I was talking to another counselor last week about clients leaving therapy and how sometimes clients graduate and the two of you are happy together and celebrate her accomplishments and it’s great. And then sometimes they choose to leave by no showing on an appointment and not returning your call about rescheduling.
I don’t like it but I get it. When I was a teenager and hunting for my own “change my life” therapist I tried a couple of counselors who really didn’t work for me and I told them so by disappearing. I couldn’t imagine actually telling them with my actual voice that I wasn’t coming back. For one thing, it would be embarrassing. For another thing, what would it help? What if they tried to talk me out of it? What if they acted sad or hurt or angry? I didn’t call and I ducked their messages because it just felt way too scary to face them when I’d already decided to walk away.
Obviously, I get why some of my clients do that, too.
I can usually tell if my client is at risk of not coming back. After a particularly good (i.e., hard) session, I know there’s a chance that a client will realize she wasn’t ready to go so deep. I try to let her know that this might happen — at the end of the session I’ll talk about possible residual effects from working so hard.
Or if my client has a lot of barriers to coming in (unpredictable job schedule, demanding kids, etc.) I know that counseling may not fit into her life right now. I try to talk about that, too, and discuss creating a schedule that may work better rather than the traditional once a week at the same time every week.
And then there are some times when we just don’t click, the client is looking for a therapist with a different kind of expertise or a different couch-side manner or whatever. I can tell when that’s happening, too. If a client is phoning it in at the very first session then I know there’s very little chance of her coming for a second visit.
In all three cases I’d rather they called instead of no-showing because we might be able to address their concerns.
If the session was too heavy then we can dial back for awhile (and I notice that often sessions happen that way naturally — big epiphany and then a breather for a session or two) or we can talk about post-session planning so that she won’t be overwhelmed.
If her life is too crazy-busy, we can talk about changing our schedule around or pick a time somewhere in the future where we’ll check in again to see if things have opened up at all.
If she simply doesn’t click with me, I can find out what she’s looking for and give her some referrals. That’s totally ok by me. Recently I met with a client who wanted a therapist who does energy work, which I don’t do. I happily sent her off with referrals to other counselors because I have no desire to take money from someone who would be happier working with someone else. Truly.
I think this is true of most counselors (at least the counselors I know). If you don’t want to come back and don’t want to tell them why, I get it. I’ve been there and I’ve done that. But if you are able to talk to them, give it a go. You might get some support or some changes or help heading in another direction.
It’s worth a try.