Demystifying the Process: How to End Counseling

Terminating the Session

woman writing, woman, woman ending counseling

You’ve made it! You and your therapist have decided that it’s time to end therapy. The length of therapy can vary for everyone. There could be many reasons such as: you may have reached your therapeutic goals, you may have to relocate, or maybe you have just decided it is not the right time (although anytime is a good time for mental health!). Either way, you’re ready for your last session. Just like the intake session, the termination session is a bit different than other sessions you have had. Experiencing a healthy good-bye is a powerful thing so it’s important to have a termination session. We want to provide you with a little of what to expect from it.

Layout of the session

Generally speaking, there are several things that will happen during the termination session. First, expect to reflect on what work you’ve done in (and out) of the therapy room. The whole point of therapy is to get you to where you feel confident that you have the resources to live connected, happy, and fully on your own. If you don’t reflect on where you’ve grown, you will not realize how much strength you have and may doubt that you are ready for termination.

Once you’ve talked about your progress, your therapist may want to talk about what to do when you don’t have them around. Handling the world on your own maybe scary and so it’s good to talk through what you can do before something big happens. In fact, you and your therapist may decide to schedule a follow up session several months out just to check in and see how things are going.

Another topic that is sure to be discussed will be the emotions around ending the relationship. You may or may not have ever had someone by your side that unconditionally supports you. This type of relationship is a very intimate one that is unlike any other and realizing it’s going to end maybe a hard pill to swallow.

road, bridge, steps, downward steps

Why does it feel like the world is crashing down again?!

You may have been completely prepared for this day. Although it may be a time to celebrate any progress you have made, you may be having second thoughts. Do I need just a few more sessions? Is there work I still need to do before I end it? But wait, what about this huge emergency that just came up!? Take a breath. It’s normal to feel some anxiety about ending therapy. Losing a supporter may feel earth shattering, but remember this: You are the reason you have come so far. All your therapist has done is shown you the self-esteem you have within you.

But what if you really aren’t ready to end your journey of self-healing? A few things come to mind. First, you and your therapist will have spent some time talking about the ending of therapy already. It’s not just an “in the moment” decision and your input is what the decision has been based upon. Second, your therapist will not leave you to drown. If your work is not complete, then your therapist will have referrals for you. Finally, it maybe a test run. You could try out your new skills and if you need your therapist, they’ll be right back there with you.

Is it okay to…?

little red gift, gift box, wrapped gift

You may feel deeply appreciative for the guidance of your therapist during your time together. Many things may come up at the last session that you may have never thought of before. You may want to give them a special gift, ask to be their friend, or give your therapist a hug. Spending so much intimate time together with another human is bound to create strong bonds, so it’s not uncommon for you to have these ideas. Accepting a gift will depend on the therapist. What will happen (with us anyway- we can’t speak for all therapist in the world) will be a discussion about what the gift means. Gifts are often symbolic, and your therapist might want to explore what it means for you to give the gift and for your therapist to receive it. Asking to be a friend of your therapist might be disappointing. Although they truly like you as a person, they’re probably not going to be your “friend” or grab coffee and shoot shit (this a whole different blog post about why, but nutshell version is that it’s unfair to you). Lastly, giving your therapist a hug will likely be the therapist’s personal and professional preference. You might want to check that it's okay before you go in for the hug and, just as with the gift, your therapist may want to talk with you about what the hug means. We aren’t trying to dissect you every move, but just like you might not like chocolate cake; they might not like hugs.

Your therapist feels it, too!

coffee, iPhone, keyboard, phone, paper

When you and your therapist sit down and talk about the deepest and most vulnerable parts of you and your journey, it’ll have an effect on your therapist too. Although it might seem like they “always” have their stuff together, therapists are human too. They’ll likely be moved by your strength and determination. Your progress, no matter how large or small, is something that your therapist will want to celebrate.

Remember, this is not forever.

We don’t aim to be repetitive, but, what your therapist wants most for you is to feel like you have the capability and tools to face whatever life throws your way. This means that even though your therapist would love to see you and work with you more, the hope is that you can leave therapy and never have to come back. But, old habits die hard and life can be crazy and unpredictable. It is okay to come back to therapy if you need it (read: its’s not a sign of failure). In the event that you need therapy again (or you want to write a letter to update your therapist on your continued progress), your therapist will be there, ready to help you through life’s trenches. Life’s trenches are full of constant transitions, and your therapist gets that. We aren’t trying to cut all ties, but we were not meant to be a permanent part of your life.

person on paddle board, water, sunrise

The termination session can be emotionally charged. It may be a time of grief over the separation, happiness over the accomplishments, and nervousness over the future. Hopefully, you can spend the whole time talking about the progress you made and how you will handle life in the future. You may or may not want to show your appreciation of your therapist- both are fine! Maybe you’ll need a follow up session or maybe you’ll need referrals. No matter how the session goes, it’s important to remember that you are the reason you have come so far. You have put in hard work and have the strength to continue your journey. You are amazing.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Molly Lyons

Molly is currently in her final year of the Master of Science in Clinical Counseling at Central Methodist University (CMU) and is a student intern at The Counseling Hub and Boone County Mental Health Coalition, where she will assess and provide mental health interventions and resources for individuals and groups in Boone County schools. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in General Psychology with a minor in Child Development from Central Methodist University directly before enrolling in the counseling program. Prior to pursuing her counseling degree, Molly received an Associates of Science in Early Childhood Education from Moberly Area Community College. 

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Molly has experience in the Counseling Center at MACC's Columbia campus, providing counseling services for students around the topics of identity crises, school-related stressors, depression issues, and coping with anxiety. Molly has co-facilitated Safe Zone trainings which introduce its members to the LGBTQ+ community terminology and basic information. Molly has also completed on online course in LGBTQ+ Counseling Competencies (College and Career Readiness) through the American Counseling Association (ACA). Molly is an active member of both the ACA and the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development (AMCD).

Molly enjoys working with diverse populations and seeks to always be open to new learning experiences. She works best with individuals who are trying to discover who they are and how they relate to their world, as well as others in their world. Molly believes that a person’s external factors can provide both barriers and resources towards growth and that one must discover these in order to thrive.

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