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Termination During the Counseling Process: Function, Timing & Related Issues

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  • 0:09 Definitions
  • 2:26 Natural
  • 4:13 Unnatural
  • 5:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

The process of counseling must eventually come to an end. This lesson explores the ways a termination may occur as well as minor ways to mitigate issues.

Defining Termination

All that is good must come to an end. The counseling process is one that is deep and requires personal investment. If it has gone well, then there will be significant personal growth and the next step will come easily. If there is something occurring that is impeding personal growth, then the next step will be difficult. But regardless of the good or the bad, the end is inevitable.

Termination is the final stage of counseling and marks the close of the relationship. Termination is the counselor and the client ending the therapeutic alliance. The termination stage can be as important as the initial stage in that it is the last interaction many clients will have with the counselor. If the termination leaves on a sour note, then the client may look back on the time as a waste of effort and resources. If the termination goes well, then this has a multiplying effect, as the former client sees that their time was well spent and this will be one more person who is helping reduce the stigma of mental health.

With termination, there may be some safety features put into place. Many counselors feel the need to check in with their clients after some time or have their clients check in with them. This is commonly referred to as a follow up and involves communicating with the client to ensure stability and well-being. It's no different than a doctor's office calling in and checking up on you.

If the relationship was not established or the client is afflicted by an issue that is beyond the skill of the counselor, then a referral is needed. A referral is a recommendation to the client to seek services from a suggested counselor familiar with the concern. A suggested counselor would be someone the current counselor knows can handle the issue.

Being able to recognize your own limits is a sign that you have developed a high level of insight and skill. If you think you can work with everyone about anything, you are likely going to do some harm.

Termination can happen for a myriad of reasons but could be easily placed under 'natural termination' and 'unnatural termination.' These are my own terms, and I don't believe you will find them in the literature. However, they will help you easily understand the different ways termination can occur. Let's look at what qualifies for each of these.

Natural Termination

The purpose of counseling is to make people better. Yes, it has many specific objectives, but really, overall, you could boil it down to that. A good counselor will know when a person is better and ready to move on. The client does not need to be 100% better, since no one ever really is.

There is no absolute rule on time with the natural termination - it happens when the client and the therapist come to a consensus. The question of termination can be approached by the counselor, which is counselor-initiated termination. This would likely be done when the counselor feels the client no longer has sufficient reason to stay in counseling. It should never been done spur of the moment, and adequate time should be given to ensure open discussion.

Some clients will be resistant to leave the therapeutic relationship due to this being their first positive relationship or because they have a feeling of being lost or abandoned. These concerns should not be discouraged or argued. Arguing with a client will just leave them embittered, and progress that had been made will be jeopardized. The counselor's best move is to explore these feelings and thoughts and to show to the client that they have accomplished what they have set out to do.

The question of termination can be approached by the client, which is obviously called client-initiated termination. Likely, the client may feel they are no longer getting anything useful from the therapist or the initial situation that brought them in is resolved. For example, a client may seek out a counselor following the death of someone. As the client improves, they may feel they no longer need the counselor and attempt to terminate. Just like the counselor-initiated, there will be some questions and discussion regarding whether this is appropriate.

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