A 4 Step Guide to Successfully Terminating Individual and Group Counseling Sessions

Goodbyes are never easy and yet, it is important to remember that one of the main goals in counseling is to support our clients for a specific amount of time, helping them develop the necessary skills needed to navigate and better maneuver their lives independently when the time for termination comes.

That said, being their school counselor and most likely the one person they feel safest and most vulnerable with at school, it might not be the easiest for some of these littles to say goodbye to you. Therefore, the responsibility is on us as counselors to ensure the termination process is well-planned, not abrupt, won’t cause our students distress, and most importantly is something that can be perceived as a celebration of sorts.

Wondering how to go about successfully and memorably terminating counseling sessions with individuals and groups that you've been seeing? Here's a guide that will aid you:

1. Prepare your students explicitly and intentionally

Providing closure is absolutely essential when it comes to terminating counseling sessions, whether with groups or with individual students you're seeing. Since most of the students on your caseload are ones you've been meeting with regularly and have built a relationship with for a 6-8 weeks, it is important that sessions with them come to a proper end, where your student understands what termination is and implies. Also, allot ample time for termination. Don't leave this for your last session together. At least a month in advance, start talking about termination with them, so that when the time comes, they are more prepared to say goodbye without feeling helpless or hopeless.

You could prepare them by using a progress tracker or visual schedule. Students benefit from visual expectations. When students can see what's coming next they can better prepare. In the past, with small groups, I've used a visual progress tracker to show them how many sessions are left. It can be as simple as a piece of paper with stickers or as complex as a velcro system to add on different pieces to form a shape (ice cream cone, flower petals, etc).

Try to design a progress tracker that goes with your group theme or a common interest of the group members. You can use this same method with individual students too! When students can see how many sessions they have left, they can anticipate when the last session will be so they are more prepared to say goodbye.

2. Support them as they build their toolbox

With termination comes the responsibility of ensuring that your students are equipped with the necessary skills, strategies, and support to better manage the concerns they were referred to for counseling. You could help them create a safety plan or even help them build a coping toolbox.

You could throw in crayons, zentangle coloring sheets, stress balls, fidget toys, and any other items that would enable your students to calm down when they are dysregulated at home. The safety plan booklet could contain details or even pictures of who the student can go to for help once counseling sessions end.

3. Plan a memorable last session

The last counseling session is almost always bitter-sweet. To make it memorable, make sure to undertake a couple of special closing activities that you think would leave a lasting impact on your students. Activities you could incorporate during termination could include:

  • Words of Kindness Posters: This activity is perfect for a small group. All you need to do is have each student write their name in the middle of a large sheet of construction paper or on a sheet from a flip book. Then everyone in the group walks around and writes kind words or messages on each person's paper! Encourage students to write meaningful sentences and not generic statements.

  • Craft-ivities: Making goodbye cards or even peace bracelets together is both therapeutic and works as a keepsake once counseling sessions have come to a close. Putting together a memory book is also a fantastic idea.

  • Journal Reflections: For students in third grade and above it would be good for them to process their counseling experience through journaling. Have your students spend some time writing what they learned from the group or individual sessions, how they've changed, what they want to continue to work on, etc. You may be surprised at how detailed and insightful these reflections can be.

4. Throw a celebration!

counseling celebration

What I love most about termination is that it is a celebration of how far your student/s have come. A celebration, according to me, calls for a party! It might take a little more time and effort to plan considering the number of individual students and groups you're seeing, but the kids are sure to love and appreciate it.

I've planned drop-in parties over two days. I would just email teachers and ask them to send their students to my office for 15-20 min during a particular time slot. This would be a good option for celebrating your Tier 3 students. With small groups, it would be easier to host a party at their normal scheduled time.

Bring in snacks, play some upbeat music, and bring out some board games. You could even sneak in some Counseling Board Games. Discussion Cards are a great way to get the conversation started. I also like to give out certificates. They can be completion/graduation certificates or just fun ones.

While you celebrate the progress your kiddos have made, don't forget to celebrate you! Make sure to treat yourself for all of the hard work you've put in and for the lives you've changed in your own special way!

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