When is it time to end treatment? Next up in our tour of the ASWB exam content outline: The indicators of client/client system readiness for termination. Let's dig in and then see how this material may look on the social work licensing exam.


There's perhaps more art than science in assessing readiness for termination. Has the client has achieved their goals and are they equipped to navigate their challenges independently or with reduced support? Here are some indicators that suggest a client (or client system) is ready for termination:

  • Achievement of Goals: The client has accomplished the goals that were set at the beginning of the intervention (eg, reduced symptoms, improved coping skills, better communication, or specific behavioral changes).

  • Stability: The client demonstrates stability in managing their emotions, behaviors, or circumstances. They have developed effective coping mechanisms and are better equipped to handle challenges that arise in their lives.

  • Increased Self-Reliance: The client shows signs of increased independence and self-reliance in addressing their problems. They have developed problem-solving skills and are less dependent on the social worker for guidance and support.

  • Insight and Awareness: The client demonstrates a deeper understanding of their issues, patterns, and triggers. They can identify and reflect on their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, which indicates readiness to maintain progress independently.

  • Established Support System: The client has established a reliable support system outside of the therapeutic relationship. This may include friends, family members, support groups, or other community resources that can provide ongoing support and encouragement.

  • Positive Termination Goals: The client expresses readiness and willingness to terminate the therapeutic relationship in a positive manner. They understand the purpose of termination and are prepared to apply the skills and insights gained from therapy to their everyday life.

  • Acceptance of Closure: The client demonstrates acceptance and readiness for closure of the therapeutic relationship. They understand that therapy is coming to an end and feel confident in their ability to continue their journey without ongoing professional support.

  • Consistent Progress: The client has consistently shown progress and improvement throughout the therapeutic process. They have demonstrated resilience and commitment to change, which suggests they are ready to transition to the next phase of their journey.

It's important for social workers to assess these indicators carefully and collaboratively with the client to ensure that termination occurs at the most appropriate time, considering the client's readiness and ongoing needs. Additionally, termination should be discussed openly and planned collaboratively to facilitate a smooth transition and minimize the risk of relapse or setbacks.

Termination in the Code of Ethics

The NASW Code of Ethics provides guidance on the question of when and how to terminate. ASWB exam questions are most likely to draw directly from this text from the Code:

1.17 Termination of Services
(a) Social workers should terminate services to clients and professional relationships with them when such services and relationships are no longer required or no longer serve the clients’ needs or interests.
(b) Social workers should take reasonable steps to avoid abandoning clients who are still in need of services. Social workers should withdraw services precipitously only under unusual circumstances, giving careful consideration to all factors in the situation and taking care to minimize possible adverse effects. Social workers should assist in making appropriate arrangements for continuation of services when necessary.
(c) Social workers in fee-for-service settings may terminate services to clients who are not paying an overdue balance if the financial contractual arrangements have been made clear to the client, if the client does not pose an imminent danger to self or others, and if the clinical and other consequences of the current nonpayment have been addressed and discussed with the client.
(d) Social workers should not terminate services to pursue a social, financial, or sexual relationship with a client.
(e) Social workers who anticipate the termination or interruption of services to clients should notify clients promptly and seek the transfer, referral, or continuation of services in relation to the clients’ needs and preferences.
(f) Social workers who are leaving an employment setting should inform clients of appropriate options for the continuation of services and of the benefits and risks of the options.

On the Exam

ASWB exam questions about termination may look something like this:

  • Which of the following is an indicator that a client is ready for termination in social work practice?
  • Which of the following statements best reflects the role of the social worker in the termination process?
  • Which of the following is a potential risk if termination occurs prematurely?

Or maybe something more involved, along these lines:

  • A social worker has been providing counseling services to a client for several months. The client has missed multiple appointments and has not been compliant with the agreed-upon treatment plan. Frustrated with the lack of progress, the social worker decides to terminate the therapeutic relationship without attempting to address the client's non-compliance or explore alternative approaches. Which ethical principle is the social worker violating?

If the offered choices were Self-Determination, Informed Consent, Commitment to Clients, and Cultural Competence, which would you choose? We'd strike Cultural Competence and Commitment to Clients as unspecific. Informed Consent doesn't really apply here (that's a pre-treatment principle). That leaves one good-enough answer: Client self-determination, which, though it only sort-of applies, is the best of the offered answers here.

Get questions about termination and lots more when you sign up for Social Work Test Prep's full-length practice tests. The sooner you pass the exam, the sooner you can terminate the entire exam-prep process!

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April 8, 2024
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