Cutting the Cord: When to Say Goodbye to Your Therapist

While there are obvious reasons to say goodbye to a therapist, particularly when you are not satisfied with your counselling experience, this article is not about that aspect of goodbye. Instead, I’ll be addressing the topic of when your counselling has gone well but you’re not sure when to end things.

In almost every successful course of counselling, there comes a time when clients wonder how long they should continue in counselling. If they haven’t thought of it yet, the counsellor may bring up the topic when she or he senses that the client’s work is almost done. Other counsellors will bring up the topic of endings early on in the counselling process; I believe that counsellors should have the expectation, right from the beginning that their clients will graduate from counselling and should be working with them towards this ultimate goal.

Signs that your counselling is done

While everyone is different, and bearing in mind that some “signs” may actually be indicative of something else going on with you, there are some common factors which often suggest that your counselling is approaching being done:

  • You feel a sense of completeness, that the issues you initially identified in counselling have been resolved, or, you have made peace with them in your own way
  • You attend a counselling session and you can’t think of what to talk about
  • You repeatedly cancel and reschedule your appointments
  • You easily identify healthy life changes that you have made and skills that you are now using
  • You feel bored in a counselling session or feel that the conversation is redundant
  • The therapist expresses faith that you’re able to cope well in your daily life; even better, you see that too

A Difference of Opinion

There is also a phenomenon that occurs when the therapist believes that the client is good to go, but he or she does not agree.  Sometimes the client is right.  He or she may:

  • Know something that they have not shared with their therapist
  • Wish to work more on a particular issue
  • Perceive that they are not yet coping as well as they would like
  • Anticipate life events in the near future that might be very destabilizing

And…sometimes therapists can see the end of counselling, even if the client can not.  When this happens, and the counsellor raises it, clients sometimes agree, sometimes not.  There may be fear on clients’ part of letting go of the comfort of counselling, be it the therapeutic relationship, the safety of the counselling room, or even just the counsellor’s listening ear.  Clients may wish to hold on, just to preserve one or more of these comforts, even if there are no more issues to work through.  Is there anything wrong with this?  I say yes. There is the concern that when clients continue in counselling beyond the point of necessity, counselling itself can open up the possibility of undermining the client’s confidence. In other words, the creation of the false belief that the client will always need the therapist – that she or he does not have the capacity to work through their own issues independently. Good counselling should help clients help themselves.

Trusting Yourself

But above all, it’s important to trust your guts. If you believe that you are done counselling, be done and end the therapy.  It is especially wonderful when this can be done in conversation with your therapist.  Having a final session is a great opportunity to review the progress of therapy, synthesize what you have learned and discuss goals for you to work on independently in the future.