The therapist-client connection is a special one, and my clients are very, very important to me. There are a million reasons why goodbyes happen in therapy, but I have found that they all are painful on the surface, just in different degrees. Why? Most of the time, I run away from saying goodbye. My brain says, “but I don’t want to do it,” or, “I don’t like that!” in my most young, child-like voice, because the part of us that gets most affected by goodbyes is our very young self. The self that wants to be deeply connected to another person. Under the surface, however, goodbyes can provide healing and relief so it’s worth moving through the pain to get to that place.
There are two types of termination (a fancy word for goodbye) as I have come to experience and understand:
When you (the client) decide to stop therapy (b/c of schedule changes, school ending, deciding you just want a break from all the talking)
When your therapist makes the decision for whatever reason (schedule changes, decision to close their practice, a move, other life changes-having a baby, etc).
However the goodbye happens with your therapist, here are some general tips for handling this experience:
-Say all the things your brain is thinking to your therapist. I promise we can take it. It’s our job to hear all the things.
-Stick it out. Don’t run away. Come back. (I think that’s enough said, but I’ll clarify- goodbyes are super hard. Most humans have an instinct to run away from hard feelings, so your instinct will be to run away and never come back to another therapy session. Fight it. Come back so we can talk about it all).
-Make memories with your therapist. I know you have done incredible work together, even if you only saw your therapist for a few sessions. With my clients that I’ve seen for many months, we might make a memory book of things we have said to each other, we might make friendship bracelets, we might make a piece of art together.
-Ask as many questions as you need to ask. Ask some more. Cry. get angry. Yell. say that you feel nothing, and that you don’t care. Everything you say and do is normal.
-Clients have asked me, “why can’t we talk or communicate after our last session?” My answer is simply that it’s because sometimes relationships just have to end. The therapeutic relationship (I know, it sounds weird, but it just means-relationship between therapist and client) is a special one, one that is different than a parent-child, or friend-friend relationship, or even a teacher-child relationship. As a therapist, there are rules about communication afterwards for my license (kind of like rules for a doctor or a lawyer) that I have to follow.
In the end, I might not be able to fix every feeling about our goodbye, but I will always tell you this in our last session: “You matter to me. You are important to me. I will never forget you. I will never forget the unique person you are. I believe in you.”
When a goodbye happens that you weren’t expecting, it can feel like you don’t hold any of the cards, or you feel a bit powerless. But here’s a secret that I want to let you in on:
You are a powerful, magical being. You will survive this. You can tell me you won’t survive, and I’ll talk about that with you, but you are still a powerful, magical being through it all.
If your therapist needs to say goodbye for any reason, you’ll get the option to continue on your therapeutic journey with another therapist, or the option to take a break from therapy and rest a while. Maybe you go back, maybe you don’t. But a wise colleague said this to me, and I’m gifting it to you: the magic isn’t in the therapist, it’s in the therapy and the client itself.
I am not the secret ingredient (even though I am made of glitter and sparkles and I will always love you)- the work is. Your life is. Therapists are guides, we are listeners, we are helpers. And, you will find others who will listen, who will help and assist you in ways you never knew you needed. Carry me with you, be brave and go forth.