My therapist abruptly ended our relationship and switched jobs within the same Counseling Organization. I am not allowed any contact with her. I am having an extremely difficult time adjusting to her abandonment. Started seeing a new therapist she referred me to but just can not let go of my feelings and the pain I feel for my former therapist. No one understands. It feels like she has died and I am being punished by not being able to have some sort of contact with her. At one point my new therapist let me send my former therapist a card and a short note which my former therapist responded by saying it would be okay for me to have a limited contact but at least some contact and three months later I wrote her a letter. Recently I ran into her coming out of my therapy session. I felt surprised and didn't want to let myself feel anything but deep inside I was thrilled to see her but I was not aware of my feelings at that moment. After saying goodbye and I drove away seeing her just reawakened my feelings for her and the pain of the lost feels even deeper. She asked me something when I saw her that I did not answer honestly and felt a strong urge inside to get a message to her but I waited until I felt there was enough time from when I sent her the last letter. When I did finally write that letter and a poem and emailed it to my therapist to send she refused to send it. My reaction was extremely painful and I began feeling deeply depressed and suicidal. Now being denied contact is making me feel like I am being punished for loving my former therapist. When I talked to my psychiatrist about this she felt i should never be able to have any contact at all with my former therapist. Today my new therapist thought that was a bit extreme but we still need to talk about what is okay. I do not think of my former therapist as anything more than someone I would like to become friend with someday. She feels the same way. We had rwo sessions after I found out she was leaving. One was for a half hour and the last one was for an hour and we were suppose to have one more one hour session but it was cancelled on during our last session. I am a writer and I am working on a manuscript that is about the therapeutic relationship I had with my former therapist. I have been working on it since 2009. Her leaving was a sudden surprise for both of us. We had an amazing therapy relationship with many connections and interests that could have exceeded beyond therapy but we never broke the boundaries of the therapy. We left our last session with the belief that some day we could be friends in real life and on Facebook. I do not know what to do with the situation that has developed. Because of the Ethical Code we can not seek out a friendship until the end of 2013. This is driving me into a state of madness and frustration. I feel like I am being punished for something that I have never done. I do not understand rules on a purely subjective level. It makes us both happy to see the other and before the refusal to send my letter I was working very well with my new therapist. My former therapist was not an interference but denying me any contact with her is very disruptive. If you choose this question I hope you can explain what to do in this situation. The emotional reaction to this dilemma has made me driven to be more creative but I would be very happy to be less creative if I could just make contact in a minimalistic way. Just knowing that I haven't lost her would help diminish the feelings of loss and grief that I feel after having so much contact with her for so many year in such an intimate therapeutic relationship. I just want to feel connected and not just in my mind. - Lost & Lonely
First I want to acknowledge how deeply hurt you have been by the sudden end to what was a very meaningful relationship. Very understandably, you are grieving this loss. I believe that much of the healing and change that occurs in psychotherapy comes directly from the relationship that develops between the therapist and the client. Ideally, the end of psychotherapy is marked with a phase of the work that is devoted specifically to termination. This is a time to explore the very real and complicated emotions that develop around the ending of a very unique and powerful relationship and make peace with its conclusion. It sounds like this work was beginning, as you mentioned having two sessions after the change in your therapist’s position was announced. You also mention that a final session was scheduled, but ultimately canceled and never rescheduled. To me, this suggests the possibility that the termination process was interrupted, and therefore, not worked through completely. Even if it had been completed, I’m sure it would still be very difficult for you, but I wonder if a final session might have allowed you a sense of closure. Unfortunately, the final session did not occur and asking for it now, might be impossible within the structure of the clinic; not to mention, that at this point, it could do more harm than good by allowing you to reenter the relationship, only to have it taken away again. So where do you go from here?
First I would suggest working with your current therapist on the very real and legitimate feelings of grief and loss you are experiencing around the end of your work with your former therapist. Working with clients on their feelings of loss of a previous therapist can be challenging, as it may cause therapists to question their own value to the client. However, experienced and well trained therapists will be able to view this as an opportunity to help a client through a painful loss and also as a means of exploring what was and wasn’t helpful in the previous therapeutic relationship. Although, I believe this will be an important part of your healing, I would caution you not to allow this to become the central focus of therapy for the long term, as it might result in avoiding the issues that brought you to therapy in the first place. This may be more comfortable in the short term, but it won’t allow for the rich growth that can come from therapy in the long term.
I would also encourage you to openly explore, both in therapy and independently, the idea of becoming friends with your therapist. As mentioned above, the therapeutic relationship is a very unique one. Part of its uniqueness is rooted in the fact that it is almost exclusively focused on one person – the client. Even in therapeutic modalities that draw strength from the humanness of the therapist and from the relationship between therapist and client, often the majority of what is revealed about the therapist is how he/she experiences the client. This contributes to a significant imbalance of power in the relationship, which therefore, leads to questions about whether or not a true and equitable friendship could ever really occur.
The power imbalance that occurs in therapy between the therapist and the client is something therapists often don’t like to acknowledge. Most therapists don’t see themselves as authority figures – we are helpers and most of us probably see ourselves as partnering with clients on their journey, not as authority figures. However we want to view ourselves, we are the professionals with the training and expertise in psychotherapy and this makes us the authority figure in the relationship. Clients often present for therapy at a point in time when they are overcome with pain and suffering. As they enter into the therapeutic relationship and feel connected to a professional who is empathic and non-judgmental, they feel understood and cared for on a deep level, sometimes for the first time. They also believe that their therapists can help them in a way that no one else has been able to. Certainly this gives a tremendous amount of power to therapists and leads clients to idealize them and, in rare cases, view them as almost God-like.
It is important to acknowledge that at the end of the day, therapists are just regular people – people who have flaws and bad habits; people who argue with their partners; people who have difficult family relationships. The way you see your therapist in sessions is quite likely his/her very best self and let’s face it no one can be their very best self all the time. So, if you did become friends with your therapist, you would get them as a full and complete person – the good and the bad. Consider what that would be like. You might argue with one another, you might learn things about her that you hate, you might have very little in common.
Finally, a more practical piece of the puzzle comes to mind that I feel I would be remiss without addressing. I wonder if it is making it more difficult to move past this loss because you are going to the same clinic (and even bumping into your former therapist from time to time) where you worked with your former therapist for so many years. I don’t know how long you have been working with your current therapist, or how you feel about the work you two are doing. I also don’t know what the resources are in the community where you live, but it might be worth exploring a change of venue. Before making any decisions on this, engage in an open exploration of this with your therapist.
Thank you for writing and I hope you experience some peace and healing around this loss in the not too distant future.