When it's time for counselling to come to an end.
Making the decision to end in counselling can be extremely challenging. When a counselling relationship is strong and the process has been powerful, it can be hard to imagine saying goodbye. When early in a counselling relationship the idea of ending can be particularly scary. Yet, right from the beginning, we both know that this relationship will come to an end.
A successful and powerful counselling process can be remarkably short, sometimes just a few weeks. Others see counselling as more of a way of life, like going to the gym once a week but instead of focussing on physical health they want to work on their mental health. There is no right amount of time to be in therapy but if the process has served a purpose and is not as helpful as it once was, perhaps it is time to take a pause.
From a counsellor’s perspective, I aim to keep ‘the ending’ in mind throughout the process. I incorporate regular reviews to monitor our progress and to ensure that you are happy with the way in which we are both working. As a part of that conversation, I always try to mention ‘the ending’. It’s not that I want you to leave but I also do not want the end to be a taboo. At the start, counselling can be a lifeline and there's nothing wrong with that! But it would be unethical for me to foster a relationship where a client is dependent upon the counselling for the rest of their lives. If you ever find yourself in counselling, you want to leave and the counsellor is trying to persuade you to stay, then there is something seriously wrong! Autonomy is something a counsellor should always prize and support in their clients.
The relationship between a client and a counsellor is quite unique. It is likely that you will know very little about your counsellor and you may have told them things about yourself that you have never said to anyone else. Despite this, you probably have quite a good sense of who your counsellor is. You have spent several hours alone with them and although it is a professional relationship it is also a personal one. In Person Centred Therapy, which is the modality of therapy that I practice, one of the main ideas is that the quality of the relationship makes the counselling effective. If you didn't get on with your counsellor, the counselling process probably would not have been quite so helpful.
An ending can take many forms. You might come back to counselling at different times in your life. You might book a session every few months to ‘check-in’ with yourself and focus on your mental health. You might take a pause, knowing that you plan to resume later in the year. You might walk out the door knowing that it’s the start of a new chapter and a permanent end is the right step for you.
Ending can be very painful and the likelihood is that both you and your counsellor will be experiencing a loss. But the ending can also be a clear benchmark of progress. You might miss your therapist, but you don’t need them. In fact, you feel confident that for the meantime, you can handle what life has to throw at you. Regardless of the loss, an ending can be a wonderful success.