When she came back for another appointment years later I asked her why she stopped coming the first time. She said “Oh, my schedule at work changed so it was no longer convenient.” Yep, I beat myself up over something that had nothing to do with me.
Whenever I do get a chance to get in contact with these clients, their reason for dropping out never had anything to do with me. Most of them say something like “I had made a lot of progress in therapy so I figured that I didn’t need to keep coming anymore.” I still find it odd that people wouldn’t say anything, but it shows you that we should try not to take it so hard unless of course we really did do something in therapy to upset the person. In that case you should try to learn from it and make a promise to yourself never to do it again.
If you’re someone in therapy, please show some consideration for your therapist. We’re people too and we can take it hard when someone just suddenly stops coming. At least send an email saying that you will no longer be coming. If you thought your therapist was a nice person, return the favor and tell them that this will be your final session. It’s really that simple.