Stopping therapy: We have ways of making you talk

Walking away from therapy is a big step, but what if your analyst tries to stop you? Their methods of persuasion can be intense – and not always ethical, reports Rhodri Marsden

Having spent six months overcoming a period of depression in private therapy sessions, Gemma felt ready to stop. But when she raised the issue with her therapist, she met resistance.

"For two months, I told her that we need to cut down or stop altogether," she says, "and every time it would be diverted into a discussion about why I'm not willing to spend £60 a week on myself." The absurdity of the situation reminded Gemma of trying to cancel her contract with Sky. She says: "I contacted them eight times. They'd tell me that changing to BT would be a bad idea; every time, I ended up saying that I'd 'have a think'."

While the Murdoch empire kept her firmly in its clutches, Gemma's therapist was unintentionally piling on the anxiety. "She would say that I was 'abandoning' the sessions and I didn't understand why she was using that kind of language," she says. "It was awful."

Therapists will tell you, quite rightly, that the opposite scenario is far more prevalent (people are ready to leave therapy but are too scared to do so), but Gemma's experience is not uncommon; a feeling that they're caught up in a cycle of attending expensive therapy sessions that no longer give them any benefit. Whether it's because of timidity and lack of assertion on their behalf – or overbearing behaviour on the part of a therapist – the results are counterproductive, according to counselling lecturer Nicola Blunden.

"The client should be in charge of the whole process," she says. "Otherwise, how are they going to benefit? They have to want to be there, or it's a waste of time for everybody."

While the kind of issues experienced by Gemma are possibly atypical, the number of stories told to The Independent points to more than just a statistical blip. "I made no progress in individual therapy," says Sally, "and I felt very challenged by [my therapist]... she called me 'passive aggressive' and basically wouldn't allow me to leave."

This Catch-22 scenario, where expressing resistance to therapy is interpreted as a sure sign you need it, was also felt by Harriet ("He called me for three days, telling me I wasn't in the right mind to make such a decision"); Claire ("He persuaded me to attend a closure session, which he spent telling me how fucked up I would be without him and how I was wrong to want to stop") and Natasha, along with her now ex-husband ("We both told her twice we were not going to continue with counselling, but she carried on scheduling appointments and actually passing judgment. It was very odd.")

The ethical framework issued by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy is clear on this issue. One of the principles emphasises "the importance of developing a client's ability to be self-directing within therapy and all aspects of life", and "the value of voluntary participation" in therapy.

"Client autonomy is absolutely paramount," says consultant psychologist Carina Eriksen. "The therapy is meant to empower them, not disempower them. A good therapist will keep a conversation going about where the therapy is going – is it benefiting the client?"

Blunden agrees. "I give guidance on how long therapy might take, but I don't require commitment. They don't even have to sit there for the entire session if they don't want to! Any pressure on a client to continue would seem to me to be exploitation; by making a decision about future sessions, you're removing a client's autonomy."

Evidently, there are good therapists and bad therapists, but some of the bad ones seem unable to leave their own needs outside the room – whether personal, emotional or financial. "You have to shelve all of that," says Blunden. "You know when you're crossing a line, ethically." Occasionally, clients can see that line being crossed. Emma described how she was persuaded to have weekly sessions by a private psychotherapist. "At £97 a session, it was a stretch to do it monthly," she says, "but she pushed for weekly, although you could see her heart wasn't in it. I think the hire of the office in central London was crippling her."

As an unregulated profession, psychotherapy can generate ethical tension between the duty of care and the requirement to earn a living, but the needs of the therapist simply have to be suppressed within the context of treatment, according to one therapist who wished to remain anonymous. "Part of my income is generated by private practice," she says, "and if people say they're leaving, then of course I experience a twinge of worry. But you can't force people into therapy."

That doesn't stop some people from trying. Joanne recounted three occasions on which she tried to leave therapy. "The first was when I didn't have enough money, but my therapist told me that we should perhaps explore this sense in general that I don't have 'enough' of things. The second time, he immediately raised a massive problem to do with my mother – he basically dropped the "M" bomb – which made me think he was right; that I needed to continue! It was as if he'd said, 'Yeah, not so great now, are you?'" Joanne didn't feel that her therapist's motives were financial, but believes he was primed to look for problems rather than strengths and unable to support the idea that she'd made progress.

"He was implicitly saying that I couldn't cope on my own. It was really unsettling. I think that people who go into that profession are helper types," she continues. "They get a sense of being needed, so it must surely affect them when someone says that they don't need them any more."

Issues that are personal to the therapist (Are they needed? Are they doing a good job? Are they even boring the client?) must be dealt with within the clinical supervision system, according to Blunden. "Ninety-nine per cent of the time, the client gets better, they see progress, then they feel that the sessions are no longer rewarding, they want to stop, and you agree," she says. "When that doesn't happen, it's your job to unpack that in supervision." But some evidently don't. It's as if the therapy is more important to them than it is to the client. "He was telling me about all the sessions we would need before actually stopping," says Joanne. "It genuinely felt like I was dumping him."

As Blunden says, you never "graduate" from therapy; you never get to a point where you feel that you're "fixed". But while that could conceivably play into the notion of therapy continuing for perpetuity, she believes quite the opposite. "As therapy is never 'done'," she says, "people should just leave when they want to."

The unique relationship and balance of power between therapist and client is something that's endlessly tricky and it's one that Gemma has now only just managed to conquer.

"I've extricated myself now," she says, "but at the last session, my therapist was saying she could tell I was really angry with her. I wasn't – I just didn't want to be there."

And are you still with Sky? She laughs. "I'm afraid I am, yes."

Some names have been changed

If you're thinking of leaving therapy

* Ask your therapist whether they feel you are at risk of significant harm if you end therapy now. If the therapist does think so, take their concerns seriously.

* If the therapist does not believe you to be at risk, you could ask for some time to come to your own decision.

* If you feel that your therapist is not adhering to the BACP ethical guidelines, trust yourself and take a break from therapy, or choose a new therapist. You are in charge of the process, you have every right to be sceptical and have no responsibility to protect the therapist from your dissatisfaction with the work. A good therapist will respect your decision, will work with you to further your autonomy and will have no personal investment in what you decide to be best for you.

Nicola Blunden

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

    £25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

    Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

    £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

    £25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

    £25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas