My Own Personal Recipe: When to Quit Therapy

When should you end therapy?  That’s the question today at CNN’s website,  The article posits some useful suggestions — but I feel I should add a few of my own.

After all, I’ve been in therapy several times.  I’ve ended it.  I must know something.  Right?

Years ago, one of my friends told me she knew it was time to stop therapy when she found herself and her psychiatrist swapping recipes for turkey dressing at Thanksgiving.  She left the office, walked out into the cold November air — and realized the therapist might possibly be more neurotic than she was.  Adios.

I questioned my own therapy several years ago in Dallas, when my therapist whipped out a mirror and applied lipstick while I was telling her about my problems.  (My problems!  They were interesting, fascinating, complex, heartrending!)  She snapped her compact shut and smiled at me apologetically, with her freshly made-up lips.  “I’ve got a cocktail party after your appointment,” she explained.

Well, maybe her smile was apologetic or maybe I just made that up to comfort myself for being such a loser that I didn’t stand up and march out of the room seething with indignation.  But, no.  Oh, no.  I stuck around for another several months, undeterred.  Typical.  Pathetic lack of self-esteem.  But that’s why I was in therapy in the first place, no?

I only left after another interaction that didn’t even involve a compact mirror.  One day I was talking, and the therapist — this time — was listening.

“What you’re saying is so interesting,” she said.  She pulled out a tablet and started jotting down notes.  “I hope you don’t mind if I write this down.  It’s very insightful.”

Oh.  Well.  I preened for a few seconds.  (Finally, I was being appreciated!)  Then I suggested that — since I was so helpful, so insightful — that we could perhaps split her fee.

She stared back at me, blankly.  Was I serious?  Kidding?  Demonstrably, irrevocably insane?  She looked a little horrified and uncertain.

Good grief.  I could handle the vanity, the inattention, the lipstick — tragic as that is to say — all paid for by me and my insurance company.

But the lack of humor, the inability to get my jokes?  That was fatal.  I declared myself cured and never came back.

Even as I write this, this same therapist is probably applying lipstick in front of some chump and using my insights and keeping her whole fee.  Come to think of it, she was probably smart enough to realize that my little joke about fee-splitting wasn’t really a joke at all.

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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