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

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.
  • 9 comments
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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.

  • Angela M.

    Angela M.

    December 17th, 2018 at 11:09 AM

    It’s quiet unfortunate things had to happen to you in this manner. I can clearly insinuate that it wasn’t your fault nor that of your therapist that things happened this way, also wishing her a speedy recovery by the way. There are lots of ways to tackle our inner problems, the most necessary is having someone we could all pour our thoughts to and this is where a therapist comes in play. I would strongly advice you find a very reliable therapist who you would tell everything from beginning and he taking things nicely from there on words.

  • Renee

    Renee

    February 20th, 2019 at 7:12 AM

    I am not sure where to begin, my therapist did the same to me, but for different reasons, but it was heart breaking and it broke me, It took almost three years for me to believe I mattered and was worth something, only to have three years’ worth of work to reset back to that feeling of having no worth and I no longer I mattered, She terminated without any notice, I thought things were going great, I was starting to feel excited about stuff. Having suicide idealizations in the past, abandonment and attachment issues, I am totally crushed, she left me with no back up or professional help, it was left for me to find the help I needed to get through this and I am having no success. I have reached out to her many times and pleaded for her help; my cry for help goes unanswered, this has destroyed me inside, how can you tell someone you care and you matter, when in reality you DON’T!

  • I don't matter

    I don't matter

    March 21st, 2019 at 6:58 AM

    Termination/abandonment from my Therapist
    I think is important to keep this thread and awareness going, as it might lead to helping others who have been abused by their therapist, by their unethical and unprofessional behavior when it comes to Termination/abandonment, As time goes on and the more I talk with others; that really get it, I am starting to come to a realization, not only was my therapist very unethical and unprofessional not only with her termination but with lots of other stuff throughout my treatment, so I thought it was professional treatment and how it should be. She did hurt me worst then anyone in my life and I was a victim of sexual, mental and physical abuse, and now I am a survivor, she hurt me worst then my abusers ever could, she went from my savoir to my abuser all in one day. She fostered my dependency towards her, she acted like I matter and cared, and she made me feel special. and know she portrays me as a monster and a sick individual, but the worst part of all of this, I keep hoping her heart will open to see the wrong she has created, and only then will I receive the apology and respect that I should of gotten on Feb 9,2019 termination day!

  • Renee

    Renee

    February 20th, 2019 at 7:18 AM

    I am not sure where to begin, my therapist did the same to me, but for different reasons, but it was heart breaking and it broke me, It took almost three years for me to believe I mattered and was worth something, only to have three years’ worth of work to reset back to that feeling of having no worth and I no longer I mattered, She terminated without any notice, I thought things were going great, I was starting to feel excited about stuff. Having suicide idealizations in the past, abandonment and attachment issues, I am totally crushed, she left me with no back up or professional help, it was left for me to find the help I needed to get through this and I am having no success. I have reached out to her many times and pleaded for her help and my cry for help goes unanswered, this has destroyed me inside, how can you tell someone you care and you matter, when in reality you DON’T

  • Sarah Swenson LMHC

    Sarah Swenson LMHC

    March 12th, 2019 at 9:56 AM

    I know of a similar situation to yours which was equally devastating for the individual involved. He found a new therapist and is now working on abandonment issues that were triggered by the abrupt severing of the therapuetic bond. I am so sorry this has happened to you and I encourage you to locate a skilled therapist who can help you sort this out, perhaps one skilled in narratived therapy techniques.

  • Renee

    Renee

    March 21st, 2019 at 6:59 AM

    Termination/abandonment from my Therapist
    I think is important to keep this thread and awareness going, as it might lead to helping others who have been abused by their therapist, by their unethical and unprofessional behavior when it comes to Termination/abandonment, As time goes on and the more I talk with others; that really get it, I am starting to come to a realization, not only was my therapist very unethical and unprofessional not only with her termination but with lots of other stuff throughout my treatment, so I thought it was professional treatment and how it should be. She did hurt me worst then anyone in my life and I was a victim of sexual, mental and physical abuse, and now I am a survivor, she hurt me worst then my abusers ever could, she went from my savoir to my abuser all in one day. She fostered my dependency towards her, she acted like I matter and cared, and she made me feel special. and know she portrays me as a monster and a sick individual, but the worst part of all of this, I keep hoping her heart will open to see the wrong she has created, and only then will I receive the apology and respect that I should of gotten on Feb 9,2019 termination day!

  • Renee

    Renee

    May 26th, 2019 at 6:28 PM

    Thank you, I continue to struggle with the abuse I received from my therapist. I have been shut off from everone. And been severely broken by her action.

  • renee

    renee

    June 11th, 2019 at 7:47 AM

    I need to share this as this has a place in my heart!!!
    Termination Day
    Written By Renee
    As a child we long for love and affection and to be hugged and be held, but not every child can be so lucky. As a child they have no choice, voice or mobility, they learn to trust in what they know or are taught, they take the hand that is given to us, Then as adults go and seek the help, only to find out have attachment and abandonment issues that stem from our childhood leaving them with the effects of attachment to their therapist that can developed a strong yearning for some type of closeness that became heartbreaking when therapy comes to an end
    by termination. Anytime that therapy is abruptly terminated with one’s therapy it has a devastating impact.
    First let’s talk about a little history about attachments in order to understand the impact that one might encounter, theory was originally developed to explain the nature of a child’s bond to his or her caretaker. I must acknowledge John Bowlby development of the attachment theory (McLeod) his study shows that relations between client attachment to ones therapist and therapist perceptions of transference, as well as between client attachment and recollections of parental caregiving. 51 client-therapist pairs in ongoing therapy. After session, clients completed a measure of their attachment to their therapists and a measure of their perceptions of parental caregiving during childhood. Therapists rated levels of positive and negative, and amount of, client transference. Both secure and preoccupied-merger attachments were positively related to both negative transference and amount of transference. Level of avoidant-fearful attachment was not correlated with any type of transference. Insecure attachment to the therapist was associated with more negative recollections of parental caregiving (Bretherton).
    Secondly when therapy is terminated abruptly, Clients often experience abandonment and even devastation, much like when a loved one has abandoning a child. It becomes a very negative consequence, feeling of discouraging, hopeless and loss, are just some of the feeling that a patient will encounter. Countertransference issues stages of grief, clearly delineates the five stages a person passes through when dying, the five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then acceptance (Stage Of). “These stages are mirrored by the abrupt termination initiated by your therapist. Over time, loss can be accepted if one moves sufficiently through the stages of grief. Kübler-Ross clearly delineates the five stages a person passes through when dying, which are mirrored by those suffering the grief of loss. Kübler-Ross believed that a
    Person typically goes through denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and finally,
    Acceptance. Similarly, in the termination of therapy, the client and the therapist may pass
    through each of these stages to differing degrees, whether affectively, cognitively or behaviorally (Cruz)”.
    Lastly when terminated abruptly and suddenly that has been mishandled from a person that deeply share very intimate feeling with it turns into a crushing blow, clients will often feel abandonment and devastated and rejected, feeling much like the child who wanted to be loved, hugged and held. “Novick declared: Once we have acknowledged that termination was mishandled from the very start of analytic practice, we can gain some respect for the power of the forces that have had to be defended against. Many of our analytic forebears were superb clinicians, and their failure to recognize the possible pathological impact of the way they miss-handled termination should give us pause. Termination elicits the most powerful anxieties and conflicts we have come to know (McCown)”.
    As a child we long for love and affection and to be hugged and be held, but not every child can be so lucky, children have no choice, voice or mobility, they learn to trust in what they know or are taught, they take the hand that is given to us, within each of us, we have that inner child, wanting, deserving, and craving to be loved, hugged and held, this all part of the process in therapy we work on called parts work, while in a place we call home, a place we can trust, a place that is safe, a place that we open up and disclose the hurt, the pain and the misery, a place where no harm will be done, until one single day, you are called to the therapist office, a day that one will never forget and their heart will be forever scared, as adults we didn’t ask for this type of hand to be given to us, but has, its Termination day!

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