I recently closed my therapy practice in Dallas, TX to relocate
to the East Coast to be closer to aging family members. I decided to give my 50
or so active clients 2 months notice to provide ample time for them to prepare
and for me to arrange continuity of care. Those 2 months were extraordinary!
Because I initiated the ending, I set in motion what therapists call the
“termination phase” of therapy. I had told people: “Get ready. We are going to
say goodbye”. And we did. What’s extraordinary is that real goodbyes so often
never happen for therapists. When clients are either frustrated with their
progress or are legitimately ready to end treatment, they either fade away or
Here is my advice (It may sound a little harsh, but hear me
out): tell us what’s going on, say goodbye, and don’t worry about our feelings.
If you’re ready to finish work with us, we will have feelings about it, rest
assured. We will miss you! But if we let those feelings cloud our professional
judgment, or if we take your departure personally, then we’re not keeping our
part of the bargain. Remember, when we agreed to work with you, we agreed to
ensure your best interests.
Here’s why I really want you to say goodbye when you’re ready to
leave. Goodbyes are hard. They hurt and often bring about profound expressions
of sadness and grief. In many ways, this is the essence of psychotherapy:
learning how to communicate deep and painful truths in caring ways and
developing the courage and willingness to do so. By practicing “goodbyes” in
the therapy room, you will learn how to do it successfully in life.
Furthermore, it may be time to switch therapists. If you don’t
feel comfortable telling your therapist, then there may be unaddressed issues in
the therapeutic alliance. It’s possible these issues—at least your role in
them—reflect the very things you are trying to resolve in your personal
relationships. By intentionally entering into the termination phase of therapy
and saying goodbye, you give yourself and your therapist a chance to explore
and resolve these issues, so you don’t carry them into your relationship with
your next therapist. Your therapist may also help with a referral to a
therapist who may be a better fit for you, but cannot help if he/she does not
One more thing—sometimes clients want to switch therapists
because the therapy has stagnated or become stuck. Again, bring it to our
attention. That may be just what your therapist needs to hear to get the
treatment going again. You might find it’s not goodbye after all. Maybe we just
needed a nudge!
Pawelek, LICSW, has been providing psychotherapy to adults, couples, and teens
for 10 years. He is a graduate of both the Boston University School of Social
Work and the Boston University School of Theology. He is in private practice
with the New England Pastoral Institute in Salem, NH. Prior to moving to New
England to be closer to aging family members, Aaron was the training director
and a staff therapist for the Pastoral Counseling Center of Dallas, TX. Aaron
has a variety of clinical interests including working with people with
disabilities, adults raised by parents with mental illness or addiction, people
in addiction recovery themselves, couples in crisis, and people in the GLBT
community. As a pastorally oriented psychotherapist, Aaron helps people integrate
their spiritual and religious resources into the therapy process if they wish.