My first therapist botched up our ending - but I learnt from it

Some years ago, my time with my first psychotherapist ended disastrously after 10 months. I had been feeling a little stuck for a few weeks and suggested to my therapist that perhaps I needed an ending or a break, so I could give myself some time to refresh. I won’t go into detail here, but my experience of her following this revelation left me feeling that she really didn’t take this suggestion well – and, as her client, I was shocked by some of her behaviour.

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I left what had become our final session, feeling certain that I wouldn’t go back; but that wasn’t the ending I had wanted. I had envisioned a few more sessions in which we reflect on our time together; where I was in the present vs 10 months earlier, and possibly plans for the future. But I left that session feeling that I no longer had a safe space to complete this process, to complete my ending – the experience had ruptured what we call the therapeutic alliance (the relationship between client and counsellor).

I spent some time processing this before deciding to return to personal therapy – with a different practitioner. Following our ill-fated last session, I initially felt, for the first time, that I had some insight into the people I had met in life who had told me vehemently that they hated counsellors and psychotherapists. I felt so strongly the realisation that just one bad experience could have the potential to put someone off for life; I felt fortunate that I knew psychotherapists in my personal life – who could encourage me to have faith in the therapeutic process, despite this experience. This catastrophic ending is also what planted the seed of inspiration for my own training as a counsellor; I came away feeling curious about what had happened, why it had happened - and why it had felt so awful.

This ending was my starting point with my new counsellor. There were other things I wanted to work on, but I knew I needed to work through the broken trust – and gain some kind of closure before I would feel safe to do this with someone new.


Learning from a bad ending

A few things I learnt from this bad ending:

Psychotherapists and counsellors are human – and fallible. My therapist screwed up with me; people screw up sometimes, it’s a part of life.

Bad endings (of all kinds) can teach us what is important to us – what we want, what we need, what we like, and what we don’t like. Reflecting on the uncomfortable stuff is a valuable way to learn and grow. It can help us to set important boundaries in future.

Bad endings can offer the opportunity for a new beginning - one of the most valuable ways to process a bad ending in therapy is with a new beginning. Being aware of my requirements for the therapeutic relationship as I started seeing my new counsellor, meant we could start building our relationship on the same page. I was able to let her know what I felt had failed last time around, and she was able to be aware of – and sensitive to – the impact of this experience on me, as we learnt how to work together.

Client autonomy is integral to the entire therapeutic experience - as a practitioner, I feel grateful to have learnt this first hand. Endings are important in counselling; counsellors talk a lot about being able to cultivate a ‘good’ ending for our clients. But we need to be aware that endings look different for everyone – and a ‘good’ ending for our clients, might not look the same as a ‘good’ ending for ourselves.

My experience of a bad ending in my own personal therapy has made me conscientious as a counsellor, of the need to preserve the benefit of the therapeutic work done. An important way to do this is to respect and honour our client’s needs when it comes to their ending (a bad ending can transform the whole experience, removing the client’s perception of value from the work done – a bad ending can taint the entire experience).

The therapeutic alliance with my first therapist just wasn’t solid enough to survive our ending rift. As a counsellor (and a client), I value the development of the relationship between counsellor and client beyond all else in therapeutic work.

This ending taught me the significance of trying to create a space for my clients in which they feel safe to communicate with authenticity, anything they need to – whether this be discussion of sensitive subjects or discussion of the therapeutic relationship/process itself.


Finding a therapist who is a 'good fit'

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to personal therapy. The psychotherapist I originally saw was, in retrospect, probably just not a good fit for me (I’m sure, as a seasoned practitioner, that she has had many success stories with other clients).

Compatibility is key in personal therapy. Tune in to how you feel with your counsellor/psychotherapist – and remember you have no obligation to stay with someone if it doesn’t feel right, there are plenty of fish in the sea!

As with bad endings in life, you can overcome a bad ending in counselling – try not to let a negative experience put you off altogether. In our first sessions, I always ask my clients about any previous experiences of counselling they’ve had; it can be a valuable way for me to learn what works for them, and what doesn’t – and can help to build the foundations of how we’ll work together. Bring your previous experiences, fears and expectations to your first session with a new counsellor – and together you can build a counselling experience that works for you.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Ashford, Kent, TN23
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Written by Emma Faulkner, (She/her), BA(Hons), Dip. Couns, MNCS (Accred), MBACP
Ashford, Kent, TN23

Emma is an integrative counsellor in Ashford, Kent. She works holistically, with a Humanistic philosophy, and offers sessions in-person (in Ashford), online via zoom, and via phone.

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