You will often read about contracting at the beginning of a counselling relationship – creating safe boundaries and ensuring that the clients are aware of the expectations of the counselling sessions. You do not hear much about ending of the counselling relationship.
Endings are just as important to think about. After a strong therapeutic relationship, clients may struggle with endings. Some may choose to end by not coming to more sessions.
Endings in time limited work
To maintain client’s autonomy, it is up to the client to choose when they feel it is appropriate to end the counselling relationship. However, this is not always the case in Employment Assistant Programme (EAP) work or when working with time limited counselling. The number of sessions are set and do not allow the client to control their own ending. So how is this managed?
With short term counselling, I always ensure the client is aware of how many sessions they are entitled too at the beginning. I also carry out a mid review after our third session to ensure they are aware of when their last session is. This helps them start thinking about ending and prepare for it.
You have to remember that a ending may be out of control. Some clients prefer not to turn up to their last session. They will just stop and decide not tp turn up to their next one. So what about those who chose to attend the last session?
Importance of an appropriate ending
Many clients will feel anxious, sad or daunted at the ending of a counselling relationship. Clients have trusted their counsellors by showing their emotions, thoughts, feelings and often their vulnerabilities. A poor ending that is rushed or avoided can leave clients feeling vulnerable and not able to cope on their own. To help with an appropriate ending, I find it useful to give the client an opportunity in the last session to reflect on their counselling sessions and to think about the future.
Clients who feel sadness at the end of counselling sessions, I find reflection helps them see the positive work they have achieved and recognise how they can cope on their own without the regular sessions of seeing their counsellor. To help them to reflect and consolidate what has happened throughout our counselling relationship and to assist them to think about the future, I give the clients an ending sheet before our last session.
The questions I ask on the ending counselling relationship questionnaire are:
- What issues did you come to counselling with and what were you hoping or looking to gain from our sessions together?
- What did you go through throughout the process of counselling? You may wish to consider both the counselling hour and outside in your everyday life.
- What have you discovered about yourself and others during this time?
- Are there any issues you feel left with and what would you like to do with these issues?
- What coping strategies have you got for the future and where will you look for future support?
Clients come to our last sessions with these sheets and this session is focused around their answers. This Ending sheet for counselling is welcomed by my clients and I often hear them say how it is helped them see how far they have progressed and how much they have managed to achieved throughout our time together. Naturally a few clients do not fill in this sheet. With these clients I will reflect to them on our last session to how I feel they have progressed and encourage them to do this by using visual aids.
Clients are free to take the ending sheet home with them. A few clients have chosen to rip the form apart and throw it in the bin – i.e. choosing to leave the counselling behind.
Giving the client a reminder
If clients struggle to think of coping strategies or suffer from low-self esteem, I give the clients a coloured card and they write down 4 or 5 positive statements about themselves so when they next feel low they can look at this card and remind them how they have the resources in themselves to cope. The client sometime choose to write a letter to themselves on the card.