How can I know when to terminate counseling?

This question perplexes many counselors. People are busy; you are busy. Most of your counselees (and you) want to terminate as quickly as possible. There is danger of rushing. On the other hand, there are some counselees who make themselves dependent upon you, who enjoy counseling sessions and who don't want to end the relationship when it ought to be terminated. That too is a serious problem.

If you have stressed homework properly, very few counselees will become dependent. See the sections on homework in this book. Homework can be helpful in testing when it is time to terminate. If you have questions about timing, ask the counselee himself to assign this week's homework instead of you doing so. If he does a tolerable job of writing out the assignment, and then fulfills his own assignment well, you will probably be at or near the end of counseling.

Moreover, going back over your weekly counseling records,* you can determine how rapidly you have been progressing, how near to dealing with all of the items on the counseling agenda you are** and how much more remains to be done. Often, you will discover items that you have not yet explored adequately. Be sure not to neglect these.

Counseling is near the end when at some point the counselee is doing all he should and appears to be able to continue to do so were counseling to be terminated. Not all problems need to be solved prior to termination. So long as the principal problems and complicating problems are being handled properly by the counselee (and have been for several sessions) you may terminate with the assurance that he will continue in the same vein. There are times when this does not work out, but there is one way in which to recoup if any unforeseen difficulty arises.

That way is to assign a six week checkup at the end. Have the counselee himself assign weekly tasks to do during this period, write down what these assignments were and on paper discuss how well he fulfilled his own assignments. At the end of six weeks when he returns with the written results, you can readily determine whether you may dismiss him from any further counseling or whether he needs to continue for another few weeks. It will be clear in about six weeks whether he will revert to his old ways or not. It is this you want to avoid.

Only if true emergencies arise should you agree to counsel him prior to the end of the six week period. If things go wrong, tell him to think about how to rectify the situation biblically–in much the same ways that you have taught him during counseling. Throughout counseling, incidentally, you will have been teaching him how to solve problems as well as helping him to reach such solutions. This teaching should help during the weeks to come after termination. For more on teaching in counseling, see my book on the subject, Teaching to Observe.

It is possible to terminate too soon, but it can be worse to terminate too late. This latter problem may discourage counselees, may fail to help them begin doing things on their own and may encourage unhealthy dependency. You goal is to enable the person to be able to deal with future problems on his own when they arise, rather than turning again to a counselor for help. Keep that in mind and stress it to the counselee.

All in all, termination should be a happy time, a time when you both rejoice in what God has done and a time of anticipation of good things in the future. Be sure to make it so; don't simply stop counseling in some abrupt manner that fails to acknowledge God's goodness.

* Each week you should keep written records of progress or the lack thereof.

** Also keep a written record of agenda items. Write these down not only at the outset, but as new items arise during sessions. Cross items off when dealt with satisfactorily. Those yet not dealt with should be carried over to an agenda column from week to week until there are no more. When there are no more agenda items to be crossed off, you have come to the end.

Jay E Adams

Institute for Nouthetic Studies

100 White Meadow Ct
Simpsonville, SC 29681

(864) 399-9583




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