Retirement of a Therapist – Part II


This is the second in a two-part series. For part I, see Retirement of a Therapist – Part I

When we left off, I had brought you to the point of finding out my therapist was retiring, my mixed reactions and my struggle to recognize that this was a major life event. I remember vividly at beginning of our next couples’ session, I very casually (VERY CASUALLY, who me? affected?) told BN that my therapist was retiring. He reacted very strongly and with a lot of concern, much the way someone would if you told them someone close to you was dying. I felt so pulled towards his reaction (maybe this was a major thing?) while simultaneously wanting to back away (don’t make me face how painful this is). Ambivalence about the loss and its magnitude was pretty much a constant throughout the process. To BN’s credit, he tried on a number of occasions to try to get me to open up about my feelings and I would minimize my feelings and change the subject. I’d NEVER get away with it now, but we didn’t know each other as well then. I think BN was still learning how hard he could push me at any given time and while I felt drawn to him, trust was still a distant gleam over the horizon.

A really wide and complex set of emotions were evoked by NW retiring. Sadness at losing a relationship so important to me. Gratitude for all that she had meant to me and all the growth and healing that had been accomplished. We spent a lot of time in session processing all of those feelings. Harder to process was my anger and sense of abandonment. I kept running around a track which started with me justifying her retirement by realizing that it was her life, that her decision to leave was not about me, but about her pursuing another career option (and one that she felt very called to, it had obviously not been an easy decision nor one made without a great deal of thought). But following after that was the little voice saying “yes, but she IS choosing to leave you.” She had always told me that she is committed to my healing and being there, yet she is making a choice that means leaving me before our work is done. If I really matter to her, how could she leave me? How could I have been so stupid as to trust someone would stay? This is what happens in relationship, you trust someone and you get hurt. Then would come the thoughts of all that she had done for me and I would be flooded again with a sense of how rich the relationship had been. That she had given generously and freely of herself and she deserved to be able to pursue other dreams. Which brought me back to the beginning and off on another circuit. I did manage to express some of the anger and feelings of abandonment, and my fears of not being able to function without her to lean on and how sad I was to see the relationship end. But I was so guarding against feeling them, that I’m not sure how strongly I brought them into the room. Especially as I often fought a lot of guilt about hurting NW or making the process hard on her. I know, she was my therapist and it needed to be about my feelings. Something I hasten to add, she made very clear. Old habits die hard, but I believe I allowed the feelings in and expressed them to the extent of which I was capable at the time. Looking back, I wish I had not held back so much.

I think the most useful part of having that time to process was that it provided us a chance to look back over our time together, to celebrate the triumphs and recognize the growth and healing. To laugh over moments we both remembered and to each talk about the truly important moments and how each of us had been changed by our relationship. Therapy is unique. All of our relationships eventually end. To be blunt, no one gets off the planet alive, so an existential truth at the heart of all human relationships is the question of why would I allow myself to move closer to this person, knowing that in the end, loss is inevitable and there will be a price to pay in pain? But therapy is the one relationship where the person of whom you are grieving the loss, is there to help you face and bear the loss. This period of reflection was the first installment of one of the most important lessons that therapy has taught me. Yes, pain is inevitable in relationship. But love is the answer to that pain. In looking back over our relationship, it became so obvious that pain was, by far, not the only thing that came out of this relationship (oh dear, the tears are hitting, it’s been awhile since I have thought about this so deeply.) There was so much love, and growth, and shared laughter and tears that happened. So much strength gained through the connection. NW’s presence and the fact that we were both willing to walk together in a painful place, meant that neither of us walked alone and a burden shared is a burden halved. Relationships are where we get the love we need to face the inevitable pains of life.

I would never have expected it but the ending turned out to be both affirming and satisfying. We exchanged gifts. I had bought NW a necklace that symbolized growth and she gave me a basket of pebbles with the legend of the woman who gave away a pearl (rocks as memorials had been a significant part of our work, so the gift meant a great deal). She also told me that I could have the blue pillow. Which I need to explain. 🙂 NW had a large blue pillow (3 ft X 3 ft ) covered in a floral pattern of white flowers. I LOVED that pillow. When I was processing really intense trauma, I would curl up around that pillow and hang on for dear life. I tend to use humor a lot and NW very much enjoyed it. Every once in a while I would make her crack up totally and completely loss her composure, which I loved. So at the end of the session when she told me that she was retiring, I told her I had only one question. When she asked what it was, I broke out in a grin and said “Can I have the blue pillow?” and we both totally cracked up. Fast forward to the end of our last session. She told me no one else had asked for the pillow and it was mine to take. Then we stood up and hugged each other and in a moment I will be forever grateful for, we both said “I love you” at the same time (the only time NW ever said those three words to me although I had known it for a long time. I also think it was the only time I said it to her.) There truly was a sweetness to the end, a recognition of how rich the relationship had been and gratitude for all it had given us. She opened the door to the waiting room and her next clients were waiting. I walked across the waiting room to the exit door while she stood in her office door watching me. The wife looked at me and suddenly asked “Oh is that your pillow?” NW and I both burst out laughing and said at the same time “it is now.” That poor woman looked so confused. I have always loved that our last shared moment was one of laughter.

It was difficult after the end, but not nearly as difficult as I expected. So much of the grieving had taken place before hand that there wasn’t that much left to do. I have never had any contact with NW again, at the time I never thought to ask if it was an option and she never offered. I have thought at times of trying to track her down because there is a lot in my life I would want to share with her. As time has passed and grief eased, I got her back. Grief is about letting go of the relationship you had and learning how to form a new connection without the person there (at least when the ending is on good terms). My memories of NW are good ones, comforting and reassuring and helpful. I do not know where she is or what she is doing and as far as I know, she doesn’t know where I am or what I am doing, but I completely certain about one thing. Wherever she is, she still loves me, and wherever I am, I still love her.

One last thing. I talked about how appalled I was when NW told me she was retiring, that I wrestled with why God was allowing so many bad things, one after another, to happen to me. My favorite Mother Theresa quote is “God says He will not test us beyond what we can bear, but sometimes I wish He wouldn’t trust me so much.” That’s how I was feeling, struggling to believe that good would come out of something so painful, that felt so wrong. Looking back now, I see NW’s retirement as a blessing in disguise. Okay, deep undercover. 🙂 As I mentioned earlier, we were stuck for a while. I think we had gone as far as we could go with one another, but I don’t think I could have brought myself to voluntarily leave on my own. Her leaving led to me working with BN. I never thought I could have another relationship with a therapist as deep and trusting as I had with NW. I was so wrong. BN is a perfect therapeutic match for me, not to mention that working with a man bumped me into some issues that were easy for me to avoid while working with a woman. I have experienced a tremendous amount of healing and growth with BN and learned to live a fuller life. This blog would not exist if it were not for BN. So in the end, NW’s retirement proved to be the impetus I needed to go find further healing. So although it felt like anything but when I first heard about it, in the end it’s something for which I was immensely thankful (although admittedly, that took a while! 😀 ).

I wanted to add a few links for further reading. There is one book I would recommend on terminating therapy: Good Enough Endings: Breaks, Interruptions, and Terminations from Contemporary Relational Perspectives. It’s a series of essays by therapists on the topic of terminations. Some are more scholarly and some are very personal. I found a lot of value in it.

And speaking of termination from the therapist’s point of view, I had written to Dr. Stein to ask if he wanted to add to this post from a therapist’s perspective and it turned out that he had already written one post on retirement a few years back and posted another a few days ago. You can find them here: Retirement and Questions You Couldn’t Ask Your Therapist: What Did Retirement Feel Like?

And for just a dash of serendipity, Dr. Jeffery Smith also recently posted about ending therapy: Attachment to Your Therapist: Saying Goodbye.

  1. March 20, 2015 at 11:47 pm

    I’m so glad that you and NW were able to do enough of the work that you needed in order for you to be in an OK enough place when she retired. And I think that it’s fantastic that your last moment was in shared laughter!

    One question: do you still have the pillow?

    Like

    • March 20, 2015 at 11:54 pm

      Thanks Cat. And actually I am so grateful to NW because without the work we did together, I would never have been able to work with BN. She really did lay the foundation for my healing.

      And absolutely, I still have the pillow. It is a treasured possession. I keep it in my bedroom. I am evidently very rest oriented as I have a pillow from NW and a blanket from BN. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. March 21, 2015 at 5:30 am

    Reblogged this on Understanding Me and Her and commented:

    This is beautifully written and very, very healing for me to read. Definitely something to come back to time and again.

    Like

    • March 21, 2015 at 11:27 pm

      Thanks so much for both the reblog and the lovely comment! So glad you found it helpful. ~ AG

      Like

  3. March 21, 2015 at 10:16 am

    As always, AG, great job. Now I understand when you told me you knew where I was “coming from”. Will read some of this to Elizabeth at Monday’s appointment. It’s getting better. I hope to get to your acceptance level eventually…beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Wish I had had the conversations, expressed my feelings the way you did…I think that must have helped tremendously with closure. Hope you have a great weekend. Your writings are a gift to us all.

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    • March 21, 2015 at 11:29 pm

      Jsullivan,
      Thanks! Just so you know, it took me a long time to get to that acceptance level. Grieving is an effective way to heal, but it can’t be rushed and takes the time it needs. I am glad that you are seeing some glimmer of hope, it’s much easier to keep going with hope. Hope this helps in your session! xx AG

      Like

  4. MYB
    March 21, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    Dear AG,

    Your posts leave me speechless because you get to such the heart of the matter. You have provided a place for people to go where others understand how traumatic this can be; a place where people understand how big and important a part of their lives their therapy is. The average person doesn’t understand that. When I read Part I my immediate thought was, thank G-d my T is only in his 40’s”, LOL!! Truthfully, while I knew without asking that my T would not have committed to taking me on as a patient (my work will take several years) if he had any thoughts of retiring, I still asked in last night’s session. I was right. He’s committed and there’s definitely a level of safety and comfort there. Something I can hang on to on the days between sessions when it seems forever until the next one. I was telling him about your post and in the past I referred to you as (keep reading, I’ll explain) “the blog I know I shouldn’t read but still do”. Your posts have always stirred up so much for me and sometimes it would be too much for me to handle. Sometimes it was better that I not read your posts no matter how much I wanted to. It was last night in telling him about your post that I realized that I’ve gotten stronger. In the past, I wasn’t always strong enough to handle much of anything outside of therapy. Now I’m in a place where your words and those of your readers in the comments section offer strength, comfort, understanding and acceptance. Thank you, AG, for putting yourself out there. You have no idea how much your words help others.

    **I hope this all made sense and that you understand what I meant about your blog. It’s all good but I’ll worry until you comment. 🙂

    Like

    • March 21, 2015 at 11:35 pm

      MYB,
      This made total sense and NO worries, I totally understood what you meant by the blog you shouldn’t be reading. 🙂 (Kind of makes me feel like the Voldemort of the blog world: The Blog That Must Not be Named. LOL) But seriously, I know I have times where I need to stay off forums or reading about other people’s relationships with their T’s because it’s too triggering or too undermining or both. I am writing about difficult subjects and add to that that no two therapeutic dyads are ever the same and it can be hell to read about another client getting something you’re desperate for but know you will never get. So absolutely no offense taken.

      I am glad that you realized that you are getting stronger and even more so that you can find understanding and acceptance here. I am also very honored that you would take my writing into your sessions. Thanks so much for sharing this! xx AG

      Like

      • Moto
        March 23, 2015 at 8:57 pm

        Haha! I just had to say I love the “The blog that must not be named.” Haven’t been sleeping well so looks like a night of potter world!!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. liz
    March 21, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    Hello AG,
    as always, your posts seem to come exactly when I need them 🙂
    This one particularly struck me in many different ways so, as not to go off topic and bore all your readers with my life story, I’m afraid I am about to write you a really long email.
    In the meantime, thank you for putting yourself out there with such grace once again.

    Like

    • March 21, 2015 at 11:38 pm

      Liz,
      I love that you think I have a great sense of timing 🙂 And I got you’re not really all that long email and will be answering soon. 🙂 I’m really glad you felt comfortable reaching out. Thanks for the kind words. xx AG

      Like

  6. March 21, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    AG, 

    I wanted to thank you for your wonderful post about your t retiring.  I have had a hard few days so I haven’t responded.  Transitioning to a new t is proving to be really hard.  And i am physically not feeling great. 

    I feel rather ashamed of the selfish feelings of loss, as I know that my t deserves the gift of retirement.  And i am happy for her.   I only wish it wouldn’t hurt.  

    Anyway,  I just wanted you to know that i appreciate the post. 

    Take care, 

    Pinkmom76

    Like

    • March 21, 2015 at 11:46 pm

      Pinkmom,
      Just so you know I edited your comment because it was signed with a different name which I wasn’t sure you meant to post and some info about your phone and mail.

      No worries about replying, I know that some days there’s just not enough energy. I am sorry these have been hard days.

      There is no need to feel ashamed (I realize saying that won’t stop it, I just want you to hear it) about feeling loss. Your feelings of loss do NOT mean that you think your T doesn’t have right to retire. It’s kind of like saying a mom should feel ashamed of not liking being in pain when their child is born. They know the birth is a good thing, and one they want to see happen, but the pain still isn’t fun. Just as your T has a right to her retirement, you have a right to your feelings about her retirement. It is a loss and it’s reasonable your sad and don’t want to be in pain. You are not demanding your T not retire so you won’t get hurt, you are just recognizing that her retiring hurts you, even while you are happy for her and wish her the best. There is room for all of those feelings and your T can hear and accept them. Think of this way, how would she feel if you were jumping up and down yelling ‘yahoo! You’re going! Awesome!’ 🙂 As much as we may look forward to a new phase in our lives, none of us would want to think that the people we leave behind are only glad to see us go. It is a testament to the relationship that losing it IS a loss.

      Please feel free to come back, if and when you are ready to talk more. Go gently with yourself, this is a tough passage xx AG

      Liked by 1 person

  7. drgeraldstein
    March 24, 2015 at 9:45 am

    This essay should become standard issue to all therapists and all patients. Wise beyond words.

    Like

  8. Janice
    April 11, 2015 at 6:27 pm

    Excellent post. And I’m so glad to hear that the (premature) end to a good therapeutic relationship doesn’t have to feel like a tragedy!

    I am wondering: how long were you in therapy with NW? And, can you describe what is different about your relationship with BN? I’ve been in therapy for almost a year now, and since my break-up with my partner, my financial situation has changed drastically. I’ve been thinking about switching to a less expensive therapist for a long time now, but can’t seem to face the prospect. My therapist says that I have “profound” relational trauma and it could take a “few years” to work through my trauma. I am faced with leaving therapy or getting a better paying job asap. (I’m working my way in that direction). I recently worked up the courage to ask her to reduce my fee to help me stay in therapy with her, and she refused. I’m finding it really difficult to trust her since I now know that she would prefer to let me go than to adjust her fee ($100 per 50 minute session) even a little bit. So I am grieving the loss, trying to keep it going, and trying to build trust all at the same time. Ouch. One solution might be to find a less expensive therapist and transition. It is so embarrassing to even be in this situation and so painful to realize that I can’t bear the thought of how abandoned I’ll feel if I have to leave due to money.

    Like

    • April 13, 2015 at 10:26 am

      Hi Janice,
      Thanks so much for your comment. I’m sorry for what you’re facing with your financial difficulties. I’ve never been in the position of having to ask BN to change his fees and truly am not sure what he would do, but I know I would struggle with the same feelings in your position. I hope you’ll feel able to discuss what this feels like, I think it’s an important issue to talk through.

      I was in therapy for three separate runs with NW over a span of around 22 years. The frequency varied at times, but mainly was once per week. As for the differences between BN and NW, I’m going to have to answer that later. I am dealing with a very full plate (my husband is working OT on night shift and a dear friend’s father passed away and we’re going to be having some of her family stay with us for the services in addition to the fact that my husband and I were close with her parents and so are mourning in our own right, so my reserves are a bit low. It’s going to take some time and thought to answer that question thoughtfully. So I’ll either be back here or put up a post as soon as I can. Thanks for your patience. ~ AG

      Like

      • Janice
        April 16, 2015 at 4:50 pm

        Thanks for your response AG. No pressure from me about answering anything. I am grateful for your having taken the time to describe your process and your therapeutic relationship, and to put it out here. It is a great comfort to me, knowing that other people face similar struggles in their therapy and that they get through it. Take care, hope to see you here again soon.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. mb
    May 7, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    I value you and your words so very much. I was in therapy with my own ninja type boundary keeper for a year and a half, tested every trust issue (sub-consciously and consciously), opened nearly every door to my ‘self’ and was always and only fully accepted, unconditionally and with loving kindness. Of course, the intense feelings that arise when one is so completely accepted, listened to, etc.. caused me to second guess my reasons for going and turned my transference into obstacles, which caused me inner conflict to no end. Long story short (or not so short), after yo-yo’ing back and forth, pushing away and pulling him to me, I forced myself to take a break. How I managed it, I don’t know – but he’s made it less difficult, by keeping in touch, responding promptly to emails and offering time when it seemed I needed it (I’d quit a job, accepted a job and was fired from that job due to physical restrictions all in a month’s time), which I didn’t take from him. The email ‘check ins’ were enough, just to know he was still there. He also began a mindfulness group which I attend, so he is not completely lost to me -it’s just not only about me anymore. His door is always open to me, and even though I have thought about seeing a female T instead, because of all the issues that were coming up, I decided that the attachment issues themselves should not be discarded or ignored. I’ll be returning to therapy with my beloved therapist once my new insurance kicks in.

    You are as real and articulate and beautiful as they come, and I am so grateful to have found your blog. Thank you for sharing your journey with a community of strangers who share this common bond within the world of psychoanalysis.

    Like

    • May 8, 2015 at 5:33 pm

      MB,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. It sounds like you have done a lot of good work with a very wonderful therapist (I love that he was still accessible during the break. I took a 4 month break from BN once and was floored when he told me that he was still my therapist and it was ok to call or email him. Being able to touch base was invaluable). I commend your courage in returning to work with him. Working through the transference can be extremely painful (BN told me once that not everyone chooses to go there) but I also think it’s leads to tremendous insight and healing. FWIW, I think you made the right decision. I wish you the best in your healing and please let me know how it goes.

      Thank you also for the kind words, I am always so encouraged by hearing that my writing is helping someone. ~ AG

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