When we start Play & Creative Arts Therapy we are always working our way towards an inevitable ending and goodbye. It could be argued that the ending of therapy is one of the most important parts of the process.
We like to give children at least 6 weeks’ notice before ending therapy, certainly no less than 4 sessions. You might be thinking that’s a long time, but for children it is necessary to give them as much warning as possible. This is so they can learn to regulate and prepare for the goodbye, which may be experienced as a loss depending on the child’s experiences and the circumstances surrounding the ending.
Many children, and adults, have had bad experiences of endings. Perhaps a parent has left the family home, or a bereavement meant that there was no proper goodbye.
In therapy, we role model what good and healthy endings look like. This means that we give warning, we give time for the ending to come and we honour it when it arrives. Ending can be perceived as a rejection by a child and therefore we want to soften and minimize any risk or damage this might cause emotionally. Abrupt endings without a proper goodbye can be internalised by the child as a rejection because of something they may have done, or because they are ‘bad’ or ‘unwanted’. We need to be particularly mindful of this with children who have experienced previous traumatic or difficult endings in relationships.
To prepare children for endings we always use a countdown of sessions. This means that each week we will complete some form of countdown chart, whether it be a tick chart or a sticker chart, it provides a visual queue for children to see how many sessions they have left and work towards the end. We usually work to school terms where we can, as the natural breaks that come with holidays provide a good time for therapy to end. This is important for children as it helps them to put time into an understandable context.
When endings are handled sensitively and planned at the right time, it can provide the child with a positive experience of a secure relationship which has run its course, with two people who will always remember each other and where the ending has happened on mutual terms.
When endings are not handled appropriately, are abrupt or unplanned, it can cause children emotional turmoil which is counterproductive considering the children are accessing therapy to help with their emotions and behaviours.
In every instance, we do our absolute best to prepare children to end therapy to support their ongoing healthy emotional development. Schools sign agreements with Clear Sky to give a minimum of 6 weeks’ notice to any endings in therapy to support this process.