Tag Archives: Therapist Leaving

Client Responses to Therapist Leaving

Diane SuffridgeI am leaving my practicum placement at the end of the training year in six weeks and have just told all of my clients. Most of them didn’t seem to have much of a reaction to this news. What can I expect between now and when I leave?

This is a typical situation during training, when most of your placements will last a year. If you haven’t read my previous blog posts about termination, you can do so to get more information about planning for ending treatment with your clients and about structuring the ending process. In this blog, I’ll focus on the range of client responses you may experience during the next six weeks.

One common response, which sounds like how most of your clients responded when you told them you are leaving, is to avoid discussing the end of treatment and your relationship. This may be accompanied by a statement like, “I know interns always leave after a year, so I’m used to it” or may simply be apparent in shifting the topic away from your leaving. Clients may also deny having any feelings about ending treatment with you, in response to your questions or comments about the impact on them and you.

Another response you may see is that clients miss sessions more frequently or make a decision to end before you leave rather than waiting the full six weeks. This often functions partially as an avoidance but also serves to express anger and to exert control over the timing and process of ending.   A related response, especially in clients who have seen other interns before you, is to focus on the pragmatic questions about being assigned to another therapist at the beginning of the new training year.

Last, some clients may bring in descriptions of past or present interactions with others in which they felt rejected or abandoned or other situations involving loss. These clients usually do not make any conscious connection with the upcoming end of treatment and may deny the impact of your leaving if you make the connection. This may be due to avoidance of the painful feelings associated with your leaving and may also be influenced by the client’s lack of familiarity and experience with intentional endings.

Depending on your own feelings about leaving this placement, you may find yourself feeling frustrated or relieved by your clients who avoid talking directly about ending treatment. It is generally helpful to provide some education to clients about how treatment can end in an intentional way, using some of the suggestions in my previous blogs. It is also important to have some discussion of your leaving before the final session, since you can anticipate that some of your clients will not attend the final session as scheduled.

The best contribution you can make to a therapeutic ending with your clients is to talk about your feelings in your own therapy and supervision. This makes it more likely that you will be emotionally available during your remaining time with clients and that you will provide the opportunity for them to end with you in a therapeutic way.

I hope you found these examples of client responses helpful in managing your transition from this placement. Please email me with comments, questions or suggestions for future blog topics.