Portfolio of Hope

Useful strategies for ending relationships

A relationship built on trust can be difficult to bring to an end. Why? Because trusting relationships undoubtedly result in connections (often deep ones) being formed, therefore making saying farewell an incredibly hard feat.

Since helping relationships such as those between therapists and clients need to come to an end, terminating them can be extremely difficult…

Despite people who start therapy knowing from the outset that the overall aim of it is for them to get to a place where they no longer need help/intervention, proceeding to end a relationship in which one has opened themselves up to another person, showing themselves at their most vulnerable, is often, a lot easier said than done. Ending such a relationship must therefore be done with a certain level of sensitivity and respect.

To ensure that relationships can end causing the least amount of distress to everyone involved, a detailed plan should be devised in which the approach to ending the relationship is well documented. On this plan, a period of ‘distancing’ should be included. Rather than ending the relationship ‘cold turkey’, a more appropriate course of action would be to gradually decrease contact with each other by, for example, reducing therapy sessions from one session a week, to one session a fortnight. This would allow both parties to adjust gradually as opposed to a sudden change being imposed on them ‘out of the blue.’ In turn, they would be better equipped to deal with, and process, their emotions.

Gradually reducing contact with each other by practicing distancing, as described above, is one useful strategy to introduce when looking to end relationships. Another useful strategy to end relationships is to do the following: to actively make a point of evaluating the progress the client has made during the relationship. To do this, both parties should consider why their relationship initially started, before conducting a more thorough evaluation of the progress they have made together. This should consist of them considering how they were able to tackle the problems the client presented with, and it should also involve them questioning whether the goals initially set out were achieved. The final part of an evaluation is for the client to identify any areas of growth they still need to work on. The helper should encourage their client, through the creation of a plan, to build on the identified progress they have already made. This will reduce the risk of them falling back into old habits/routines that could potentially deter, if not reverse, the progress they have made from the relationship.

The final stage to consider when ending a relationship, is the offer of help. In a helping relationship, it is not uncommon for the helper, at the end of the course of therapy, to offer their client the option to work with them again in the future, should the need arise to do so. Offering help in this way would prevent the client from feeling as though they have been ‘abandoned’, giving them reassurance to keep making progress when, post the relationship ending, they are given a greater level of independence than they perhaps might have had in the past.

Possible impact(s) of a helping relationship ending

The end of any relationship can be hard, but, when you take a relationship in which one is at their most vulnerable, sharing their deepest emotions with the other, that hardness only intensifies, with the emotions associated with the relationship’s termination being very hard to process indeed.

The client might find the process of adjusting to the loss of the relationship extremely challenging which can, in turn, transfer on to the therapist who might feel responsible and guilty for making their client feel so unhappy.

Therapists might experience lots of other negative emotions at the end of a relationship with a client too, such as inadequacy. They might be left questioning whether they have helped their client enough, with a sense of failure hanging over them.

Feeling as though they have ‘failed’ their client can transfer to anger at the mental health system, a system that only allows a limited period of time for therapists and clients to work together, which, in many cases, just isn’t long enough.

If the helper feels as though they have been unable to make enough progress in the limited time they had together, they might, understandably, lack confidence in their client’s ability to ‘stay on track’ post discharge from the services. This can be incredibly upsetting for the therapist to comprehend because, after all, they will have undoubtedly become close to their client in the time they had together, regardless of how short that time was. This is likely to reinforce the therapist’s sense of having ‘failed’ their client.

So, those are the emotions often associated with the termination of a relationship from a helper’s/therapist’s perspective, but what about those from a client’s perspective?

Well, emotions that the client in particular might experience when faced with the loss of such a valuable relationship is sadness, and anger, too. They might feel as though they have been ‘neglected’ or ‘abandoned’ by their therapist, failing to understand why, after building such a close bond, they must end their relationship and part ways. Feeling this way can also result in one experiencing a sense of separation and loss. They might regress (return to a ‘darker place’) in the hope that their sessions will continue, and that their relationship will not have to end. In contrast, some people might become apathetic, failing to engage in therapy sessions leading up to the termination of the relationship. This often happens when people feel as though there is ‘no point’ in continuing with something that is ‘going to end soon anyway.’

Another emotion that clients might report feeling, is a sense of fear. If they have come to rely on their therapist as their support network for a prolonged period of time (which is usually the case in therapy), they might find the concept of ‘doing it on their own’ daunting, particularly if they already lack in self-confidence. This can result in anxiety developing in some people, with them having a fear of the future, and of the unknown. Why? Because they might worry that; ‘no one else will be able to understand in the way that their therapist could.’

It is therefore fair to say that the ending of a helping relationship often brings up a lot of emotions that are hard to work through, both for the client and the helper.

It should not be ignored, however, that there are in fact positive impacts that can arise from the termination of a helping relationship. If strategies such as distancing are implemented, and a plan is devised, both the helper and their client can leave the relationship feeling a sense of achievement and gratitude, possessing an all-round positive attitude towards the future. See, not all negative!

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