A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post on my anonymous blog on the difficulty of ending a therapeutic relationship. I wrote it because a client I had been working with at the time was moving out of state. We had been working together for over a year. While she made significant progress during out work together, there was more healing to be done.
I was both happy and afraid for her. Happy because she was going back to the place she wanted to live with what seemed a great job opportunity. Afraid because she wasn’t planning to continue therapy. And if she did, I wasn’t sure she’d stick it out long enough to develop a solid relationship with a new therapist.
I wrote about the difficulty of not having any control...over her leaving, whether she continued therapy, or whether I ever heard from her again. And that for me, this is one of the most difficult aspects of being a therapist.
I accepted long ago that I have no control over whether someone continues therapy with me or chooses to put the effort into changing. So it’s not about controlling the relationship or even the outcome. It’s about not having the ability to follow up, to know how the person is doing, whether s/he is continuing to progress or has had major setbacks.
The therapist-client relationship is unlike any other professional or personal relationship you will have. It has the illusion of being completely one sided. I say illusion because we are human, therefore we develop feelings about our clients and the relationships we create. While we may not equally share our personal thoughts and feelings…I’m not feeling well today, you should hear what my husband said last night, or I find your behavior very annoying 😉 , we have them none the less. There is also a power imbalance. During therapy the therapist holds the position of power. Once therapy is over it shifts to the client.
Since settling in Florida, I’ve been finding myself thinking quite a bit again about what it all means to say goodbye. While the circumstances are different....I’m the one who ended the relationships, the feelings that go along with it are the same. With an occasional feeling of guilt or responsibility thrown in 😉 .
Most of the clients I have I tend to see for an extended period of time, often a year or more. So naturally, I care about them, wonder how they are doing once our work is done, and do sometimes think, I could have been great friends or adoptive mother with many of them if our relationship had started out differently. Of course that can’t happen in this field (there are solid,valid reasons for this and the primary reason why it is unlike any other relationship).
This is where the struggle comes in. I
will do miss my clients. I will wonder, and I’m sure at times, worry about how they are doing. Did s/he continue to go to therapy? Has s/he “discovered who s/he could have been”? Because of the nature of the therapeutic relationship, I can’t just send an email to find out. Once we have our final session it is all out of my hands.
It’s an ongoing practice of letting go.
Having said all that, I am so grateful to live in the time of social media and websites. I have had clients from years ago when I worked in agencies find my website and update me on how they are doing, I have so many great people participating on Facebook, Twitter, and the blog. It's been humbling and amazing. And selfishly, I am so happy when I see familiar names pop up.