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I Want my Clear Conscience Back
July 13, 2012 1:39 PM   Subscribe

I owe a person money and want to pay her back. How should I go about it?

Five or more years ago I saw a therapist who I no longer see. I paid cash. I never missed an appointment, she was professional, and we had a good patient-therapist relationship. I saw her less than a dozen times. Probably 6-10. One day I missed my scheduled appointment. In a moment of idiocy and immaturity I accepted a lunch invitation from a new friend and didn't have the guts to tell my friend I had prior plans. I didn't call the therapist to cancel. That was irresponsible of me and it bothers me I never paid the fee for the missed appointment. Ten minutes after my scheduled time to arrive, my therapist called to inquire my whereabouts and I pretended like I forgot about the appointment. She asked me to call and reschedule. I never called and I never went back.

It has bothered me many times over the last five years that I behaved in such a way. She lost out on her fee and she was inconvenienced by my irresponsible behavior. Nowadays it is really bothering me because I spot her at my gym, local restaurants, etc. This week we were in the same exercise class. I want to pay her for my missed appointment. I should have done it a long time ago. She never billed me. The fee is 80 dollars. I want to enclose a short note.

What should I say in my note when I send the check? I want her to be paid and I want to apologize but I don't want it to be weird. We don't speak when we come in contact at the gym. I am confident she knows who I am.

Any advice appreciated. Thanks.
posted by Fairchild to Human Relations (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Not that we should speak, just painting a picture.
posted by Fairchild at 1:43 PM on July 13, 2012


I'm pretty sure every single person who has ever had a therapist has tried to get out of a missed-appointment fee by playing dumb.

Anyway, this is really simple. Write a check for eighty dollars, put in a note saying "I feel really bad about not having paid this, please accept it with my apologies" and mail it out. As easy said as done. If you want, you can follow up a little while later at the gym if she doesn't beat you to it.
posted by griphus at 1:44 PM on July 13, 2012 [12 favorites]


"Dear X,

In 200[6] I missed my last scheduled appointment with you, and never paid the fee. Please find enclosed a cheque to cover the fee I should have paid at the time, for $80.

Sincerely,
Fairchild."

If you had a patient number or anything like that, you should include that in the letter to make it easier for them.

Note that as you are sending this to her work (as you should be), it may never be seen by her if she has an admin who handles accounts.
posted by jacalata at 1:46 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, she probably feels bound by the rules of her profession not to speak to you in public unless you initiate the conversation.

The key to keeping an apology from getting weird is to be short and to the point. Something like, "The enclosed check is for the scheduled appointment that I missed on [insert date]. I'm sorry for not having paid you sooner. Sincerely, Fairchild."
posted by Area Man at 1:48 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, she probably feels bound by the rules of her profession not to speak to you in public unless you initiate the conversation.

Yeah, this is a good point. There's still a stigma attached to seeking help for mental health issues, so if she were to come up to you in public and all of a sudden your friend/mom/boss pops up and says "oh, who is this?" you won't be forced to reveal that you are in therapy, or initiate a complex web of lies.
posted by griphus at 1:51 PM on July 13, 2012


...you won't would be forced...
posted by griphus at 1:52 PM on July 13, 2012


Yeah, this is a good point. There's still a stigma attached to seeking help for mental health issues,

And several federal privacy regulations . . .
posted by Think_Long at 1:54 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just send her a cheque with a note that is is for missed appointment. No biggie. I am sure it has happened before.
posted by fifilaru at 2:03 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thank you for the answers. I was overthinking but now I see it is simple. It's kind of awkward when I see her out and about. Not because I revealed personal and painful details in therapy but because I missed my appointment and once I drunk dialed her by mistake. When I was her client I had an embarrassing moment when I called her by mistake on my cell after we attended the same charity event. There was no need to feel embarrassed but I was because I had a few glasses of wine. Here I was dialing her when we were in the same room moments ago. I was tipsy and I had to tell her I called her by mistake and I think I said, "Oh, I just saw you at such and such event." I think I feel more embarrassed than I should and just need to get it done and pay.

griphus and Area Man your wording is perfect. Thank you all.
posted by Fairchild at 2:19 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just wanted to chime in and say, you are being extremely hard on yourself with regards to this situation. You did not behave in an awful way. You did the less-than-optimal thing one day five years ago. If you want to pay her back, that's fine. This is not a situation where you have to absolve yourself of some moral transgression. Pay back to settle up on the business end of things (missed time for her, policy of fees for missed appts, etc). Don't pay back to absolve yourself on a moral level. Forgive yourself.
posted by Katine at 2:39 PM on July 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


Are you sure that it's her policy to expect payment for missed sessions? My last shrink was generally overjoyed if someone skipped, because he was always running behind schedule and someone skipping was the only way he could catch up. And many other shrinks I have known let the first one go. The fact that she didn't send you a bill suggests she might not have intended for you to pay.
posted by ubiquity at 3:27 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Go ahead and pay if you like, especially as it will clearly make you feel better. But in my experience, professional offices that charge missed appointment fees almost never charge them the first time you miss an appointment -- they only do so if you habitually miss them. So she may never have expected any money.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:04 PM on July 13, 2012


Another possible reason to keep the note brief and to the point: make your apology/explanation too long and involved, and it may well start to look like it's all about you and your burden of guilt. She had your number (and presumably an address), so she could have followed this up with you if she felt it worthwhile.

I understand the desire to make things right, but it's probably best to do that without making it all about salving your conscience.

As for interacting in public, I've seen several therapists' websites that explicitly state that due to the sensitive nature of their profession, they will not approach or acknowledge patients in public, but rather let the patient set the nature of any interaction. You'll probably find that she is perfectly polite if you approach her in public, but does not want to raise awkward questions by initiating contact with you.
posted by Someone Else's Story at 4:10 PM on July 13, 2012


I never called and I never went back.... It has bothered me many times over the last five years that I behaved in such a way. She lost out on her fee and she was inconvenienced by my irresponsible behavior.

I do have to wonder if part of your complex over this is that you used the awkwardness as an excuse to quit therapy, which you may wish you had continued. (Believe me, BTDT.) Not to get all Rogerian on you, but how do you feel about that?

The thing is, therapists see much worse than what you've described. Much, much worse. What you've described is probably normal for the overall patient population. Very, very normal. Again, not to get all therapeutic on you, but try to forgive yourself, and if paying and getting this out of the way helps you do that, you've done yourself a solid, too.

BTW, highly recommended: In Treatment. As I recall one of the first season episodes is pretty much all about the awkwardness of ending therapy and what it "means" to the patient.
posted by dhartung at 11:59 PM on July 13, 2012


As for interacting in public, I've seen several therapists' websites that explicitly state that due to the sensitive nature of their profession, they will not approach or acknowledge patients in public, but rather let the patient set the nature of any interaction. You'll probably find that she is perfectly polite if you approach her in public, but does not want to raise awkward questions by initiating contact with you.

This particular therapist told me on the first appointment: "If I see you out... If I see you at a Pampered Chef party or something, I will behave like I don't know you. We will pretend we don't know one another and we are meeting for the first time.

dhartang, maybe I did use it as an excuse. She was my first therapist. I stopped and didn't seek therapy again until this year with another therapist. I have got to watch In Treatment. I see it recommended often, I have HBO, just never got around to it.

Thanks again for answers.
posted by Fairchild at 6:40 AM on July 14, 2012


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