After four years of intense therapy, my therapist decided to quit the profession. She was an intern at the time and just decided to do something else instead of continuing to pursue obtaining her license. I know that this wasn't a decision she made lightly. I had become very attached. I was very deep in all sorts of transference I'm sure I don't even understand. Let's just say I felt very much in love with her. The way I felt seen and attended to had a tremendous effect on me. I know it was me "doing the work" with her support, but it still felt like all of the good I started accomplishing in my life and bringing to my life was because of her. While I worked with her, I ended a marriage where my needs were not being met, changed jobs - finding and landing exactly what I wanted, and started to face and combat an incredible amount of shame I had been holding onto around my gender identity. Then she left me. And that's what it felt like/feels like. It's been over six months and I don't think I have even begun to recover. Everything feels undone. She is just gone, taking with her all of the secrets and intimate feelings I shared with her... She identified another therapist for me before she left. And of course after four years, knew me more than anyone ever has in my life so I think she picked someone really great for me. I don't really know how well they know each other - maybe not at all, but in some ways I think this new therapist is what I truly needed next. But, I'm ready to quit myself. It's too, too painful. Why would I possibly choose to get attached again to someone I pay to be there for me - a relationship that will ultimately end. There is nothing I can do to ensure that this person will be there for me in the future. I know that there is nothing anyone can do to ensure this about anyone. But therapy, for me anyway, is different. I get dependent. Like a child. I can barely manage the pain I already feel from being abandoned by my first therapist. Wouldn't it be best to take a break? Shouldn't I just mourn that devastating loss and just try to move on with my life? As I write this I realize I want someone to talk me into staying with it and reassuring me about that decision. But I don't think there is any reassurance to be had. Right? - In Love with My Therapist
Thank you for writing such a thoughtful and detailed letter. As a result of your painful loss, you’ve touched on some very important issues that many people could benefit from.
It may help to know that you’re not alone. Actually, it’s not at all uncommon for people to “fall in love” with their therapists. The 2 words you used to describe this process – attachment and transference – are accurate and very important in understanding how and why therapy works. Years of research about the effectiveness of psychotherapy have shown remarkably consistent results: The single most important factor in good therapy outcomes is the supportive, accepting and empathic relationship between client and therapist.
Your love for your therapist is perfectly understandable. I remember the love, even infatuation, I felt for the therapist I saw when I was in graduate school over 30 years ago. Many people fall in love with their therapists – it’s the very nature of attachment in human relationships. Modern brain science actually shows us how this happens. Our brains are actually hard wired for a deep level of emotional attachment to others. A healthy emotional attachment means that we have a deep level of trust, closeness, and feelings of affection toward someone. In a good therapy relationship we feel seen and heard – deeply understood and cared for.
Is it also possible that you “transferred” (referencing your accurate use of the word transference) your unmet needs, possibly from childhood, onto your therapist? That would also be a very common experience for people in therapy. In that way, we have an opportunity to “work through” or even resolve past emotional trauma or childhood emotional injuries due to abandonment or abuse. We’ve also learned from modern brain science that we heal old emotional injuries neurologically, partly as a result of this kind of close, caring relationship.
It sounds like you did accomplish some very important work in therapy. You mentioned how it helped with your shame and with some major life changes. This was, indeed, a successful therapy outcome. It was also unfortunate that you did not have the opportunity to work through the dependency issues you experienced with this therapist. I can certainly understand how this kind of ending – referred to as “termination” in therapy lingo – would be very painful without adequate preparation.
I would encourage you to continue with your therapy. This new therapist may be just what you need, as you indicate in your question. With some distance from your previous therapist, you have the opportunity to learn and grow by exploring your feelings about her, and how those feelings may connect back to earlier life experiences and relationships. After all, it is true that, like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, we are more likely to learn and grow from real emotional pain.
Should you mourn this devastating loss? Absolutely. Should you move on with your life? Yes again. However, there is no single correct answer to the question of how to do this. If you decide to take a break from therapy, the emotional pain may recede, and you may have a new perspective over time. If you continue with your new therapist, the rawness of the pain may actually provide you a more immediate reality to heal and grow from. After all, relationships have an unfortunate tendency to result in frustration, disappointment and lots of emotional pain. The good news is that while we are injured in relationships, we are often healed in relationships, and they can bring us much joy and a new awareness that can enrich our lives.
I wish you all the best on your journey.