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Concluding a Therapeutic Relationship: 5 Useful Termination Techniques

Concluding a therapeutic relationship is a complex process that requires care and attention on behalf of the provider. Every client is different, but every relationship goes through a cycle. That cycle starts with an introduction, explores the therapeutic process, and ultimately comes to an end. There is no time limit on how long any certain client relationship must conclude. The journey of each client is their own. Even then, there might be a few reasons a therapist might need to end a client relationship before the cycle is complete. Below are several useful tips for ending a therapeutic relationship.

Reasons Why a Therapist Might Need to Terminate a Client

Treatment Goals Have Been Achieved: 

The beginning of a therapeutic relationship usually begins by establishing treatment goals. This could be a huge variety of things that guide the direction of the time you have with your client. The time it takes to achieve treatment goals varies between individuals. 

After enough time, a therapist and their client can get to a point where they both agree that treatment goals have been met or that the client is no longer in need of services. This could be a time where a provider concludes that therapeutic relationship. 

Needs are Beyond a Provider’s Scope: 

Sometimes, once a relationship is established, client needs are uncovered. These needs might be different than the client initially thought or the provider might have made conclusions or diagnoses based on their time with the client. 

If the provider is not professionally equipped to handle that client’s needs, then they might need to refer that individual to another provider that is. For example, one therapist might specialize in individual counseling where another specializes in couples counseling. If a provider determines that the client would benefit from couples counseling, then they would refer that client to the right specialist. 

Unable to Continue:

Sometimes things come up in life that prevent a therapist from cultivating a successful therapeutic relationship. Maybe the therapist is moving away, got a new job, or is leaving for any number of reasons. They would need to conclude their current therapeutic relationships before they left. 

Other reasons include: 

  1. Conflict 
  2. Conflict of interests
  3. The client doesn’t show up
  4. No payment 

Strategies to Terminate a Client Relationship Effectively

Measure Readiness

Is the client ready for the relationship to end? If the only reason that a therapist is considering whether or not to conclude a therapeutic relationship involves the completion of treatment goals, they need to first measure client readiness. 

If sessions were to end, would the client have everything they need to be successful moving forward? If the answer is no, then it might not be the right time. 

If the answer is yes, then it could be a good time to transition. 

Process Feelings

How does the client feel about their time with you or the possibility of leaving? Remember, when concluding a therapeutic relationship, the provider and the client need to agree that treatment goals have been completed. Being on the same page is vital. 

If a client is not emotionally ready or feels they need more time in therapy, then it might not be the right time to transition. 

Review and Reflect

Take the time to review everything you and your client have addressed and worked on during your time together. What issues did they bring in with them? How do they feel about those things now? 

For clients that are unsure about concluding the relationship, this can be a great way to show them the progress they have made on their journey and why you think they are ready. 

Create a Plan

It is almost never a good idea to immediately terminate a client relationship with no warning to the client. A plan is a structured way to set clear expectations and give the client insight into when the relationship will end and their next steps. 

For clients whose treatment goals have been met, this might look like a plan that involves checking in with their healthcare provider every now and then to gauge their mental health needs. 

For a client that is being referred to another provider, this might look like the plan for how they will start working with that person and how long you two have left together before then. 

Express Pride in Progress

When concluding a therapeutic relationship, providers need to make sure they are expressing how proud they are of their client and their progress. Even the smallest amount of progress is noteworthy. Taking a moment to do this can be extremely encouraging to clients that are nervous about the end of the relationship. 

Ending a therapeutic relationship is never easy. Working with clients, no matter how long, is an investment in that individual’s future and it can be hard to walk away. The important thing to remember is that concluding a relationship has its place in every therapeutic cycle.

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