6. Impasse, Plateau, or Dead Shark
Most little kids go through a period of regression before their next developmental spurt. Most adults do, too. (Remember the marriage-phobic, slacker boyfriend you dumped—who married a nice woman six months later and is now the father of three and a softball coach? You met him before his developmental leap.) In therapy, a longish dull period can precede a lot of movement. However, a very long dull period, in which you and the therapist seem both bored and bewildered, may signal that (a) you're done...for now, (b) you're done...with this person, or (c) you're done...until you're ready to try again. How to tell the difference? Bring it up with the shrink.
7. What If Your Shrink Says Stay and You're Ready to Go?
First rule: They work for you. Second rule: If you've always respected this person's judgment (not the same as liking them) and they say, "You're not ready to go," think twice. After you've thought twice, see the first rule. If you're wrong about stopping, you can go back—and you will have learned something.
8. How to Succeed by Really Trying
Successful treatment should feature some resolution (you don't just talk about leaving the house and why you can't—you actually do leave the house), some understanding that holds up under pressure (even when you and your husband are having a terrible fight, you manage not to say the things that make his head burst into flames and your marriage collapse), and some self-awareness that helps you move the psychic furniture instead of stubbing your toe for the millionth time.
9. What's So Good About Goodbye
It's probably time to wrap things up when the two of you are happily, even cozily, chatting about this and that week after week. His Shar-Pei, your flower arranging, his kids, your kids. It's wonderful that you've come to enjoy each other's company and your problems have been resolved. That's why it's time to stop. It should hurt; you're ending something that has been valuable and significant.
10. Where's the Rope Ladder?
Some therapies require an emergency exit: a therapist who makes sexual advances (whether in the name of repairing your self-esteem or his or her own uncontrollable desire); therapy that has gone on for 25 years during which you have changed nothing but your socks; therapy in which you're comforting/advising/reassuring your tearful/paranoid/anxious therapist; couples therapy in which the therapist has remarked, with some feeling, on how attractive your spouse is.
11. The Funny Thing About Referrals
You have to be your own Geiger counter. The guy who helped your friend overcome impotence, agoraphobia, and a fear of commitment may leave you cold and, worse, uninspired. It is best to check out the credentials (see #1) of anyone you seek treatment from, and it's great if someone you know and like has seen and been helped by that person—but it is never all you need to know. One man's Freud is another person's Froot Loop.
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