Feel like you've spent as much time with Shrinky as Woody Allen
has? Wondering if you're ever going to get off the proverbial couch? Contrary
to what you might think, therapists don't see their patients as lifelong meal
"In the course of treatment, you obviously touch on a lot
of issues," says Leonard Tuzman, DSW, CSW, director of social work services
at Hillside Hospital, a part of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health
System in New York. "You could continue to work ad nauseum on all
those issues, but at some point, patients need to take what they've learned in
therapy out into the community. A therapist shouldn't foster lifelong
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"The job of therapy is to make the therapist
expendable," agrees Joseph Napoli, MD, associate chief of psychiatry at
Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, New Jersey. Just as you
grow up and leave your parents, says Napoli, so should you be developing the
necessary tools to leave your therapist and live your own life.
How Long Is Long Enough?
Just how long does that take though? That depends on what
brought you to the therapist's office in the first place, and what type of
therapy you've been receiving. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, is
designed to achieve specific goals, says Napoli. If you're afraid to drive,
then a number of sessions -- perhaps 10 to 20 -- are agreed upon at the
beginning of therapy and the problem is addressed through a combination of talk
therapy, relaxation techniques, and exercises designed to get you back in the
car. Once your symptoms are gone, so is the therapist.
Therapy that is more self-exploratory -- that examines how you
got to be who you are today and what effect that is having on your life -- will
be more in-depth and, as a result, last longer, says Napoli. "As a
therapist, you want to see that the patient is approaching his present
circumstances as an adult ... that he has learned to look at his behavior and
understand its meaning, and can do things to change the actions and
circumstances that may have brought him to therapy in the first place."
But even long-term therapy usually comes to an end, whether
that takes a year, or two, or more. If you and your therapist have a good
relationship, deciding to end it is not a one-way street -- on either end.
"This isn't something either person should decide on his own," says
Norman Rosenthal, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University
in Washington, and author of The Emotional Revolution: How the New
Science of Feeling Can Transform Your Life. "It's a decision that's
made in collaboration."
If you're thinking of leaving therapy, says Rosenthal, ask
yourself why: Are you not getting much out of it anymore? Or, on the other
hand, have you accomplished what you set out to do? Do you feel that the world
and your relationships in it will be manageable on your own? "The messages
will come from within," says Rosenthal. "Listen to them."