The Retirement of a Therapist – Part I
This is the first in a two-part series. For part II, see Retirement of a Therapist – Part II.
Pinkmom76 left a comment on the Ask AG page because her therapist is retiring in four months and she wondered if I knew anyone who had faced that or had I? She also mentioned that she had been searching on the internet but had found very little on the topic. (Termination isn’t just an avoided topic by clients. 🙂 ) My first therapist retired after several bouts of therapy that spanned 22 years, so in response to Pinkmom’s question, I thought I would write about what it was like for my therapist to retire on the assumption that Pinkmom is not the only person out there who would like to hear about this.
My first therapist, whom I shall call Nurturing Woman (NW) was a lovely woman about 10-15 years older than I (funny, just realized I never knew her exact age). My husband started seeing her first (yes, I steal all my therapist’s from my husband! The man is a saint. 🙂 ). We decided to see her together for pre-marital counseling because we both felt we were bringing issues to the table that required more than the basic stuff we were getting through our church. We ended up seeing her both before and after the wedding. Her and her husband attended our wedding in fact, which I thought was quite lovely of her. (And something I don’t think BN would ever have done. Actually NW did a lot of stuff that BN does not do, although to be fair, he does a few things she didn’t. 🙂 ) She eventually kicked my husband and I out, in the best way mind you. She looked at both of us at the end of very calm session and told us that we were not dealing with anything in session that we weren’t more than capable of dealing with on our own, so while we were welcome to continue coming, she didn’t see the need for it. We left on very good terms with her door left open.
Several years later, trying to deal with my weight problem, specifically my inability to even talk about it without becoming hysterical, I went back and started doing individual work with her. At that point we were dealing with what I remembered, which was that my father was a violent alcoholic although I had no conscious memories of actually being abused in any way. I just remembered being scared and knew some stories from my siblings. We did a lot of work around boundaries (I had NO concept of what was one, let alone how to have healthy ones. I thought the woman was speaking Greek when she first explained them) and finding my own voice.
I always had a much easier time expressing my hurt, but never got angry. After we had been working together for a couple of years (btw, I’m not one of those people who track anniversary dates very well, so my time line is a bit fuzzy. My 29th wedding anniversary is this May so I’m going back a number of years), NW told me that she was going to be a co-therapist for a group of people dealing with less than perfect childhoods. The group was going to be meeting for 15 sessions. Group therapy proved to be incredibly powerful for me, but also brought me face to face with my anger. There was a woman in the group who was my reflection. She was angry (pissed, enraged, irritable, you name it) ALL the time. But if you tried to talk about her feeling hurt, she’d look at you like you were crazy. But it was painfully obvious to everyone else in the room that she was hurting very deeply. And at one session, when I had been crying and talking about my hurt, the co-therapist very gently confronted me and said “AG, I believe your hurt is very real but where is your anger?” I rocked back in my chair a bit stunned. And spent the drive home screaming like a maniac. I am not proud of what I did next. I saw NW for session or two after group ended and then I disappeared. As in canceled a session, then never called to make another one. I got so scared when I came face to face with my anger that I fled. It wasn’t even consciously done, I just drifted away in a haze of denial and didn’t look too closely at what I was doing.
Fast forward a few years and I had two daughters, who were then four and two. When I later recovered memories of the sexual abuse, I remembered it starting at around the age of four or five, so my best guess is that between my daughter hitting that age and a good friend of mine recovering memories of abuse, I got triggered. I found myself getting angry a lot and it felt out of control. My husband will tell you I never came close, but I was terrified I was going to turn into my father and start abusing my kids. So I called NW and told her I had found my anger, now what do I do with it? She very graciously took me back. I apologized for how I left and we both agreed I wouldn’t do that again.
It was during this time I started recovering the memories of the sexual abuse. We did a lot of work piecing what happened together and processing the memories. I was pretty dissociative, so it was slow work getting me to remain in the room and remember. I discovered two split off parts, little AG who was around five and carried the memories of the abuse and an older teenage boy, Tommy (ironically named after my brother who also abused me) whose job was to keep everyone away from Little AG so she didn’t get hurt again. But he was bad at distinguishing between people who wanted to help and people who wanted to hurt, so recovering the memories was a long process of winning over the protector part then convincing Little AG that she could speak. One of the memories I recovered was of Little AG taking the memories and going away to die, so that the rest of me could carry on. My young self had been left trapped in that hell all those years. There was one more break of a year or two somewhere in the middle, which was essentially a chance to rest and integrate what I learned before going back to do more work. BN latter told me that I had used therapy very effectively to allow me to live my life before finding someone with whom I could heal.
NW and I had hit a point in the work where we both felt a bit stuck. I knew there was more to get to, but anytime we approached it, I reacted in a really extreme manner, hyperventilating and becoming incoherent. In looking back, I realized that NW, who was a victim of incest herself (disclosed at a time when it was very helpful for me to hear), kept talking about slowing things down so I didn’t get retraumatized. On an unconscious level, I think I heard that she was scared (for herself rather then concerned about me which was the reality) and the last thing I wanted to do was hurt her, so I wasn’t going there.
In January of the year she retired, my MIL, who lived with us, was hospitalized and almost died. In February, one of my closest friends and a second mother to to my children, died of a heart attack at the age of 53. In March, my mother (who was still talking to me at the time) was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma (she had chemotherapy and is cancer free now). In April, my FIL died. It’s safe to say I was feeling a bit battered by life. Then I walked into a session in the beginning of May, took one look at NW’s face and knew something was wrong.
She told me she was planning on retiring in August (to give her credit she gave me close to four months) with tears in her eyes. I hated my reaction, but I immediately broke down crying. After everything I had been through, now I was going to lose my beloved therapist. It was most definitely a “God, what are you thinking?!?” kind of moment. I truly felt overwhelmed by sadness and shock. But I also remember immediately feeling like I was being selfish. That she must be having a terrible time telling all of her clients she was leaving, which was why she looked tired and sad. (Side note: BN’s demeanor is so steady, I almost never know how he is doing, while I grew to read NW fairly well). So all I could think was that I needed to not make this harder on her. I think I actually pivoted and asked how she was holding up. In some ways, the rest of our time revolved around me trying to take care of her and her trying to attend to my feelings. She never made it about her, I just reflexively made it about the other person’s needs. Very unconsciously, but that’s what I did.
There was also this weird duality to my reactions. I was really devastated and scared and bereft at the thought of no longer having her in my life, but when the feelings started to emerge, I would immediately feel ashamed and guilty for being such a drama queen, and acting like this was such a major event. No one was dying, my therapist was just retiring. At the time I was not online, involved in therapy forums or blogs, and didn’t have anyone to understand or normalize just how difficult a loss this was. NW would have, and tried to, but I think, again unconsciously, I hid so much of my loss, sadness, anger and feelings of abandonment from her because in my mind, she was going through this with so many people while I was only going through it with one. In other words, I focused on her to avoid my own feelings, because I think they scared me. I wanted to run so badly, just stop seeing her right away and get it over with. Going through those months with the inevitable loss looming over me was really difficult. But I had promised not to run out on her again, so I truly felt honor bound to see the process through to the end.
In the next post, I’ll tell you how the ending went. Be back soon.