I grew really attached to them and the routine (Picture: Isabel Hull)
The ending of a nine-year relationship gave me the final push to start therapy.
It was 2020, and I was finding it hard to navigate the massive change in my life. I realised I needed to deal with a lot of emotional baggage that a loving relationship had helped me to suppress.
As someone who feels more comfortable at the dentist than discussing their emotions, starting therapy was not easy for me to do.
I was quite unwilling to cry in front of my therapist when I began sessions. But they were patient and understanding, making me feel comfortable and safe from day one. They challenged me too, which I loved.
Over nearly two years of weekly sessions, I grew really attached to them and the routine. I knew I always had a safe space to discuss the stuff I would keep back from everyone else.
So, when I received an email from them one afternoon informing me that, due to serious health issues, they were ceasing sessions – with immediate effect – I was blindsided.
My therapist and I had talked a few times about the eventual end. But I never thought our relationship would end so abruptly – without warning and a proper goodbye.
With an irony I came to appreciate in time, I realised the situation was playing on one of the fears that led me to counselling in the first place: that everyone I’m close to and care about will eventually leave me.
At that moment, with my emotions heightened, it seemed as if my reluctance to trust others had been validated. It was a bit like a breakup; I felt angry, sad and confused. I was down for weeks and worried that the situation would reverse some of the progress I’d made.
I still don’t find it easy to trust others and let them in because I find goodbyes difficult
I recalled a moment from a past session when my therapist had told me they’d always be there for me. It was a lovely sentiment when given, but now it felt like a betrayal.
I felt abandoned.
The fact that the email was straightforward and unemotional, as is appropriate for a therapist-client relationship, made it even harder. I wanted answers to my questions but wasn’t privy to them.
While ruminating on a long walk, I thought about my therapist, someone I had the utmost respect for, who’d just been dealt a terrible blow. I knew they would be more devastated than anyone to have to stop doing the job they seemed to love.
I archived the email the day I received it. I didn’t respond to it because I couldn’t find the words to say what I needed to. It wasn’t until months later that I felt strong enough to reread it, and it still made me emotional. I couldn’t reply.
The experience hasn’t changed my mind about the benefits, but it has made me cautious about approaching it again (Picture: Isabel Hull)
Their email contained links to different registries and the contact details for their supervisor who could help identify new support.
How do you replace the trust built-up over nearly two years with someone? Starting from scratch seemed less than desirable, and I now had the added worry the same thing would happen with a new therapist.
I eventually felt comfortable contacting my therapist’s supervisor to ask if the situation had changed. They informed me that they weren’t resuming sessions. I had a few introductory calls with potential new counsellors but I didn’t take it beyond that.
My family were great, but they couldn’t fully understand how I was feeling – and I didn’t know anyone else who had gone through this.
So, I turned to Google.
I found a lot of articles about how to break up with your therapist, but there was very little about having sessions terminated unexpectedly. It left me wondering how many others have experienced similar.
In society, we talk a lot about accessing therapy and starting the process, which is great. And with new online platforms, it seems easier than ever to find private support – for those fortunate to have the means to do so.
But, do we need to shed more light on navigating the end? And if the ending is abrupt, difficult, or unexpected, can it damage some of the repair work done?
If I’d continued with sessions, I know my therapist would have insisted on a gradual and controlled ending. But that isn’t always possible – whether the practitioner encourages it or not.
The experience hasn’t changed my mind about the benefits, but it has made me cautious about approaching it again. If I started to work with a new person, I’d be worried about becoming dependent on that individual and how the ending might pan out – which I know any good therapist would address from the get-go.
Ultimately, I will be forever grateful to my therapist for the nearly two years of sessions I had with them. ‘What would your therapist say?’ is now a popular refrain in my family whenever I’m dealing with something difficult.
Except, I still don’t find it easy to trust others and let them in because I find goodbyes difficult. I’m working on being more open, though – and the tools my therapist gave me, and their wise words, remain a source of support to this day.
I cannot thank them enough.