When Therapy Ends

This post was chosen as the AAMFT “Member Blog of the Week” on October 11, 2011

Knowing when it’s time to quit

It’s hard to say goodbye even in the best of circumstances. But at the end of the day, essentially it is the end goal of every therapy relationship to ultimately end. Yes we are seeking goodbye from the first time we meet.

Sometimes this is done in a beautiful, Hollywood-worthy way when client reaches stated goal and is healed of the problem and therapist and client come to a collective agreement that yes, it is indeed time for us to part, sad but joyful, accomplished, healed. It can be hard saying goodbye to a relationship where you have shared your deepest secrets, fears, hopes and have grown to trust in this other person, the therapist. Sometimes the therapy relationship is the only honest and healthy relationship a client has ever encountered. Yet even then, especially then, it is important to say goodbye.

Sometimes clients say goodbye in less than flattering ways. Sometimes they just stop answering their phone. Sometimes they feel the need to yell at the therapist to aid in making the break. Sometimes they even need to vilify the therapist because they might have exposed too much, there are still some unresolved raw spots throbbing in pain.

Sometimes a therapist has to essentially fire a client, kick them out of the proverbial nest, launching them into this new world that they are now ready for. Or, sometimes, into a new therapy relationship that will hopefully address the as of yet unmet needs of that client.

Regardless of how or when we say goodbye, it is always emotional. The success stories are bursting with pride and accomplishment in both parties. The bad breakups feel bad, at least to this therapist, only in that it didn’t have to end that way. The vilified ones are awful, hopefully rare, and the fear is that the client will see the whole profession through hurt lenses and never get the healing they obviously need.

Sometimes it happens on a comfortable timeline, sometimes it feels too fast, or in the case of those being pushed out of the nest, too long.

But in the end every therapist is ready and well prepared for the goodbye. The issues arise when the clients aren’t on the same page. So take this lesson and share it – saying goodbye is hard and good, especially when done with mindfulness and understanding.

And just because the issue that brought you to therapy is resolved doesn’t mean that you can never go back. Life has a way of giving us multiple challenges. Know that it is a therapist’s highest compliment when a satisfied client returns in the future, new issue in hand. We’re here to help, ready when you are. And, ready to say goodbye again and again.

(cue Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music…)

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