Coming to an end: A case study of an ambiguous process of ending psychotherapy

Abstract

Aim: When the duration of therapy is not preset and the outcome is a matter for negotiation, the decision to end psychotherapy will be an experiential concern for the two participants. This case study draws attention to how ambiguities may be settled in a process where ending is initiated by the therapist and resisted by the client. Method and analysis: The actual case was strategically selected as exceptional owing to a combination of circumstances. The client and the therapist
had developed a ‘good enough’ alliance (WAI) and reached a ‘good enough’ outcome (OQ-45), and still the client felt she was far from finished. A close inspection of interactional data in sessions together with both clients’ and therapists’ reflections in post-therapy interviews elicited information about both substantial content and structural aspects of this complicated process of ending. Findings and discussion: The discrepancy between therapist and client was not addressed, but rather postponed and revisited again later. Structural elements like preparations for a break for vacations and reducing the frequency of sessions were used to test experiential qualities, such as how the client managed life without therapy. Carefully preserving a ‘good enough’ emotional bond through the negotiations seemed important to both parties. Significantly, the client’s autonomy was interpreted as the final proof of improvement and the client came to a point where she could affirm that she had got better only by accepting that treatment was coming to an end.

Counselling and Psychotherapy Research: Linking research with practice, 2012, 12 (2), 109-117

Published June 18, 2012 10:59 AM - Last modified Aug. 19, 2015 1:55 PM