How to Make a Collaborative Plan for Terminating Counseling without Ever Using the Word Termination


Stone Smirk

Not long ago I noticed some of my excellent and well-intended supervisees talking with their clients about “termination.” They would say things like, “We need to prepare for termination” or “Let’s talk about termination today.” When this happened, I’d get nervous, squirm a bit, and eventually find a way to tell my supervisees that, although we use the word termination all the time when talking with each other ABOUT counseling, we shouldn’t use it when talking with clients DURING counseling.

Instead of saying termination, it’s preferable to talk about final sessions, or the ending of counseling, or to use normal and jargon-free words that speak to the reality that all good things—including counseling—must end. Sometimes the number of counseling sessions possible is dictated in advance by employee assistance program guidelines or insurance companies; other times, clients and counselors have more freedom to work together as long as the work is helpful or productive. Either way, ongoing conversations linking goals to progress is a part of an evidence-based approach to counseling and psychotherapy. Effective counselors connect the “ending” of counseling with the goals that were, in the beginning of counseling, collaboratively identified (and then possibly modified as needed).

Although you should use your own words, statements like some of the following can help you talk with clients or students about termination without using the word termination.

  • “Let’s talk about how our counseling is going and whether we’re making progress toward your goals”
  • “How do you feel about our counseling together?”
  • “I’d love to talk about what I can do differently to keep helping you move forward toward your goals.”

Speaking of termination—and now I’m speaking to you and not my clients—below you’ll find a Termination Checklist that you might find helpful as you talk with your students about preparing for termination. As will everything, this checklist is imperfect, but it’s a good start to help all of us address the ending of counseling, before counseling actually ends.

Termination 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]

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, identify progress in the movement 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. Reminisce about early sessions or the first time you and your 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 weren’t exactly excited about coming for counseling.”

_____ 3. Identify and describe positive behaviors, 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. Do you mind if I share what I’ve noticed?” [Client gives permission]. It used to be that you wouldn’t let adults get close to 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 don’t automatically push adults away from you. I think that’s a good thing.”

_____ 4. You should acknowledge, in advance, that the end of counseling is coming up, but there’s a possibility you’ll see each other in the future. “Our 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 do see each other, I hope it’s okay for me to say hello. But I want you to know that I’ll wait for you to say hello first. And of course, if we see each other in public, I’ll never 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 your client’s goals: “From the beginning of our time together, 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 get serious and tell me how you’ve been feeling 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 say that even though your client doesn’t “need” counseling, choosing to come back for 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 helps them be a better person; and other people just like counseling. You might decide you want 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. For example, if your client got angry at 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 how your client is feeling about ending counseling. Don’t make this into a big deal, but offer opportunities for the client to say “I can hardly wait for the end of this counseling crap” or “I wish we could keep meeting.” Whatever your client is feeling about termination warrants respectful listening.

_____ 11. Consider a parting gift. Although I don’t routinely recommend this with adults, with young clients you might give a meaningful gift at the end of counseling. It could be anything from a painted rock to a blank notebook for writing or a written card. The point is to give a gift that’s not especially expensive, but that might hold meaning for your client in the future.

For more information on termination with youth, go to: https://www.amazon.com/Tough-Kids-Cool-Counseling-User-Friendly-ebook/dp/B00QYU630Q/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1550512844&sr=1-7&keywords=sommers-flanagan

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