Senses of Endings: "Time's Up" - Justin Lioi, LCSW - Brooklyn, NY

As I’ve been writing and reflecting on attachment lately, it makes sense to talk about endings. Specifically, ending a therapy session. Even if you haven’t been in therapy before, TV shows and movies like to highlight the end of a session. In a show it’s usually just when someone is really getting into something and the therapist’s, “Time’s up,” is meant to be a comedic moment.

I think about ending a therapy session as a little slice of all the other “good-bye’s” we’ve had to experience in our lives and good practice for the ones that are to come. Whether that’s the ultimate good-bye of a death or a less final farewell many people dodge endings. Many people go out of their way to not say good-bye.

If that’s you, I’m going to respectfully ask you to rethink that decision.

Hidden Feelings Make Themselves Known in Good-Bye’s

Think of people who leave before the final day or hour of some gathering. This could be in a job or a family event. Maybe a party where someone just ducks out without telling anyone–maybe there’s a text later that night or the next day, “Sorry–I had to jet. Thanks, for the invite.”

What does this accomplish? You avoid people who are upset that you’re leaving. If you’re naturally introverted you avoid having to make your presence known even more than it currently is. It’s also quicker. Still, I disagree with what is known through ethnic disparagement as the Irish Good-bye or the French Leave. Not because of rudeness, but because of relationships. (And staying with European monikers, an Italian Good-bye would be that you need to make sure you see and kiss every family member before you go anywhere. At least for my family gatherings. Maybe that’s the Sicilian Leave?)

In counseling, some of the deepest work comes as clients are getting ready to end treatment. Some people just don’t show up. One day, they’re just gone–but they really miss out by doing this. Those that take a good couple of weeks to talk about the ups and downs, the anger, the sadness, the excitement, and the relief of ending therapy–ending the therapeutic relationship–get in touch with some very deep stuff. Stuff they may have been avoiding for much of their treatment.

While ending a therapy session you get a small opportunity to be in contact with all the feelings that come up for larger endings.

You Can’t Escape the Feeling No Matter How Hard You Try

If you’ve had a loved one die you may know what this is like. The unexpected death is very different from the one where you get to say a final, “I love you” or “I’m sorry” or just a hug and kiss. It’s why just about every culture and religion has a final ritual to mark someone’s death. (I actually can’t think of one culture that doesn’t mark this–would be curious to hear otherwise if you know of any.)

Leaving a job, ending a school year, a breakup. These can be painful, they can be bittersweet, they can attempt to be avoided, but that feeling goes somewhere.

I think it’s important to say an actual, direct good-bye to someone. This isn’t just about “closure.” (Everyone talks about closure, right?) This is about acknowledging the relationship and that’s not always easy. Good relationships or bad.

People talk about ghosting in dating and the internet has made this so easy, right? Think of all the feelings that come up when someone you’ve been chatting with or went on a few dates with just…disappears. Sometimes even if you’re just lukewarm about them it can really get to you. Would it have killed the person to have sent a text like: “Thanks for chatting with me, but I don’t feel we’re the best fit.”

Phrase it how you want, but an acknowledgement can go a long way.

…Or Maybe Not?

Some people make this impossible, right? Some people never let you leave the party or let you get off the phone no matter how direct you are. I was a telemarketer some years ago. I learned never to say good-bye: you make a sale or they hang up on you. Some people in dating situations get that text above and reply, “But I don’t understand! We both love calico cats and composting…we’re perfect for each other! Please explain!” Basically, they try to say, “I’m going to take away your ability to end our relationship.” And we can guard against this by just disappearing. It makes sense. I’m not laying blame if you really sense that a particular person can’t handle it.

But it does rob us of some humanity every time we fail to acknowledge someone else’s.

Back to therapy and ending a therapy session. Guess what–there’s no better place to lay out all these feelings! Maybe you’re the person who writes that second text. Maybe you’re the one who always ghosts no matter who you’re with. Maybe you don’t want to deal with funerals, or getting on a jet plane so you leave her sleeping (you’re bags are packed…).

I’m not saying it’s a mental health disorder.

But our good-byes say a lot about us. When assessing children’s attachment styles we examine how they handle transitions, and transitions are always good-byes. They’re all about saying good-bye to one thing for another.

Some of us hate that.

So you may be missing some valuable therapeutic time if you don’t note and talk about what the end of a therapy session means to you. Each month (or so) I publish an essay on the Good Therapy website where I’m a Topic Expert and this month is about, you guessed it, Why ‘Time’s Up’ in Therapy Should Be Difficult to Hear. Let me know what you think!

And if anything here is making you consider further how you go through your days, good-bye’s and hello’s, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with me to talk further.

Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert based in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been providing counseling for men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.