Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes I’ll drive myself crazy trying – and failing – to remember something basic, like the name of my son’s teacher. At the same time, I’ll find I can’t forget snippets of random songs. When I was thinking of writing a blog post today The Clash’s chorus “Should I stay or Should I go?” popped into my head. It is really the perfect snippet for what I was thinking about – the question of when to go to therapy and also when to leave therapy.
When to start isn’t really that complicated as an individual – you should start therapy when you are in distress, want to try to alleviate it, and can afford treatment. If your child is the one in distress though, the decision can feel more complicated. How do you know how much difficulty is normal? Is bringing them to treatment going to help, or going to make them feel bad about themselves? Friends were recently agonizing over this decision when their child asked if she could talk to someone “like Tamar” who can “teach me things for when I’m scared.” The child clearly made the decision for them, simplifying things.
We know that anxiety, over time, gets worse without treatment. On the other hand, willingness and active participation are important for success. Now, if your best friend doesn’t happen to be a cognitive behaviorist who treats anxiety, then your son or daughter is probably not going to do what my friend’s child did. However, you can introduce the idea by asking them if they’d like to go see a feelings doctor who helps kids when they are worried, scared, or sad by teaching them new things to do for their feelings. If the child is unwilling to go and participate, it is better for you to go and learn what to do at home. Forcing him or her into treatment can cause them to dislike therapy and thus have a hard time benefitting from it either now or in the future. If they do want to try it out, then you should absolutely get treatment. An ounce of prevention, or early intervention, is worth a pound of cure.
What about leaving treatment? When are you done? A good starting point for assessing this is checking back in with the goals you set at the start of treatment. Have you faced particular fears? Learned to managed anger? Is your depression in remission? Do you have friends or community? Are you feeling more comfortable at work, or in your romantic relationships? If you have met the goals you set, then it is reasonable to think about stopping. If your treatment was related to a particular stressor, like an abusive boss, a child with illness, or a divorce, then ask yourself if the stressor has resolved. If the answer is yes, then it is probably wise to consider tapering off treatment and testing out whether you can actualize your new skills on your own. Therapy should be an avenue for getting back into your life, not a way of life.