Tag Archives: therapy

The return of the “perfect” therapy client

  

When I was in therapy with DS (Deep Soul) three years ago, one of the insights I gained about our work together was the way in which I tried to make his life easier and pleasant. This behaviour was sometimes at the expense of my own needs, desires and self-expression. I coined this persona Therapy Barbie.

She was always perfectly groomed and pleasant. Bills were always paid on time. Above all, she was considerate and wanted him as the therapist to feel her genuine care and kindness. Any powerful action or conscious thought was placed in a queue, so it could first be scrutinised for its value, effect and repercussion.

As therapy progressed, it became safe enough for the persona to relax… a little at least.

Now that I am in therapy with HH, I am aware that I am repeating this pattern. It hit me like a lightning bolt the other day. I’ll explain more in a bit, but first…

I see now that this striving for perfection originated in childhood. Taking care of others was a really good survival strategy. I perceived myself as useful and worthy if I was “doing”. How glorious to receive your parents’ love and public affection for helping them and being respectful. They glow when other parents tell them how lucky they are to have such an obedient daughter. You feel like you almost fit in. These characteristics can be positive in the right situation. 

But really, you’re just a performing seal.

Put differently, what if being the opposite is forbidden? What if voicing your opinions and trying to have your needs fulfilled is received negatively? It can easily turn toxic. What you’re left with is a little girl who has to stifle her spirit to get some needs met.  She unconsciously becomes a people-pleaser because it creates warm feelings of acceptance and competence. Maybe, just maybe, there is the belief that people will return the same selfless love one day.

Sadly, the legacy of this pattern means that I struggle to feel worthy just “being”. That is, unless I am “being a good girl”.

HH actually used this term to describe childhood me the other day. He likened little me to a “Girl Scout collecting all her badges”. I was a bit gobsmacked at the image but immediately nodded my head at his insight (yes, I know that’s what perfect clients do but this moment legit saw me bobbing my head up and down with wide eyes).

I have just been altogether well-behaved in our therapy. And it’s doing us both a disservice. My fear of bumping into his boundaries and possibly being rejected means I end up completely inhibited. There is little space left for me to do and say whatever pops up. I hold back because I don’t want to hurt him in any way (because then he might leave. Or he might see the cruel, selfish, ugly and worthless idiot that I am afraid I might truly be should everything else be stripped away). While we do good work, this pattern stops us from connecting intimately. A wall of protection will always prevent us from moving deeper. Once he truly sees me, he will better know how to assist or be present. I am aware that him seeing all my attachment behaviours won’t  lead to gratification and an ideal relationship. This is messy territory we are talking about.

If HH is the type of man I think he may be, he won’t run away. I just hope I have the braveness to keep showing up authentically once I lower the wall. 

Playful Jay

What are some of the things I have spontaneously wanted to do in this therapy relationship, but instead killed the thought before it gets me into trouble?

– Take some toys from the containers on the other side of the room so we can play a game.

– Have him listen to the pieces of orchestral/classical music that pierce my soul because I feel like they speak my inner truth.

– Email him when I need to connect or have him hold something for me until our next session (I haven’t once sent an email because of supposed therapy rules).

– Ask him personal questions if the need arises (I am so aware of not wanting to put him in an awkward position with self-disclosure. But I really think there is more space for him to be… Besides the personality traits he reveals, the only things I know are that  he sometimes struggles to be on time, he may be a smoker because there was a lighter on his desk, and he is old school because he doesn’t have a smartphone or a website).

– Challenge him if I don’t think he is “getting” me.

– Have a staring competition and see who cracks first. And then belly laugh the whole session because you’re acting silly and who says you need to be serious all the time? 

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The body remembers

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It was not long after I developed a basic level of trust with Heart Healer (HH) that I had a breakthrough in one of our sessions. The life and death moment we shared arose spontaneously and involved excruciating vulnerability. Basically all the ingredients for potential retraumatisation or a new healing experience!

But I have to go back and explain. I had gone into a previous session with the aim of being as open and raw as I could. In other words, the inner censor was left at the door. This was not fun. But I was trying to be less inhibited. I often froze up in therapy, physically and verbally. This seemed to be part of a childhood coping mechanism, I discovered with HH’s help. The strategy? Be compliant and “control” all emotions and feelings so as not to “burden” others or endanger myself. Be a blank slate and adapt ASAP.

Anyway, I shared some really shame-inducing feelings, fears and memories.  These had to do with the relationship with my mom, the possibility of enacting toxic patterns with my potential children, and a critical attitude that I was already re-enacting with my husband at times.

In that session, I think HH spoke two sentences. He was silent the rest of the time. No mmm’s, ahhhs or nods. The silence freaked me out. I experienced it as a void, a disengagement, an alienating space and a sign that what I was saying was unacceptable. Logically, I knew HH may have been creating sufficient space for me to express myself. Or provide a moment with no reaction from his side. Emotionally, it hit a trigger.

I felt rejected. After the session, I was sitting with a very yucky feeling. I was bad. Broken. I didn’t know how to process it. Parallel to that, was a feeling of being violated.

The next few days saw me battling to connect with my coping adult self. I was a weepy mess. I felt the silence was meant as punishment. At the same time, I was also ashamed at feeling so overwhelmed by the silence. My biggest fear was that I would be perceived as too intense, too much for HH. Gathering all my strength, I tried to pen down my experience so I could make sense of it and see it in black and white. Looking at it on paper made it more real. It wasn’t just a figment of my imagination, as my inner critic was trying to shout at me.

After tossing and turning for a week, I walked into the next session in a hypervigilant state. I knew that we had to discuss what had happened. But I was also being held back by the fear of his reaction to my experience. I was between a rock and a hard place. He asked how I was and as I started to raise the last session, I froze. Shame hit me like a tsunami. Yes, this was why I had typed it out. My throat constricted and I croaked out that I had a letter. He asked if I could read it out loud. I crunched my shoulders and looked down. “NO!!” my body screamed. “If you don’t say the words out loud, then you can’t be punished,” a part of me warned internally. I shook my head furiously and indicated he must read it. He gently took it from me and asked if he could read it out loud. “NOOOOO!” the child screamed inside. It was physically impossible to speak or look at him. Very calmly, he started reading the letter. But it was in a scary stage whisper. Hearing my words out loud made me cringe and feel my life was in danger. My hands shot to my ears and I tried to block them out. I recall shaking my head furiously and waiting for the retribution. My world was spinning. I eventually also closed my eyes.

He stopped reading. This was it. This was the moment he was going to attack me. Either verbally or physically. HH calmly spoke through my perceptions of the silence. He wondered whether there were other times in life that I had felt silence was punishing. He also wondered if there was a part of me that thought it was unacceptable to have and voice certain thoughts or feelings. His questions felt overwhelming and I was stuck in shame. I remained braced for retaliation. My body took over and my arms and hands reflexively flew in front of me to shield my head from the blows. I trembled and kept shaking my head, my arms poised in front like rigid tree branches. While I was kind of aware that HH was there, my system had been hijacked and reason flew out the window. I couldn’t talk myself out. “You’re scared. You have expressed how you felt and now you’re waiting for me to retaliate,” HH said softly. “It seems inevitable.” The tears kept coming and still, I kept waiting. As I looked up to see where he was, I noticed his eyes had welled up with tears. It didn’t immediately register. Although it’s difficult to remember his exact words, he said something like: “You believe I am going to hurt you. Either reprimand you verbally. Or physically. That I will beat you.” It took a while but the fear slowly loosened its grip. My eyes darted to the door and I was able to verbalise that I was looking for the closest exit. My body wanted to get me out of there. He nodded. This body memory had never popped up for me before. I felt extremely vulnerable and embarrassed, not knowing quite what had happened.

When I was calmer, HH did not point out my bodily terror. He said the feelings I had about the silence seemed very powerful, very strong, perhaps like an experience in the past with a significant other. It was something I had thought about for a while… Transference. Looking at it through adult eyes, I could see it was potentially an overreaction. I shared as much with him. “But there is still a very young part of me who feels that your silence is a very scary and real threat.” He said he understood.

“You expect retaliation for expressing yourself,” he said. I added that sometimes punishment was very subtle. People would promise that there were no consequences. I was thinking of my parents. “But they end up punishing you in very subtle ways. So subtle that an outsider would never suspect.”

HH seemed a bit sad. It took me a few days to escape that terror but I came out feeling calmer because he had not punished me in any way. At least yet.

A few days later, I had the happiest dream I have had in a few years. After sharing it with HH, I realised our experience above may have created psychic, mental space for a new, healing way of being.

“I am in a modern, airy home with lots of glass in the middle of the forest. It doesn’t feel too open. It feels safe and calm. I feel inspired to finally try head stands (something I am too scared to do in real life). I do one against the wall and it feels good. My arms hold balance and feel strong. Defying gravity, I climb the wall upside down and find myself nestled in a sky light. It is mostly glass and I admire the forest outside. The realisation hits me that this is my new home and I have free roam. I run to the nearest waterfall and soak up the cool ionized air as my feet hit the leafy ground. The water hits the rocks and it is soothing. I quench my thirst by kneeling down near the mouth of the waterfall. I am a bit cautious and make sure the water will not engulf me, but I trust that it will be okay.”

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Finding my voice

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Time flew by and the sessions between my new therapist Heart Healer (HH) and I quickly racked up. We spent the first six catching up on my childhood, major relationships and challenges, as well as figuring each other out.

Like a good detective, HH was curious and tried to figure out basic connections between things before jumping right in and confronting the ‘baddies’. He felt there was a link between the vulnerability and safety of young women and children in my job to an afraid or lonely child inside me.

There was an adult part and a child part. The child felt scared vocalising things because of not wanting to hurt others and see them in pain. The child also did not want to be so vulnerable that others would take advantage or hurt her. I felt a sense of relief at him acknowledging these fears and vulnerabilities.

There is a child part that doesn’t have a voice,” HH said one session, his finger pressed to his cheek while deep in thought. “There is feeling and emotion but little voice… It feels like it may have been suppressed“.

Over the next few sessions, it would become clearer why this was so.

Despite our productive moments, I have to admit that I was stumped by his behaviour and body language at times. He always seemed quite nervous when greeting and saying goodbye. Was I really projecting or was this about him?, I wondered. I mean, I was obviously anxious going into every session because he was new and I was apprehensive about some things that had come up in previous sessions. But surely he’d be a little more chilled for someone who had been doing this for 17 years? Every now and then, I would notice him yawning. Or sitting back quietly in his seat with his arms folded and closed off. Maybe he had just had a long day or some challenging sessions? I had to constantly challenge my anxious thoughts and give him benefit of the doubt.

But there was one major developing theme I could not shake. I would get to the waiting room a few minutes before our session and sit patiently. Other clients would come and go with their therapists. The big arm of the clock on the wall would strike 12 and still I would sit. He would only come fetch me about 5-7min after our session time had started. This may not seem like much. But in a 50-minute “therapy hour”, it was a lot. The time we were missing out on was not what affected me most. It was the visceral feeling of abandonment. I felt isolated and confused as I waited. I started to doubt myself and our therapeutic relationship. It brought up old themes of not being good enough or worthy of someone’s time. His other tasks were more important and I was ‘a task’ that would have to wait. I didn’t mention any of this to him for over a month. But I had learnt enough from my therapy with DS to raise my therapeutic experience because it was grist for the mill. It was also an extremely difficult but necessary goal of my own to be more assertive.

My heart was pounding and I was trembling as I walked into his room. Could I trust him? HH acknowledged my fear of being retraumatised. There was always a duality. Hope and dread. “I wonder if your need to be seen, heard and validated comes from failed experiences in the past?” he mused.

Taking a deep breath in, I raised my feelings around him being consistently late in starting our sessions. With not a shred of defensiveness, he said he was in the wrong and it was his responsibility to start on time, not mine. He referred to it as an “infraction” and said he had every intention of doing better next time. I felt brave for telling him that waiting longer for him made me question things. He was so understanding and I felt myself relaxing a little. Feeling buoyed, I asked if it would be possible to let me know when we had 10 minutes left in a session because it took a while for me to gather myself before leaving. He said that was not normally something he did but that he was happy for me to pick up a clock he had and move it to a table we could both see. I felt a lot calmer.

He has been on time for every one of our sessions since. And the clock is always on the table as I get in. These were positive steps in building an alliance.

 

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Back to therapy I go

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(Trigger warning- reference to themes of violence and sexual assault. Please take care)

I did not think I would see another therapist after DS (Deep Soul). Before he closed his practice, I even shared these sentiments with him. While the process was beneficial, and led to change in many areas, I guess I was not in the right head and heart space to do it again. The ending was painful and a tiny bit traumatic because I felt I hadn’t resolved everything I had wanted to.

Life had other plans and I found myself in the market for a therapist. My job ended up being the gateway. The past six months saw me handling an intense and increased workload of women and children who had fallen victim to some of the worst possible acts mankind could think of. I was dealing with intimate details of how vulnerable individuals were preyed upon, beaten, raped in various ways, maimed and killed. In some instances, I had to see photos of their bodies. In one instance, watch a graphic video of a teen girl. All around me were grieving relatives and perpetrators, some who had initially been regarded as protectors. Chaos once again surfaced in my inner world. It was becoming even harder to find the energy to get out of bed every day. At times, I felt numb inside. Other times floating anxiety covered me like a heavy, damp blanket. Hypervigilance. Racing thoughts. All the time, questions. “How must have they felt?” “What is wrong with this world?” “How would I feel if that happened to me? “What if that happens to me or someone I love?”. Progressing to “What will I do WHEN this happens to me or my loved ones?” When my husband said goodbye every morning, I would take note of what he was wearing so I could give police as much detail as possible to help them identify his body at a crime or accident scene. I was looking over my shoulder the whole time. I felt adrift.

Whatever safety I felt in my relationships and environment seemed to diminish in the face of an unseen, scary enemy. Different days brought up a mix of emotions. Most often, it was deep sadness, fear and a sense of loss. A supervisor at work suggested I contact our employee assistance programme to speak to someone. A kind woman set me up with a private psychologist not far from our new home, work and where DS used to practice. I will call him HH (Heart Healer).

I think it is inevitable that you will end up comparing therapists. It also becomes clear that each one offers something different. HH didn’t have a website I could browse through to learn more about his experience and approach. I was going in blind. As I parked my car outside his practice, I noticed that both therapy settings were cottage-like and had wrought iron fencing with a little garden. I punched in a code and the wooden door swung open. I was greeted by a long, narrow corridor with numerous doors. The wooden floor squeaked as I walked along the runner carpet. At the end was a waiting room. Light piano music filled the space. The comforting aroma of coffee wafted from a machine on the counter. A bookshelf offered family magazines and psychology journals. I grabbed a journal and sat on a squishy couch, feeling nervous and curious to see how this would pan out. When I used to wait for DS, I hardly ever bumped into other people visiting their therapists. Here however, new arrivals filed in every few minutes until eventually, I felt like I was in an airport departures lounge. It made me uneasy. Everyone kept to themselves. The clock struck 11am and therapists streamed in to pick up their clients until it was just me and another woman left. I counted the minutes anxiously. Was he still busy with another client? Was it really a good idea to see someone new? Five minutes later, an older man with silver hair poked his head around the corner and said his name to us. I replied with mine and followed him back down the corridor to a door on the right. His office was completely different to DS’s. Gone was the stylish but comfortable fittings with cool tones, the bookshelf with all his textbooks and the puffy couch which could comfortably sit three. Instead, HH’s space had sunny walls with generic pastel paintings you might find in a chain hotel. Half of the space was taken up by toys and items for play therapy. He walked past the room divider and offered me the double seater or a chair. I sat in the squeaky wicker double seater. It was surprisingly comfy. To the left was a big window I could look out of. Above the flowering bougainvillea, I noticed curtains rustling at the neighbour’s window. HH bumbled about, apologising for not being able to give me a declaration form because his printer was giving trouble. He sat down in front of me and we both had a chance to assess each other. He was older than DS. He used a pen and paper, not a tablet. He was both serious and awkward. But I remembered the kindness in his voice message, while we were still setting up an appointment, and figured he was a man of many layers.

We spoke about what had brought me to his office. I was surprised by how quickly I started choking up and crying. Had I really been bottling things up? I tried to be patient with myself and breathed in between so I could explain everything. “Where were his darn tissues?” I thought as I looked around. He came over and fished a box out from under a table. I explained that while every person had their ups and downs, it felt as though I had lost optimism and excitement about the future. I told him about DS and made it clear that I knew therapists were not magicians. I was realistic about having to put in the work and not having answers fall out the sky.

At first, I sensed he was bored because he crossed his arms and seemed disinterested in making eye contact. It made me wary. When he said those symptoms would fit under depression, I felt it was too quick to be diagnosing before understanding me as a person. I didn’t think I was depressed. Slowly I sensed a shift through the session and felt he had at least a basic understanding and interest in working with me to figure out what was going on. He recommended that the next session be used to get a background on my life and formative influences, my relationships with loved ones and what was happening in my life on a daily basis.

As we got up, he squeezed himself between the door and room divider so I could walk past. He seemed nervous. I walked out, hoping I would be able to move forward in the same way I was putting one foot in front of the other.

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My year without therapy

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This weekend marked a year since my therapist DS (Deep Soul) and I parted ways. These 365 days offered a chance for reflection, regression and growth. Many a client before me, and many still to come, will be confronted with this situation. Each will react differently. I cannot claim my path was special. It is also not over. I chronicle the journey because of an instinctual need to record and preserve. My wish is that you not be triggered, but rather find comfort and hope. Alternatively, I hope you can learn something. It’s pretty long so grab a cuppa before settling in…

The beginning:

It took a while to grieve his departure for another country, and the loss of our weekly sessions. Old abandonment fears sparked up in a twisted knot of rage, loneliness and despair. “Why was he leaving when he had previously acted as though there was no basis for my fears of being abandoned?” “How could my greatest support system at the time also be the cause of my greatest emotional pain?” “What did this say about my worth and closest relationships?” My husband offered much-needed support. But the despair felt strongest when we were fighting and I didn’t have another safety net. On the days I was more emotionally centered, I felt happy for DS and all the opportunities that awaited him. Hope nestled like a tiny, scruffy Phoenix in a pile of ashes in my chest. I was wary…waiting…wondering how the days, weeks and months ahead would look. As always, vivid dreams offered a colorful, if somewhat cryptic, reflection of my internal landscape. DS featured every now and then. It became a source of amusement as to what form he would take. I found that though he was physically gone, our relationship and tete-a-tete continued and actually developed in my dreams. Obviously, I refer specifically to the part of DS I had incorporated into my own personality. Most would argue that the symbols and people in our dreams reflect different aspects of ourselves. In a dream a few months after he left, I had a Karate Kid moment that left me feeling more supported:

I went to visit the doctor. I entered the office and the doctor looked more like a monk. He had glasses, a beard and kind eyes. I noticed the sign on his door said ‘THERAPIST’. I was confused. We started chatting and he asked how I was. The conversation was stiff at first and I said I was doing well. He stared at me and I felt my defenses breaking down. I laughed and said: “Well, that is what I am supposed to say”. He smiled, nodded slowly, but kept quiet. His presence was zen-like. I started opening up to him. There were suddenly other people in the office and it felt like a playroom for adults. The session became group therapy.

The middle:

Having initially entered therapy because of marital strife a few years ago, I found that my husband and I were progressively making leaps and bounds in our relationship. There was a renewed sense of playfulness, enjoyment in each other and increased ability to share our perceptions and feelings. I was overjoyed. Feeling more secure than I had ever felt in any relationship, I found myself blossoming. I took what I had learnt about intimacy and trust from DS into my marriage and friendships. Never before had I felt more loved and appreciated for who I was. If ever there was a time for an upbeat soundtrack and rolling credits, this was it. But occasionally, I felt fear rising to the surface as I lay in bed at night. “How could this joy last?” I would cling to my husband and pray that he not be taken from me suddenly, through a car accident, illness or some other drama. I had rediscovered what was important to me. And with that brought a feeling of how fragile life was and quickly it could be taken away. This nightly toiling was somewhat of a premonition. A few months down the line, my husband and I were caught up in a drama concocted by a very sick and sad person, that thrust open past fault lines in our relationship.

While it is still very difficult to talk about, and actually makes me feel out of breath and sick to the stomach, I will give an overview of what took place. A woman I had never met before phoned my husband at his office one day. She claimed she was phoning on behalf of her friend, who apparently felt very uncomfortable with an alleged chat her husband and I had on Whatsapp. The husband was a colleague of mine who I had worked with a few times before but did not really know that well. I sometimes liked his work-related photos and once or twice swapped information for assignments. He worked in a different building. The anonymous caller refused to identify herself and asked that my husband not tell me about the phone call. This raised my suspicions. Understandably, he was very distressed when he phoned and relayed to me what she had said. I tried to comfort him and assured that no such thing happened. I wanted him to know he had my absolute loyalty. Confused and shocked, I felt like the world was swirling around me. It felt as though our secure base and growth were being snatched away. There is truly nothing more devastating than being accused of something terrible when you are innocent. I sunk into a familiar pit of emotional despair. I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. Those moments made me long for DS and his reassuring presence. He knew me. He would believe me.

Through this, I wondered why someone would blatantly lie. Why would they want to tear us apart? What person would willingly cause such chaos? My first step was to email the colleague in question, CC my husband, and tell him about the distressing phone call. I wanted him to clearly state to my husband that we were just colleagues. To be honest, I didn’t even know anything about his personal circumstances to try hatch up theories about who might be behind this. He assured that he and his wife were very much together and in love still, and that someone had been harassing him for a while. He apologised that this person had dragged us into the mess . He asked for the number this woman had phoned from.

Using all my investigative skills, I eventually uncovered what I believed to be the truth. I linked the mobile number to a woman through a Google search and cross-referencing. This woman, who turned out to be a freelancer for our mother company, had friended me on Facebook a few weeks earlier. Seeing her work details, I figured we had had obviously met before or had seen each other in a professional setting. I accepted and thought no more of it. She then was able to see my husband, where he worked and his department. It would not take much to phone his company and ask to be out through to his landline. While I don’t know for sure, I guess she must have had feelings for my colleague. She may have seen that I asked about his work trip to Dubai. I found that she used to like every post of his. This stopped just before the phone call and I guess he may have spurned her attempts to be closer or have a relationship. They unfriended each other and I later found she unfriended me before all this unfolded. Why she chose us as a target of her fury I will never know. After speaking to colleagues who knew her, I established she was not mentally well and prone to strange behaviour. Her actions angered me but I had better insight and understanding. I blocked her on all social media channels and increased my privacy settings. I then shared these findings with my husband, hoping he would feel more at ease. The attack had brought up old issues. Every day was an ongoing struggle over trust. A budding self-confidence regressed to insecurity. Fear, and not faith, was my foundation. Pretty shaky. Around this time, I had a jarring dream:

I drove to a house and it belonged to an distant school friend. Photos lined her walls. A baby was in some of them and I found out it had died. The house was quite dark and gloomy. I went outside and her husband drove in. He was absolutely devastated, hunching over and crying as he got out the car. Their house was suddenly replaced by a warehouse. I walked over to him because I realised I was there as a therapist. Putting my arm around his shoulder, I held him up and slowly led him to the warehouse. DS stopped in the parking lot and got out. He saw me supporting this guy. I was pleased because I hoped he would see me more as an equal and fellow professional. It felt like he was there to give me a therapy session. We all walked inside and my office was two sets of chairs and a table with a book labelled ‘counsellling psychologist’. The set-up was in the middle of the big warehouse and DS felt close but out of sight. Her husband confided in me that he wanted to commit suicide. It felt very urgent and I tried to comfort, placate and reason with him but he got increasingly violent. He jumped up from his chair and stormed toward me. DS appeared, whipped out a gun and shot him to protect me. The man collapsed to the floor. I was shocked and woke up highly unsettled.

The end and beginning:

As the dust settled, it was possible to reflect on where I stood and what therapy had cracked open. I had been here before. There was only so much I could say and do. Others were responsible for their actions and reactions. Trying to convince someone and, in a sense control the outcome, was futile. Relationships, life and people were messy, unpredictable and not always fair. As an idealist, I saw the potential of “what could be” instead of what was staring at me. Relentlessly pursuing the unattainable had caused me a lot of unnecessary grief. While there was some merit in believing in others, nobody could live up to these expectations, least of all me. I could not hope to heal old wounds by transforming a so-called bad object into a good object. Martha Stark described this phenomenon clearly and sensitively in her book, Psychotherapeutic Moments: Putting the Words to Music (available from freepsychotherapybooks.org). She explained how relentless hope was a defence to which people clung to in order to avoid grieving and feeling the pain of disappointment in the ‘object’. For me, this was the pain of parents who were not always responsive or available to the infant me. Fairbairn said: “A bad object is infinitely better than no object at all.” Cue a repetitive compulsion and a cycle of disappointing and infuriating intense attachments. If I think about it, I had transferred early and unresolved attachment onto DS. I so desperately clung to the hope that he would return to the country or somehow complete the incomplete. All of this sounds rather intellectual. But it sunk in on an emotional level as I read Stark’s book on a bus. Tears freely rolled down my cheeks with every bump in the road and every paragraph I read. I allowed myself to start feeling the “unbearable” pain buried deep inside. A therapist’s role here was to alternatively challenge and support. Without DS, but with some of his internalised good, I try to do the same. This is a long journey, maybe a lifelong one to make peace with reality. Or, as Stark says, “transformation of the need to hold on into the capacity to let go”. I dreamt this on the anniversary of his departure:

I drove to DS for therapy. It was in a different house and there were quite s few cars parked in the front yard. It took some maneuvering to find a spot. Once parked, I sat still for a bit. Excitement rose at seeing him again. In my rear view mirror, I saw a family leaving his office and wondered what their situation was. It struck me that I hadn’t been in therapy for a year. Maybe it was not necessary for me to go back.

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Longing, loss and looking forward

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Last night I dreamt of seeing a new therapist. My mind may have been playing tricks… He felt like my old therapist in different form. It’s been five months since DS closed his practice and left the country. He’s popped into my nightly adventures at times since then.

In my dream, I felt hopeful as I knocked on the door of the new guy. The building was in town and he consulted on the third floor. He had the same initials as DS but had a bit more of an exotic aura. I remember chuckling at this. We sat for a session but I could not recall what he looked like or what we discussed.

Mostly I felt hope. It popped into my head that I had found finally someone to be present at my side again as I worked through feelings of despair and anxiety.

Loss revisited 

And then the oh-so-common theme of abandonment reared its head. I pitched for a session at 6pm and there was another therapist and client in his room. They asked me to wait out on the street. I decided to phone the new therapist and see what was going on. Out on the pavement, I scrolled through my phone looking for his number. Maybe I had forgotten to book a session?! Hearing his soothing voice was all I wanted to hear in that moment. There I stood, looking for him but not finding his contact in my address book. I became more panicky. “Had I imagined it all?” The pain of losing a therapist surfaced sharply. Eventually I left. Upon waking I felt the same loss as when we said goodbye.

The dream, I think, is just part of the natural cycle of processing and grieving. For the most part, I have been strong. I just really miss DS as a person. How he’s doing often enters my mind.

Feeling

I imagine him bundled up against the cold with his dog and a petite, dark-haired woman at his side. They walk hand-in-hand through frosty fields. Their pooch runs after something in the grass and they laugh.

At our last session, he promised to send me his contact details once he had set up his new practice. I was a bit disappointed that he never did. He probably thought I could get it off his new website and that emailing wouldn’t make sense.

May we both be in a good space.

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I was his last client.

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As I walked out the therapy room 41 days ago, DS closed the door… to his room, his practice and our alliance.

Our last session went as well as I could have hoped. There were smiles and tears. Reminiscence and talk about the future. Pain. And joy. I felt lighter once home. Knowing about DS (Deep Soul’s) imminent departure had weighed me down for months. So much so that I hadn’t been able to find the right head and heart space to blog.

I hadn’t planned to be his last client. It just worked out that way. Somehow it made it a bit better knowing I would be the last to see him before he jetted off to his home in a new country a week later.

What you wouldn’t have known is that many of our last sessions were weighed down by the very real grief of not being able to give him something I had made to say goodbye and help with closure. The process and end product was symbolic and largely about me. It was not so much dependent on his reaction and whether he liked it (although that would have been a bonus). I shared that I was making him something (I never told him what it was). He replied that he had a strict no-gift policy. I thought this was surely different because it was not something of great financial value. Nor were these normal circumstances. Shocked and furious, I told him I couldn’t believe he was dictating how I could and could not grieve. We were already saying goodbye because of what was happening in his life. I explained that I wanted to feel as though I could move forward on my terms for once. Allow me to do this the way I need to, I said. He remained firm and I couldn’t find the heart to finish the gift, knowing I would not be able to go through with the process. But at the end I did finish, for myself.

I knitted him a pure cotton cream scarf. He was moving to a country very much colder. Part of the healing process was imagining him being able to wrap it around his neck to keep warm. The knitting became a form of self-soothing and a time of reflection. With every knitting session, I could pour all my feelings into the product. And the plan was to hand it over, having cast off the last stitch after “processing” everything.

Anyway, I brought the scarf to the final session despite knowing I wouldn’t be giving it to him. DS genuinely seemed pleasantly surprised and touched as I took the scarf out a plastic bag to show him. He held it as I explained the process. I took it back because that was what he wanted. And then, with what looked like a sheepish smile, he said he could accept the gift. Talk about being confused. I asked him to explain and he said he was referring to gifts that people bought and were worth something. With that I gave the scarf back. Obviously I was happy and relieved.

What I miss most is having someone ‘neutral’ and safe to share my feelings, thoughts and difficulties with. That said, I think I am doing better than expected. I truly miss him as a person. He was really kick-ass. I still haven’t decided whether to see another therapist at some point.

Saddest is that his face is disappearing from my mind. Memories of his voice are becoming harder and harder to access. I suppose this is what happens when someone you care about leaves your life.

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Cold comfort

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In the weeks since DS announced he is closing his therapy practice and moving to another country, I’ve been trying my best to keep things together. Like a mantra, I tell myself it will be okay after August and that this is for the best. My husband, family and friends have been very supportive and collectively tell me everything happens for a reason and I will get over it. It feels like there is this expectation that I should be over it now because they have said their kind words and allowed me to vent. The publicly acceptable gap for mourning is closing.

And yet the pain is so fresh. I don’t WANT to lose DS. I don’t WANT him to be so far away and very possibly never see him again.

When the lights are out and the night silence opens the space for terror and isolation, I cling to my cow Daisy for dear life and wish all the pain inside away. I try to find sleep in the fetal position and wedge Daisy’s head between my chin and shoulder. Sometimes, the softness against my bare skin seems to work and I find myself calming down. Other times, I lay curled in the dark with my racing thoughts and sleeping husband, at times wiggling closer to his warm skin for comfort and desperately wishing I could share in his utter surrender to the world around our bed.

If DS knew how much this was affecting me, I wonder whether he would think it’s all because of the transference and therefore not as valid or real? It’s real to me but I still question my own experiences and perception. It feels like his departure is more than just a re-activation of abandonment and safety fears from my childhood. I’ve connected with him on a very mature level. I will miss the relationship we built together, his listening and empathy skills, and especially the small bits of “non-therapist him” that shone through.

Our session on Wednesday was so disjointed and I feel like such a loser. I so desperately want to connect with him and enjoy our sessions while we still have them. But instead I just felt so sad. Having him in front of me was the most painful reminder of everything that I am going to be missing.

I saw blue wrapping paper, or what looked like it, in his bin as I was throwing my tissues away. For all I know, it could have been an envelope but I imagined another client giving DS a parting gift and I felt so excluded. Other clients are merrily sharing happy, intimate, nostalgic or healing moments with him, processing things, and here I am, weak and unable to connect.

It feels impossible to show myself compassion right now. Instead, all I hear is: you are pathetic.

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Goodbye DS

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My heart has not felt this much pain in a long time. My most wonderful, kind and helpful therapist DS is leaving. I am in shock.

He broke the news when I walked into our session on Wednesday night. I entered in the best mood he’s probably seen me in the last two years. We sat down and he said he had something big to share.

“I am going to be closing my practice in August and I am moving overseas for training and study opportunities.” (Or at least this is what I remember hearing. And it was probably said in a much gentler way). I felt like I was dreaming. Surely he couldn’t be leaving. Could this be another of my common abandonment dreams that I hadn’t yet woken from? There I sat on the couch, trying to process what he had just said. I was too shocked to cry immediately.

And then the emotions rose to the surface… joy, pride, sadness, despair, confusion and to a lesser degree, anger. The tears started pouring down my face as I opened up to him.

“I am so proud of you DS. What an amazing opportunity. Wow,” I said, meaning every single word. I felt like a proud parent. It was a courageous move to leave behind the familiar and his friends and family. At this, his eyes welled up and he broke out into a beautiful, genuine smile. I sensed this was extremely difficult for him and I told him I wouldn’t like to be the one to have to break the news to all his clients. It would suck to be in his position, knowing his move would hurt some people.

I had a ton of questions.

– Will you start a private practice over there? [yes]

– Are you taking your dog with? [yes]

– When do we begin termination? [when would you like to start, he asks. I tell him I honestly hadn’t thought about it and surely he knows more than I do]

And then the implications of the move hit me and I crumpled into my lap. We would have to say goodbye to each other. Not only was he leaving us but leaving the country too. He would be very far away, with no chance of bumping into him. He would be as good as dead. My whole body hurt at the realisation. It made me feel less alone that DS also seemed sad and had tears in his eyes.

How is possible to feel so happy for him and yet so sad and lost? Perhaps the adult and child part of me feel differently about this? I haven’t slept well since the news (just when sleep was getting better) and I find myself weeping at random moments of the day.

This sucks so bad.

Like it or not, DS is re-enacting what my dad did when I was four. My parents divorced, he left the house without much warning and I didn’t see him often after that. I need to find a way in the time we have left to re-frame this departure so it doesn’t scar me in future. I don’t know how but I remain optimistic.

I have to admit that a small part of me was relieved when DS told me he was leaving. It made me feel less crazy. I just KNEW something big was happening in his life and that he would be leaving. Call it intuition. I’ve felt that way for at least six months. Every time I shared my feeling that DS was going to leave, he acted surprised or calm. Either I sensed something before he did or he knew and was still deciding whether to move. My gut tells me he has been planning this for at least a  year. One doesn’t just decide on the spur of the moment to move your entire life to another country. My gut also tells me he is moving for love, and not just for his career. But I have absolutely no way of knowing this for sure. It’s just something I feel. I think growing up in a house where I was on alert all the time honed my super-sensory skills. I just wish I could call on those skills at will.

The next four months are going to be quite tough. All I know is that I don’t want to see another therapist after DS leaves. He was my first therapist and I honestly can’t imagine sharing that private space with anyone else. It would feel tainted.

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Am I overreacting?

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Please tell me whether I am overreacting. I need outside perspective from those who are familiar with the therapy process.

DS informed me at the end of last year that we would need to change our session from a Monday evening to a Wednesday evening because he was taking on new commitments. In our first session this year, he said we could keep the same day and time for now but that Wednesday would be a possibility in the near future. A few weeks ago, he confirmed it would be changing and we met yesterday in our new session time. I shuffled things around a bit to make it happen, knowing that the sacrifices were worth it because I really valued what I was getting from therapy and that it was important enough to me. I am more sensitive to change than normal and it takes me a while to digest how things might be different.

I arrive at our new session slot last night and DS poses himself in such a way on the chair that I know he is going to announce something. He tells me that he is phasing out his evening sessions and asks whether I will be available sometime during the day or just after 5pm. He knows from our previous negotiations with session days and times (we’ve been through this three times in the last 22 months), that it’s almost impossible to meet during the day or just after 5pm because my job is hectic and unpredictable.

I was shocked that he was changing things up as soon as in our first new session. It made no sense why he would prepare me to meet on a Wednesday evening and then tell me in that first new slot that actually he doesn’t want to work evenings anymore. It seems like an unnecessary disturbance.

The phasing out of his evening session seems unfair to me given that he suggested it in the first place. Once we changed from a weekend slot to a weekday slot, he created a reasonable assumption that that would be available to me for as long as I needed it. To me, removing his evening slot is based entirely on his needs, not on mine. Don’t get me wrong… I cannot overstate how much I imagine he has to deal with and how he may need more time outside of his therapy role to remain healthy.

But for once, I don’t want to have to think about his needs before mine, something which already happens in our alliance. I am dealing with the grief of losing my job, the huge anticipation and nerves around a new job, trying to finish up my Masters thesis, awaiting the outcome of a serious professional issue that arose from a genuine mistake and could threaten my reputation, and worrying about my dad’s health. To be honest, I don’t feel like myself at all and am finding it a challenge to cope. I feel very vulnerable.

Given that he knows how much I am going through, is it harmless to shake up the therapeutic frame and take away that secure base? And is it fair to put the spotlight back on the therapy process when he recently noted that he wonders what has been happening for me in daily life because we’ve talked so much about the alliance lately?

I understand that it could very well be an overreaction given my present fragile state. It just feels scary and real that I could lose DS and my therapy space if he does not budge. I know I need to be assertive and tell him what I need. With a head alternating between racing thoughts and big, empty expanse, it is hard to think clearly.

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