“But it’s only February!” you say? Well, that’s exactly right. It is only February and I have already had a bad test run with my termination skills. During our weekly individual session, one of my clients was processing a number of recent losses. The client did tremendous work (which he sometimes is unwilling to do) and made multiple powerful connections between drug addiction and unhealthy relationships in his life. Towards the end of putting several “pieces” together, he made mention of how he hates counseling and hates working with people because they leave, especially the interns. (This is not the first time he has admitted to hating counseling but comes anyway because he knows he “needs” it.) I observed that when we first started working together, he knew my status as an intern. He gave a sort of non-response so I asked if he remembered when I would be leaving… A big mistake that opened an extra-large-sized can of worms I was unprepared for! I told him I was at the agency through the month of May. He proceeded to enter into a tremendously agitated state in which he used a few colorful words to express himself and declared point-blank, “I’m not coming back.”
I was beside myself. I expressed feeling sorry to see him so upset like that and reminded him that I would be here if he changed his mind… as he was already walking towards the door. “Can I call you the week after next when I return from vacation?” “If anything, I’ll call you,” he responded. “If I don’t keep seeing you does that mean I can’t see the doctor?” “I’m not sure; I will have to check with my supervisor,” I lied.
After that he walked out the clinic door and didn’t even look back when I bid him farewell. A wave of unpleasant feelings washed over me and I was utterly devastated. It felt like I had just betrayed my client, like I had intentionally hurt him. A few pep talks and a few hugs later, the disappointment of having possibly lost a client was slowly being replaced with hopes of trying to coax him back to counseling. One clinician shared a really ridiculous anecdote of one of her termination experiences which served as a really powerful metaphor for me. I am re-charging my batteries this week in the hopes of being able to return to the office refreshed and ready to go next week. I will also be returning with a very important lesson in the back of my mind – Termination is going to be tricky.