Are We There Yet? (Is My Counselling Done?)

One of the most common questions people have about counselling is “How long will my counselling take?” It’s an important question, given the output of time, money and effort that goes into counselling.

Often times, when someone starts counselling, they are experiencing significant distress; ideally, a plan for change is developed and issues are worked through/goals are accomplished in a way that is satisfying to the client.

Client-Counsellor Factors

But understanding when counselling should wrap up is not always a cut and dry issue.  There can be client- and therapist-related factors that muddy the waters, such as:

  • The client does not feel ready to end the therapy. There could be very valid reasons for this, including reasons that the therapist does not know about or understand. Alternatively, clients may be fearful or nervous about ending the counselling relationship, which may represent a source of comfort.
  • The therapist perceives that a client is not ready to finish counselling yet and has identified reasons why a client should continue in their therapy.  While the counsellor’s reasons may valid, ethically, a therapist should never insist or guilt a client to stay in counselling if the client wants to leave for any reason. This rule would only generally not apply in situations of court-ordered counselling or mandated therapy.

Possible Indicators That Counselling is Concluding

However, there are factors that could signal that your counselling is coming to an end. As the following factors could also mean other things, or be related to other issues specific to your therapy journey, it is always recommended that you have a joint discussion with your counsellor to discuss your particular situation.

  • You can’t think of what to talk about before the session or during the session.
  • You are feeling good and are wondering whether it’s necessary to proceed with your counselling appointment.
  • You forget your session entirely, remembering only at the last minute or you are shocked when your counsellor calls you to ask if you’re on your way.
  • The reason(s) that brought you to counselling originally have resolved or no longer cause you significant distress.
  • You feel an increased sense of confidence in coping with issues that challenged you in the past.
  • You have gained tangible skills or an increase in insight or understanding about significant issues in your life.
  • You have made changes in counselling that you yourself recognize and feel satisfied with.

There can also be practical reasons why you should not proceed with counselling, which, while indicative that counselling with your therapist should perhaps end, should not be confused with the counselling process coming to a successful and natural conclusion. Such factors can include: a poor client-counsellor fit, life circumstances that are preventing counselling from proceeding, or insufficient finances to continue.

Making The Decision to End Counselling

When you have made the decision to end counselling, I recommend:

  • Booking a final session with your counsellor to review your progress and to review a plan for continuing your success independently.
  • If you do not feel the need for a final session and you have one booked, contact the counsellor to cancel. This is an act of respect for the therapist and the counselling that you have done together, and opens up your appointment time for other clients.
  • If you think it’s right for you, you may wish to talk to trusted friends or family members that know you’re in counselling. What changes have they observed in you? If you’re choosing to have this discussion with people who truly have your best interests at heart, such a conversation can bring increased perspective and meaning to your counselling outcome: getting kudos and direct feedback from someone who knows you well can be very affirming.
  • Understand that counselling need not be an ‘open and shut’ process. Some folks prefer to end the process when they’re not 100% sure, just to test confidence and coping ability. This can be very valuable psychologically. If things don’t go as planned, either short- or long-term, one can always return to counselling with the same or a different counsellor.  It is never a “failure” to return to counselling; in fact, it is very natural for people to enter and exit therapy at various stages of the life cycle.
  • Discuss any fears you have about ending counselling with your therapist and develop a plan of how you will cope if these fears arise. Fears can be psychological or circumstantial. Common concerns include: worrying about being unable to cope, the concern of not having a therapist to be accountable to, reversion back to former habits and behaviours, encountering situations which challenged you in the past, or worries about handling future situations.
  • Give yourself a humongous pat on the back – going through a successful course of counselling or psychotherapy is a tremendous accomplishment and reflects your hard work! Congratulations!