Ideally, endings are negotiated collaboratively and provide a sense of completion. They are an opportunity to consolidate therapeutic gains and build the confidence and resources of the client to cope with their lives without therapy. We all find endings difficult emotionally and its natural that we may try to avoid the cocktail of emotions that can be evoked. Therapy offers a special opportunity to work through those emotions and experience a ‘good’ ending, perhaps for the first time.
Endings in therapy aren’t just the ending of therapy, they involve a process to be worked through. Avoiding doing endings properly does the client a disservice. We all find endings difficult but therapy offers an opportunity to experience a ‘good’ ending replete with learning and healing. Part of our role as therapists is to help clients face the pain of goodbye as part of embracing life. Often the most important lessons of the therapy are learned in the latter phases.
Ideally, the final stages of therapy are characterized by a sense of satisfaction, pride, groundedness and well-being - for both therapist and client. Research shows that clients report these feelings particularly when they have had open discussions with the therapist about ending and their relationship.
I am concerned when I hear about those therapists who don’t give their ending processes and practices careful thought. It bothers me when I see outcome questionnaires handed out in routine, mechanical ways. I worry when practices and ending rituals are used without sensitive attention to cultural sensitivities. An ‘ending hug’ might be appropriate in some situations but not others. I get frustrated when I see therapists not exploring their own processes in therapy/supervision. And I feel compassion for those clients and therapists (myself included) who have had to experience abrupt endings not of their choice.
In my experience, the ending phase can involve profound processing and significant shifts. They offer an opportunity for that key bit of integration or sense of completion. In my private practice working with long-term clients, I often find the work deepens when the horizon of ending comes clearly into view.
And, sometimes, it seems impossible to end well.
In my own personal and professional development, I have worked on understanding my role in co-creating problematic endings. I now know why I am tempted to avoid endings (given my history and attachment style) and how my ambivalence contributed to not holding clear/clean boundaries. I have learned the value of being reflexively present to the process and taking uncertainties to supervision. And, of course, I still find endings difficult.
It helps when I can celebrate a client’s growth and development and let them go with grace. Client’s sometimes say that they carry me with them in their lives after therapy. They, too, have a place in my heart.