Coping with abandonment after breaking up with my therapist of 9 years
June 6, 2019 8:56 AM   Subscribe

I just ended it with a very long term therapist and want to know how to deal with the feelings of abandonment and loss?

Therapist had been very good but it was becoming apparent they couldn't offer the level of care I needed. The last month or so had been particularly difficult in our relationship. It culminated in an episode that left me incredibly distressed, betrayed, and feeling a complete lack of trust. (NB: No boundaries were crossed, nothing unethical was done).

I called them and said as a result of this episode, I no longer could trust them and therefore work with them. They agreed. I am now feeling a huge sense of loss. How do I process this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (4 answers total)
It's out of print, but When to Say Goodbye to Your Therapist is available used on Amazon and eBay. It deals with a lot of the issues you're struggling with. I found it very helpful.
posted by FencingGal at 11:17 AM on June 6, 2019

My very first therapist - who made a huge difference in my self-awareness - moved from western Massachusetts to the Bay Area somewhat abruptly while we were working together.

Ten years later when I moved to San Francisco I called her and asked her if she could recommend a therapist or if I could work with her again. First, she didn't remember me and then she scoffed at me when I told her my price range.

That's obviously not anywhere near your situation but I remember feeling the loss surprisingly strongly.
posted by bendy at 2:44 PM on June 6, 2019

As WCityMike suggests, it seems important to honor, validate, and accept your feelings. You would likely be feeling some sense of loss if your therapeutic relationship were ending because of something like your therapist moving away. In that situation, you'd probably go through a period of grieving. In other words, you are experiencing a real loss.

And, because of the painful experience you recently had with your therapist, you're dealing with a lot of other difficult feelings on top of the grief. You might find some helpful resources/framework by looking up "complicated grief."

So, you may find it helpful to do the things that people typically do around grief and loss.

I'm also wondering about something which is hard to fully suggest without knowing more specifics about how your therapist failed to hold you, but it sounds like the end of your work together was sudden and unexpected. So it's possible that it could help to have a closing session, either soon or after you've found another therapists -- both to simply be witnessed by your former therapist in these feelings and to create more of a sense of wrapping up the work you've spent nine years on together. Of course, depending on what happened and/or on the lack of trust you're feeling, doing so might not be emotionally safe or helpful for you. You might also ask if your former therapist would be willing to help you find closure in some other way, i.e. by writing you a letter of summary of your work together or something along those lines.
posted by overglow at 2:47 PM on June 6, 2019

+1 on “go back for one more session” unless it would cause you more distress than you’re already feeling. Without quite signing on with the way some therapists say “so you want to terminate our therapy? Let’s talk about it for a year!” I think the nature of this relationship does give you the opportunity, missing in many kinds of loss, to address it directly. If, loss of trust not withstanding, you feel there is any relationship there to work with, it is arguably part of your therapist’s job to help you process the end of what was once a meaningful relationship.
posted by Smearcase at 2:59 PM on June 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

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