“My Counsellor Fired Me!”
Every once an a while, a counsellor comes out and says to their client that they believe that it would be best to end therapy. This is a situation that has historically caused me a lot of anxiety, even panic, with the core worry being that the client would take this as a personal rejection, especially if there has historically been a good therapeutic bond.
The title of this article is perhaps more inflammatory than it needs to be but “getting fired” is often how if feels for clients, particularly if the ending conversation has gone badly, such as when the therapist has struggled to explain their reasons clearly (usually out of nervousness), or when the client has been so distressed by the news that they cannot proceed with a conversation where the client’s feelings would (ideally) be adequately attended to, if the conversation could have proceeded fully.
Why End Things?
It can be pretty confusing for clients if they enjoy going to see their therapist and they know that the therapist enjoys working with them, to be separating from their therapist.
Therapists vary in reasons for suggesting why their clients’ therapy should end and when approached honestly and professionally, all reasons should be for the benefit of the client, (although the client may not necessarily see it this way, especially when this subject is first raised).
So why does this happen? Reasons are varied and each therapeutic situation is unique; some general reasons include:
The Counsellor is Out of Their Depth
The therapist lacks the experience or skills to effectively help the client. Sometimes the therapist recognizes this early in the course of counselling, other times this does not become clear until well into the therapy as not all issues present themselves right away.
Progress Is Not Being Made
The goals that the client came in with, or the client’s situation, have not meaningfully improved.
Problems With The Therapeutic Relationship
- The client feels that the counsellor is not relatable and conversations are very awkward.
- The therapist feels like they are “walking on eggshells” around a client, feeling unable to fully counsel in the way they normally do—what they consider to be therapeutic—because they are worried that these interventions would be misunderstood by the client and that the client would be hurt or angered.
The client can no longer afford the therapy and the counsellor is not in a position to provide sliding scale sessions, or the therapist has reached a maximum amount of sliding scale sessions that they can offer.
A dual relationship has emerged: a life situation may occur where the client and therapist find themselves in an unplanned (and sometimes unavoidable) shared situation in their personal lives which would create considerable problems with boundaries.
Therapist is Triggered – Things about their client’s situation may hit too close to home, particularly if it reminds them of past trauma or adverse childhood experiences that remain painful and unresolved. This is in no way something that the client has any control over but could render the therapist unable to provide effective therapy.
Therapist Burnout/Compassion fatigue – Where the therapist needs to take a personal leave and restore their mental health in order to counsel effectively again with clients.
The therapy is unable to gain any serious momentum. Life happens and folks are busy; sometimes the timing just isn’t right for therapy.
Limited Belief in Counselling
As in when the client doesn’t believe in therapy and the therapist is not a salesperson. I’ve said it before: therapy is not for everyone, and yes, I really believe that. And if I had to sell therapy to everyone who inquired about counselling, I’d have to choose another career.
The Therapy is Complete
The counsellor actually believes that the client’s therapy is done (i.e. they have made excellent progress/reached goals, etc.) and to continue would prevent the client from developing the confidence that they can cope independently. It would also be unethical for a counsellor to be accepting money from a client for unnecessary sessions or sessions that are providing limited benefit to them.
A Different Ending
While it may feel like a counsellor is dropping you like a hot potato (and yes, unfortunately, that could happen if such an ending doesn’t go well), both therapists and clients can work together to improve the changes of success, ensuring that counselling clients end up in a better therapeutic situation.
Tips For Clients
- Have a conversation with the therapist, if possible, to allow adequate time to process this suggestion and express your feelings about it.
- If the news feels too overwhelming to talk about at the time, make a separate time to talk with the counsellor.
- Ask questions: you have a right to understand the therapist’s rational.
- Prepare that you may be happier or make more progress with a different counsellor.
- Ask to discuss options and next steps.
Tips For Therapists
Unless you have experienced abuse from a client, I recommend that therapists take the time to think through the therapeutic situation thoroughly and to refrain from acting impulsively.
Some points to keep in mind:
- Endings should be made for the client’s wellbeing and out of deep caring for the client.
- Self-awareness is key, such as regularly reflecting on countertransference, journalling, meditation/spiritual practice.
- Seek clinical supervision to get an unbiased professional opinion and perspective outside of your own.
- Take the time to process endings with clients out of respect for them and their feelings, also being open to the fact that ending therapy may be a very shocking experience for your client; listen deeply and with care.
- Explain reasons compassionately, so that clients are not left in the dark; be open and responsive to client questions.
- Refer clients appropriately, whenever possible; the goal, after all, is to identify the best possible counselling care for clients.
This article is for general informational purposes only and does not reflect any specific plan on my part for any specific individual. If you have worries about your status as a client, or previous therapy with Willow Tree Counselling, please contact me so that we can make a time to talk.
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