Termination has been on my mind because I have been ending with all of my clients for several weeks now. My partner’s work is relocating us to Ghana for two years and I am leaving DC Rape Crisis Center next month. I’m grieving the loss of a wonderful place and also clients that it has been my privilege to serve. I can’t help but feel I’m leaving much work undone. Even where there has been previously unimaginable progress, it hurts to think of saying goodbye to so many people and places and things all at once. I am still planning to write and work on trauma. And I have clients that I will never forget.
So ending therapy can hard for your therapist too. If it’s so unpleasant, why do we do this to ourselves? Because termination is an inevitable part of the relationship. Unless both parties happen to die at the same time, at some point the therapeutic relationship has to end. There are many different reasons for this:
- An agency or center has session limits
- Insurance benefits run out
- The client just needs a break, or moves away, or for other reasons no longer can attend
- The client has goals or needs that no longer fit the therapists’ expertise
- The therapist retires, leaves the agency or moves away
- The therapy has been a success-hopefully you came into therapy with specific goals, you achieved and both of you feel that you can continue to set and realize goals on your own
No matter what the reason, if there is has been a good therapeutic relationship, there will be some sadness for both parties. Even good change, like a “graduation” from therapy can be tough.
Here are some key things that can help:
- Respecting the importance of the relationship
There should be several sessions spent discussing the work that was done together and the therapeutic relationship itself. The time can vary, but it’s important to have space to grieve this loss. Even though no one is dying (hopefully), losing any relationship is tough. It can be really helpful to share those feelings, and most clinicians agree that meeting face-to-face is really important.
- Planning for transition
Sometimes the client is going into additional services, sometimes not. Even if you aren’t, y’all should talk about your plans to keep up the progress—self care, activities, and signs that you may want additional support (and how to get it).
- Evaluation and assessment
Ideally, there would have been some baseline measures of how you were doing before. Even if there weren’t, it’s so important to talk about the work that has been done. How is life different? How are relationships different? How are responses to challenges different? This should be something that has been a discussion all along, but a more formal taking stock is important.