How does counseling end?

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

Cimberly R. Nesker
Cimberly R. Nesker
Registered Psychotherapist (3579)

Hi there, 

There are a number of reasons why a therapeutic relationship might end including, but not limited to the client reaching their goals, the client reaching a place of acceptance where they wish to remain or even a breach within the relationship.  The last aspect should likely be taken to supervision in order to be fully processed.  All of these things could happen, and usually happen organically (again, except for the last example). 

Your question, however, was about the counselor ending treatment. This is a bit more difficult and can be very nerve-wracking.  It may be beneficial to take this with you to supervision, as well.  It's important to understand why you feel the need to end or terminate with the client, as well. Do you feel that they would be better suited for another therapist, have they achieved their goals or is it something else?

In regular, open-ended sessions, I try to make a point of checking in with the clients fairly frequently. In these check-ins, I use the time to ask the client how they feel about the sessions and if there is anything they wish to focus on more astutely.  I also ask if they have any immediate goals that they would like to prioritize.  In goal-oriented sessions, I check in more frequently to ensure that both the client and I remain focused and, should they wish to shift their focus, that they recognize it is part of my responsibilities to make sure we move back to the desired goal. 

Often, especially in longer term therapeutic relationships, we as clinicians can see that the client has reached their goal, however they are apprehensive about ending therapy.  This is actually a great place to go with them; why would they feel unable to handle issues in their external or internal environment without you? Often, having this open discussion can increase empowerment and mastery. That said, it could also highlight other issues which the client may have been apprehensive about going into within therapy and now, as the relationship seems to be ending, feels more confident in bringing these up. 

In the case where the relationship is a toxic one, terminating with a client may be the best option for both of you. It's a difficult conversation, but recall that part of the role of the therapist is to model that these discomforts can be managed. 

I hope that this brief response can assist you going forward!

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.

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