Burying Our Clients Together: An Existential, Mindful Post-Termination Growth Care Tribe Support Group for Mental Health Practitioners to Process Client Termination Together

Burying Our Clients Together: An Existential, Mindful Post-Termination Growth Care Tribe Support Group for Mental Health Practitioners to Process Client Termination Together

The inherent work of psychotherapy is the fulfillment of collaborative therapeutic work, defined by the strength and health of the therapeutic alliance between client and therapist. While therapeutic approach nuances therapeutic effects and bond, one thing remains common for all, all counseling practitioners undergo termination with their clients that is prompted by four main types of termination - mutual agreement, or client-initiated, counselor-initiated, and forced termination (Lee, Wang & Swift, 2021). Even with some exception given to the psychodynamic approach, the major emphasis of termination is focused on supporting the client through the process, hopefully so. Both client and practitioner benefit from undergoing complete termination healing and post-termination growth.

A mindful group of mental health counselors is proposed to engender supportive community building around the process of client-therapist termination of the therapeutic relationship—welcoming all circumstances of termination, whether the client, therapist, both, or circumstances initiated it. In the current climate of the counseling industry, it may be under-modeled and underrepresented that practitioners create time for and have access to environmental support that would be helpful to unburden the grief and intensity of client termination, especially given the ongoing demands of current and new cases. Supervision may provide limited time for students-in-training and interns to process therapeutic termination grief; as the supervisory capacity is centrally built around the support of current and new client discovery, and serving the arising needs of ongoing, active treatment. Further, clinicians may less often seek professional supervision or use their personal therapy to digest the relevant issues of post-termination.

A group designed for therapists with the intention to support one another through processing the range of effects of termination with short-term and long-term clientele may not only provide the safe space desperately needed to support clinicians through what we may term the post-termination growth process, and mutual modeling of healing. This group may radically, systematically infuse new meaning and support into our helping field surrounding mental health practitioners doing what they do best for themselves and for one another: offering holding space to acknowledge angst and discomfort, and mindfully reframe with purpose and hope. Mindful, existential group therapy that draws on aspects of spiritual grief group counseling provides therapeutic care for therapists to essentially bury their clients together. Clinician to clinician group process shores up latent grief processing and latent support in a non-threatening, collaborative way by drawing on the humanistic, intensely compassionate peer-colleague resources that abound in our caring industry. Additionally, it seems that our field would benefit from a powerful reframe and release of the intense experiences of vicarious trauma that threaten to dull our senses and diminish our authenticity and safety within ourselves and with one another in the workplace.

With clear relevance to central tenants of the mental health field, there is yet a dearth of supportive research on the post-termination experiences of practitioner and client. In fact, Hilsenroth (2017) states in “The Introduction to the Special Issue on Psychotherapy Termination that “if the research on psychotherapy termination is limited, examinations of post-termination issues are virtually nonexistent.” By and large, this group seems to be one of the first of its kind represented in current relevant literature. However, given the immense self-fulfilling drive of intuitive therapeutic healing it is highly likely that groups such as the one delineated here exist in precious pockets throughout our field.

Hilsenroth. (2017). An Introduction to the Special Issue on Psychotherapy Termination. Psychotherapy (Chicago, Ill.), 54(1), 1–3. https://doi.org/10.1037/pst0000106

Lee, Wang, L., & Swift, J. K. (2021). Clients’ and counselors’ termination decisions and experiences in counseling. Current Psychology (New Brunswick, N.J.). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-021-01725-4

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