When you reach the end of a client-counsellor relationship, it can be difficult for the client to adjust. Working closely with the client through their concerns and having this type of relationship establishes strong feelings of support and understanding between counsellor and client. For some, breaking these connections can be akin to feelings of grief and loss. If a client has issues involving abandonment or endings, this may be especially difficult for them. The client could feel they are losing a valued support figure without a replacement. Even ending short-term counselling (two to six sessions) can sometimes be difficult for a client.
When and how to end sessions
If clients are visiting through a Medicare program, with a fixed number of sessions, or have privately booked an agreed upon number then you already know how long the counselling process will last. In the situations where it is not definitive, it is important to develop an approximation of the time it may take. These are some indicators to look for that will tell you the sessions are nearing their end:
- Understanding and acceptance has been reached
- New habits and healthy choices have been established
- The client has taken positive actions
- Resolution of issues
Then you will need to enable the client to identify the end of the process. Before your final session:
- Discuss that counselling will be ending soon
- Review client progress
- Highlight positive changes
- Assess tools and skills that the client has acquired for maintaining health and wellbeing
- Determine additional supports the client may access
- Assess whether further services or referral is required
You can make sure that the client is able to not only identify the conclusion of your relationship, but also prepare for it ahead of time. Be clear with clients from the start on details like the duration of their sessions and what will be involved during and after counselling. Having a timeline in mind will help both of you manage expectations and be conscious of the coming conclusion.
Allowing the client to assimilate the end of counselling before that final session arrives will help them in their ability to adjust to the oncoming situation, establish effective supports and routines for themselves outside of counselling, and avoid that sudden sense of finality. If it is appropriate for you and the client, you can also discuss the idea of the client visiting again in the future months or years to refocus on their progress or to work on other aspects of their mental health.