Does a proper termination procedure lead to cleaner closure and the getting of wisdom with a brave new life? After umpteen years of therapy, do you just say goodbye, pay your last bill, move on and live well? What if the Olympic Games had no opening and closing ceremony, would it feel disjointed, incomplete and impermanent? Would you have really believed it was over unless you had the colourful, spectacular dancing and acrobatics? Would you really believe it was all over?
The short answer is no. Long term therapy, no matter how painful needs a proper meaningful conclusion with all the pomp and ceremony, flag waving and breast-beating, singing and dancing so that you have the experiential feel of completion, a celebration of a fabulous relationship that had to come to an end. I thought I was different.
I thought I could just slink out the front door, never to be seen or heard from again. I could not bear planning the black, hopeless, grim, dismal, humourless, staunch, staid, stiff upper lip funeral of the person I loved and would never see again. I planned death and destruction not resurrection and life.
I wrote my therapist a letter of which I did not expect a reply (see last blog entry) and emailed it on a Sunday. On the Tuesday, I had made an appointment with another psychologist to deal with the unresolved grief process. People unfamiliar with therapy will not understand this deep longing that can cripple your current functionality. Think of it in terms of divorce.
I thought about the pros and cons of a new therapist for short term CBT for grief reaction. The good news was that there were no transference issues and the bad news was that there were no transference issues. If I went back to the old therapist, I would not have to go through my psychological history again. I would not have to explain anything, a raised eyebrow, a foot jerk – or any sort of body language which would explain hours of previous therapy, and I would not be as guarded as I would in a new office with a new therapist. People who know each other well have unique cognitive and behavioural shortcuts of mutual understanding.
So I fired another missile off to my old therapist explaining I was not in a comfortable, progressive headspace, and that perhaps proper termination was in order. I have no idea what proper termination looks like, feels like or what the process entails. I just know I want lots of music, laughter, synchronicity, intimacy and a warm sense of healing, love, resurrection and moving on. In other words, it needs to Rock the Kasbah so it has a more permanent feel about it.
An hour later I checked the snail mail (you know the one at the end of the driveway delivered by an actual person) and there was a beautiful card in it from my old therapist letting me know she was there for me if I was not travelling too well. She knew the wheels had fallen off the bus and the sole occupant was stranded. My therapist is intimately familiar with my self-sabotage, self-destruction and rejection and abandonment issues.
By the end of the day I had an appointment to see her. Only this time she said she might direct therapy and would be in more control. I was also very glad I had made the decision to go back before she offered me the option. That way I had taken the responsibility for my own destiny.
The person I am grieving for never existed, she was a fantasy construct. The person of the therapist who lives with her imperfect family has guarded professional boundaries. She walks her dogs, argues with shop assistants, cleans her toilet, scrubs mould off her shower and digs grease out of her oven.
However all I see is a warm, fuzzy, glowing, haloed, shiny, caring, kind and loving mother figure, in flowing white robes floating six inches off the ground – and I am the centre of her Universe. I said to her once that other people in her life must think she is perfect as well. She looked at me and said that others would laugh hysterically at that statement.
All therapists and clients should have the option of closure or termination. I hear some awful stories, both from reader emails and real life about therapists who immediately terminate and refer on clients who disclose their feelings. No closure, no termination process, no explanation, no consideration, no funeral and no party. This leads to clients getting stuck and unable to move on. “At first, do no harm” is the therapists’ motto. This is doing untold harm. This is retraumatisation on a spectacular scale. Meaningful therapeutic closure is healing, restoring and transformative.
So let’s bury the therapy with ceremony and then party harty, enjoy the buzz and live on the memories.
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Last reviewed: 13 Feb 2012