Being in therapy is being in a relationship. Therefore it follows that ending therapy is an as complex and complicated – and sometimes painful – process as ending any other relationship. There are loose ends and jagged edges to deal with, memories – good and bad – to look back at, and a struggle to not panic and in desperation seek to go back to something that just isn’t there anymore.
I have always said that things that are familiar are often also comforting to us, even when The Familiar isn’t necessarily a good thing in itself. The Familiar is comforting because it keeps The Unknown at bay. And nothing is more frightening than The Unknown.
I have four more sessions left with A.
Four more sessions, after more than four and a half years of working together. In short: it is nothing. I am standing only millimetres away from The Unknown, and I have to find the courage to not turn and run, but rather to allow myself step in to and somehow tolerate existing within it.
I have been spending a lot of time over the Chrismukkah therapy break thinking about what exactly it is that makes this ending feel so difficult, because, intellectually I can see that ending work with A. has more or less become a necessity, both because I am unable to give her the reassurance that she needs that I won’t end my life, and – perhaps more importantly – because we have simply come as far as we can, working together. The conclusions I have reached, as to why the ending is difficult is summed up in the first paragraph of this post; this is the end of a very special relationship, so how could it not be difficult? But, on top of that ‘normal’ difficulty, apart from the anxiety and sadness and sense of loss that any ending brings with it, I think that there is something I need to take from this relationship, which I fear A. might deny me, and this is what makes it so much more painful.
In November, when I finished counselling with Z. – that, too, was a difficult ending. But, I do feel that in the last few sessions – and especially in the very last one – Z. managed to provide me with that one thing I needed: the reassurance that it mattered to her too, that we would not be working together anymore. That I had made an impact on her. That she would actually miss seeing me. What I am talking about here is not a need to be told that I am her favourite person ever to work with, but something far more simple; an open acknowledgement of the fact that working with me is special, because I am special: there is only one of me. So even though my slot would soon be filled by someone else, someone just as engaging, it is still different, because the relationship between Z. and I could only happen because of who we are as individuals, and what we accomplished in those sessions was specific to our relationship, to what we jointly brought to the table.
I talked with A. about this ending at the time, explaining that those things Z. said to me meant a lot, and significantly helped make that ending, if not less difficult, at least not painful, and left me with something positive to carry forward. The fact that Z. actually told me these things, actually said them out loud, rather than simply assume that the way we had been working together and the way we relate would automatically lead me to know it, I think is important. People who have been abused tend not to take things like that for granted, because actions and the meanings of those actions have been so terribly mixed up and confused in the past.
So, I suppose, what I would like from A. is something similar. I’m not talking about any earth shatteringly emotional revelations or dramatic proclamations, but just something said, in clear plain direct speech, about the work we have been doing and about what this ending means.
I asked A. earlier in the year if I matter to her, and she decided to not answer my question, and I am sure she has her reasons for that, but, I think what I need – especially now – is for her to step away from those reasons, whatever they are, and just meet me openly and honestly. The lack of this direct communication in the last few months, is part of why therapy is now coming to an end, and seeing as there will be no Next Session in which to analyse why I asked the question, an answer would be good, would provide me with that Something that I need.
But, as I wrote earlier, my fear is that A. will not opt to go down this route of openness and honesty, and this is where I feel the pain is created. To need to hear that working with me has mattered to her, that getting to know me, hearing my thoughts, means something, is important, and to leave, having been denied it, would be excruciatingly painful.
Of course, I don’t know that this will be how things end, and I really hope that A. will have taken onboard the things I said about ending with Z., and what made that a more positive ending. But, the fear is still there, looming like a dark cloud over my head.. I am seeing A. for the first time after the break tomorrow, and I will carry on talking about all of these things with her, as I had been before the break. I just hope that her response will be different.
Before concluding this post, I just wanted to say thank you to all who have emailed me following my last post. I am sorry that I haven’t been able to reply to all of you, but, hopefully, in time, I will. I know that this post hasn’t really been a direct follow-up on the previous one, and it isn’t because I am trying to shy away from the seriousness of the situation, which remains sadly unchanged, but because I feel that – for now – I need to try to deal with things in slightly smaller chunks, and if that means navigating by auto-pilot for a little while, well, so be it. As my sister said We much prefer Auto-Pilot to No Pilot..
But, once again, thank you all for your very kind emails and comments. They have been read, heard and appreciated.
I agree with your Sister!!!!!!!! xxxx
Well, anyone who agrees with my sister is a wise person in my eyes. Except for when I’m right and she is wrong, of course. ;)
Good luck with this. I do hope your therapist recognizes the need for what one might call ” a good parting.” Therapists learn and grow and are touched by the people who come to them. You’ll find some of this in something I’ve written, the second half in particular: http://drgeraldstein.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/what-is-your-therapist-thinking/
Thanks for this. I will definitely have a read later.
I, too, hope that A. will be able to work with me towards a good ending. For BOTH of us. Whether or not A. chooses to share, I am most definitely not alone in having feelings about this ending..
I have learnt a lot in the years we have been working together, and I would like to think that she, too, has learned something from working with me – if nothing else the fact that her clients spend just as much time analysing the HER as she does analysing her clients.. :)
The first two and a half years of us working together A. was still training, and I have a feeling I am possibly not the the easiest “training case” a person can be landed with, as I have a tendency to challenge my therapists and their way of thinking, just as much as they challenge me. (I’m using the word challenge in a positive sense here), and I’ve more than once pointed out that I’m not the only person in that room with an unconscious at work..
Anyway, I’m glad you liked my post. I hope I’ll be able to post more frequent updates over the next few weeks, as I work towards this major change in my life.
All the very best,
Good for you — your attitude, your evaluation of the situation and acceptance of the facts about ending therapy specifically and endings in general. I too am ending a very long intensive therapy. I am sure if I were not moving/relocating, I would be staying in therapy for a while longer. I need to move so that I can move on with my life, but the reasons for moving (to move on) are not about therapy. There are other endings at work here and to is incredibly sad for me that to ‘move on’ with my life in a better way, means I must move on from therapy which has been historically the saving factor for me.
I am sad, anxious, terrified, excited, hopeful, and on occasion happy. Dare I say that word, I still don’t trust the possibility of ‘happy’ being available to me. That will be an on-going practice, clearly.
My therapy is ending in a couple of weeks. Since it has been a long therapy, the relationship I have established with my therapist is very intimate (in the most appropriate way, of course) but intimate none-the-less. And I have learned that any relationship worth having involves intimacy and a sharing of the soul. So why wouldn’t ending be difficult?
Now the interesting thing for me is this; I am willing to work hard at tolerating the pain with this ending (as opposed to old behaviour of running) because I want to respect the work we have done and acknowledge the importance this person has played in my life. It is simple as that.
As time gets closer I often feel that I cannot handle the sadness. Only time will prove me wrong (or right). But I am giving it my best. I have worked hard to get to this point and now I need to fly on my own, I just don’t want the pain of farewell. I will miss my therapist immensely. I owe a lot to that person and will always feel grateful.
Good luck to you. Good luck to me.
I enjoyed your post and will follow it with interest.