What is the shadow of termination? The easy answer might be intake, or the introductory session, but the beginning of therapy is more the compliment to or opposite of therapy's end than its shadow. Considering Jung's popular metaphor for shadow, a person holding the candle of consciousness in front and the shadow falling behind, the question becomes: When the light of our conscious shines on termination, what is left in the dark places upon which our presence prevents light from falling?

     The fact that the shadow is created by the person carrying the candle, in our case the therapist, requires that any investigation into this shadow be subversive, radical, and challenging to anyone espousing too benevolent a fantasy about what therapy is about. The difficulty of examining shadow requires that the examining senses be like that of any nocturnal animal: highlighting movement, feeling heat, smelling fear, and leaving alone those things which are well established or ordinary so that attention can focus on the small furry critters which would hide in corners or scuttle further into the darkness.

     The process of termination is considered vital in the experience of therapy. Termination is studied in training programs and constantly entertained in supervision groups with therapists of all levels of experience. Termination is usually imagined as a gradual and intentional process occurring over a period of time when a therapeutic relationship approaches its end, and this end is usually imagined as occurring when a patient has reached a certain level of psychological understanding.

     In The practice of brief psychotherapy, S.L. Garfield remarks, "Just as all living things at some point must reach a natural termination, so must psychotherapy" (1989, p. 117). But, just as life may end at any moment, regardless of hopeful attempts at longevity or completion, so may therapy; and if the process of termination is vital to therapy, it must be attended to throughout the entire course of therapy, not just saved for the fantastic and magical future fantasy of a peaceful parting of ways.

     This parting of ways does serve as an image by which to view the continual process of termination, but by imagining that termination occurs only at the end therapy, the image of termination becomes literalized into an event. The literalized image becomes opaque, casting its shadow backwards over the entire course of the therapeutic relationship. This shadow manifests as inattention to the process of termination and keeps therapy in the dark with regards to termination's telos.
   R.D. Chessick's chapter "Goals and Termination" in the book, The technique and practice of intensive psychotherapy, provides both a solid summation of the popular fantasies of termination and a tapestry of images through which the shadow of termination manages to shine darkly. One such image occurs on page 323:

Thus, in the termination phase we must provide the patient with an opportunity to elaborate and work through the grief and mourning reaction in whatever intensity the patient will experience it. If there is not such a reaction, something has gone wrong, something is being repressed, or most likely we are terminating the patient prematurely. (Chessick, 1991, p. 323)

Lao Tzu's Wake

Lao Tan lay dead
Chin Shih attended the wake.
He let out three yells
And went home.

One of the disciples said:
"Were you not the Master's friend?"
"Certainly," he replied.
"Is it then sufficient for you
To mourn no better than you have just done?"

"In the beginning," said Chin Shih, "I thought
He was the greatest of men.
No longer! When I came to mourn
I found old men sobbing as though for their mother.
How did he bind them to himself so tight, if not
By words he should never have said
And tears he should never have wept?

"He weakened his true being
He laid on load upon Load of emotion, increased
The enormous reckoning:
He forgot the gift God had entrusted to him:
This the ancients called 'punishment
For neglecting the True Self.'

"The Master came at his right time
Into the world. When his time was up,
He left it again.
He who awaits his time, who submits
When his work is done,
In his life there is no room
For sorrow or rejoicing.
Here is how the ancients said all this
In four words:
                           'God cuts the thread.'

"We have seen a fire of sticks
Burn out. The fire now
Burns in some other place. Where?
Who knows? These brands
Are burnt out."

            -Chuang Tzu

     Chessick is saying that the patient is not ready for termination until he or she has developed such an attachment to the therapist and/or therapy that the patient must grieve and mourn the loss. By reading the passage backwards it can be further inferred that Chessick believes that a goal of therapy is the development of this sickly dependence.

     Remembering Garfield's parallel between termination and death, notice how different Chessick's self-inflating fantasy of over-endowed transference is from the view of Taoist poet and philosopher Chuang Tzu, as this exploration takes ChessickÕs own advise to look to philosophy, culture, and history to develop "the gift of (therapeutic) intuition" (p. 330). If the ghost of Chuang Tzu were spying on the history of Chessick"s terminations, he might repeat his words, "I found...young men sobbing as though for their mother. How did he bind them to himself so tight if not by words he should never have said and tears he should never have wept?" (Merton, 1965, p. 56). Where Chessick insists that the lack of mourning implies an incomplete therapeutic engagement, Chuang Tzu would say that the lack of mourning suggests a successful outcome.

     If the patient is not feeling desperately yoked to the therapeutic relationship, Chessick insists that there must be some repression (Chessick, 1991, p. 323), and, indeed, there is repression in Chessick's little fantasy, but not on the side of the patient. What is being repressed is Chessick's own desire to be depended upon, Chessick's own need for control, and the inflated and fixated unconscious identification with the "Great Mother" figure that Chessick's tradition, Object-relations, believes the therapist must engender for his or her clients (see Winnicot and especially Bollas).

     Chessick goes on to suggest that the patient's lack of grieving may be a defense against or denial of the patient's dependence on the relationship (p. 324). Chessick then quotes DeWald:

"Another frequent manifestation of resistance is the attempt to find a substitute object who will replace the therapist and thereby permit the patient to ward off [t]he impact of the loss as well as to perpetuate the transference wishes. This may involve such things as seeking out another therapist or physician, or falling [in] love, or making use of a spouse or a friend to serve as the therapist." (p. 324)

     Chessick unmistakably presents this quote as being evidence of a pathology on the part of the non-dependent patient, but instead of deducing that the patient is "making use" of a partner to replace the loss of the dear therapist, it might be imagined that the person is engaging psychologically with the partner as the person has been engaging psychologically with the therapist, and that one of the greatest goals of therapy might well be to allow the patient to engage psychologically with his environment in whatever context, not only in the consulting room.

     Chessick and DeWald are right, however, in believing there is a pathological fear of object loss in this scenario and that there are defenses being put up against this loss; but the fear is not one of a patient losing his mother-object, the therapist. The fear belongs to the therapist faced with the loss of a suckling-object, the patient, a necessary component in the therapist's fantasy of Great Motherhood. The therapist then defends against the anxiety surrounding this immanent loss through further self-inflating fantasies of clinical authority, professional detachment, and infantilization of the patient.

     Chessick's and DeWald's over-inflated therapeutic self-images entreat them to confuse the therapeutic relationship with the act of being psychological. If the therapeutic relationship is imagined as a relationship between two adults and psyche rather than a personal relationship between a hapless patient and an unaffected therapist, then DeWald's words seem unbelievably egotistical. The patient's move from engaging psyche only in the therapy room to engaging psyche in the world at large, a move that should be lauded as a mighty therapeutic success, is instead seen by DeWald simply as an attempt to "perpetuate the transference wishes" (Chessick, p. 324) These transference wishes belong to DeWald, however, not to the patient, and serve to support the therapistÕs dependence upon his or her own inflated self-image and infantile need for adoration.

     Unless the therapist wishes to keep the patient in therapy ad infinitum, a notion not outside the realm of possibility in the unconscious fantasies of the likes of Chessick and DeWald (see Chessick, p. 325), one of the goals of termination must be the development of the patient's ability to carry on psychological work outside of the therapy room, and this aspect of termination must be considered from the intake onward, not only during the final sessions of a long-term engagement. In other words, termination must be a goal of therapy. As much as Chessick and DeWald would attempt to deny this, in successful termination the patient may realize that the powerful transference-induced feelings for the therapist belong properly to psyche, not the person in the other chair. In the successful termination, these feelings will not disappear with the therapeutic relationship, but continue on into heretofore unknown areas of the person's life. As Chuang Tzu reminds:

We have seen a fire of sticks
Burn out. The fire now
Burns in some other place. Where?
Who knows? These brands
Are burnt out.


Chessick, R.D. (1991). The technique and practice of intensive psychotherapy.

Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson. Garfield, S.L. (1989). The practice of brief psychotherapy. New York: Pergamon.

Merton, T. (1965). The way of Chuang Tzu. New York: New Directions

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