It seems apt that one of my final learning journals before the completion of the course is one on endings. In this journal I am going to explore how to end the helping interaction appropriately. In particular, I will be highlighting the importance of sensitivity around ending helping sessions, the value of summarising, and the risks of not working with ending appropriately. I will also provide some examples of when I feel I have ended skills practice sessions appropriately.
I feel that endings are a very sensitive issue as the concept of endings is so often associated with loss – bereavement, relationship break-up, some form of deprivation, etc. Rarely does the word ‘ending’ conjure up images of an open door, new opportunities, adventure, or the satisfying completion of something. The former negative connotations are likely to be experienced by someone attending counselling since they are there because they are vulnerable; they have experienced some kind of loss or been traumatised by past separations. The degree to which a client will be scared, sad, or daunted by the ending of counselling will vary, but given the intensity of the client/counsellor relationship, the majority of clients will experience some discomfort at the thought, even if at the same time they feel proud that they now feel able to face the world independently.
Such sensitivity is not only important when ending the counselling relationship, but also when ending individual sessions. Each session is likely to be emotive, leaving the client feeling vulnerable to the world outside of the counselling room. Since some very difficult topics are likely to be discussed and the client is likely to express a variety of emotions, it can be hard to bring a session to an end. Indeed, I have found in skills practice that I sometimes feel that the timing of the ending is insensitive to the client’s needs. However, one way to prevent this is to deal with the ending at the beginning of the session. I always start my skills practice sessions with a statement similar to the following:
“Hi. It is lovely to see you today. We have 15 minutes to talk about whatever you would like to talk about. I will let you know when we have 2 minutes left so that we can summarise the session.”
It is extremely important to leave time for a summary at the end of a session as it confirms to the client that they have been heard, it demonstrates empathy and understanding, and it allows for clarification where necessary.
Even when the client is aware of the time boundary, they can be so absorbed in talking about something deeply emotional
that they don’t realise the time. In such situations, I have found it useful to say something along the lines of:
“Lets press pause for a minute as our time is coming to an end today and I don’t want you to leave without us having a couple of minutes to summarise and reflect upon the session.”
In one skills session, the observer and helpee both liked the way I ended with, “I really don’t want to stop there as you have uncovered a lot today, however, our time is coming to an end…..” Both the aforementioned endings provide the client with a sense of their voice being validated and prevents the session being ended abruptly. Without an appropriate ending, the client could be left feeling vulnerable, unacknowledged, and unable to face the world. This can have dangerous implications for the health and well-being of the client.
Whether ending a session or the counselling relationship, it is important to remember that the objective in person-centred counselling is to help clients become more independent and self-reliant. So, while the end of a session or client/counsellor relationship might involve some sense of loss or mourning, it also reveals the capabilities of the client to cope in the world outside of the counselling room.
The ending is created by two equal adults and, while sad, the ending can also be truly empowering to the client.
When one door closes, another one opens.