In the past, termination held more of a finality then it does for
me now. It indicated that our work was completed and our relationship
had come to an end. Today, while it still marks the completion of
the work we have contracted to do together, the door remains clearly
open. The client is invited to return to do another piece of work
should the need arise.
Every seasoned therapist is aware of
the powerful feelings that termination can evoke. Feelings of accomplishment
and pride can often be overshadowed by feelings of anger, fear,
abandonment, grief, and loss. This critical event requires great
skill, empathy, and the careful attention of the therapist. The
therapist must assist the client in moving towards the future with
confidence and hope. The client must possess the skills to maintain
the gains that have been made, master the separation, and what it
may uniquely represent to the client, and be able to reach out for
assistance in the future should the need occur.
We have all witnessed the rather sudden
regression of some clients as termination approached. While it is
important that we honor the client's present experience, it is also
necessary to recognize that the regression will probably be resolved
as the client successfully works through his or her concerns around
Therapists must prepare clients for
termination from the beginning. Approximately three sessions prior
to termination, I ask the client to begin to think about how they
wish to mark the occasion, and a date is set.
I am a firm believer in the power of
rituals, and more often than not incorporate them into the final
session. I encourage my client to create a ritual that will mark
the completion of his/her present piece of work. I welcome him/her
to invite others to participate if he/she chooses. Sometimes the
ritual is as simple as lighting candles and incense, while the client
reads what he/she has written for the occasion. I then might read
what I have written and at times then sip sparkling cider out of
Champaign glasses. Other rituals are more elaborate. One woman wrote
a brief play representing her therapy journey and had members of
her support system act it out. We then sang songs, testimonials
were delivered, and we feasted on food that participants brought
in. It was a powerful and empowering closing. A man with whom I
worked was a lover of music. I had asked him earlier to produce
a tape containing on one side those songs which represented his
pain and struggle and on the other to record music which inspired
him and represented his achievements, strengths, and growth. He
played this tape during our final session. Another women with whom
I worked had shared with me that her parents had never once acknowledged
her birthday. They had never baked her a cake or offered presents.
On our last session, I presented her with a cake and a gift-wrapped
What To Take Along
I almost always request that my client
bring in a letter of support written to him/herself from the nurturing,
supportive part of themselves to our last session. I request that
he or she read it out loud, and I then read my own letter of support
written specifically to this particular individual. Generally, this
includes reminders, observations of how he/she has grown, and strengths
which I have appreciated along with encouragement for further development.
I try and always mention something about the individual that I have
found to be unique and wonderful. At no time have I worked with
someone where such a quality could not be found. The client is instructed
to keep these letters and read them whenever he/she is in need of
reassurance. It's a reminder of his/her strengths, the lessons that
have been learned, future goals, self-care commitments, etc.
Erving Polster, in his book, Every
Person's Life is Worth a Novel, acknowledges the healing involved
in an individual discovering how "remarkably interesting"
he or she is. In part, it is the recognition of this truth that
prompts me to suggest to each client that they write their own story.
Often when the client is sharing his or her story with me, I make
observations, comment on the significance of a certain event, the
beauty of another, etc. I make suggestions such as that a client
may want to explore a particular aspect of the story to a greater
degree, or acknowledge the pain, strength, etc. of the main character
(him or herself) more fully. I often find myself pointing out that
the writer has demonstrated no empathy or compassion for themselves
in the telling of their story and recommend that they go back and
attempt to do so. Very often it is a review of the finished product
that becomes the focus of our final sessions.
A client with whom I had worked for
some time (I will call her Anne), and whom had suffered extraordinary
sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of her father, brought in
her story. The story was written not from the perspective of the
adult, but from that of the little girl. As she read it, for the
first time, she began to cry from some deeper place. While she had
shared her story before, it was much more akin to a recital with
minimal expression of her pain. Now she was truly grieving, as she
allowed her child to speak directly versus controlling the child
within her by speaking for her from the intellectual stance of the
adult. Since this time, I frequently ask that when a client's issue
stems from childhood pain, that the story be told by the child,
not revised and edited by the adult. I have found the child's story
to be far more powerful and empowering, and I am grateful to Anne
for this and many other lessons which I have learned from her.
I have kept a notebook for several
years, although it has been misplaced on more than one occasion.
While I started it in around 1985, the book's contents are few and
far between. The purpose was for purely personal growth, and so
very often I do not identify the particular source or even the date
in which I entered it. I ran across an entry the other day that
I would like very much to include here, although I confess that
I have no idea from whence it came. It is part of a story I either
read or had told to me. Somehow it feels like a very appropriate
way to finish this piece on termination.
A woman shares with her therapist that
she feels her life is over. Her therapist responds by sharing a
dream he had with her. In the dream, the therapist hears, "You
never finish anything." This troubled the therapist greatly
for a very long time. Seven years later while listening to a tape,
he had an insight, "Who says you have to finish anything? Nothing
is ever really finished as long as we are alive." He then suggested
to the client that perhaps she could conceive of her life as a continuation
of her parents, and her children's life a continuation of hers,
and that the process will continue as long as there is human life.
Dr. Fowles is available for consultation,
training, and to conduct "Healing into Wholeness" retreats
as well as "Myth and Meaning" workshops. She is willing
to offer these programs at no charge to non-profit service organizations.
She can be reached by e-mail
, website, or by calling