So, if anyone out there wants to award me a prize for winning at ‘How Not To Do Therapy’ I’d gladly receive it. I mean, I need something to celebrate right now, and all I have done exceptionally this last couple of months is poorly navigate my way through a relational catastrophe and then end up doing huge belly flop into the abyss as my grand finale.
Honestly. It’s been total dog shit, lately.
Some of you guys will remember, a few weeks ago, I posted up a letter on here that I had written to Em, my ex-therapist, trying to purge some of what I had been left with after our rather sudden terminatio. I had resolved not to send it – because duh, I’d have to be an idiot to do that wouldn’t I?
I had so much to say to her because the ending seemed to happen so quickly and I was just left hanging, holding so many feelings about what had happened. It felt important to get it out rather than have it all swirling in my head.
I guess it’s not a surprise that I had a bloody awful week after I wrote that letter. The grief of the termination and losing someone who has been a massive part of my life really started to kick in. I felt really upset that the ending was really never a proper ending. It just wasn’t good enough for any of my parts. Essentially, she just cut me dead and the final session I think was really only offered because I had asked for it not because she wanted to do it. She had been happy to end it all with a two line email hadn’t she?
OMG it’s giving me the rage just thinking about it! But also the horrible ache in my core where all the attachment pain hangs out. It’s just hideous feeling all this…especially as I have fucking paid to end up feeling like this! It’s not like the ending of a relationship with a friend or partner, or some kind of trauma inflicted by a parent…I’ve come out of this therapeutic relationship retraumatised! You can’t even make it up!
One of my friends told me that she’d spoken to her therapist about this situation with Em and they’d said that usually for termination you’d aim for one session for every three months of work… and well, that’d mean twenty sessions for Em and I! – I can only imagine that if you throw in the fact that for the last 16 months we were also doing sessions twice a week that it’d probably seem unlikely that you could create a good enough ending in one fifty minute session. But you know, maybe I am being picky!
I mean, I understand that we weren’t ending under perfect circumstances but really, a single session to close down the work wasn’t really adequate – especially as I didn’t even want us to be ending at all. I honestly felt like we were having a rupture over Christmas and it’d work out. I am clearly a fucking moron! I guess the signs have been there for years, I just didn’t want to see them and instead turned everything in on myself…I’m good at doing that.
Anyway, what I should have done when I felt so desperate and sad and needy and bereft last weekend was to email Anita and reach out to her instead of contacting Em, like I did the week before and that Anita had said was fine to do, but you know what it’s like – sometimes you choose to walk into the lion’s den knowing you’re going to get mauled because part of you hopes that the lion might actually turn out to be a pussy cat.
Note to self: lions are always lions.
I sent the letter to Em on the afternoon of Friday 21st Feb. It’s slightly different than what was on the blog so I will post it below, but feel free to scroll past it as it’s not significantly different:
It’s been almost three weeks since I saw you for our termination session and since then, I seem to have been caught up in an emotional storm that I can’t find a way out of. I am so exhausted and disorientated by what’s happened between us that I do not seem to know which way is up and am clinging on for dear life.
I am absolutely devastated about how we have ended this therapy – our relationship. I can’t believe that when it came down to it the relationship we have built over all these years disintegrated in the course of a few weeks and now there is nothing left. I don’t even feel like we properly said goodbye because I couldn’t bear to say it.
Things have been hard for a long time. I know that. I am not an easy client to work with, that’s no secret. I keep a lot of things close to my chest and often the moment we get close to the sore areas in session I dissociate which has made it difficult to get to the work- but we both know when I disappear it’s because more than anything, I live in fear of being abandoned and rejected by you and need to protect myself from getting hurt. That fear has always been behind the times when I have crossed your boundary of no outside session contact, some part of me believing that you are gone.
I have been so frightened of being wholly myself with you and really showing you how damaged parts of me are because I didn’t want you to repeat the script and leave just like everyone else. I didn’t want to keep you out. I didn’t want us to be working in the dark. I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I wanted to let you in and be close to you – more than anything I wanted that. And I have let you see a lot of me- you know me better than anyone and that has made me feel really vulnerable and so it’s been slow going in the therapy.
I haven’t been worried about the time (even if everyone else has raised concerns) because, like you said, this kind of work takes time and even though we’ve been working together a long while it’s not all that long in the big scheme of how much trauma there is. I believed that we were in this for the long haul. I knew that there would be times that would feel like we had reached the edges of what was possible but if we just dug in deep we’d come through and each time we did that a little bit more healing would take place. I thought that’s what therapy was all about.
I have so many feelings around what’s happened between us and losing you really feels like a bereavement. For the second time in my life I have lost the person that knew me better than anyone else and I can’t even begin to explain how crushing that feels. The difference is that you are still alive and you’ve left because I am too much and in some ways that makes this even harder to bear than an unexpected death. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to you yet.
This is absolute agony because the end of this therapy has confirmed my worst fears about myself and how I am perceived in relationships. It’s almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy – I was so worried this would happen and I’ve somehow made it happen, although obviously not consciously. I read something about projective identification and I wondered if this is what’s happened.
Some of the things you have said recently have really hurt me and I am struggling to let that go. You say you weren’t trying to hurt me but the young parts who you see as ‘adhesive’ and ‘like a tick’ are broken. I was breaking my heart and you said, ‘it was a metaphor’ and that I am ‘sensitive and defensive’. I can’t seem to shake it off.
I so wanted to believe that whatever happened with the therapy we could get through it – I mean we’ve done enough rupture and repair over the time we’ve worked together – but somehow we got to here and there was no repair this time. I think I am still in denial about the whole thing because I can’t really believe we are here…or I am here. You can just move on with your conveyor belt of clients and I feel marooned.
To tell you what I did in my notebooks over Christmas was massively risky but I figured it was crunch time. I was scared but at least some part of me also believed that whatever I might say now or whichever part was fronting you’d hold the space and try and encourage me to keep working through it even if I was threatening to throw in the towel because you know that me being vulnerable makes me want to run a mile. Every part of me wanted to disappear and hide after that and I was super sensitised to everything you said.
You recently said that you thought the teen part was about as well as other young parts. They are always there but that’s been especially so since the lead into Christmas and it’s been those parts that were so affected by the break and you rejecting the gift I gave you, and then being ignored when I reached out to you. I can tolerate quite a lot but not all at once and not at this time of year.
You’ve said so many times how things escalate around breaks and how it seems to funnel all the fear about being left and forgotten about into something really difficult to manage for those parts. This happened in a spectacular way this year. I cancelled sessions, text you, sent you my notebooks, and disconnected the skype call… things felt really bad BUT at the same time part of me must have felt safe enough to do that, to act out because it is very rare.
You’ve told me it’s ok to express my feelings and that there wouldn’t be any repercussions for that, you have encouraged me to bring my anger to the room, you told me it would be ok …and when I finally did that look what happened. It’s all fallen apart. You felt you reached the limit of your competency to work with me. I can’t really believe it. Honestly? Out of all the complex clients you must see in a week, it’s me that’s pushed you to the limit?
The defences I have built over the years work really hard at trying to keep me safe and yet often you’ve said that perhaps they aren’t needed in the same way anymore and perhaps they could step aside – particularly the critical part. It feels like now they had good reason to be there…which again is so painful to acknowledge. I wanted to believe things could be different and now I feel like I am back to square one. It’s completely floored me,
Our termination session was so hard for me. I have never really cried with you and even then I didn’t let you see just how bad it was because there was nothing to be done. There was no way to mend the situation which is all I really wanted. I had been in pieces since you emailed and said we had to stop the therapy. I have been a wreck, crying so so much. I dread going to sleep because in the dark of my bedroom it all catches up with me and I cry myself to sleep. I know this, in part, is coming from the past and younger parts but it doesn’t make it feel any better in the here and now. I don’t think you have any idea how painful this is for me. My attachment wound is big and I feel like you’ve poked it with a stick and walked away.
There is so much I want to say to you still. I needed more than one closing session…I needed more than six… I was not ready for this to be over but knowing that I had no choice in your decision what could I do? As you said, it would just ‘prolong the agony’. It’s not like if I magically found all my words it’d change anything I couldn’t somehow turn back time and make it ok again. Perhaps when you asked me what I wanted to do and I said that I didn’t want to come back again you were just accepting what I was saying – but it was coming from the defensive part that was trying to protect me from unbearable feelings. I am not sure being left with the ‘agony’ unprocessed has been any better than sitting with you in agony.
Walking away it feels like I have been dropped from a great height and yet there is no safety net to catch me. We’ve gone from two sessions a week to none. What am I meant to do with all that’s been thrown up because right now I feel like I need therapy every single day to try and get through this because it is a massive deal to me, It’s triggered all the trauma feelings. I don’t know how I have managed to hold myself together through this and not resort to self-harming behaviours. It’s a battle, that’s for sure… but I suppose that shows some kind of progress. I can feel how the feelings are building again though, because I think part of me has been surviving this like a break – the longest we’ve had is three weeks and so once time goes past that then I guess reality will really hit.
The saddest thing about this is that I have started to really blame myself for what’s happened. Now, more than ever, the little girl inside me is certain that she is unlovable and that she is too much. I am so sad and I miss you so much.
I won’t contact you again because I know we are finished but I want you to know that I am grateful for all the time you put in to trying to help me, and the care you gave, even if I couldn’t always see it in the moment. x.
Ah it’s so bloody painful even reading that again. I really didn’t expect her to respond but I felt that I at least needed her to know how this had affected me because that final session had been so awful. She must’ve felt it too. I hardly spoke and just cried through it. She couldn’t look at me and basically wished me well for the future! I guess really, this email was a goodbye letter…even though I didn’t want to say goodbye, not really.
And then on Saturday morning she replied to me. Wtf?:
Thank you for email. I feel very sorry to hear how upset and distressed you have been feeling. I will reply more fully within the next two weeks, after I explore the situation further with my clinical supervisor.
I was hit with so many feelings receiving that email. I know it’s not exactly oozing warmth but it is about as warm as she’s ever been with me on email. I didn’t know what to make of it. Like, had she actually taken on board what I had said in my email, had some time to reflect and maybe was thinking there might be a way back from this? Or at least, maybe try for a better ending knowing what a disaster that sessions had been? I dunno. I felt kind of hopeful because if the door was completely closed surely she just wouldn’t have responded at all?
I didn’t reply to her email and I waited wondering what was to come all week and then late Friday afternoon (this weekend) this landed in my inbox – deep breaths people:
Further to my email of 22 February, I would like to emphasize that I am very sorry to hear about your distress and difficulties.
However, I am afraid that I have gradually come to the conclusion that the difficulties you have are beyond the scope of my particular clinical expertise. Therefore, if you would like to do further work on your difficulties, I would suggest that you consider finding another therapist.
You said in your last email that you would not contact me again and I agree that it is best for you not to contact me.
I wish you well for the future.
And, there, my friends is how 8 years of a relationship end. Kind regards. Boom…don’t contact me again, I have washed my hands clean of this. So, there we are, all that I said in my letter are my ‘difficulties’ and I had best find a way of dealing with them.
Needless to say, I burst into tears the moment that email came through. Maybe it’s me, and maybe it’s not as cold as it feels, but I honestly am struggling to understand how this ending has been acceptable. I know I’m sensitive and the attachment stuff is big, but it just feels all the more cruel that this is how she’s ended it knowing me as she does. There has been no opportunity to discuss any of what I think or feel with her – she’s raised the drawbridge.
Ugh. I would be interested to hear your take on this.
Thank goodness I have Anita – but I am also feeling a bit sceptical about that and therapy in general if I am honest. I mean if someone with 25 years experience in counselling and 15 as a Principal Clinical Psychologist in the NHS feels I am beyond her capabilities how likely is it that Anita is going to be able to help me?
This isn’t the first time I have been told that my issues are too complex for a therapist… having said that that particular therapist was a fresh out the box trainee counsellor and at least noticed after two sessions that she wasn’t equipped to deal with the complex stuff around eating disorders and self harm that was really active at the time but she did help me with lots of other stuff. I wish Em had have been honest about her competency and capacity to work with me years ago because nothing has significantly changed between us – I brought these issues to therapy years ago. She advertises that she works with trauma, abuse, PTSD, anorexia, etc…
Maybe I should just give up? You know, accept that this is as good as it gets for me. I function. I am ok in my adult life. I have a great wife and two lovely kids. My health is good enough. Perhaps to think this perpetual ache inside would one day heal just isn’t possible for people like me? Maybe I am just too damaged. I dunno what I think, really.
I don’t mean to sound all depressive and morbid. It’s just hard to see that it can be better than this because right now it feels just about as bad as it gets. I am right in the thick of the worst of that abandonment and rejection pain. The wound is bleeding out all over the place and I can’t see how to make it better. Perhaps I can just box up all this pain and put it at the back of the closet and carry on with my life.
I can’t say I haven’t given myself a good stab at trying to heal this.
The laugh is, I had sort of convinced myself that I wasn’t actually completely fucking useless and beyond help. I had even started to believe that my issues are completely normal given the level of trauma I have experienced throughout my life. I had started to chip away at the shame that had set like concrete inside me. And now this, with Em, it’s uprooted all those tentative new healthy shoots that gave hope of something better and has repaved the landscape with the old narrative – more fucking concrete. It’s barren.
Anyway, because I am not going to throw in the towel just yet, I had better go and get my backside to my session with Anita. I really hope that we can have another go at making a different internal landscape – I want wildflower meadows and trees – not a carpark!