Our Silent Goodbyes
Strangely enough, in the social circles of the therapy world, there are taboo subjects that therapists are hesitant to discuss. Setting fees, taking insurance, the validity of certain training, methods of practice, and even where you work can be touchy subjects in this field. It seems absurd that a collective body of highly trained and emotionally intelligent professionals still sometimes fail at the one thing we are supposed to excel at- effective communication.
But alas, therapists are in fact human beings.
We are simultaneously flawed in our human-ness and highly effective at communication in a way that no other being can be (looking at you, AI).
Which brings me to one taboo subject that you often won't hear therapists talking about openly:
How we experience the loss of a client who has terminated therapy.
Let me set the scene from a therapist's POV:
You walked into my office around 2 years ago, in distress and needing some things in your life to change.
Slowly, week by week, we get to know each other. I learn your strengths, your pain points, your family members' names, you childhood dog, your crushes, and your dreams.
We eventually develop a working relationship in which I know you well enough to encourage you, challenge you, and empathize with your pain.
We share laughs, you show me photos of your cats, and I rejoice with you when you land a new job.
You're doing better, you're feeling confident, and you've changed in ways that are immeasurable.
Slowly we space out our sessions. We know that our time together is winding down.
And then, one day, you cancel an appointment. And you don't reschedule.
This is where I'm bound by my conscience to say- the client didn't do anything wrong here. They paid for my time, they did the work, they got what they needed from therapy.
And yet, as a human-
I do still think about you.
I wonder how your job is going.
I wonder if you ever broke up with that awful boyfriend.
I wonder if your mom beat cancer.
I wonder how much your niece has grown.
I wonder if you're doing ok.
Unlike that ex-boyfriend, I'm ethically bound to never find your socials, never look you up. I don't know how you are and amidst that silent goodbye, I have to set my mind with the intention of serving the next client.
As a therapist, it is my job to hold space for you, to be locked in and attuned to your needs, to help you process your trauma, and then (sometimes without notice) accept that I will never know the end of your story.
In my feelings of loss, I sometimes think:
“There is no other career where you have to be at peace with being a pivotal person in someone’s life and then never hearing from them again.”
But I am wrong in that, too.
Nurses care for your body and then send you home.
Teachers nurture children and then start anew every year.
Medics see you at your worst and get you to the medical team.
Performers form powerful bonds and then the show wraps.
Our silent goodbye may not carry the joy or finality of a curtain call, but I’m honored to have been on stage with you, and now both our shows will go on.