Today I want to talk to you about how to know when it’s time to end your therapy relationship with one of your clients. But there’s one aspect of this I want to make sure I address really specifically. When I do lectures, I’ve had this question come up several times and people say, so what do I do when I think the client has accomplished their goal and I don’t know what we’re doing next?
So let me address that and be really, really clear here. What makes the Solution Focused Approach so magical, so powerful, so impactful when you’re working with clients, is we always use what the client says to construct our questions and help the client to describe the presence of their desired outcome, right?
That’s like the most foundational piece of information about Solution Focused Brief Therapy. We take what the client says, and we turn it into a question to help them describe the presence of their desired outcome. So sometimes when people are learning this approach, they, I think they’re accidentally still talking and thinking about the problem. And they start thinking, so the client comes to therapy and let’s say, the problem is,
you know, they’re having a difficult time with their teenager. And then you feel like, well we’ve accomplished that goal so what am I doing next? And then we get kind of panicked, like, I can’t think of any more questions because we’ve already accomplished the goal that led to our therapeutic relationships so what do we do next?
And hear, I’m going to be really specific here. Never. And I mean, never, like I’m actually using the word never, is it your place to think about whether or not the client is done? Very often we insert a question and we say something like, how would you know you no longer need to come and see me? But if the client hasn’t brought that up, you bringing it up is actually a way of telling the client, I don’t want to see you anymore. And that is about as far away from Solution Focused Brief Therapy as you could possibly get.
So we are always using the client’s content and we’re always asking them the next question, always describing the presence of their desired outcome. If you feel like we’ve accomplished the desired outcome and your client is still sitting in front of you, then you ask them, what are your best hope from our talking today? In essence you ask them for another desired outcome. The only way you know that the client is done with the therapy is when the client tells you they are done. If the client is in front of you, it is our duty to assume that they have come to see us for a good reason. And thus it is our job to ask them, what outcome are you here hoping to achieve?
And then do a description on the presence of that desired outcome. Never, ever, ever allow yourself to think, I don’t think this client needs to be here. That violates probably the most important tenet of Solution Focused Brief Therapy, which is if the client has come to see us, we assume they’ve done that for a good reason, and thus they are motivated. That might be the single most important tenet in Solution Focused Brief Therapy. And the moment you start thinking, I can’t figure out why the client is here. You have now broken that tenet.
So it’s so important that you start understanding, it’s so important that you start from the framework that if my client is in front of me, they must be hoping to achieve something. So then I’m going to ask them, what is that thing you’re hoping to achieve? I think what happens is sometimes we run out of questions and we think like, oh, our job is done. And then you say to your client, so how would you know you no longer need to come and see me, but imagine if you have a really difficult problem, imagine if something has been troubling you in life.
Imagine if something has been very, very hard and you’re trying to find the way to say it, and you’re nervous to talk to a Psychotherapist about it. And you’re really struggling with this. And the Psychotherapist then says, so how would you know you no longer need to come and see me? It feels like you’re trying to get rid of me. It seems like you’re trying to remove me from your office. And it’s so important we don’t allow our clients to feel that way. So no matter what, if the client is in front of you, you must assume that they are there for good reason and thus are motivated by something.
And if you’ve been working with them for a while and you feel like the outcome that we’ve been talking about and working on has been achieved, then it’s your job to ask, so what are your best hope from today’s conversation? And if the client realizes well, you know, I think I’m, I think I’m finished. Let them come to that realization. And if the client gives you an answer, like here’s what I was hoping to achieve from this conversation. Then it’s your job to do a description of the presence of that outcome.
You know, I’ve worked with clients a lot and sometimes clients will say things like, you know, I really just want to be able to maintain my current. Look, we’ve done really well and I’ve progressed and I really just want to be able to maintain this. So suppose you were maintaining it in a way that was right for you? What’s the first thing that you notice that would let you know that you’re maintaining the growth that we’ve accomplished in therapy and doing a good job of that? And just let the client do the description.
And when the client is done with you, they will tell you, I mean, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in therapy and practicing for as long as I have is when the client is done, they will let you know there are done. When the client has done, they have no problem calling you and canceling an appointment. They have no problem calling saying, you know I can go a little while without any therapy. They have no problem letting you know that. So it is never our place to decide for the client that they’re done simply because we’ve run out of questions.
So how do you know when it’s time to terminate your therapeutic relationship with your client? Your client will tell you. It is definitely not when you run out of questions. It’s definitely not when you can’t figure out why the client is still there. It is definitely not because you don’t know what the client is working on. The client will tell you. If the client is in front of you, assume they have a good reason for being there and assume they are motivated.