Successful Therapy Termination: What Does It Look Like?
While in graduate school, a professor once asked my class this simple question, “When should the therapy termination process begin?”. Termination is the word we generally use in the mental health field to describe the completion of therapy. The answer to my professor’s question was somewhat surprising: the therapy termination process should begin during the first therapy session.
Therapists and clients alike often find the termination or conclusion of therapy an uncomfortable process and may avoid discussing termination. Life’s endings, in their many forms, can sometimes be uncomfortable. Break-ups, divorce, moving away from loved ones, and death, for example, are all endings that can easily provoke feelings of apprehension, sadness, or rejection. And completing therapy can often remind us of these kinds of endings and incite similar feelings. But when the termination process is avoided, both client and therapist miss out on the opportunity for what could be a successful and meaningful ending.
So, is talking about therapy termination in the very first session really the best approach? Think about it this way – an important part of the process of beginning therapy is identifying and stating your goals as the client. In other words, how will you and your therapist know the therapeutic process is complete? The beginning of therapy is actually an ideal time for a therapist to introduce what termination looks like. By so doing, the therapist sends the important message to the client that the overall objective in therapy, that of the client reaching his or her therapeutic goals, is possible. Talking about termination at the beginning of the therapy is another way of telling the client that therapy is a positive, effective, and hopeful process. Here are some things to keep in mind about therapy termination:
• While discussions regarding therapy termination are extremely useful at the beginning of therapy, these discussions can happen at any time during the therapeutic process. For example, it is not uncommon, once rapport with the therapist has been achieved, to suddenly feel anxious about what life might be like without therapy. A useful exploration and discussion of your thoughts and feelings regarding the end of therapy can be very beneficial in this situation. Additionally, an important part of a therapist’s job is to check in regularly with the client regarding their goals and progress. While not generally stated in this way, progress check-ins are essentially ‘termination’ check-ins. And keep in mind that the therapeutic process often evolves along the way. For instance, what started as individual therapy might evolve into family or couples therapy or vice versa. It’s ok if new goals arise along the way and therapy continues.
• Therapy termination or completion can mean a variety of things. When progress has been made and therapeutic goals have been met, a client my feel inclined to define therapy as complete, with no plans to return. This can be a very positive outlook for the client, emphasizing the client’s hard work and accomplishments. But completing therapy certainly doesn’t mean you can’t start up again. When most immediate goals have been met, some client’s may feel more comfortable entering what is commonly termed a ‘maintenance phase’. Entering into a maintenance phase recognizes the client’s hard work and accomplishments in reaching therapeutic goals, but also allows for therapy visits on an as needed basis. In other words, the door is always open to start up again or check in when the client feels the need. This is often a comfort to many clients when transitioning to termination.
• As the client, you may feel worried or concerned about hurting your therapist’s feelings when you decide that you have met your therapeutic goals and would like to complete therapy. Witnessing a client’s hard work, progress, and completion of therapeutic goals is extremely rewarding for a therapist. Therapists are in the business of healing and our goal is your successful therapeutic experience. Not only do we understand the importance of successful therapy termination, but we welcome it and appreciate knowing our client has journeyed to a better and more productive place in their life.
• Therapy termination can consist of one or two sessions in which you and your therapist can review your accomplishments. It is a time to recognize those accomplishments and review the tools and skills you acquired during the therapeutic process. As no therapeutic journey is perfect, it is also a time to evaluate any goals that may not have been met and explore and process your thoughts and feelings regarding these unmet goals. It is also a time to say good-bye and gain closure in a positive and healthy way.
Although we all experience some challenging endings throughout life, therapy termination shouldn’t be one of them. The completion of therapy can and should be a positive experience for both the client and the therapist. If you have questions about beginning therapy and what the overall therapeutic process looks like, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced Orlando mental health counselors.