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The process of counseling must eventually come to an end.

This lesson explores the ways a termination may occur as well as minor ways to mitigate issues.

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Defining Termination

All that is good must come to an end. The counseling process is one that is deep and requires personal investment.

If it has gone well, then there will be significant personal growth and the next step will come easily. If there is something occurring that is impeding personal growth, then the next step will be difficult. But regardless of the good or the bad, the end is inevitable.

Termination is the final stage of counseling and marks the close of the relationship. Termination is the counselor and the client ending the therapeutic alliance. The termination stage can be as important as the initial stage in that it is the last interaction many clients will have with the counselor. If the termination leaves on a sour note, then the client may look back on the time as a waste of effort and resources. If the termination goes well, then this has a multiplying effect, as the former client sees that their time was well spent and this will be one more person who is helping reduce the stigma of mental health.

With termination, there may be some safety features put into place. Many counselors feel the need to check in with their clients after some time or have their clients check in with them. This is commonly referred to as a follow up and involves communicating with the client to ensure stability and well-being. It’s no different than a doctor’s office calling in and checking up on you.If the relationship was not established or the client is afflicted by an issue that is beyond the skill of the counselor, then a referral is needed. A referral is a recommendation to the client to seek services from a suggested counselor familiar with the concern.

A suggested counselor would be someone the current counselor knows can handle the issue.Being able to recognize your own limits is a sign that you have developed a high level of insight and skill. If you think you can work with everyone about anything, you are likely going to do some harm.Termination can happen for a myriad of reasons but could be easily placed under ‘natural termination’ and ‘unnatural termination.

‘ These are my own terms, and I don’t believe you will find them in the literature. However, they will help you easily understand the different ways termination can occur. Let’s look at what qualifies for each of these.

Natural Termination

The purpose of counseling is to make people better. Yes, it has many specific objectives, but really, overall, you could boil it down to that.

A good counselor will know when a person is better and ready to move on. The client does not need to be 100% better, since no one ever really is.There is no absolute rule on time with the natural termination – it happens when the client and the therapist come to a consensus. The question of termination can be approached by the counselor, which is counselor-initiated termination.

This would likely be done when the counselor feels the client no longer has sufficient reason to stay in counseling. It should never been done spur of the moment, and adequate time should be given to ensure open discussion.Some clients will be resistant to leave the therapeutic relationship due to this being their first positive relationship or because they have a feeling of being lost or abandoned. These concerns should not be discouraged or argued. Arguing with a client will just leave them embittered, and progress that had been made will be jeopardized. The counselor’s best move is to explore these feelings and thoughts and to show to the client that they have accomplished what they have set out to do.The question of termination can be approached by the client, which is obviously called client-initiated termination.

Likely, the client may feel they are no longer getting anything useful from the therapist or the initial situation that brought them in is resolved. For example, a client may seek out a counselor following the death of someone. As the client improves, they may feel they no longer need the counselor and attempt to terminate. Just like the counselor-initiated, there will be some questions and discussion regarding whether this is appropriate.

Unnatural Termination

The goal of counseling is to get the client better.

There are several issues that may happen to interfere with the client reaching this goal. Issues may cause premature termination of the counseling alliance. The days when a therapist could dictate a client’s life are gone. Now the client chooses what they want to do.

Counselors-in-training have a practicum, which is where students function as a counselor under the supervision of a licensed and experienced counselor as part of their training. Those at a practicum are usually at the same location for about a year and move onto a different place for a different type of training the next year. A client who is working with a practicum student will have this unnatural termination due to the student leaving. They will then be given a new student who will need to be brought up to date on all that has happened.Obviously, a client who is moving is one reason why a counseling relationship will terminate before reaching the goal. Another reason a client may unnaturally terminate the service is because of financial reasons.

In a perfect world, everyone would have all the money they need. But in this world, sometimes people need to make a hard choice between eating and counseling. And base needs come before higher needs.The unnatural termination is likely to be the most difficult due to the client not being as well as they could be.

The best strategy to deal with this is by referral or providing resources to help the client. While they may not be able to afford counseling or the counselor may leave due to their student status, the counselor can provide the client with material and information so that they can continue to get better.

Lesson Summary

Termination is the final stage of counseling and marks the close of the relationship. This is going to happen naturally or unnaturally.

With a termination may come a follow up, which involves communicating with the client to ensure stability and well-being, or a referral, which is a recommendation to the client to seek services from a suggested counselor familiar with the concern.A counselor-initiated termination is when the question of termination is approached by the counselor. Many counselors experience unnatural termination due to being at a practicum, which is where a student functions as a counselor under the supervision of a licensed and experienced counselor as part of their training. Client-initiated termination occurs when the question of termination is approached by the client.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completing this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Define termination, follow up and referral
  • Explain the ways in which counseling can terminate both naturally and unnaturally
  • Differentiate between counselor-initiated and client-initiated termination

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