Counselling in Oxfordshire

Bill Imlah :: Counselling in Oxfordshire

Blog » How do I work with the ending of our counselling sessions?

2 May 2019

In the ending process, I will normally be working with you to:
  • Review the more and less successful aspects of the therapy
  • Mourn the loss associated with the ending of our work together
  • Celebrate your achievement and change 

A looking forwards, a looking back

In our work together we're aiming to reach a point where you no longer need to come to sessions. So from the very start, the process contains the seeds of its own ending.

The ending process is a chance to celebrate your progress   - to look back at how things might have changed for you, and at any resources you’ve found within yourself to help cope with, manage or transform your situation.

But counselling is rarely a "cure-all", so I also work also with clients to look to the future: at what you might want to continue to work on afterwards, how you'll cope with future challenges, and what further help or resources you might need.

Especially in longer-term work, your counsellor may have become a main-stay in your support network. So we may explore together whether you might need to put some work into making sure other sources of support are in place.

Bringing the client-counsellor relationship to a close

I work with clients in an open-ended way, so there's not normally a predetermined or limited number of sessions. In the normal course of events, though, you'll probably know when you are ready to finish counselling, and we will work together towards a constructive ending.

The relationship that develops in the counselling room may have been at times an intense one. So there's an opportunity to exploring the feelings that their ending gives rise to. It’s important from the point of view of bringing the client-counsellor relationship (which may have become an emotionally intense one) to a close.

Everyone is different, but patterns may emerge

We can never claim to fully know what it feels like to be another person, but by working to develop accurate empathic understanding we can come to get a sense of the other person’s process.

My clients display a range of reactions to the ending of the counselling process but often they may find themselved repeating old, familiar ones such as:

  • Failing to turn up for the last session, or cancelling by email or text
  • Becoming withdraw, though still attending sessions
  • Becoming critical of the counsellor for "abandoning" them
  • Regressing – acting out and relapsing into old behaviours

Helping develop insights and awareness of choice

Because current endings tend to resonate with past ones, it can be useful to explore those connections and similarities:

"I remember you telling me how you reacted when your father left, and I’m wondering if there’s any connection between that experience, and how you’re feeling when we talk about these sessions coming to an end."

A counsellor whose client became withdrawn towards the end of their work together recalled how the client had coped with having to flee her home country by "going numb". In making that connection, the client began to talk about that experience and get in touch with those, past, unacknowledged painful feelings. At that point she was also able to be more fully present in the session too.

Sometimes an awareness of the client’s process can help keep the ending-work on track:

"You mentioned last week how you hated goodbyes and didn’t turn up to school on the last day. What do you think might need to be different this time, for you to turn up for our last session here?"

Endings affect counsellors too

As a fellow human-being in the counselling process, it’s important for me to be aware that the ending will affect me too. Especially in longer-term relationships, there can be a sense of loss to be worked-through.

Counsellors often use supervision to explore their own feelings around client endings, and how the counsellor’s own reactions might affect the ending process. This is one of the reasons why it’s important for counsellors to work to develop their own self-awareness, and to minimise their own "blind spots".

Images used in this blog.