I have this fantasy every year that my students I counsel in the schools all suddenly become self-actualized on June 15th or so. On the last day of school, they all finally “get it” and together, we magically get to tie the bow on the therapy box together. Off they go, with their newly developed coping skills in their therapy box, always readily accessible for their summer plans and the next school year.
This is a fantasy.
Last year, I thought I made a breakthrough with a girl who was cutting herself. We had a beautiful session together in May in which she proudly admitted she didn’t need to cut anymore. I started imagining her perfect therapy box tied up with a neat little ribbon. Oh, and then she ran away from home and I never saw or heard from her again. Around that same time, I had a boy leave a beautiful reflective session with me at the end of the year only to hear he punched out a kid the same day.
This year, around January, I had a breakthrough with one of my boys I’m trying to keep out of a gang, and then lo and behold, today, he was back to the mentality he had when I met him.
My final hope for a tidy end to therapy is a girl I work with who has basically refused to talk to me about anything remotely related to feelings all year. As in:
Me: How was your weekend?
Me: How would you like to spend our time together today?
Me: Perhaps you would like to pick something from this menu of activities?
Me: We can sit here in silence if you would prefer. I’m okay with that too.
AAAAAAAAAARRG. She finally opened up around February and we have been getting into some pretty serious conversations together. Ah, I can envision the therapy bow neatly wrapping up the….screeeeeeeeeeech…(record scratches). And we’re back to square one today and she is radio silent again.
Fortunately, I have enough experience to know that the resurgence of the issues that originally brought the student to counseling at the end of the school year is a common process. As kids anticipate the “end” or “termination” of the school year and the therapeutic relationship, they begin to present the original symptoms. It’s as if to say, “See? I still need you.” Then there are others who have difficulties with transitions and goodbyes, and want to be in control of the situation, so they push back against my efforts. It’s as if to say, “Hey! You can’t fire me, I quit you!”
These “termination issues” are challenging if you don’t realize they are coming. They happen sometimes on the classroom level as well. And not to be a Me-Monster, but check out this article about how to help kids with the last days of school.
And for the record, yes, therapists can experience termination issues too. I am already missing my students. But I won’t be acting out…I promise.