…Before the end of termination. Last week I described my experience with couple’s termination. This week I wanted to share another facet of one particular termination that was without a doubt a more difficult end than I would have anticipated. It is an interesting quandary that no one seems to have an answer for. How do you terminate with your co-therapist?
To offer some context, my co-therapist and I had been working with a couple for ten sessions. The couple had done a tremendous amount of work and had achieved progress through some difficult events. They had been able to process and utilize, with great success, the tools and techniques we had been able to offer. During supervision, sometime around session eight we had started thinking and discussing termination. I was struck - somewhere between the counseling center and the bus stop after another long Wednesday, with the wonderful Michael Buble singing ‘Home’ in my mind - how much I was going to miss my co-therapist. The reality was that all the time, effort and emotion we had shared was about to end and I did not want it to.
This thought stayed with me. I searched in vain through sparse literature that discussed this issue and found little comfort in the additional finding that this had been seldom considered by my peers. I sat quietly on my favorite bench after walks trying to unravel what I was feeling. I accepted that I had some sadness and anxiety about terminating with the clients because they had come so far and were ready to move forward on their own. I enjoyed working with them and as mentioned last week ‘good byes’ have never been easy for me. I was able to accept and understand this. What I was unable to process, was this deep uncertain emotion and anxiety that surrounded ending my relationship with my co-therapist. I was perplexed and the more I shared this anxiety with others, the more surprised I became that this phenomenon has apparently received little thought or mention. So why was this such a difficult parting for me?
During our penultimate supervision session I shared my concerns, almost crying on the spot. I acknowledged the termination of therapy with the clients and the expected emotions that go with saying good bye in that context. But it felt like rocks falling down my throat into my stomach when I shared how sad and anxious I felt about leaving the therapeutic relationship I had nurtured with my co-therapist. We processed with some tears and laughter for the remainder of that supervision session. What I felt was reassuringly reciprocated. We discussed concerns that had not been considered before regarding the end of our relationship. Personally, I will miss the intimate professional relationship my co-therapist and I had shared in session. I will miss the time spent planning, the supervision, the deep tangible emotions we experienced together in therapy, the case notes, the informal and formal processing. I will miss working with such a talented therapist, a person whom I admire deeply. Additionally, this was my first experience counseling after a long master’s degree and the first couple I would ever help along in their journey. It was a wonder to bear witness to their progress and I am grateful to have been part of the entire process.
I was beginning to understand but I was still confused. If we value the ending of therapy with the clients and celebrate and honor the work that has been done by acknowledging the anxiety and emotions, the intimacy and shared experience, surely we should do the same with our co-therapist(s) who experience those same emotions, events and progress too. Am I alone in this thought?
The final session arrived. Termination was here and my partner and I kept checking in with each other for the entire day. I took a few walks and really tried to settle into that last fifty minutes with her and with the clients. The session was beautiful and just as emotional as I’d expected for all parties. Termination with my colleague was left to a separate event and we went out for a wonderful meal with our partners and talked about life and future plans as internship looms for spring, 2012, for both of us. If all goes well, and I think it will, our plan is to offer couples therapy one day per week between both of our practices and continue to do successful work together. Our rewarding partnership was unexpected but in hindsight was a truly stand out experience - not only for practicum, but for life. We remain great friends and through this experience I am excited for both the wonderful couple and family track I have chosen as well as for the endless opportunities and potential that exists for us as practitioners and for couples, clients and families everywhere.
So to my co-therapist (you know who you are) from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
PS If anyone knows of literature that addresses termination with a co-therapist or has thoughts or similar experiences please comment or email.
Christian Billington is a counselor in training. He is passionate about end of life issues, grief and loss, trauma and the development of training to better prepare the emergency services for what they experience in the field.