Handling Termination in Counseling and Psychotherapy

It’s that time of the year (at most colleges and universities) when those of us doing and supervising counseling and psychotherapy should be thinking about how to handle termination. Well, actually we should have been thinking about it before, but if not then, now is good.

Anyway, I just sent the following termination checklist out to my MA and Doc students here at U of MT and thought this could be helpful for others, so here it is. Keep in mind that it was written for working with youth, but can be modified to stimulate your thinking about termination with whatever population with which you work.

Termination Content Checklist

[Adapted from Sommers-Flanagan, J., and Sommers-Flanagan, R., (2007).
Tough Kids, Cool Counseling: User-Friendly Approaches with Challenging Youth.
Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association]

The following termination content checklist may be helpful for you as you plan for counseling or plan for termination. Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive checklist that you MUST complete at the end of counseling. Also, keep in mind that the sample statements are just samples and that you should find your own words for expressing these (or similar) things. The point is that this is a guide to help you think about termination—even though some of the details will be different for you and your client(s).

_____ 1. At the outset and throughout counseling, the counselor identifies progress toward termination (e.g., “Before our meeting today, I noticed we have 4 more sessions left,” or “You are doing so well at home, at school, and with your friends. . . let’s talk about how much longer you’ll want or need to come for counseling”).
_____ 2. The counselor reminisces about early sessions or the first time counselor and client met. For example: “I remember something you said when we first met, you said: ‘there’s no way in hell I’m gonna talk with you about anything important.’ Remember that? I have it right here in my notes. You were sure excited about coming for counseling” (said with empathic sarcasm).
_____ 3. The counselor identifies positive behavior, attitude, and/or emotional changes. This is part of the process of providing feedback regarding problem resolution and goal attainment: “I’ve noticed something about you that has changed. It used to be that you wouldn’t let adults get chummy with you. And you wouldn’t accept compliments from adults. Now, from what you and your parents tell me and from how you act in here, it’s obvious that you give adults a chance. You aren’t always automatically nasty to every adult you see. I think that’s nice.”
_____ 4. Acknowledge that the relationship is ending with counseling termination: “Next session will be our last session. I guess there’s a chance we might see each other sometime, at the mall or somewhere. If we see each other, I hope it’s okay for us to say hello. But I want you to know that I’ll wait for you to say hello first. And of course, I won’t say anything about you having been in counseling.”
_____ 5. Identify a positive personal attribute that you noticed during counseling. This should be a personal characteristic separate from goals the client may have attained: “From the beginning I’ve always enjoyed your sense of humor. You’re really creative and really funny, but you can be serious too. Thanks for letting me see both those sides. It took courage for you to seriously tell me how you really feel about your mom.”
_____ 6. If there’s unfinished business (and there always will be) provide encouragement for continued work and personal growth: “Of course, your life isn’t perfect, but I have confidence that you’ll keep working on communicating well with your sister and those other things we’ve been talking about.” You may want to explicitly describe how your client doesn’t “need” counseling, but that continued counseling or counseling in the future might be helpful: “You know some people come to counseling to work on big problems; other people come because they find counseling can be useful and help them move toward personal growth or greater awareness; and other people just like counseling. You might decide you want to continue in counseling or start up again for any of these reasons.”
_____ 7. Provide opportunities for feedback to you: “I’d like to hear from you. What did you think was most helpful about coming to counseling? What did you think was least helpful?” You can add to this any genuine statements about things you wish you’d done differently as long as it’s not based on new insights. For example, if your client got angry for you for misunderstanding something and this was processed earlier, you might say: “And of course I wish I had heard you correctly and understood you the first time around on that [issue], but I’m glad we were able to talk through it and keep working together.”
_____ 8. If it’s possible, let the client know that he or she may return for counseling in the future: “I hope you know you can come back for a meeting sometime in the future if you want or need to.”
_____ 9. Make a statement about your hope for the client’s positive future: “I’ll be thinking of you and hoping that things work out for the best. Of course, like I said in the beginning, I’m hoping you get what you want out of life, just as long as it’s legal and healthy.”
_____ 10. As needed, listen to and discuss client wishes about continuing counseling forever or client wishes about transforming their relationship with you from one of counselor–client to that of parent–child or friend: “Like you’ve known all along, counseling is kind of weird. It’s not like we’re mom and daughter or aunt and niece. And even though I like you and feel close to you, it isn’t really the same as being friends” (further discussion and processing of feelings follows).

For more information on termination with youth, go to: http://www.amazon.com/Tough-Kids-Cool-Counseling-User-Friendly/dp/1556202741/ref=la_B0030LK6NM_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396895008&sr=1-3




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