How to Prepare to Close a Counseling Relationship

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People enter counseling for a variety of reasons. Everyone that participates in counseling is there to get guidance and learn skills to cope with the problems or dysfunctions that brought them there. During the course of these sessions, a relationship develops between the client and the counselor. It can be a challenge for both participants to decide how and when to end the counseling relationship.

Things You'll Need

  • Information on your mental health insurance coverage prior to first session
  • Information on how many sessions is anticipated (Contact your counselor before starting.)
  • List of your treatment goals

Goals and Expectations

  • Clarify how and when your counseling will terminate. Counselors are not always certain about how to approach ending counseling. According to a study in the Journal Academy of Psychoanalytic Dynamics Psychiatry," only 40% of clients felt therapy ended at the right time, with 37% believing it ended too early and 23% saying it ended too late." The process of termination can be difficult for both the counselor and the client.

  • Set specific treatment goals with your counselor at the first session. Make a list of these goals. Many counselors have the philosophy that termination begins at the first counseling session. Be prepared to actively participate and be open to get the most out of each session. Make sure to obtain information on your mental health insurance coverage prior to the first session.

  • Work in collaboration with your counselor to determine how to assess achievement of treatment goals.

    Dr. Gerald Corey, who has a doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Southern California, recommends these guidelines on how to successfully end a counseling relationship:

    1. Help clients review the success they had in counseling.
    2. Allow clients to discuss their feelings of loss surrounding termination and the counselor must
      process your own feelings surrounding the process as well.
    3. Discuss termination with clients early in the counseling process.
  • Initiate discussion of how you view your progress in achieving your treatment goals in each session. Ryan Howes, Ph.D, describes the termination phase as, "the period of time between realizing you're leaving and the final goodbye. How long does it last? It depends on how long you've been in therapy, what type of therapy it's been, the nature of your issue, and ultimately---whatever you and your therapist determine."

  • Follow this checklist for items to cover in your final session.

    Dr. Howes recommends your last session includes these components:

    1. Review what you learned about yourself.
    2. Discuss what goals you were not able to accomplish in therapy and what to do about them.
    3. Develop your "aftercare plan": everything you will do post therapy.
    4. Reminisce about the therapeutic relationship; when you felt cared for, what made you mad.
    5. Discuss and grieve the end of your therapeutic relationship.
    6. Talk about the other feelings and memories this ending brings up.

Tips & Warnings

  • Following the steps Dr. Howe describes will make the transition out of counseling more comfortable for you. If there are goals that have not been met you can discuss setting a future follow-up session where you and your counselor can get together to review your progress.
  • Clients can choose to end their counseling sessions on their own because of dissatisfaction with the counselor or an inability to participate in the counseling at a level required by the counselor. Rather than just not returning to therapy, it is better to have a final session where you discuss the problematic issues. It can be a learning experience for both you and your counselor and offers a feeling of closure.

References

  • "The Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry;" The Timing of Psychodynamically Oriented Psychotherapy Termination and Its Relation to Reasons for Termination, Feelings About Termination, and Satisfaction With Therapy; David Roe; Fall 2007 35(3)
  • "Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy, 6th ed.;" Gerald Corey; 2001
  • "Psychology Today;" Terminating Therapy, Part IV, How to Terminate; Ryan Howes; 10/30/08
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