I have been working at an agency job for a year and have been seeing a number of clients for six months or more. I’m looking for another job, and I’m wondering how much notice I should give at my current job in order to allow enough time for termination with my clients.
The topic of termination is covered in Chapter 13 of my book, including planned and unplanned endings that are initiated by the client or the therapist. The situation you describe is one in which you will be initiating the termination process with clients who may or may not have completed their treatment. It is a good idea to think ahead to the impact your job change will have on your clients so you can do as much advance planning as possible.
I recommend thinking about three tasks to be addressed: reviewing the treatment progress and relationship, anticipating future needs for treatment, and saying goodbye. These tasks are discussed in more detail in a previous blog. Another blog discusses the importance of processing your feelings about ending with your clients, preferably before you begin the termination process with them.
Usually it is ideal to allow 4-6 weeks for a termination process with clients you have seen for six months or more and 2-4 weeks for shorter term clients. If you work in an outpatient setting, always assume that some of your clients will miss one or more sessions during the ending process, making it advisable to have a longer rather than shorter time to end. When making a job change, however, you may not be able to give your clients more than 2 or 3 weeks notice, depending on the circumstances of your job search and any break you plan between leaving one job and beginning another. I’ll discuss here how you can handle the three termination tasks mentioned above in this compressed period of time.
The first issue to keep in mind if you are ending treatment of six months or more with 2-3 weeks notice is that the ending will inevitably feel somewhat incomplete. Since you are initiating the ending, you may feel a degree of guilt which could lead you to minimize the discomfort of the ending for both you and the client. It will serve both of you to acknowledge that you would like to have more time to say goodbye. In addition, you will be ending with all of your clients at the same time, which will bring up a lot of emotions for you, while you are also saying goodbye to colleagues and supervisors. Anticipate the emotional work this will require of you and use your support system to help with your own need for processing the endings of these relationships.
A second issue to consider is that some of your clients will miss their final scheduled session, so begin the termination discussion at the time you let them know you are leaving, even if you plan to meet another one or two times. Since the clients won’t be expecting this news, you’ll need to give them time to take it in before talking about it. I recommend beginning the session by telling them that you’re leaving, with a simple statement like “I’d like to start our session today by letting you know that I’ve taken another job and will be leaving here on (date). I’d like to take some time to talk today about ending our time together, though we’ll also be able to do that in our next (1 or 2) session(s) as well.” Then wait for the client to respond, and if she/he moves quickly into another issue about her/his life, look for another opportunity later in the session to come back to the termination process.
When the termination process is brief, it is often helpful to give the client a written note with some of your thoughts about the treatment as a supplement to your discussions in person. Many clients lack the experience of talking directly about the ending of a relationship, and this often leads to avoidance and denial of feelings of loss. You may not have an opportunity to share everything you would like to say to the client in a session, so writing a note ahead of time gives you a chance to express yourself more fully. It may also be easier for the client to take in your thoughts at a later time. If the client misses the session in which you plan to give her/him the written note, you can consider sending it by mail.
One of the three tasks I recommend addressing during termination is the client’s future needs for treatment. When you are leaving your job, the client’s continued treatment will be dependent on another clinician’s availability at your agency so you will discuss this issue differently based on those circumstances. The other two tasks—reviewing the treatment and saying goodbye—are solely about your relationship and aren’t dependent on the agency arrangements for the client to continue or end. Although there may be a lot to say, it is possible to accomplish these two tasks in a relatively short period of time if you prepare for these sessions by thinking about each client individually and what you can say about the nature of your work together and how you feel about ending. It is often meaningful for the client to hear how you have been affected by the work.
These recommendations will help you in managing an unplanned ending with clients with thoughtfulness. If you’re interested in reading more about this and related issues, click here to order from Amazon or here to order from Routledge.