If you’ve been with me throughout this ride, you’ll recall that in part one we learned about common client questions about the therapeutic relationship and reasons for various boundaries. Part two looked at the client’s responsibility in the therapeutic relationship. In this next part we continue the journey and briefly discuss the deepening of the therapeutic relationship as well as the termination process.
It is said that no two snowflakes are alike. The same goes for EVERY therapeutic relationship. Each relationship has its own dynamic and deepens at its own rate for varied reasons. I believe the biggest factors that foster growth are the client’s trust in the therapist and the therapist’s continued unconditional positive regard.
The Roller Coaster of Therapy
There are levels of trust. You may be saying, “Hey, I completely trust my therapist! I tell her everything!” That could be true. But there are levels. Has your therapist ever gained an insight or asked you about something that you felt embarrassed by or caused you to want to side-step the question? Perhaps they got a little too close to something and without even realizing it, and you put your defenses up. It happens to most people at some point in therapy, no matter how much they trust the therapist. A good therapist will poke and prod a little bit to try and bring your issue to light but will back off if it is too distressing for you and you’re not ready. Rest assured your therapist’s feelings will not be hurt by this; we know disclosing painful and embarrassing information about ourselves is extremely difficult and we will be there for you when you’re ready.
When you have reached a point where you have absolute trust that your therapist does not judge you negatively and that you can disclose the really tough stuff to them, the relationship will deepen and you, the client, will have unstoppable potential. Think of your therapist as a roller coaster platform: a safe and sturdy base with which you can go on a frightening, fun, and rewarding journey full of heights and drops and twists, embracing your fears, knowing that there is a safe base you will return to. If you are like me, and you climb to the top of the ride only to step onto it, chicken out, and dash back down the stairs, that’s okay also. The platform (your therapist) will be there, unconditionally and without judgment when you’re ready.
When the Ride is Over
Termination. This is an emotionally charged subject both for the client and the therapist. Ideally, termination (or as we sometimes call it, graduating therapy) occurs after the client has resolved the issues they originally came in for. Some clients stay in therapy for years to work on general growth and self-actualization rather than for specific issues, although issues will arise during the course of therapy.
The weeks leading up to termination can be difficult for both the client and the therapist. The client has invested a significant amount of time confiding and building trust in this other human, and the therapist has spent that time both caring for the client and getting to know them – perhaps more intimately than even some of their own family or friends. Therapists do have clients and yes there are sometimes favorites, and it is difficult when they terminate. That being said, it’s also a very positive and heart-warming experience for the therapist. Your therapist has watched you grow, embrace your fears, and become a better person. Our job is to work ourselves out of a job, after all, and we honestly love releasing our clients back into the wild.
Termination doesn’t always mean an absolute break in the relationship. Often a client will return in a few months to check in or have a “tune-up” to make sure everything is still going well. If needed, the client can always return to therapy – be it weeks, months, or even years later. I can’t speak for every therapist out there but as far as the ones I know, they gladly welcome a client back for continuing care.
The final termination session should be a positive one. Of course these sessions differ for other therapists and clients, but generally the therapist will review the experience with the clients. They will discuss the issues that brought them into therapy, the amazing progress they’ve made, and the tools the client learned that will help them navigate those issues successfully in the future. They may discuss frustrations and funny things that happened and reminisce about the time spent together. Many therapists will end with a hug or a handshake.
And on that note…
Enjoy the dance. Embrace the weird. Do the things. Try the cheese.