Help! My Therapist Ended Her Practice and I Don’t Know What to Do

Dear GoodTherapy,

I had been seeing my therapist for 28 years. Around March, she was unwell. This was a rare occurrence in our time together. But her viral infection persisted until about six weeks ago, when she texted me to say she would not be returning to her practice. I was and am devastated.

I asked if it would it be okay to email her. She said yes, but when I did, she said she was still ill. Initially, I drew on our relationship, which I had come to internalize. However, as the weeks have passed, I have felt angry at the way it ended. And as a recovering alcoholic (dry for 10 years), I am fearful of the future. I would value your views. —Hung Out to Dry

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Dear Hung Out to Dry,

Thank you for asking this question, and I imagine other readers thank you as well. Few things can be more painful than the sudden end of a relationship, particularly one in which we felt a strong connection and entrusted with our vulnerabilities. I can hear the loss and confusion you feel and what I presume is a sense of abandonment. These are huge, potentially overwhelming emotions. Congratulations for reaching out for help.

When therapy ends prematurely, especially when it is characterized by a deeply established relationship, it can feel like your world is being turned upside down. It is not uncommon to feel the way you feel. I imagine it is hard to understand what led your therapist to terminate her practice so abruptly and taper off communication. It is understandable to take this as a personal loss. In an ideal scenario, when a therapist plans to retire or end their practice, they communicate this plan with clients well in advance and they discuss and process the transition in session, perhaps even over time.

No doubt you have drawn many associations between the role of your therapist in your recovery and progress. It is clear from what you wrote that your therapist has been instrumental in your healing process. I would like to point out something else: YOU have made it through the challenges you have encountered during the time you worked with your therapist.

Unfortunately, sometimes illness and/or other circumstances beyond a therapist’s control may necessitate a less-than-ideal end to the therapeutic relationship. In this case, it is up to clients to pick up the pieces and move forward, perhaps with the help of another therapist. (It is worth noting, though clearly not what is happening in your case, that when a client leaves therapy prematurely or without closure, this presents another challenge for recovery.)

You mentioned that you recognize how you have internalized this relationship. No doubt you have drawn many associations between the role of your therapist in your recovery and progress. It is clear from what you wrote that your therapist has been instrumental in your healing process. I would like to point out something else: YOU have made it through the challenges you have encountered during the time you worked with your therapist. YOU have maintained your sobriety for the past decade. Your therapist was likely not with you during every one of your darkest moments, but YOU were. While you may have internalized the voice of your therapist when experiencing these dark moments, ultimately YOU have managed these circumstances. You made the decisions yourself.

It is understandable to fear what lies ahead for you. Hopefully, you are able to consider your future from a place of empowerment based on your past successes. Another important step is rebuilding your support network. This has been instrumental to you in the past and will likely continue to be instrumental in the future.

If you haven’t done so, you will want to explore options for therapy for yourself going forward. I see it as a positive indicator of success for your future that you formed such a strong alliance with your former therapist. You can do it again. The new relationship will not be the same because the therapist will not be the same. The new therapist will not always respond in the same ways, nor offer the same insights. This is okay, and arguably a real positive.

Change, though scary, can sometimes push us further into growth. You can explore options and consult with more than one therapist before starting anew. As you know, finding the right fit can make a world of difference.

I hope this feedback was useful, and I wish you luck as you move forward.

Marni Amsellem, PhD

Marni Amsellem
Marni Amsellem, PhD, is a licensed psychologist. She maintains a part-time private practice in New York and Connecticut specializing in clinical health psychology, coping with illness, and adjustment to life transitions. Additionally, she is an interventionist and research consultant with hospitals, organizations, and corporations, both locally and nationally, involved with research investigating the role of behavior, environment, and individual differences in multiple aspects of health and decision-making.
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  • Ellie

    Ellie

    September 26th, 2018 at 11:16 AM

    This is not your fault. That is a completely unprofessional way for your therapist to have treated you.

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