How does counseling end?

How does a counselor decide when to end counseling sessions or to terminate working with a client?

Toni Genovese
Toni Genovese
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Goodbyes can be hard. Chances are most of the goodbyes you have experienced in your life have been difficult. Saying goodbye to a therapist can be different. It can be an opportunity to create a healthy ending in a positive relationship in your life. If you work with a therapist who is skilled, then saying goodbye can be just as transformative as the therapy itself.

Ending therapy is also known as “termination.” I know, “termination” doesn’t have a great ring to it! However, it is what it is. It is an ending of the relationship as it existed. It is reality cold and stark. Of course, when I talk to clients I don’t use the word “termination,” I usually say “our goodbye.”  Under what circumstances does therapy usually end? Therapy should end when a client does not need further assistance, is not receiving any benefit from therapy, or might be harmed by continuing to work with a particular therapist.

In the best case scenario the decision to move on from therapy and “say our goodbyes” happens when both the therapist and the client feel like the client is ready to move on and move up!  Ending the therapeutic relationship should actually be worked on from the very first session. What I mean by that is, there should be an understanding that the work we do together will have an ending and that is a good thing because it means the client has gained the skills to continue working on themselves independently. So the first session I have with clients usually outlines a plan where the end goal is discussed and we both have an understanding of the skills the client wants to learn or what they hope to achieve.

Now sometimes there are situations where the therapist ends the relationship and the client may take that personally, it is hard when any relationship ends and it might bring up feelings of sadness, and fear or abandonment. Any good therapist will end the relationship based on what is right for the client.

What are some situations where a therapist might end the relationship?

If the situation the client is dealing with is out of the therapist's scope of practice, the therapist may end the relationship and refer the client to someone else. This is in the client’s best interest. Another reason a therapist might end the relationship is that the therapist is in a place in her life which prevents her from being objective and helpful.  A therapist who is going through a painful divorce may have difficulty working with a couple that considering divorce. A good therapist may see that their judgement may be clouded and want to refer the client to see someone else. This is good practice and helps the client.

If a client is actively suicidal or actively using substances then the therapist may end the relationship and refer out for a higher level of care. The client may need to be hospitalized or may need an inpatient substance abuse treatment program. Therapy may be terminated while they are being treated and may continue after the intensive program is completed. 

Ending therapy should be a time for connection and bringing together accomplishments, or reviewing the next important step the client needs to take. It should not be an experience of abandonment. A skilled therapist will help a client gain a new perspective on closure. For some clients, it may be the one time in their lives when they get a clean ending in a healthy relationship and they get to feel a sense of control on creating that ending. 

Good luck to you!

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.

View 17 other answers

More Answers