How do you end individual counseling services with a student? Termination is an essential event in counseling, and it might be one that we shortchange a bit. Get it. The student is ready, and they meet their goals. But we have an opportunity in that last session to make counseling progress last.
Students need to exit counseling feeling ready to handle problems independently and proud of their growth. If they don't feel ready, proud, or positive about counseling, it can impact how they do on their own.
Cover four essentials when terminating counseling, and use some easy go-to activities to engage and prepare students. Students will leave counseling ready, proud, and positive.
4 Parts of Counseling Termination
1. Explain Termination
From the beginning of counseling, be transparent with the student about the goal. The goal is for them to learn skills to be their counselor so they don't need you. They will be able to handle situations on their own.
As students get close to exiting counseling, help them understand why it's ending using familiar situations. You can compare it to saying goodbye to a teacher at the end of the year or a coach at the end of a sports season.
Talk with parents and teachers about how they can support the students and the progress they made. Try giving them a short one-page cheat sheet that they can refer to. It can include the student's go-to strategies, common triggers, and goals the student still has.
2. Structure and Preview the Ending
Think flexibly about the best way to end counseling with a student. For some students, going from counseling once a week to none at all can be jarring. You can try a different schedule, such as every other week or once a month.
Have a countdown until the last session. You can have a calendar or punch card with the number of sessions left. It is helpful to have visuals. When you only say it verbally, many students will be surprised on the last day.
Before the last counseling session, preview what it will be like with the student. Let them know if you have a special activity planned, and briefly tell them what your relationship will be like after counseling has ended.
3. Last Counseling Sessions
The last session(s) is an excellent time for students to reflect on all the progress they have made in counseling. You can review their initial goals and how they changed and praise those achievements.
It is nice to create something they can take with them that will be a reminder of what they have learned and something they can also reference after counseling. This simple Strategy Pack or Strategy Wallet can easily be adapted for elementary or middle school.
Create cards that will help the students reflect on skills they learned, what they are good at, who is a support for them, and anything relevant.
You can use a different metaphor to represent their growth. For example:
- Ready to set sail and pack their boat.
- Filling their toolbox with tools for any job.
- A flower blooming with the petals representing learned skills.
Create a Prevention Plan
This part of the last counseling session is helping a student be successful without your support. They brainstorm possible problems that might come up. For example, say they have a presentation in class or a group project coming up in a couple of weeks. This was the kind of situation that would make them so nervous they would skip class or refuse to get up.
They can think of how to handle these everyday situations, what strategies will help, and who they can rely on for support.
A simple trifold folder like the one below is perfect for students to take with them.
The last session is also a great time to determine when and how the student can see you in the future if needed. Consider scheduling a check-in session for a few weeks after counseling ends or include a pass to see you in their prevention plan.
4. Model Healthy Goodbyes
The end of a counseling relationship is an ideal time to model that relationships can have positive and healthy endings.
Consider giving the student a gift or token of your relationship. A follower on my Instagram account said her counselor collected shells on vacation and gave one to her in their last session. I love this simple and meaningful token.
For elementary and middle school kids, it's nice to take the opportunity to have the token serve multiple purposes. For the Power Word Keychain, students pick a word that represents their growth or a goal they still have. They make the keychain with letter beads or create a code using color beads. They can keep it in their pocket as a fidget or as a visual reminder.
It's important to model that there may be mixed feelings about counseling ending.
"I feel sad that we won't meet every week, and I'm also proud that you can do this on your own."
Express confidence that they are ready and you are always here if they need you.
Helpful Counseling Resources
Last Counseling Session
This resource will help students reflect on what they learned in counseling and plan for how to handle future situations on their own.
First Counseling Session
The first counseling session is perfect for establishing rapport, understanding the student's perspective, and creating a safe and predictable space.