Can You Ever Get Too Much Therapy?

Therapy can, quite literally, be lifesaving. Psychotherapy can help treat addiction, depression and anxiety, personality disorders, and a range of other mental health conditions. Even without these conditions, working with a professional can come in handy during life transitions and everyday ups and downs. For these reasons, mental health services are becoming increasingly embraced, especially by young people. A 2018 report by the American Psychological Association revealed that members of Gen Z are the most likely to receive help from a psychologist or therapist, followed by Millennials.

Once stigmatized, therapy is now buzzy in multiple corners of social media. There are the hashtags like #therapyworks on Instagram and #therapysessions on TikTok, as well as a slew of internet-famous therapists creating viral mental health content. Nowadays, it can feel like therapy is the answer to any and every problem life may throw your way. But is it possible to spend too much time in your therapist's office? Here's where to draw the line when seeking help.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Therapy isn't meant to last forever

Therapy can be an essential part of overcoming mental health challenges, but it can also become too much of a good thing. A trusted therapist can start to feel like a lifelong confidant, a fixture similar to a best friend or a parent. However, Jonathan Alpert, a psychotherapist and author, believes that dragging out therapy is similar to having a "dead-end relationship," as he explained in an article for The New York Times. According to Alpert, those without severe mental health disorders typically benefit from just a few sessions. Rehashing problems over and over each week makes for little progress, though it can create co-dependency between the client and the professional, he argues.

Therapist Keir Gaines agrees, telling Katie Couric Media, "Therapy isn't supposed to be forever. [...] There is an endpoint." That endpoint is less about finding a perfect solution to every problem and more about having made enough progress to move on to the next stage of life. Gaines notes that therapy does require time, however, and it may take a few months to make headway. But generally, you shouldn't feel just as stuck after the twentieth session as you did after the first. That's a sign that therapy may not be working for you.

How to know when it's time to end therapy

If you're starting to notice the benefits of therapy waning, that might not mean it's time to quit altogether. According to TalkSpace, several reasons why someone may feel like they're not making progress include perfectionism and an incompatible therapist. Consider opening up to your mental health professional, or finding a new one, before throwing in the towel.

However, if you've been attending sessions for a while and already made major strides, it could be time to take a break. Though everyone's needs are different, the American Psychological Association says that 50% of people recover within 15 to 20 sessions, and only a small minority require ongoing therapeutic treatment. With these stats in mind, notice your personal progress after a few months. Have you accomplished what you wanted to in therapy? If so, it might be time to let go.

Ideally, your therapist will also help you navigate this decision and an appropriate timeline for your struggles. Jaime Castillo and Alyssa Mancao, professional therapists, shared with Inverse the signs that a client no longer needs therapy, including improved life satisfaction, less reactivity to past trauma, and the ability to use healthy coping strategies.

Even though therapy can play a critical role in feeling better, the progress made on the couch matters most when applied to real, everyday life. If you decide to take a step away from therapy, remember it'll still be there if you need it again.