Life Hacks for Therapists: Ending Sessions On Time

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Life Hacks for Therapists: Ending Sessions On Time

Let’s talk about a challenge many of us therapists face – ending therapy sessions on time. While it might seem like a small aspect of our practice, it’s a crucial professional development skill that impacts our career, client relationships, and personal well-being. 

So, let’s explore why it can be tough to end sessions on time, and some strategies to help you ace this part of being a therapist

Here are a few reasons why I believe we struggle with this as therapists: 

  1. Getting Invested in the Process

It’s only natural to become deeply invested in what’s happening in the therapy room. We care about our clients and their progress, and when they’re in the midst of a breakthrough or sharing something pivotal, it can feel almost impossible to bring the session to a close.

  1. The Late Bloomers

Often, it seems like we’re just getting to the heart of the matter as the session is about to end. It’s tempting to keep going, to dive deeper, but this can set a precedent that’s hard to break.

  1. The Guilt Factor

Then there’s the guilt attached to the financial aspects of therapy. We might feel compelled to give a little extra time, especially if we sense the client needs it. However, this can lead to a slippery slope of boundary issues and time management challenges.

  1. The Doorknob Moment

Ah yes, who among us hasn’t had that hand-on-the-doorknob moment with a client who drops a big bombshell right as a session is ending? Hey let’s get real: in reality, some of those bombs really do require some time and attention that will make us go over our time. And, some of those dramatic disclosures are more of a firecracker than a bomb. Develop your discernment and get some responses rehearsed. My favorite go-to is, “That sounds like something that will be very important for us to discuss next time. Let’s plan on it. See you next week!”

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Why Ending Therapy Sessions On Time Matters

Despite these challenges, we do need to find a way to set healthy boundaries with our clients (and our work), and end sessions at the agreed-upon time. It’s actually crucial not only for us, but for our clients. Here’s why:

  1. Building Trust with Clients

Ending therapy sessions on time is not just about keeping to a schedule; it’s about creating a trusting relationship with your clients. It shows that you respect their time and yours. It also demonstrates your ability to maintain professional boundaries, which is crucial for a safe therapeutic environment. Clients really need to know that we’re in charge of the situation and that we’re providing a strong container for them. Poor time management skills whiff of incompetence, and can bring your trustworthiness into question.

  1. The Domino Effect

And then there is this reality: Consistently going over time with one client can lead to being late for the next, damaging trust in that relationship and disrupting your schedule. It’s unfair to other clients who also deserve your punctuality and full attention.

  1. Guarding Against Burnout

One of the direct impacts of not ending sessions on time is increased risk of burnout, and that’s bad news, since therapists are already at a higher risk for burnout. Those precious minutes between sessions are vital for self-care — be it a quick bathroom break, a stretch, or a moment of stillness. They’re essential for recharging your batteries and maintaining your best self for each client, and for YOU. 

  1. Stopping On Time = Administrative Zen

I personally am a fan of concurrent notes so I don’t fall behind on paperwork. By the time my session is done, so are my notes, which helps me move forward mentally after a therapy client session. However, some clinicians really prefer to do paperwork between sessions. If that’s your jam AND you’re always going over, you’re inevitably going to fall behind on your administrative tasks. That is stressful! Your notes will also be half-baked, at best.

How to End Therapy Sessions On Time

So, how can you break a bad habit of going over, and start ending your therapy sessions on time? Here are my top tips: 

1. Set Clear Expectations: At the beginning of your therapeutic relationship, make it clear how long each session will last and then stick to it. This sets a precedent and creates a mutual understanding.

2. Use a Timer: Keep a clock or timer in view (but not in a way that distracts your client) to keep track of time. Some therapists find it helpful to set a subtle timer that signals when there are 5-10 minutes left.

3. Develop a Closing Routine: Create a routine for ending sessions, such as summarizing the key points discussed, setting goals for the next session, or a brief mindfulness exercise. This signals to the client that the session is wrapping up.

4. Practice Assertiveness: Be confident in asserting the end of the session. It’s part of your professional role to manage the time boundaries of your sessions.

5. Reflect on Your Own Feelings: If you find it hard to end sessions on time, reflect on what’s holding you back. Is it a fear of not doing enough? Guilt about fees? Understanding your own emotions can help you address them, which is a major personal growth opportunity for therapists.

6. Consider Your Environment

Finally, some work environments are more conducive to maintaining healthy boundaries than others. Being a part of a workplace that encourages and supports your limits, your need for self-care, and your duty to assert yourself with clients can make a huge difference. If you’re not in that kind of environment currently, it may be time to reconsider your options, and maybe even look into a group private practice opportunity within a community that shares your values. 

Ending Therapy Sessions On Time

Ending your therapy sessions on time is a skill that benefits both you and your clients. It demonstrates professionalism, respect, and healthy boundaries – all crucial elements of a successful therapeutic relationship. 

Remember, it’s not just about managing your schedule; ending your sessions on time is about providing a safe, structured space for your clients too. Here’s to timely endings and healthy boundaries!

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby 

P.S. — Are you at risk of therapist burnout? Take my free quiz and find out!

  • 00:00 Why Ending Therapy Sessions on Time Matters
  • 04:26 The Challenges of Ending Sessions on Time
  • 07:16 How Money Factors Into It
  • 09:35 The ‘Doorknob Moment’ and Managing Time
  • 13:28 Building Trust and Maintaining Professional Boundaries
  • 15:25 Preventing Burnout and Practicing Self-Care
  • 18:41 Managing Administrative Tasks and Minimizing Stress
  • 23:41 Strategies for Ending Sessions on Time
  • 26:26 Developing a Closing Routine
  • 27:25 Exploring Emotions and Seeking Support


Lisa Marie Bobby:

Today we need to have a heart to heart about a challenge that many of us face, which is ending sessions on time, ending our therapy sessions on time. This might seem like such a small aspect of our practice, an inconsequential thing. It is actually a crucial professional development skill that impacts so many things.

Um, our career, the way we feel, our client relationships, our personal well being. And it is a really, really common thing that many therapists struggle with. I have been known to struggle with this myself. So on today’s show, we are tackling why it can be so hard. It’s so hard to keep track of time during therapy sessions and end them on time.

And also we’re going to be talking about some real world strategies to help you ace this part of being a therapist and experience all the benefit from doing so. Cause there’s very real benefit here. So if this is your first time listening, hello, hello. I’m Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I’m the founder of growing self counseling and coaching.

Um, my background, I am a licensed psychologist. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. I am a certified coach. I’m also a clinical supervisor and have been for years. Um. And still to this day, see my own therapy clients. I work with supervisees who are developing and I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve worked with supervisees like, can you help me with this?

I feel like I’m always running a couple minutes over and it’s really impacting me. It’s impacting my clients. I need to get a handle on this. And I too, you know, have struggled with this. Even if I, Um, well, if, if I’m not really maintaining it and paying attention to it in a thoughtful way, I can easily book a solid day full of 45 minute appointments with a 15 minute break in between very reasonable.

Right. And in. Instead, wind up having 60 minute sessions back to back that I’m not getting paid for 60 minute sessions. Mind you, I’m still only getting paid for 45 minutes because of course, if we don’t, if it’s our fault that the sessions are going over, we can’t bill clients differently because we are failing to stop the sessions on time.

So there’s that, but also like it starts to impact me. Like, I get hungry. I like, I can’t concentrate because I have to go to the bathroom, but also to, I mean, you know, running late, like starting to be a couple of minutes late for every client because I am not ending my sessions on time. Like I’ve been in that place.

It’s snowballs. It’s not a good look for anybody. And it’s just something that needs to be dealt with and addressed. So, um, First, I want to normalize this. I mean, I, I think that it’s more the, the, the rule than the exception that a lot of therapists go over time. And my hypothesis, what I’ve You know, noticed in myself and other clinicians is that I think it has to do with the fact that we are Empathetic or compassionate or relational we care a lot And I think it’s really natural for us to become deeply invested in what’s happening in the therapy room Right, we care about their clients and You know, sometimes it can take a little while in a session for people to really get into the, the meat of what they need to be getting into.

Right. And especially when they are in those spaces, when it feels like they’re, you know, certainly in the midst of a breakthrough or connecting dots or like, you know, probably like getting something that feels very important. It, it almost feels. Impossible to be like, okay, and that’s our time and bring the session to a close.

Right. I don’t, I don’t know about you, but for me, because I am so invested in their growth and their work and they’re doing it, like, I, you know, I, I don’t want to disrupt the moment, like just a couple more minutes and then we’ll end. Or I think there’s a part of me that can even feel, um, I don’t know if squeamish is the right word, but I’m almost like it would, it would be uncaring to.

Um, and things in what feels like it is a premature ending, given where the clients are not a premature ending and where the actual session time is. Um, and so I think that that’s something that a lot of therapists struggle with. And so it can be. Tempting, I think, in these moments to keep going to dive deeper to ask one more question, but it’s also important for us to remember that when we do that, we are also setting a precedent that can be hard to break.

Like, if we see a client and a lot of times there are 45 minute sessions with us are 60 minutes, it can start to feel like an expectation. On their part, and I think it can also make it more difficult for us to set those boundaries. And I think it’s important to acknowledge what is happening. With clients, um, we’ll talk more about strategies for correcting that, but I also want to talk about another factor that can be this subconscious thing for a lot of therapists, many therapists, most, maybe all therapists can get a little weird when it comes to financial aspects of therapy, especially if we are doing self pay.

Full fee, self pay, financial aspects, talking about money, charging clients for our time, um, can have some stuff attached to it. Uh, we’re going to be doing a whole entire podcast on this topic of why money conversations with clients can be so weird. What is that about and how to, you know, work on that ourselves.

Particularly if there’s some imposter syndrome going on, if you, um, sometimes don’t feel confident in your worth as a clinician, or, you know, even if you have like your own personal money stuff, I mean, I’ve had to work through some of this almost feeling guilty about charging. Um, and I think that this is especially compounded because we are having relationships with our clients.

They’re professional relationships, but they’re real relationships and and for me, I mean, these relationships are defined very much by genuine love and care and so to have a component of a relationship where you’re being paid to spend a little bit of extra time with somebody that you care a lot about, and that you can see maybe that client does need a little bit of extra time today.

It can feel weird, but, but that then contributes to us going over consistently are not getting paid for it, not wanting to charge for it, um, and really contributes to some of these time management issues is if we feel guilty about what we’re being paid for our services to have a longer session for the same price can manage some of that anxiety.

Yeah. Then, of course, there is the classic, the doorknob moment, and you know, this is a real thing. It happens. I mean, who among us hasn’t had that, that client at the very end of their session, literal or metaphorical hand on the door? doorknob who’s like, Oh, I forgot to tell you. And it’s this big bombshell.

You’re like, wait, what? And so, you know, the reality is that some of these bombs really do require just a few minutes, even if of time and attention, and it will make us go over our time. And sometimes that’s part of the job, right? But in my experience, these truly dramatic disclosures, Typically more of like a firecracker than a bomb.

And so I think another piece of this professional development is to, um, work on our own discernment and get clarity for ourselves around, okay, what is something that is like, I need to attend to this, even if it means being late for my next session versus, um. What, what isn’t and developing some competencies for how to manage this when it comes up, maybe even rehearsing some responses to pull out in those moments.

And I do think actually knowing what you’re going to say and how you’re going to respond to some of these can really be very helpful when it comes to our ability to set those boundaries. So like one of my favorites go tos is, um, Something like, thank you so much for telling me that, that sounds like it’s something that will be really important for us to talk about next time.

Let’s plan on that. I’ll see you next week. Bye. Acknowledging it, that sounds really important. Let’s definitely talk about that. Gonna put it to the top of our agenda and we’ll focus on that next time. Thanks again for telling me. Even just a little response like that. You’re welcome. It’s protective. It creates a container for your clients.

It gives them a plan. They feel validated. We’re going to talk about this. This really was important. Lisa cares about me and our session is over. So it’s accomplished a number of different goals right there. So just having a few of those little things in your back pocket can be some strategies for for managing this.

And obviously, we’ll talk about some others. I do just want to highlight the fact that it can be easy for all of us again, myself included, to rationalize what we’re doing in the moment. It’s just a couple extra minutes. It’s fine. Giving them some extra time. Like, that’s the narrative. I’m giving them some extra time.

They’ll feel cared for can be part of it. Um, But what we don’t realize is how truly important it is to end our sessions on time and why that is. And I’m going to share some of these with you because part of correcting this inside of us and developing the kind of mindset that allows us to do things differently is really developing a different story.

So one of these. Developing and building trust with clients, I mean, because ending sessions on time, it is not just about keeping a schedule, right? It’s about creating trust. It shows that you respect their time and also your time. And it establishes your ability to maintain professional boundaries, which is crucial for a safe therapeutic environment is we are creating a container and clients really need to know that we are in charge.

We are providing a strong container for them, and that we are authority figures, and we become. Um, Authority figures that people can have confidence in when we are managing ourselves well, ourselves well, and the session. Well, so poor time management skills can whiff of incompetence. She was late to our session because she was with another client.

We only had a 45 minutes session scheduled. I know we did. We’re in minute 53. She’s still asking me questions, you know, kind of flattering. I’m glad she’s interested in me, but like, Isn’t she responsible for stopping the session on time? Yes. Yes, she is. And thank you for bringing that up, my dear client, because, you know, they’re not wrong.

Um, real leaders, authority figures, which gifted therapists are need to have strong boundaries, which involves setting limits. In healthy ways. And so, you know, maybe the old narrative was, Oh, I’m being nice. I’m being generous. I’m showing them how much I care about them. The new narrative is, Oh, maybe I don’t really look that competent, or maybe I’m not as trustworthy.

If I can’t set clear, firm boundaries, they need me to do that. That’s part of my job. So these are the kinds of mindsets that can help you have firmer, uh, a core, firmer core. And then of course, you know, and I have done this, I’ve had periods of my professional life where this has been a thing for me because I bought into that, like, Oh, I’m being nice narrative where it led to either, you know, me being late.

For my next session, like maybe, maybe a minute or two, but I’m also like finishing up notes. I’m also like, Oh, like, you know, I haven’t had anything to drink in five hours. Right. Um, and I’m not really fully present or my best self, even if I’m not that late, or even if I’m there right on time, just jumping from one thing to the next is not really fair to my next clients who deserve not just my punctuality, but also my full attention.

So that is another new narrative that I had to absorb is like, I’m not really doing anybody any favors by going back to back all day long. I’m also not doing myself any favors as we’ve talked on the show, uh, past episodes, and we will certainly again in the future. I mean, burnout is so real for us and for any helping profession.

But I think especially for therapists, because we are so deeply connected to the, when we’re doing a good job anyway, but to the emotional realities, like we’re in there with it, with clients in some ways, and we are vulnerable to burnout anyway. But one of the direct impacts of not ending sessions on time, particularly when we make it a habit, is that it increases our risk of burnout, and it’s because the minutes in between our sessions are precious.

They are vital for self care. Quick bathroom break, get a stretch, moment of stillness, finish a sentence, do a note. Eat a sandwich. I mean, it could be a lot of different things, but it’s this, like, this reset. It’s coming back into yourself for just a minute. And therapists have a hero complex, don’t we? It’s very easy for our narrative, To be, we’re strong, we’re tough, you know, food is for mortals.

It’s fine. Right? Like that’s the narrative. We are helpers. We can be very self sacrificial meeting that we prioritize other people. We give other people a little bit more time and ourselves less time because that is what we do, right? A caretaking personality. But to really understand how even five minutes to recharge your batteries to take.

A sip of your drink is maintaining your best self for your client, but also like, you know, this, this is not a sprint. This is a marathon and practicing self care. Taking care of ourselves is part of the job. It’s not. Like a negotiable thing to be in this career for 20, 30, 40 years requires active disciplined self care skills.

In the therapy room and out of the therapy room, we’re going to talk about that on another upcoming episode as well, like when you get real serious about self care, what does it look like? But if we are not doing that, this rapidly becomes an unsustainable profession. So I just wanted to say that out loud in case nobody else has ever said that out loud to you.

Um, although I hope they have, I hope that you have people in your corner, supervisors, mentors, colleagues who are like, stop already, um, because it’s so vital, I do also want to say, um, and validate the fact that there are certain professional environments that. are toxic. The system itself is toxic, meaning that in order for you to function in your role, like for you to meet your job description and see the clients that you’re required to see and do the things that you are required to do in terms of note taking, that the system itself is so broken.

It requires you pushing past reasonable limits, not taking breaks, working more hours than you should. Putting yourself into situations where you’re basically getting ground up into hamburger because of the system. Like if you had 10 or 15 minutes in between each client, you would actually get in trouble.

You would be put on a performance review because you weren’t doing your things. Or if you weren’t staying there 10 or 11 hours a day to get all the things done, your super would be like, what’s up? You’re not doing your notes. So I just wanted to say that out loud because that is a thing. I have also talked about this a bit on past podcasts, but I actually put together an assessment for therapists that helps you measure your different like risk factors that contribute to burnout versus wellness, right?

And environment can be a big one. So if you suspect that you might be in a toxic environment, Work environment. I invite you to take this assessment to get a little bit more clarity and understanding about what might be going on with that. And then also to get some recommendations for how to begin to protect yourself from a toxic work environment in that regard.

So to access that assessment, you can come to my website, it’s growing self. com forward slash therapists. And they’re actually, you’ll find all kinds of free resources, including, you know, podcasts and articles, but you’ll also find access to that assessment. That I just told you about, so another really important reason to set, uh, end your sessions on time is that, uh, one of the most important things I think that we can all do as therapists is to cultivate what I call administrative Zen, but, but really it means order.

Order, which is the opposite of chaos and as, um, we’ll be discussing on an additional podcast. I think that in being able to manage all of the different parts of this job is also a fundamental An important professional development growth area for many of us, but especially when it comes to things like paperwork, and especially if you’re an environment where you have to do a lot of paperwork, and this is just to be transparent, less about the paperwork itself.

It is about getting things done, but I think we’ve all experienced the. Mental stress, the weight, that like little bit of anxiety that comes into us mentally and emotionally when you know, you’re falling behind when you know, you have like 27 things on this to do list that you have to do, and it feels like you legitimately do not have time to do them.

It is this sort of subconscious. Stressor that can start to really impact us this low grade stress, especially if these administrative things start to snowball and snowball. So this can be emails, documentation, et cetera. Again, I am putting together a whole podcast on how to manage some of this chaos.

However, one of the easiest things that you can do to just kind of keep it at bay throughout your day is to have a few minutes between sessions, even if you write one email, respond to one thing or add one thing to your calendar in between every session. That’s, that’s one thing that just gets crossed off that list.

Finish up your notes. Do that little thing. And especially if you’re doing 45 minute sessions and you are sticking to those boundaries, you would be amazed at how much you can get accomplished in 15 minutes of focused focus. So, um, that is another, I think, really important reason to end sessions on time is to minimize your ambient stress.

So, so many good reasons for doing this. Now, let’s talk about strategies that we’ve all been waiting for. One of the things that has helped me correct this pattern with my clients is to set clear expectations, meaning at the very beginning of our therapeutic relationship, I’m making it clear how long each session will last.

And then I need to be setting and maintaining boundaries with myself, which means following through. But when I say it out loud to my client, that helps me set boundaries with myself because we have a mutual agreement. I will also say, and especially like with couples, if Every single session, like we are not even getting into stuff until, you know, the, the 30, 40 minute mark.

Um, I will have conversations with clients where I will just say, it feels like. We’re not able to do the work that we need to do in 45 minute sessions. How would you feel about scheduling a 60 minute session or even a 90 minute session with me? So because we’re just consistently going over and just have it be an agreed upon thing.

Uh, you may still be in a situation where now you’re doing a 60 minute session all the way up into the hour and jumping into the next thing. So you still don’t have a break. But at least there’s an agreement. There’s an understanding. You’re not violating their trust. You’re not being perceived as unprofessional or like you’re lacking self management skills.

And you’re also getting paid for your time, which is, you know, something. So anyway, I just wanted to offer that as a strategy. Um, I’ll also say, and this sounds very like basic, but to use a timer, uh, to actually have a little ding or a timer or a chime or something that is in view for everybody. Um, a time timer is an awesome company.

There’s like this little visual thing. You set the timer off to show you my time timer sometime, and it, you, you see a visual uh, countdown of how much time you have left. It does a little ding. Ding at the end. And, um, what I have found to be helpful, especially when I needed to do like some, um, remediation when I was getting into bad habits, setting a timer that goes off when I have like five minutes left or 10 minutes left of a session, because then it helps me and the client.

Remember time to start wrapping up so that we’re actually ending on time. That can be a helpful strategy. Also can be very helpful to develop a closing routine. This is something that I always do with my clients now, and I think it is really helpful on a lot of different levels, including client retention, to be completely honest with you.

But, um, when I am getting close to the end of a session, I start doing wrap up maneuvers. I’m going to say, so We’ve talked about so many things during our time together today. Here are the key points that we discussed. Uh, here are the goals that we talked about or a homework exercise for our next session.

What are the main takeaways that stood out to you from our time together today? What would you like to work on or accomplish between now and the next time we meet? And, you know, you can also hear my coach language in here. So as me, me doing coaching work, especially we’re talking about, so what are you going to do with us between sessions?

But to have that just little routine. I’m wrapping up mentally, my client is wrapping up mentally and it kind of like creates an off ramp for both of us for the session, particularly if it is a routine. Um, but I think too, what can be important to do here and what is. Always, I think a valid and legitimate topic for consultation groups for supervision, for mentorship, or for one on one professional consultation is to talk about the feelings that we might be having when it comes to ending our sessions on time, especially if you’re finding it hard, like, how are you actually mindfulness skills, um, Do some journaling around it, like what is the name of the emotion when you know it’s 45 minutes past the hour, you’re well aware of it.

And yet you ask another power question that you know is going to take another easily 10 minutes to kind of talk through what is going on about that. Is it fear or anxiety that you’re not Doing enough that your clients aren’t benefiting enough. Is it guilt about fees? Is it what is it? So understanding your own emotions and also your own mental narrative can really help you address this when you identify or like, that’s what it is, right?

But we all have blind spots and to be in a professional community where you can do that is such a gift. That’s why I mean, here at Growing Self, one of the pillars of our practice is, um, you know, we have home based groups, we have consultation groups, we have one on one peer support where there’s these dedicated spaces where clinicians are, um, not just have an opportunity, but I think because they’re facilitated, really being challenged in some ways to think about the What they’re doing with different aspects of their practice and kind of dig into their own stuff a little bit in the context of an emotionally safe and supportive group with people who get it and who have been there, but, but you’re, we, we cannot separate ourselves from any aspect of this career.

And you’d be amazed at how many self of therapist issues can come up with things that seem so small. Like ending sessions on time. So it’s worth exploration. So there you have it. I mean, ending sessions on time. It’s a skill. It is a skill and it’s also a growth opportunity, right? But it benefits you. It benefits your clients.

It demonstrates professionalism, respect, competence, all crucial aspects of a therapeutic relationship. But it also really sets you up for success. Success helps you manage stress, helps you take care of yourself and really helps you be well, both personally, but also professionally well for your clients.

Um, cause you know, this isn’t just about managing time and we are creating experiences for people. This is deep work for us as though, you know, investing in these little private practice micro skills, like ending sessions on time can really transform a lot of things related to your clients, how people feel with you, the kind of work that you’re doing.

And also safeguard your wellbeing and protect you from burnout. So here’s to you, your timely endings and your healthy boundaries. I hope that this conversation was helpful for you. I’ll be interested to hear if you have comments or if you have developed strategies over the years that work for you. When it comes to things like ending sessions on time, please share them with our community.

I’ll be doing posts about this topic on the socials, on LinkedIn, on other places. You can also leave comments on the blog post for this article. Come to growingself. com forward slash therapists and you’ll find the, uh, this podcast post, but join the conversation. Let’s have a community together, share your ideas and practices, and we’ll all be, be waiting to hear from you.

All right, my friend, take care. And I’ll talk to you soon.

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