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Saying Goodbye

A time inevitably comes when a therapist and client must part ways. Some people think a time limit needs to be set beforehand—for example, ten sessions—but I’m a firm believer that a person should be allowed to stay as long as he or she likes. I once had a client tell me he thinks he will need therapy for the rest of his life.

“How come?” I asked.

“Because I don’t have a supportive family,” he replied.

Even in the most extreme cases, though, a therapist and client will eventually part ways. The question then becomes, how should it be left? In what ideal way are things ended?

My own thought is that the therapist should be open to termination at any point and for whatever reason. That reason ought to be explored, of course, but ultimately respected. If people do not feel comfortable to leave, or talk about their desire to leave, then we are bordering on exploitation.

Another question is: what attitude will the client have toward his or her time in therapy? (This can be helpful to think about during the therapy, too, to make sure an appropriate and beneficial relationship has been established.) For example, if the client has no idea how he or she will survive without the advice of the therapist, then perhaps too much dependence was fostered. If the client is never going to think about the therapist or the therapy again, then perhaps not enough connection was established.

There are a wide variety of attitudes that can reflect an appropriate and beneficial relationship. I always think of the sweet spot as somewhere between dependent and apathetic.

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