Endings in therapy
You came to therapy to readjust, to tap into what was causing you problems and to tackle your thoughts, feelings and behaviours no doubt. It was likely both a traumatic and tremendous experience if you were lucky enough to form a bond with your Counsellor and establish a supportive therapeutic relationship.
I raise this off the back of a few recent endings with clients and it often occurs to me quite often about what a client is left with afterwards, when therapy ends; making me conscious in ensuring endings are both useful and beneficial. This seems natural after spending a weekly session together, sometimes for many months, mulling over the finer details of their emotional and personal lives together; finding new approaches to old problems- searching for those light bulb moments where it becomes clear what is necessary to change in order to change for the better.
Therapy is rarely for life and I heard somewhere some time ago that events and people are here for either a reason, a season or lifetime, so I believe therapy can fall into these categories too. As much as starting therapy is indeed your first step to changes, the final part- what we call ‘termination’ is equally as important. On my website I talk about what to expect at your first session and it came to mind that perhaps the last session is equally as unknown to prospective clients as the first, hence this blog today.
Good Therapy terms the final session as the ‘graduation ceremony;’ it’s a useful metaphor to think about the content of the session.
It usually takes the form of a review. I like to review every 6 sessions where possible so that at the end of your appointments you may have already had a few reviews before you decide you are where you want to be. We’ll look at your progress, what coping strategies you employed, what worked, what didn’t work, we’ll look at what techniques helped you learn and change for the better, we’ll compare the first session to the last session and encourage you to be as reflective and as honest as possible about your progress from your own perspective. In my experience the last session can be one of the more powerful ones as you realise that you are at a point where all your efforts have culminated in some alterations in your life. As much as we’ll look back on progress there will be room to think about the future and ‘what next?’
Assuming the therapy was beneficial to you then you’ll likely have an improved level of self-awareness now; you’ll remember your triggers and you’ll know when you’re feeling the way you used to. It’s important that you keep this as a benchmark so that you remain aware of when or if you may need support again in the future. The door is always open and your counsellor will most likely welcome you back.
The final session might bring mixed feelings, after all you’ve spent time with your Counsellor, gotten to know them (of sorts) and shared your secrets with them. They’ve assisted you and watched you grow and change. It’s usually both a sad and happy occasion and mostly likely you will both admit to that. The therapeutic relationship can often mirror outside relationships so if you’ve become for example, blunter and franker with your Counsellor, chances are you’re now doing that with all the people close to you and that should be celebrated as positive change if it’s proving beneficial.
Clients can anticipate shame/ potential rejection/ the feeling of going backwards/ judgement at the mere thought of returning in the future, so a good Counsellor will address these in the final session. I often refer to returning to Counselling as a service for the mind, much like we would keep a car in good working order, it still needs attention now and then for wear and tear, a few repairs and some TLC- the same can be said about mental health. You will have worked hard and long on moving mountains in your life whilst in therapy and with that support mechanism gone it can sometimes become a struggle if your self-care routine starts to slide.
Imagine clearing out your house; you’ve done it item by item, room by room, bagged and boxed it up and thrown it out- you have all this new space and freedom to move and think. You wouldn’t go out and buy new junk to fill the spaces back up, would you? We can liken this to therapy; sorting life events by life event, person by person, memory by memory only to be left with what is needed and useful; the space left is new and exciting as well as daunting and unknown- without self-care you can easily fill the spaces back up with the negatives that you so carefully chose to work on and discard in the first place.
Book your mental health MOT when you feel things are sliding; you already have experience of not attending to your needs in the past so try to remember you are important and you do matter, by checking back in with your Counsellor for a session as and when you need it. There is no shame in being proactive about keeping your mind organised, freer and maintaining the clarity that you achieved in therapy before.