In this module, you will learn about the process of terminating the counseling relationship. When any relationship ends, including a counseling relationship, there are many emotions that those individuals involved in the relationship may experience. The Termination Stage is the final stage of counseling, but is just as important as the initial phase of counseling. How you close your counseling relationship can have a significant impact on your client’s view of his or her experience in counseling and the likelihood of their practicing what has been learned in counseling after sessions have concluded.
As Masters students, you will participate in Practicum and Internship placements that will provide you with the opportunity to establish, cultivate and terminate effective counseling relationships with many individuals. Termination of these relationships often proves to be one of the more difficult aspects of training for students because the duration of your relationship with clients is determined more by the timing of your academic semester than by the needs of the client and the achievement of mutually determined goals. Termination is often required before you or the client feel ready (forced-termination). This somewhat artificial aspect that is inherent in the training process can lead to a myriad of emotions for both counselor and client that must be acknowledged and worked through by both individuals.
**In some cases, the “end” of counseling is not always the end, and follow-up is deemed appropriate by the counselor and client to serve as a check to see if change has been maintained and to allow for clients to revisit old issues or work on new issues at a later date. For the purpose of this module, it is assumed that follow-up is not an option for counselors-in-training who are participating in temporary counseling placements.
Ideally, termination occurs when the goals that are mutually agreed upon by the counselor and client have been achieved, or the problem for which a client has entered into counseling has become more manageable or is resolved. However, as Masters students, you will learn during your Practicum experience that it is relatively unlikely that you will have been able to work through all of the stages of counseling with your clients during the span of one semester, especially when you may only be at your site one or two days a week. Oftentimes, it can take the majority of your time at the site to establish a trusting connection with clients so that they are willing to open up to you about their issues. You may have resistant clients who are mandated to see you, or clients who volunteer to engage in the process with you but who bring so many concerns with them that it is difficult to decipher what needs to take precedence. Getting them to a point at which they are comfortable with you might bring you close to the end of the semester, at which point you are already thinking about having to end the relationship you have worked so hard to establish.
Termination is the final stage of the counseling process but is not something that should be broached during your last (or next to last) session with a client. Doing so does not allow for the proper amount of time for counselor and client to process what termination means, how the client will handle the conclusion of the counseling relationship, and what follow-up contact or transitioning needs to happen for the client. Termination should be among the first topics that you and your client discuss. Kramer (1990) clearly articulates this when he writes: “The therapist must be clear from the first contact, unless there are mitigating circumstances, that the intent of treatment is to help the (client) function without the therapist.” As a counselor, you are ethically bound to communicate to your client how long you will be available to counsel them, to discuss openly the timeline of your relationship, and to make appropriate referrals or recommendations at the conclusion of your relationship. It is a stage of counseling that clients need to be prepared for and counselors need to address early on in the counseling process to avoid abandonment.
Here are some helpful guidelines for effectively moving your clients toward termination:
It is important to remind you that not all clients will exhibit the emotions outlined as “typical.” You must understand your clients’ reactions to termination in relation to their overall experience in the counseling relationship, taking care to acknowledge cultural and historical influences. For example, an Asian client is far less likely to exhibit anger and separation anxiety at termination than a client of European origin might be. This caveat is simply to remind you to pay appropriate attention to factors that might influence how your clients react or appear to react to the termination stage.
Many of the same skills necessary for termination of individual counseling relationships are necessary for terminating counseling groups. Group leaders must be aware of their own timeline for the group, communicate that timeline to group members and know when to initiate the termination stage. Very often groups will have a set number of sessions, so the conclusion of the counseling relationship can be anticipated. This, however, does not necessarily make the process of termination any easier on group members.
As in termination of individual counseling, there may be feelings of sadness or anxiety over the ending of the group. Participants often become reliant on the group for support and advice and can be fearful at the reality of that support being removed. Once termination has been introduced, members may pull back, or disengage themselves slightly from the process in an effort to protect themselves from the emotions surrounding termination.
Some of the things that group leaders can do to increase the chances of ending a group successfully include:
To increase the likelihood of successful termination with your clients, take heed of the following suggestions:
As counselors-in-training, you are in the unique position to be able to utilize your site supervisors and on-campus supervisors and professors as resources when dealing with the issues surrounding termination. As you have read above, counselors deal with many emotions as the counseling relationship ends, and these emotions must be acknowledged and worked through. Supervisors are there to provide you a place to communicate your feelings about ending your relationships, about the discomforts of closure and the feelings you will experience about your own abilities as you leave counseling relationships behind. This is often one of the most difficult stages of training for students who are struggling to feel competent while feeling completely overwhelmed.
It is also important for you to discuss your experiences surrounding termination with your peers. You will find that you are not alone in feeling the way you do about ending your relationships with clients, and this camaraderie can make a world of difference when you are in the infancy of becoming effective helpers.
Eliciting feedback can also help counselors through the termination process. As discussed earlier, counselors do not always know if they have been effective in helping a client, especially if the relationship was forced to an end by the close of a school semester. One way to make termination a reality and offer clients the chance to give feedback and reflect on their experience with you is to have them fill out some kind of informal evaluation. This will be done to some extent when you and your clients discuss terminating your relationship, but offering an opportunity for clients to express things concretely on paper for you both to keep can be a good way to summarize the experience for you both. If you are so inclined, you could document the progress you have seen in your clients and offer that written expression to them for their future reference and reminder.
For each of the statements below, circle the option (Never, Sometimes, Usually, or Always) that is closest to how you feel.
For each of the statements below, circle the option (I disagree, I’m not sure if it helped, It helped a little, or It helped a lot) that is closest to how you feel.
One thing that is often appropriate to do for clients, particularly if you are at a school setting, is to leave clients with something material that will remind them of your relationship and the successes they experienced as a result of engaging in that relationship. There are many creative ways to do this.
Below you will find two suggestions for concluding individual counseling relationships:
Purchase a bag of marbles, filled with swirls that make each one different. You could give each client a marble and communicate how they, like the marble, are unique and special. They can keep this marble with them to serve as a reminder that someone thinks of them that way and as a reminder of their positive relationship with you and the progress they made.
Using a box, a Ziploc bag, or any other container you choose, select various items that represent something about that client, or a lesson that the client learned through the counseling process. For example, a Life Saver candy could represent the people for the client has been a “life saver” in the past. A rubber band could serve as a reminder of the importance of being flexible. A toothpick could remind your client not to pick on him or herself for the little things. A Band-Aid could represent the need to take time to heal wounds. A stick of Carefree gum could remind your client to take time out to play and enjoy life. You get the drift. You can get creative with your Survival Kit and it is a great way to leave your client with something tangible that reminds them of you, and reinforces the skills you have worked on with them throughout your relationship. Can you think of other keepsakes that would be appropriate for you to give to your clients?
Below are descriptions of two creative ways to provide closure during a final group counseling session:
One fantastic method I have seen used to conclude a group has been the use of notecards passed around the room and filled out by group participants. Each person is given a blank notecard. They write their name across the top and pass it to the person sitting to their right. That person then writes something that they learned about or from the person to their left. They could also write what they think of that person, as long is it is something constructive and/or positive. Once they are done, they pass the card to the right and that person writes their comments on it. By the time the card makes its way around the circle, the owner of the card has received feedback from everyone in the group but does not necessarily know who wrote what comment. He or she is then asked to read aloud the statements that others in the group chose to write about them. This is a wonderful way to help group members hear and own the positive things about themselves that others recognize in them after sharing the group experience. The cards are for them to take with them as a reminder of the process.
This is a great way to provide visual representation of how each person in a group has an effect on everyone else in the group. Take a ball of string or yarn, large enough that it can be tossed from person to person to create a web. Have everyone stand in a circle and give one person the yarn. They are to hold on to one end of the yarn and offer up something about what they learned in the group or from a particular group member. Once they have made their statement, they hold on to the one end of the yarn and toss the ball to a fellow group member across from them. They make a comment about something they learn, hold on to the yarn so that they are creating a line between themselves and the person who threw the yarn to them, and they then toss the ball to another member across from them. Each member makes a statement and tosses the ball to a fellow participant, all the while holding on to the piece of yarn that comes from the person who went before them. Once everyone has spoken, you will see that a huge web has been created that symbolizes the connection that group members make with one another through the group counseling process. This is an excellent way to show how everyone is connected, affects one another, and how the things that each member brought to the experience have sustained the group.