Emerge and Spread Your Wings

Cycle of Caring – Felt Separation

Sweet Farewell

This blog, the fourth in a series based on Skovholt’s Cycle of Caring explores the stage of concluding your active involvement with your client. The term felt separation is used to describe the step of completion. It acknowledges that when we engage in a therapeutic relationship with a client there is a level of disentanglement required to leave the relationship with them healthily.
A resilient practitioner gives attention to this step in order to maintain their own wellbeing, as well as successfully conclude the therapeutic process for the client.

In our fast-paced work lives, we begin and end many relationships with clients. This can take a toll if we are not deliberate in completing our involvement mentally as well as in practical steps such as a discharge process. Without effective disengagement (felt separation), we can begin to feel overwhelmed or worried about our client outside of our session. We find ourselves mulling over the less than satisfactory outcomes, and having difficulty moving on. We might find ourselves still stuck thinking about past clients while new clients pile up on our caseload adding to the overwhelm.

In their book, The Resilient Practitioner, Skovholt and Trotter Matheson adopt the analogy of a plane flight to explain their model Cycle of Caring. The pilot becomes the helping professional and the passenger is the client. If you remember a flight you have taken you will recall the pilot beginning by welcoming you aboard, introducing him or herself, describing the flight ahead, the landing conditions and what to expect (optimal attachment).

The pilot then begins the active involvement stage of flying the plane. When approaching the destination the pilot will announce that landing is imminent, describe the ground conditions, where to collect your bags and finally thank you for flying (felt separation). At the end of a successful flight, you depart the plane and continue on to your destination while the pilot has a rest prior to the next flight or goes home (re-creation).

How to create a safe landing?

  • Prepare the client ahead – from the start of the contact – by being clear about the process, your role and their role
  • Set clear professional boundaries with the client
  • Use the last session with the client to conclude and say goodbye and help the client prepare and plan for the next step
  • Create your own landing ritual – this is personal to you, but may include a farewell phrase of wishing them “all the best”, a final report, closing the file, a symbolic gesture of taking a walk, a deep breath, washing your hands or something similar.
  • Practical steps in a landing ritual might include switching off your work phone until the next workday, closing files on your computer and logging off, or symbolically “leaving work at work”
  • Use your supervision session to “debrief” any clients whose outcomes you are not satisfied with, are worried about, or can’t switch off from.

What if the landing is shakey?

It is not uncommon for clients to leave your care before the therapeutic process is over. This may be due to change in the client’s circumstances, DNA’s, ill-health or even death. In work roles that have a lot of what is termed “ambiguous loss” (for instance, mental health work) it is recognised that this unresolved ending can create a lot of stress and have an effect on staff wellbeing. If ambiguous loss is a feature of your work role it is important to factor this into your own self-care.

To successfully experience this felt separation stage we do not necessarily need the client to be present, as long as you find a way to conclude for yourself. A landing ritual that allows you to say farewell symbolically is a healthy way to end. Taking the time to recognise this stage and actively separate healthily is important to your resilience and wellbeing as a caring professional.

The final blog in this series will explore the last and equally important stage of re-creation. If you would like more support in creating a process to help you healthily switch off from clients contact me here.