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How to End a Positive Counseling Relationship

by Christopher L. Smith, studioD

Ending a counseling relationship, especially if it has been positive, can be a very difficult thing. Richard A. Friedman, professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, writes in an article in the "New York Times" that ending a therapeutic counseling relationship can be more difficult than cutting ties with a lover or significant other, for both the one receiving therapy as well as the therapist. But it is possible to end this important and intimate relationship in a way that reflects its importance in your life.

Talk About the Gains Made

In today's environment, counseling may come to and after a short number of sessions or a long time period. Regardless, if you feel you have learned something and improved yourself and your situation during the course of counseling, it's important recognize the positive impact the counseling has had and express appreciation especially if you are the client. Discussing what you have gained from your sessions will serve as a reinforcement to continue acting on lessons learned and may also reveal areas where there is still potential for growth and change.

Be Honest and Clear About Why Counseling Will Not Continue

Either the client or the therapist may recognize that it's a good time to end the therapeutic relationship.The client may feel she has got what she came for in terms of insight and understanding, or the therapist may feel that he has provided as much guidance as he can provide and that the client would be better served by ending therapy at this time. It is also possible that outside factors (such as financial, insurance related, time factors, location issues) are requiring you to end before everything is resolved. Be honest about these issues so as to not leave the other party guessing.

Ensure There Is Confidence Moving Forward

Counseling creates a safe place to discuss your thoughts, feelings and issues and gives you an opportunity to gain new perspective and learn new ways of addressing your world and the people in it. After the counseling relationship ends, clients will continue to face the world but without this safe place to fall back. Syracuse University provides several suggestions on how to help clients leave counseling with confidence as they move forward. It is worth taking some time in the final sessions to have your counselor encourage ways that you can face new situations in their life.

Leave the Door Open For the Future

If the counseling relationship is ending because of external factors that are not barriers to resuming later (such as moving out of the area), consider how permanent the termination will be and what the process might be if there were an opportunity and decision later to resume counseling. Likewise, when the relationship has been a positive one, just because the current situation has been resolved does not mean that the client will not want to come back into counseling later when some other situation or problem is encountered. Leaving the door open for the future, not just for counseling but for where life will lead, is an important way to end a positive experience on a positive note.

About the Author

Based in New York City, Christopher L. Smith has been writing since the 1998 publication of "Honest Talk About Serious Mental Illness." Smith brings professional experience in education, religion/spirituality and mental health, including as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Among Smith's graduate degrees is a M.Div. from Yale.

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