How to Tell If You’re Dependent on Therapy

The end goal of spending time, effort and money on therapy is to build towards independence. Therapy teaches us skills that enable us to manage our  mental health to the best of our ability by recognizing triggers, giving them context, and coping with them in a healthy manner. At some point, it’s critical to exercise these on our own outside of therapy.

 However, the relationship between a therapist and a patient is a close one, ideally characterised by trust. This causes most people to develop a certain level of dependence on their therapist. This is normal, as the therapist offers a refuge from a harsh, external situation.

But the purpose off treatment is to enable people to successfully reproduce the same feeling of calm and peace while working through problems on their own. At some point in the therapeutic process, dependence evolves into independence.

However, this path towards independence can be interrupted when a person feels a little too dependent on their therapist. This creates a dynamic in which the therapist is the sole arbiter of how the person feels on a particular day, with negative comments leading to spirals and positive comments leading to feelings of achievement.

Some people may mistake this dependency for being in love with their therapist, as they believe the therapist is the only person who can understand them. These situations do not bode well for treatment if not addressed between therapists and patients. 

How over-reliance on therapy can manifest

Depending too much on therapy springs from a variety of situations, but is always related to a condition called transference. This occurs when one person redirects their feelings about someone else onto their therapist. It is also possible for the therapist to redirect their feelings about someone else onto their patient.

This can manifest as: 

Positive transference: When the patient redirects positive feelings about past relationships onto a therapist, creating a more trusting relationship with the therapist and more open discussions during treatment. However, it can also keep the patient wanting to come back for more even after they’ve developed the skills to manage their mental health independently.

Negative transference: When the patient redirects anger or other negative feelings from past relationships towards a therapist. This can spark further conversations and analysis from a therapist’s perspective, turning the transference into a net positive for treatment. 

Erotic transference: When a patient redirects sexual attraction to a therapist, or believes they feel romantic love or reverence for their therapist. 

Counter-transference: When the therapist experiences any of the above towards their patient. This manifests most often in novice therapists due to their inexperience. Therapists experiencing counter-transference may be hyper-friendly, reveal too much about their own life, or show an unreasonable dislike for their clients. At this point, continuing to treat the patient becomes unethical.

There is no cut-and-dry approach for dealing with a patient’s transference; therapists must use objective judgement to determine whether the therapeutic relationship is still beneficial and leading to independence. However, counter-transference creates situations where the therapist is not objective enough to make a clear distinction.


How to recognise an over-reliance on therapy

Asking ourselves these questions can help us gauge whether and how much we are dependent on therapy:

Am I unable to take actions without consulting my therapist?

Though therapeutic processes are intense and engaging, they should not create a situation where a patient cannot make decisions or think for themselves without consulting their therapist. If there is a situation where you feel like you cannot form simple opinions or take minor decisions without your therapist weighing in, it is time to have a conversation with your therapist about boundaries. 

Do I feel like I have to be “good” at therapy?

There is no such thing as being “good” or “bad” at therapy. In fact, actively seeking your therapists’ approval or having your day ruined due to a therapists’ reprimand is a sign that you need to re-evaluate the boundaries you share with your therapist. In some cases, this might also signal a romantic attraction to your therapist, which will complicate your recovery. 

How dependence on therapy hurts mental health

The more a patient is reliant on therapy, the more they veer away from independence. Dependence or ‘addiction’ to therapy can lead to bliss from feeling parented and chaperoned by a figure who holds power over your life. However, it only makes life in the real world more difficult, because the real world requires adults to be independent in a more random and uncaring environment. 

If a therapist permits dependence and doesn’t push a patient to face harsh truths or seek therapy elsewhere, they do not have the patient’s best interests at heart. 

When to stop seeing a therapist

If your therapist notices that you are developing signs of transference, they will bring it up and discuss the best course of action with you. Often, if the patient and the therapist cannot find a solution, the therapist will terminate treatment from their side and refer the patient to another therapist. 

If the patient has emotional attachment to the therapist, this is a difficult process to undergo. However, it is necessary in order to keep moving towards mental wellness and skilled independence. 

Therapists are usually taught to guard against counter-transference. However, in situations where they do experience it, and the patient picks up on it, the patient should bring it up with the therapist. The therapist, ideally, should be receptive to the concerns and help the patient set clear boundaries. If the patient believes that the counter-transference continues to get in the way of their treatment, it is critical to their wellbeing to take the initiative to move on to a new therapist. 

Therapy is meant to be a safe space where a patient and a therapist work together to gradually treat the patients’ mental health concerns with the aim of independent self-management. While this may make therapy feel like a refuge, it is also supposed to be a place of measured contention where pre-conceived notions are challenged and changed.

It is important for both parties to hold boundaries sacred through this process, as crossing a line may cause a detrimental effect to treatment, healing, and independence. 


More blogs