The Importance of Endings in the Counselling Process

9 Mar 2016 |  for trainees | by Bill, writer at UK & Ireland Counsellor Directory

In the ending process, the counsellor works with the client to:
  • Review the good and bad aspects of the therapy (and relationship)

  • Mourn the loss

  • Celebrate achievements (how can the client continue the process?)

  • Close one door to open a new one (experience a “good” ending)

A looking forwards, a looking back

Counselling aims to reach a point where the client need no longer come to sessions. So from the very start, the process contains the seeds of its own ending.

Counsellors can use the ending process as a chance to celebrate the successes. They can help the client look back at the progress they’ve made, and the resources they’ve found within themselves to help cope with, manage or transform their situation.

But counselling is rarely a “cure-all”, and the counsellor will work also with the client to look to the future: what the client might want to continue to work on afterwards, how they will cope, and what further help or resources they might need.

Especially in longer-term work, the counsellor may have become a main-stay in the client’s support network. So they may explore together whether the client might need to put some work into making sure other sources of support are in place.

Bringing the client-counsellor relationship to a close

The relationship that develops in the counselling room can be an intense one. The client and counsellor have an opportunity to exploring the feelings that their ending gives rise to. It’s important from the point of view of bringing the client-counsellor relationship (which may have become an emotionally intense one) to a close.

Everyone is different, but patterns may emerge

We can never claim to fully know what it feels like to be another person, but by working to develop accurate empathic understanding we can come to get a sense of the other person’s process.

Clients can display a range of reactions to the ending of the counselling process but tend to repeat old, familiar ones such as:

  • Failing to turn up for the last session, or cancelling by email or text
  • Becoming withdraw, though still attending sessions
  • Becoming critical of the counsellor for “abandoning” them
  • Regressing – acting out and relapsing into old behaviours

Helping develop insights and awareness of choice

Because current endings tend to resonate with past ones, it can be useful to explore those connections and similarities:

“I remember you telling me how you reacted when your father left, and I’m wondering if there’s any connection between that experience, and how you’re feeling when we talk about these sessions coming to an end.”

A counsellor whose client became withdrawn towards the end of their work together recalled how the client had coped with having to flee her home country by “going numb”. In making that connection, the client began to talk about that experience and get in touch with those, past, unacknowledged painful feelings. At that point she was also able to be more fully present in the session too.

Sometimes an awareness of the client’s process can help keep the ending-work on track:

“You mentioned last week how you hated goodbyes and didn’t turn up to school on the last day. What do you think might need to be different this time, for you to turn up for our last session here?”

Endings affect counsellors too

As fellow human-beings in the counselling process, it’s important for counsellors to be aware that the ending will affect them too. Especially in longer-term relationships, there will be a sense of loss to be worked-through.

Counsellors often use supervision to explore their own feelings around client endings, and how the counsellor’s own reactions might affect the ending process. This is one of the reasons why it’s important for counsellors to work to develop their own self-awareness, and to minimise their own “blind spots”.

Conditions for re-use | Images used in this blog.