Saying goodbye & the therapeutic relationship

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.

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43 comments on “Saying goodbye & the therapeutic relationship”

  1. The therapeutic relationship is something I've really struggled to wrap my head around. And figure out exactly how it works. That imbalance I really found difficult at times. I often find myself wondering if the care that my therapist seems to show for me genuine or not. And just the nature of the relationship means it probably shouldn't matter. But it is something that crosses my mind occationally probably slightly less now I am further down the track of therapy and getting to know what the therapeutic relationship looks and feels like.
    But it is strangly comforting to hear you say you think about previous clients, and that you do genuinely care.
    I think when I do finish up with my therapist, which will not be for a while yet, but when it does eventually happen, I know that I will struggle with the idea of sending an email to let her know how I'm doing, and feeling like I annoying her, I think I will defiantly look back on this and remember that yes some therapists do care, 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Suzanne, for sharing your struggles, thoughts, and feelings around the experience of your therapeutic relationship. While most people share your experience, many feel embarrassed or ashamed about it so never discuss it. Maneuvering the dynamic is something that typically takes at least a little while to settle into, for both parties 😉 .

      The idea (fear) that the care & concern a therapist shows may not be genuine, that it is "part of the job", is something I hear all the time. The thought is..."I pay you to be nice, care, etc". While this may be the case for some therapists, most of us get into this work because we care about the struggles people have. And for me, I also want people to understand it can change.

      You say that maybe it shouldn't matter, but it does! How could it not? This is a person, who for many, is learning things about you you may have never shared before, pain, sadness, shame, anger. If you believe s/he isn't connecting with you and you open yourself so completely (the most vulnerable thing a person can do) you will likely experience the relationship as another form of betrayal....by the therapist, but maybe more importantly, betraying yourself for choosing to do it. (This can set people back significantly).

      I hope my clients feel comforted by it too and not that it's a little creepy 😉 . If your therapist does not bring up communication after terminating, I would definitely encourage you to ask. This is something that is generally discussed as part of what the therapeutic experience is. I certainly can't speak for your therapist, but to know you've had an impact on someone by their reaching out down the road, sometimes years later, is incredibly meaningful.

  2. Thank you for your reply Peggy,
    Its funny to hear you say that the thought is "I pay you to be nice and pretend to care" as its something that in the beginning I really had an issue with. I do believe that my therapist genuinely cares, otherwise yes like you said I would not open myself up complelty and I am finding as I get to know her and vice versa, I am feeling that authenticity and in turn with that authentic feeling of care that I am opening up to a deeper level.
    I can't say creepy came to mind when thinking about what you were saying, perhaps trolling though facebook pages or stalking them at work etc could be considered creepy, but wondering how a client is doing, and if they discovered the full potential you could see in them is nothing but showing your genuine care and concern for someone you formed a relationship with over many months.
    I am relatively sure most people would find comfort and security knowing that is how you feel. 🙂

    1. The idea you are paying someone to care is one of the many things people will say to themselves in order to continue to feed the belief they are unworthy. It can also be a little (or alot 😉 ) scary to accept care in a healthy situation.

      I'm glad you're feeling more settled in your relationship with your therapist.

      Thank you for not thinking it's creepy 😉 .

  3. Could I ask you a question? I am still in therapy and not close to the the end yet, but its a questions Ive wondered about?

    Your sentence above..."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)"

    Why can you not develop a deeper friendship with your therapist after therapy has ended? I wondered about this as she is much older than me, and having her mentor me in with "life issues" when the healing work is done, really would be so good? My mom was absent as a child and having her to bounce Life issues off of, I would so appreciate.

    1. Hi Patticat,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. I'm happy to try to answer your question. I say try because while the answer is pretty black & white, the relationship itself isn't.

      First, your desire to continue to have her in your life is very common. Why wouldn't you, or anyone else want that? She's someone you obviously feel comfortable with, you feel respected & supported by, and like you mentioned, fills a void that has been a constant part of your life. I would want her in my life too 😉 .

      The black & white answer why it isn't "allowed" is because it creates a "dual relationship", meaning she would fill 2 roles in your life, therapist and personal mentor/friend. This can lead to confusion for both about which side of the line they are on.

      This leads to the more complicated aspect. As your therapist she has to set more clear boundaries, including availability, advice giving, and sharing personal information, etc. As your mentor and/or friend those boundaries would likely be quite different. Experiencing her as a client, then as a friend can sometimes cause people to reflect back on the therapeutic relationship and question aspects, potentially damaging work/progress that was made. Additionally, if you were to need therapy again in the future it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to go back to that relationship.

      Having said all that, therapists have different viewpoints on what is appropriate or best for their clients. If you haven't already done so, I would encourage you to speak to her about your desires (just the act of doing this can be incredibly therapeutic). There may be some people who might consider a mentor/mentee relationship on the spectrum of a therapeutic relationship.

      I hope I've answered your question. Please let me know if there's anything else I might be able to expand on to help.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting. Good luck.

      Peggy

      1. While it may be frowned upon, friendships (non-sexual) between clients/patients with a former counselor/therapist/coach/mentor are not illegal or unethical. Lets face it, sometimes strong bonds can and do develop between people and this is neither good nor bad. I believe the cosmos put people in our lives for a reason. How well and how long we relate to one another, whether it be personal or professional, is uncertain. Some connections are brief and others last a life time. For "any" relationship to endure, it must be based on mutual love and respect. And yes, these kinds of relationships are rare, but they can and do exist.

      2. Thanks so much for sharing, Lisa. It is a very complicated and gray area, especially with the ability to "know" someone through social media. Generally, it is considered unethical for a therapist (or any clinician) to have a personal or dual relationship with a client while they are working together. The general time frame to have a non-clinical relationship with a former client is about 2 years.

  4. Peggy, your comment about feeling self-betrayal for choosing to engage in therapy really hit home with me. The therapist I chose to work with ended our relationship unexpectedly in the middle of a crisis situation - not by literally abandoning me, but by using the situation to divest me of all illusions about the nature of our relationship in an extremely manipulative way (Just because someone's friendly doesn't mean they're your friend, for example). While she may have achieved a therapeutic coup that forced integration of a disowned emotional part, she also made me feel utterly betrayed. To this day, I still wonder if her decision was partly motivated by anger or hostility because I'd not been able to change in ways she'd hoped. It amazes me that therapists may minimize how threatening change can be to clients, especially if change evokes implicit memories that are integrally associated with the experience of being sexually abused. To some of us, change is inextricably linked to loss, grief and betrayal already! I hope you can give me some insight into this dynamic, and also want to thank you for your videos! They've been very helpful and given me more insight into an approach that might be beneficial for me. Best wishes from Japan!

    1. Hi Dee,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to watch and comment. I'm sorry to hear about what happened with your therapist. I know it can be incredibly difficult for anyone, but especially someone who has a history of trust and betrayal issues, when a therapist ends the relationship, for any reason. It can be almost impossible to not take it personally. While it's natural to think she may be angry or disappointed, I feel very confident in saying it is incredibly unlikely that is her reason. Of course I don't know her or the situation but, for most of us the decision to refer someone out is quite difficult. Though I know it doesn't change how bad it feels :-(.

      Unfortunately, I think you're right, there are many people in this field who don't really understand the complexities of the struggles people face.

      Hopefully you've been able to start with someone new. If you haven't done so, I would encourage you to take some time in therapy to really process what that experience was/is like for you.

  5. Hi Peggy
    Your post has been incredibly beneficial to me, thanks so much for writing it. I have got my final session coming up in the next week or so with my therapist that I have been seeing for 15 months. I feel deeply sad just at the thought of not seeing her again, she has helped me so very much and I am so grateful. She has felt like a mother to me and I am going to really miss the connection that (I feel, and I know she does too) we developed. I have really struggled with the one sidedness of the relationship since the beginning, but I understand that she has boundaries that she is responsible for maintaining and so I understand why she couldn't express her care for me even though I feel she does care greatly. But it's not just about what she has done for me, because I wish I could be there for her too, I care about her deeply and I hope that she has a happy life. I have never struggled with saying goodbye in the way I have with her, and the reasons for that are multiple - she and I connect in a way that I have never experienced, we have many common interests but more than that we both experience the world in many similar ways; I also think it's hard because, unlike all other relationships, boundaries need to be maintained even after your professional relationship ends (e.g. If you get on with a teacher, when the teaching is over it's ok to continue a personal relationship if you choose to) and so it is unknown whether you could ever pursue a personal relationship. I love her and am going to miss her greatly, but I would rather endure the pain of saying goodbye (I know the pain will subside eventually) knowing that I have had the opportunity to know her and gain some really special memories that I can take with me. This post was helpful in reminding me that deep down I know that she cares and will miss me too and therefore my feelings are not one sided and unmatched. I intend to talk to my therapist about communication after therapy ends - we have mentioned a possible friendship in the future though it will be 2 years away due to the 'rules', which saddens me but equally I have friends where we haven't seen each other in several years but when we reunite we automatically hit it off like we were never apart. I'm not worried too much about the changes in dynamics, because although it can be odd at first (change of any kind can be difficult at first), when you want something to work it's worth enduring a little awkwardness as things soon settle and in the end you come out so much better off. Isn't it incredible how powerful and healing it can be just to love and be loved - love really is beautiful in all its forms and the greatest gift that we can give and receive. Thank you again for your lovely post.
    P.s. Nothing creepy about you at all!!!! 🙂

    1. Hi Natasha. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and yourself with us. You brought up so many aspects of the difficulties and thoughts people have. I'm sure many people will connect with what you've shared.

      One thing that stood out to me was how what you've shared shows the healing you've accomplished 🙂 . Something you should be very proud of. Of course I don't know how things were for you before therapy, but you are clearly able to contain both sadness/grief about the loss while maintaining the connection, not an easy thing to do.

      1. Hi Peggy
        Thank you so much for your reply, really appreciate it. Had my final session with my therapist last week – it’s been a fairly emotional week, everything has been fine but I’ve felt a sense of loss since the session, which I know will get easier in time but it has been hard. The last session was a beautiful and special one and I will remember it always. I tried to speak to my mother about my feelings about my therapist and about the connection that I felt I had with my therapist – my mum responded by saying that my connection with my therapist will be no different from the connection my therapist has with any of her other clients. Her comment kind of struck a nerve with me, and magnified my pain because it made me feel, once again, like my feelings about my relationship with my therapist were completely one sided, which is painful when you care so much about someone. My gut tells me that there was a genuine (platonic) connection there between us, felt by both of us, and reflecting back I feel that my therapist also believed there was a connection and she would sometimes initiate dialect on that connection. I understand that the client generally experiences more intense feelings about the therapist than the therapist does about a client, but I guess what I am trying to ask is, does the therapist hold genuinely loving feelings for the client or is it merely during the 50 minute session (to make the client feel worthy of love) and then the client is forgotten until the next session?
        Thanks so much 🙂

    2. I'm sorry to hear how your mom responded to you. You have to remember people react to things based on their own beliefs and fears. It's possible your mom may have been feeling a little envious of the relationship you shared with your therapist (not an excuse, but it may help to recognize her response as fear, or something else, not reality). It certainly wouldn't be the first time someone felt that way.

      While I can't speak for any other therapist, I know for many of us this is not just a job. We do this because we care. I hadn't really given it much thought before, but I think it's a little like the feelings we have for family members. Some you may feel a little more of a connection with (based on any number of things). With those, it's a little more like children...you're capable of sincere, genuine care/love/concern/connection with as many as you have 😉 .

      1. Hi Peggy
        Thanks so very much for your response. You have made me feel better about my mums comment. I guess it would be hard for my mum to hear about my feelings for my therapist - my feelings are maternal longings and whilst I haven't specifically explained those feelings to my mum, I'm sure she know that this is the nature of my connection with my therapist and so I suppose it wouldn't be surprising if she was a little envious. I do think you are right about having different types of connections with people and within that different intensities, and I do think that there was a place for me somewhere in my therapists heart. I have shed a little tear just now as writing this has made me think of her, I really do miss her - this is crazy, but it will get easier in time.
        Thank you for your continued kindness and support, you are lovely. All the best and have a great weekend.

    3. I'm glad you feel better about your mom's response. It's important to remind yourself your feelings for your therapist are completely normal and nothing to feel guilty about.

      You're right, it will get better as time goes on. Though remember, grief is a process so be gentle with yourself. You said there "was" a place in her heart. I'm sure there still is... and forever will be 😉

  6. In about 2-4 months I will be leaving therapy with a therapist I've had for about 13 years. She does not know this. Strangely enough we had talked on multiple occasions over the past few years about my anxiety of her suddenly retiring, moving, or closing her practice. Each time she reassured me this was not going to happen. I would believe her until doubt would settle in again. It felt like a desperate cycle. The shame I would feel over this would cause more anxiety. Over time it has gotten better. But now I'm at the point I want to say goodbye but know I cannot and it hurts. Sometimes I ruminate about it. When I am in session it's always present in my mind. It's very painful. Saying goodbye may seem easy but it is difficult or impossible for some. I am thankful for this article and people responses.

    1. Hi Anna. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and connect. I really hope you choose to talk to your therapist, not only about you're leaving therapy, but also all the feelings you've had and continue to struggle with around it. Allowing time for processing terminating therapy is very important to the process. If it isn't done in a open, healthy way it can effect the success of the therapy.

      Your ongoing fear of her leaving (abandoning) you is pretty common. I imagine it's something you were able to process and work through with her? Not that you need to answer, but I'm wondering if your desire to leave therapy is to feel more a sense of control...you leave before she has the chance to? Just something to think about since you say you want to say goodbye but you can't.

      Thanks for sharing. I hope the process goes well.
      Peggy

    2. Thank you Ms. Oliveira for your comments. I truly appreciate you taking the time to respond to my post. I've been thinking about my termination with my therapist for a few months and at this point I know it is not something I can bring up to her. I believe you could describe my condition as terminal and it feels exceptionally painful to say goodbye. Even writing a letter doesn't feel right and I have decided against it as I would be at a loss for words. I'm not the best at expressing myself and writing a goodbye letter feels too overwhelming. However, I am going to try to stay positive and just accept this is the way things will be and I do understand it is at the cost of my own choice. Everything will have to be OK. I just want to say thank you for the information and writings you have made available. They have provided me with insight. I am also thankful for other's comments, it is always interesting to me to hear how others feel as I often feel confused if my feelings are correct. Thank you again for your time and response.

      Take care.

      1. It's my pleasure to respond (and I'm sorry it took me so long this time, I didn't see the notification). Are you saying you have a terminal medical condition? If so, I'm so, so sorry to hear that. Of course it is something only you can decide but, if this is the case, my personal opinion is it may be even more important for you to do it. It seems you owe it to yourself (and I'm sure she would appreciate it as well) to end the relationship in the way you've experienced it; hopefully with care, support, and understanding. It certainly makes saying goodbye in this context more complex.

        Your feelings are never wrong. Though I'm happy you were able to find conformation of that here :).

        Take care.

  7. Hi Peggy, thank you so much for this wonderful article. I'm saying a temporary goodbye to a therapist I've had for 2.5 years and it is getting so hard I find myself unable to function. Depression is setting in making me want to sleep all the time, and he's in my head so much, I feel like I can't get a break from him or the pain of saying goodbye. I really thought he could take me to the end of my healing process, but it turns out I really need more of a specialist and someone who is more available for this particular type of work at this time. I don't know when I'm coming back or who I'm going to be seeing in the interim which leaves me even more nervous. To make it worse, I feel a little bit like my therapist has failed me in this particular issue. How does a client come to terms with a therapist's limitations when those limitations necessitate leaving? How do I get over him? He has been perfectly professional with me, but it almost feels like a divorce. Is this wrong? How do I live with myself knowing that I'm leaving someone who helped me so greatly at one time? How do I stop feeling guilty and so much loss?

    1. Thank you, Catherine, for sharing your vulnerability with us. Not only do you have to grieve the ending of this relationship but also the feelings about starting with someone new.

      I suspect one of the things contributing to the difficulty with accepting his limitations is you may be taking it personally (though not consciously). I imagine he struggles a bit with his limitations in helping you as well. You have to remind yourself that just because he can't help you in the way you need, it doesn't mean he wouldn't like to, or that your issues are too big.

      It is not wrong to feel it is like a divorce. It's quite natural, especially since it isn't something you'd prefer to do. It's important to allow yourself the time to grieve the ending of this relationship.

      Additionally, I would encourage you to focus on what he has brought to your life. How much you've gained by knowing him and what he has provided to you on these 2 years of your journey. Therapists provide an invaluable resource and service during a difficult time in your life. It can be difficult to think of moving beyond that.

      I hope you are able to find someone you feel you can connect with.
      Peggy

  8. I said goodbye to my therapist I have seen for 17 years a few days ago. I am moving out of state. Reading your article and responses was very helpful. Thank you for your time and honesty.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Julianne. I'm glad you found the post and our tribe helpful. Even when the circumstances are good, the loss of such an important relationship can be quite difficult. I hope you allow yourself the time and space to grieve.

  9. I saw my therapist for about a year and a half. I didn't feel ready to stop going but since it was a sliding-scale situation, I felt that I needed to go less so I wasn't taking advantage. Several times, he mis-scheduled or double booked or something and missed sessions with no notice. The last time, I took time off work to be there, paid to park, then he didn't show ... I called and texted and he replied an hour later. Sorry, my mistake. Can we reschedule. I said I'm sorry I kept coming for so long, I'll stop. He said to let me know if I wanted to reschedule and I didn't respond.

    A few weeks later I emailed to ask if he had deliberately missed the meeting. I felt he wanted me to stop but wouldn't tell me directly. I had waited a month to see him and was really needing to go in. He just said if I wanted to set up a session we could. I said yes... then he didn't respond back.

    It makes me so sad because other people have these positive endings with their therapists. I want to know what happened, and for him to tell me what he really thinks, and I don't think he will. I'm sure he would not want to work with me again. I think I still need therapy but the idea of starting over with someone else, maybe only to end like this AGAIN, is too overwhelming.

    Can you share any ideas or comments?

    1. Thank you, Kim for taking the time to read and comment. I'm so sorry for your experience with this therapist. Your feelings about the situation make complete sense. I think it would be fairly impossible to not feel badly about the experience. Unless there was a limit set at the beginning, there should have been no reason for you to limit your sessions. Repeated late appointments or not showing up is not only unprofessional, but could be considered unethical.

      You are right, you will likely not get an answer from him. This says much more about him than it does you. If he did not want to work with you, for whatever reason (reduced fee, isn't able to help, whatever), he has an obligation to tell you. Not just stop communicating. Unfortunately, I've known many people over the years who have had less than healthy experiences with therapists.

      Please don't give up. I know the idea of starting over can feel REALLY overwhelming, but you deserve to heal.

      1. Thank you for mentioning "less than healthy experiences with therapists." I'm currently struggling to end my relationship with my psychologist of 3 years. We had a "good," even great relationship for 2 years, but then something changed--I changed; I allowed myself to try taking my own side once in a while, even if it meant disappointing my therapist. I stopped hiding my real, imperfect self. As I tried to stand up for myself, the relationship turned into a power struggle with characteristics similar to emotional abuse on both sides (criticism, invalidation, withholding, verbal aggressiveness). I wanted to end it respectfully, but its been 3 months of talking termination back and forth mostly without any actual communicating going on. Is there a 'good' way to tell her that I'm stopping therapy with her? I've wanted to say "It's over." But what do I say after that? Have a nice life? Thanks for your time? Thanks for not recognizing the failing relationship and terminating it? Thanks for trying? Sorry it didn't work out?

      2. Thanks so much for adding to this important conversation, Chris. First I'd like to say good for you for recognizing the shift in your relationship and the awareness of it being unhealthy.

        Ending a therapeutic relationship can look many different ways. It sounds like you've tried to let her know you want to stop but she continues to keep you engaged. In this circumstance, it really is okay to just stop going. I know this idea can feel uncomfortable, especially when you've had a good relationship. But, it seems you've been trying a more mutual approach and it doesn't seem to be working.

        I also think it would make sense that maybe you send her an email/card, if you don't know how/don't want to do it in person, to say those things you mentioned at the end of your comment.

        The behaviors you mentioned are not okay in a therapeutic relationship. You should feel proud of yourself for trying to address your concerns with her. Most people don't.

        Good luck to you.

  10. I am facing losing my therapist right now. I will find out in 3 days whether or not she will keep me as her patient. I am really scared of what is going to happen. Everything just hurts right now.
    I didn't see her for two weeks because of the holidays. When I left everything seemed fine. Then I come back and my therapy life is ruined. My first appointment back she seemed so mad at me. We only did real therapy right at the end, which that part was good. At that time she was still talking about our future work together.
    Last week I go in and she is even more mad at me. She said she feels manipulated, but said she doesn't think I even know I'm being manipulative that I'm good at getting what I want from people. She said she can't trust me and she doesn't know if the trust can be repaired. She doesn't know if the relationship can be repaired.
    She left it that we would still have our next session and keep talking about it but she really doesn't know if she will continue or if she can be effective.
    This not knowing causes so much anxiety. Part of me wants our next session to hurry up and get here so I can know, and maybe be given another chance. But there is another part of me that doesn't want to have this session. If she is going to terminate then not having the session keeps her as my therapist. It may keep me in this lost, confused, abandoned place but at least she would still be my therapist on some level. Maybe I wouldn't be seeing her or talking to her cause the session would never come but she wouldn't be leaving me. I have had to many people in my life, especially females leave.
    The crazy thing is I started seeing this therapist exactly 2 years ago because I could deal with a mentor who abandoned me. And now I'm facing the same situation.
    Reading your article does help though, cause I want to believe she really does care and that even if with all this going on that somewhere deep down she really does care. That i get something has changed where she is uncomfortable around me or scared of, and I don't understand the reason. But what other reason would you not close the door during a session? But somewhere she cares. I just hope that caring part gives me a chance to work this out with her and that we can move forward. Cause this was my last try in therapy, I've been in since I was 13, and I made the decision when I started with her that I wasn't starting over again if things didn't work out.

    1. Thank you for sharing with us Shannon. I'm so sorry you are going through the confusion and fear around possibly ending this relationship. You say you will not try therapy again if she decides to terminate your work together. I truly hope this is not the case. Please don't give up on healing. Maybe she just isn't the person to help you at this time. I know it can be hard to accept that, but maybe there is someone else meant to be in your life to walk the next part of your journey.

      I completely understand the conflicting feelings around not wanting to know.

      You said she seemed mad and can't trust you. I hope she was able to give you specifics of what has created that for her. If a therapist is going to refer you out (I hope she is giving you a couple of referrals) she needs to be clear as to why.

      Please, please don't give up on yourself and the life waiting for you on the other side of healing.

  11. Hi,
    I'm about to enter grad school for clinical psychology, but I've been working in a residential facility for children for just under a year.
    When I began my work in res, I set the intention to love each and every child... without attachment.
    Easier said than done...
    A few months ago, I began working with a two-year-old client. We grew extremely close and I saw many small but significant changes in her behavior (I.e. Eye contact/ the development of language).
    Today I came in for work and noticed that she had been discharged to foster care.
    I felt my heart sink and I did everything within my power not to cry.
    Guess this is something I'm going to get used to...

  12. This is such a great post Peggy!! I often think about this because I've been with my therapist for a year but have known her for longer than that. We had a personal relationship before a therapeutic one and I have been conscious of not mixing the two. (She was a guest at our BNB). I have brought up the issue of transference and of the fact that small town therapists have different boundary issues with clients than what is ordinary.
    Even so, I can't help but feel a connection with her as a person and as a patient/therapist and I have often expressed my fear of somehow losing her as my therapist (Cue abandonment issues). One of the things I know will eventually happen (At least I assume) is that our work will be done and it'll be time to move on. That notion makes me very emotional and quite frankly terrifies me/fills me with a sense of loss. I wondered if it was one sided and she would be like "good riddance" but your post gives me a sense that maybe there is at least some mutual connection even if it has to stay professional.

    1. Thank you, Monika for commenting and sharing with us. I imagine when it's time to end the therapeutic relationship she will speak to you about this and what it means. It can be really healing to go through this experience.

  13. Thank you for sharing. You have provided the validation I need during my transition period. For the previous years I have been working towards my own personal and professional dreams. In less than two months I will be moving states to chase these dreams! In the process I will be terminating some amazing relationships with clients. These past few months I have given myself time to process. I am 26 and have only been working in the field for the previous 3-years. So I am new to this process of terminating with all my clients. I have never been good with loss, an issue I have worked on with my own therapist. So thank you for sharing!

  14. Thank you for your thoughtful blog on therapeutic relationship termination. I am in the process of terminating an 18 year therapeutic relationship with my therapist. It is probably one of the most hardest task as it brings forward so many feelings for me. Your blog gave the perspective of what the therapist is processing, and this is most helpful. I think, sometimes, I forget that therapist's are human too, and saying good bye is hard as well. This helped me tremendously put this last process in a new perspective.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Bobbie. I'm so glad you found this post helpful.

      I hope you've been able to talk through the struggle of terminating with your therapist and are able to move through the grieving process with ease...at least as much ease as is possible. 😉

  15. Hi Peggy,

    I thank my lucky stars that I chanced upon your writing when I need it the most. I am a counsellor, and have been trying to manage my feelings and thoughts because I've been having many planned terminations recently. As I plowed through a few terminations already, I struggle with the anticipation of more. I am tired and busy at work, and finally decided to use today to sort out myself. Your writing helps me to identify my innermost fears and gives me great assurance. Your writing reminds me of my professional boundaries, putting whatever innermost thoughts I have into place. Your honesty makes me feel normal, because in my workplace, nobody talks about separation anxiety, losses and grieving for our clients within a correctional setting. So thank you, Peggy, for your words.

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment K. I'm really glad this post was helpful for you. It seems there's so much focus on boundaries in our profession, which of course if VERY important. However, we need to talk about the truth of what it means to have such a powerful relationship with someone which will be time limited.

  16. So grateful to find this blogpost on my path. My therapist e-mailed me: she is sick (burn-out) en will not continue her work with me. There will be no last session. This is it with her.
    I went to her weekly for 3 years. Trusting her that she would not suddenly 'kick me out' or trusting myself that I am not asking to much of her (as my mother always told me) has been a big issue. She assured me this process would be different. And it has been in many ways. But this ending is so painful, so devistating and confusing. I worry about her. I feel guilty. I am mad. But most off all I feel abandoned, powerless and trapped. As a child I never cried. These days I roar. Your blogpost gives me more insight in what is happening, thank you for that. Greetings from the Netherlands

    1. Hi Manja,
      Thank you for sharing. I apologize for the delay in my response. I am so sorry your relationship ended in such an abrupt and painful way. I hope you've been able to connect with another therapist and process all this has undoubtedly brought up for you. (as it would for anyone). It's important to be able to talk about all it brought up.

  17. Thank you for this article on saying a healthy goodbye in a therapeutic relationship. I had a therapist for 10 years who I had often shared my fears that she would be retiring soon. She told me that we would talk about terminating the relationship well before that time came. However, suddenly she left her practice with no notice. I found it so hard to deal with as I had really come to depend on her, sometimes I think too much.

    Presently, I have a short term counsellor who I will be saying goodbye to in 2 weeks. We have 2 sessions left. Like many others, I do not have a history of saying goodbye in a healthy way. I really want to have an authentic intentional parting of ways with my counsellor. She has helped me through a high crisis situation. I have recognised in myself much of what others have shared....putting my counsellor on a pedestal, having feelings of transference, wishing I could continue to see her (ie. not wanting the counselling to end), wanting to see her again after termination just to let her know how I'm doing, and just to 'see' her and 'talk' to her. I recognise this is common, but it's still real and causes embarrassment for me.

    What are some suggestions for creating a healthy parting of ways when terminating therapy? I understand that it is important to share what you are feeling and perhaps review what you have learned and how much you have grown. I am wondering how I can share my embarrassing feelings without becoming so vulnerable that I might crumble with any sort of response from my counsellor

    1. Hi Tess,

      I apologize for the delay in responding. I'm wondering how you're doing with this termination? I realize this may not be relevant for you any longer but want to address just in case. It feels incredibly vulnerable to share when you're in the midst of so much uncertainty, fear, disappointment, hurt. Especially if you're sharing with the person who is part of it. Often the easiest way to share is by writing it out and giving it to the person. I've has a lot of people write things out either in a note or journal then have me read it so we can talk about it without them having to say some things out-loud.
      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

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All the information I share on this site is for informational and educational purposes only. Your participation on the site does not constitute a therapeutic relationship. If you are struggling and need immediate support, please contact RAINN @ https://rainn.org/ or call your local emergency services.
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