Therapy can be an incredibly helpful tool when managing your mental health and/or mental illnesses. Being a trained therapist has helped me to understand deeply the impact of therapy on a person’s mental health; however, it has been my firsthand experience of being in therapy that has really impacted my opinion on how effective therapy can be. For the past three years I have been in therapy two to three times a week consistently, mainly addressing my past trauma, psychosis, and eating disorder symptoms. Throughout this period, I have also been admitted into partial hospitalization programs followed by intensive outpatient programs before returning back to my outpatient therapist and team. Being able to take the time to address my mental illnesses and develop coping skills so extensively has been a true gift, but recently I found myself becoming very worn down. Addressing trauma so many days a week led to my becoming flooded by an influx of psychotic symptoms, as well as severe depression, and extensive fatigue.
Going through therapy is not easy. It is hard work, and that work is taxing on your body and your mind. Unfortunately for me, doing the work so many days a week for so long essentially caused the symptoms of my mental illnesses to worsen to the point where I had to admit myself to the hospital. It was during this time that I realized that I needed a break from therapy. I was completely burnt out and unable to function in my daily life. I wanted time away from the work of therapy to focus on my work as well as my hobbies to get back to the things that I enjoy. I felt like I lost who I really was by focusing solely on my mental health issues and neglecting my passions. Going through trauma work and developing coping skills was so important for me for so long. But after deciding to take a break from therapy, I am beginning to feel renewed, like I can put my coping skills to practice in my day-to-day life and allow myself time to rediscover who I am outside of my mental illnesses and trauma. With that being said, I am still being monitored by my psychiatrist and receive the support that I need from her to ensure that I am safe. I also have a crisis intervention plan should my mental health begin to reach the crisis level again.
Some symptoms of therapy burn out to look out for are:
- Extreme fatigue
- Increase in depressive symptoms or anxiety
- Inability to focus on daily responsibilities
- Feelings of hopelessness
- A loss of a sense of purpose
Therapy can be a great setting for you to work through challenges you are experiencing, while also helping you to develop coping mechanisms and improve your mental health. However, it can become taxing and burn out can occur. When you suspect yourself of feeling burnt out from therapy, it is important to discuss your feelings with your therapist. You and your therapist can create a game plan to give you a break from therapy, while also ensuring you have the resources you need in case you need assistance while you are on a break. You also have the option to lessen the frequency of your therapy sessions should you still need the support, but not as frequently.
Create an action plan for taking a break from therapy:
- Prepare a safety plan with your therapist
- Plan how long your break from therapy will be
- If you plan to return to therapy with your current therapist, set up your next appointment with them so you know when your break will end
- Create a crisis kit with items that soothe you, as well as anything that reminds you of coping skills you can use when you are struggling with your mental health
I am a huge advocate for therapy, but I know firsthand that chronic therapy can cause burnout. Taking a break may be necessary for one’s mental health, and I urge you to discuss your feelings with your therapist if you suspect that you are not in a place where therapy is effective for you. Only you know what you need and taking time to explore your feelings concerning how therapy is treating you will help you to determine how you would like to proceed. I just urge you discuss your feelings with your therapist, any other members of your treatment team, and your loved ones to ensure that you have the support you need to make the choice that is best for you.