Endings: how to help them work

Beginning at the end

This web site has been going for some time. It’s changed shape over the years. I hope it has become a useful ‘guide’ for clients who see me in person and on Zoom.

Now it is time to look ahead – and not simply to describe a number of actions that have worked for people in the past and present. An obvious forward-looking issue is the fact that therapy has to end.

True, some people have spent many years engaged in therapy, but it’s not been my preferred way of working. I want people to discover when and how to let go of the work we are doing.

How and when to let go

Working out when to let go raises the issue of evidence for me once more. Endings involve gathering ‘evidence’. I touch on this elsewhere, but the issue is a little different here – we are assessing our readiness to end something important in our lives.

Here is where my past careers in The Probation Service and Child Protection might come in handy!

In the Criminal Courts, where important and life-changing decisions were being made, I heard talk of beyond reasonable doubt, but there is a ‘test’ even stronger than that, namely:

Beyond doubt

…. perhaps the highest standard of judgement.  It is not likely that you can finish therapy confident to this standard; no-one knows what tomorrow  will bring. Relying on this standard rather assumes that there are catastrophic outcomes if we come to the wrong conclusion. This may have been so when capital punishment was used in this country. 

This standard assumes there can be no room for error whatsoever. This is not a reasonable standard to apply when assessing the outcomes of therapy.

Beyond Reasonable doubt

This is the usual criminal standard. This assumes that mistakes have to be minimised.  This standard fits fine when I am liable to be punished for my actions. Indeed, it is standard that seems to be applied by some therapists and clients; not to mention researchers. 

The implied view is that mistakes are ‘bad’ things – things to be avoided, to be legislated against and ironed out of the system where-ever possible. I do not think this is a reasonable standard to apply in the work I do.  Most often, there is always a back door – a something else to be done – that make reasonable doubt too demanding.

More importantly, to me, it shows an attitude of mind that misunderstands the aim of good therapy where, often,  our judgements depend on:

A balance of probabilities

This is the standard adapted in civil courts. It is a helpful standard where consequences are contained, or less severe, e .g. where financial penalties are imposed, or a loss of reputation is likely – as in libel or slander cases.

The standard can apply when it is difficult to discern the truth.  This is often the case in Family Courts where difficult decisions are being considered about the care and protection of children. Solomon had this problem when faced with two women claiming parentage of one baby (at a time when DNA samples could not be taken!).  He simply had to choose. He found in favour of the woman who was prepared to give up the child when the only alternative on offer involved harm to the child.

So, here we are getting close to the arena of therapy; an area where truth, whatever that is,  can get in the way! It is too often sought, but can prove to be a diversion from other, rather more important things. Remember, if you can recall, how easy it is to seek a ‘reason’ or a ’cause’ for the problems in life.

Effective therapy, at the end of the day, is less concerned with cause or reason, and more with outcome; that is, what happened.

To help with such conundrums there is an even lower standard of evidence:  one too often overlooked. It arises:

When the probabilities are not balanced but shift and change?

When my own judgement comes and goes, does it really matter? Small victories and small defeats can tumble in one upon another. A safe experiment can have a different outcome, at different times. A small victory can become a small defeat years after as this extract from the Scenic Route highlights.

Fortunately, small defeats can take on features of a small victory in later life. That has been my experience! That’s pretty usual. So what do we do when we mis-assess the situation?

This is the real ‘problem’ area as far as I am are concerned.

If we are the only ones to suffer from a small defeat, then we could take it on the chin. However, often there are others involved; for example, there is the gambler who loses more than they can afford, and they have families. Getting it ‘wrong’ is often defined by others – our nearest and dearest. What happens then – when different people are going in different directions, or on different journeys?

There will be conflicts of interest.

For me, the key question that stays with us until we die is: what might I do differently tomorrow? In due time, we may well find ways to take into account the views and wishes of others around us. It is not compulsory, only desirable

A ‘final’ judgment?

In short, for me, when it comes to ‘endings’, strong judgements of right and wrong can be unhelpful. The key tests are:

  • do I know what I set out to achieve with the support of therapy?
  • am I am able to notice the ‘results’ of my work and make a ‘good enough’ assessment of the balance of small victories and small defeats?
  • what changes did I make to my life, and what emerged from those changes?
  • have I learned enough about designing and practising safe experiments to proceed further without much extra support – certainly professional support.
  • am I growing in confidence so I can continue to spot the small victories and small defeats, and knowing the difference between the two?
  • How good are my Plan B’s used to the face small defeats? Do I notice the thing I could do differently next time around?
  • What  about the people around me – not just professionals? How much am I able to engage other people to work with me?

As long as the answer is yeeeeessssss, possibly, then ending therapy may well work. You can always go back.

The Ripple Effect

Any ending can still include options about the future, where unforeseen outcome will lurk. The illustration of The Ripple Effect is intended to demonstrate how we can continue safe experiments long after any professional consultations have finished.

In the event of this …. what can we do?

To paraphrase war-time Churchill, there are endings; there are beginnings of endings, and there are ends of the beginning!!

Which will it be for you? I ask, as it is often thought that finishing therapy is an end; a digital, once-and-for-all end. In many cases, however, it can simply be the end of the beginning.

It’s OK to take time out behind our new Window of Tolerance (WOT) or to move on quickly when there is more to be done, but without a therapist on hand. It’s just possible that lawyers, priests or accountants take on a new importance!

If you have reached an ‘ending’ using this website, you may want to raise questions about your new beginning. If this process raises a query, or if you want to tell me about how you managed a particular change, would you be willing to share it on an anonymous basis?

You could help me sustain with this link below by adding your own safe experiment. No names are used, of course!

Here is a contact form to tell me about your experiments and your results.

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…. hmm …. or AN END?

….. maybe just ONE END

…. seems like PART of an END?


What does yours look like?

Further leads towards another ending

What is a nudge?

Some helpful ways to change things in your life

Robin’s Way

Using SMART objectives

Recording progress

What pathway might help?