For those of us with attachment trauma, any sudden changes in the safety and predictability of relationships can wreak havoc.
And while our therapists do their best to hold the frame, life happens. Sooner or later, they end up not being able to start or arrive at a session on time. The reasons are endless… another client may be having a crisis, an urgent health issue requires attention, a loved one is in need, or they may even need to speed off because their house has caught fire… Sometimes they are able to give us a little bit of advance warning and other times, you may end up in a panic before the message comes through.
I have spoken previously about how I was thrown off emotionally by a pattern of sessions with later than usual starts. Heart Healer (HH) had developed a habit of starting our sessions up to 10min late. This left me stewing in the waiting room for quite a while because I would arrive 10min early and watch as other therapists came to pick up their clients before walking away together and closing their office doors. Can anyone talk about a recipe for abandonment anxiety? We thankfully addressed it and I was able to share my needs and fears around this issue with him.
Fast forward to this week. I asked to schedule a second session in one week because I could not make our next one and hoped it would bridge the gap somewhat. He offered a time and I was relieved and thankful. Our sessions the last few months have been hard work as I bump my head against the same issues, leaving me emotionally and mentally battered but somewhat closer to finding my truth and self. For some reason, I placed a lot of hope in this second session and its ability to hold me over for two weeks.
It’s always so weird arriving at the practice for morning sessions because I am usually there in the afternoon. But good weird. The sunlight filters from different angles on the wooden floors and the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee sometimes mingles with the scent of jasmine or honeysuckle floating through the open windows. It’s also quieter. And because I schedule these sessions on my off days, I have time to choose a book to read and don’t have to rush from work. Once I entered the cottage, I walked past HH’s office and half listened for any sign of life. All the leather seats in the waiting room were open and I decided to change it up by taking one facing the corridor leading from the entrance. After putting my phone on silent, I grabbed Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Leaves the Score out my bag and got comfy for a few minutes. I felt happy and a bit of nervous excitement. When the clock near me struck 10:00, I didn’t bat an eyelid and carried on reading. Five minutes passed and as the familiar bubble of panic began to rise, I consciously took deep breaths and reminded myself everything was okay. 10:10 came. With a knot in my stomach, I took my phone out to check my messages and saw a missed call from HH. He had also left a voicemail. It took ages to get to my voicemail inbox (no, I don’t want to record my name??!?!?) but when I finally did, HH said he was caught in terrible traffic and had been on the road for 30 minutes. He said he was on his way and if I was still at his office, that I could wait and he would do his best to be there soon for the remainder of the session. He sounded like he knew I might be panicky and didn’t suggest that we cancel our plans. I calmed somewhat because I knew that he was safe and where he was. However, my body was still buzzing.
At 10:20, I heard the main door open and HH walking quickly to his room before closing the door. One part of me decided everything was fine now and we should be grateful he had arrived and no one was hurt. Because I had a clear idea of what I needed from the session and wanted to speak about, I decided I would quickly tell HH what sensations arose when he was late, and then we would move on. He came to fetch me from the waiting room and apologised for being late. I said it was fine because I felt it was something out of his control. Once we were seated and I began telling him about the knot in my stomach, I switched to a vulnerable part and it suddenly felt like the end of the world. I didn’t know what had come over me! My whole body felt funny and I couldn’t stop crying. He calmly explored what I was feeling. The more he asked, the more upset I became. At the same time, another part kicked in and I felt terrible for having such an overreaction (It’s not his fault, don’t make him feel bad, you are too much now, get over it, stop being so dramatic and sensitive. You are the one who suggested another session. He probably doesn’t come in this early normally. None of this would have happened if you weren’t so needy). I was upset at myself for being so upset.
HH said that because I couldn’t be angry with him, for fear of jeopardising the relationship, I had to turn that anger towards myself. Obviously, I was frustrated and disappointed that the session was not only shorter, but was also being taken up by this and not what I had planned. Throwing crumpled tissues away, I told HH that I was feeling confused because I didn’t know how much time we had left in the session and whether he had a client straight after. He said we could carry on for 5 minutes more than our usual time. No matter how much breathing or calming I tried to do, I just couldn’t turn to HH as a source of comfort. He said that while we had started late, there was still an opportunity to use what was left. It felt like he was saying I had an all or nothing approach. I told him that I genuinely wanted to move on but my body had different ideas and was still stuck in alarm mode.
A part was shouting internally… what about the 15 minutes that we have lost out on? Are they gone now forever? Why hasn’t HH said something about those minutes?
I snapped back to adult mode for the last five minutes and acknowledged that he wasn’t all good or bad and we had made it through previous disappointments together.
Since the session, a part of me has been obsessing about the time we missed out on. And is battling with another part who thinks it is so petty to be worked up about a few minutes.
I know that most therapists charge for a full session if you do not abide by the 24hr cancellation policy. And that if the client is late, they only get whatever time is remaining.
What happens when it’s the other way around? We all know sessions aren’t cheap and every minute counts. I plan to raise this with HH in our next session but am not sure what to realistically ask for or expect.