How to say hello/goodbye to your therapist?

Now and again, a client has come for an initial interview and the dialogue has been so profound that the memory of it has remained imprinted on my brain. The following was one such occasion: A very bright and enthusiastic young woman began our conversation by sharing with me what she had been doing to prepare for our first session together. Among other things, she commented that she had read a book that had proven to be very helpful. With genuine curiosity, I asked, “What was the title of the book?” Her reply was: “How To Say Goodbye To Your Therapist”. I looked at her quizzically and remarked, “But we have just met!” She then proceeded to explain to me that according to the author/therapist of this book, how one says hello, has all and everything to do with the kind of goodbye the person anticipates. While memories of former goodbyes may remain unconscious, nevertheless, they have impact. For example, if former relationship endings with people of significance have been painful or difficult, chances are that the person will enter into new relationships with considerable caution or they may not even enter at all! Traumatic endings, such as early experiences of rejection or abandonment, can wreak havoc with one’s relationship life. New beginnings may be avoided or it may take a great deal of time before the person opens up. After all, if you don’t get in too deep, it’s not likely to hurt so bad when the relationship ends.

I was sharing this information the other day with a client of mine whom I have seen for some time. Her relationship with her mother was harshly ruptured in her late teens when her mother left the family abruptly and soon after moved to another city. To this day, feelings towards her mother remain unresolved and this painful early life experience has proven to have enormous influence on her capacity for closeness with others. Relationships with others generally have remained pretty distant and superficial. Her own feelings are often blunted and she does not let people in too deep. In new social groups, she is slow to enter into conversation and it can take several encounters before she connects with people. She never felt like she was enough for her mother and consequently remains terrified that if anyone really got to know her that they would head for the hills! Some internal voice is relentless in trying to convince her that nobody would be interested in her and that if they were, she would not have much meaningful to say anyway. In romantic relationships, she has chosen men who do not like to talk about feelings and they seldom ask questions about her which suits her just fine. Her choices allow her to keep her own feelings at bay and to feel secure in the walls that she has erected to ensure that people do not get in too close and personal. Goodbyes can refer to so many things…the end of a trip, graduating from school, losing a pet, relocating cities, completing a team project, launching a child, etc. Endings are inevitable in life and whether you are aware of it or not, the ending you anticipate often colors the way you will enter these experiences.

One of the gifts that therapy has to offer is a chance to do things differently when earlier life experiences have been difficult. When this happens, tremendous healing can take place. A good therapist is reliable, attentive, and non judgmental. A climate of safety is created so that an entirely different kind of joining and ending can be experienced. Ending therapy is a whole new opportunity to address struggles in former goodbyes. It can allow a client to have an experience of saying goodbye that is mutually agreed upon, conscious and feels right. Such an experience can heal old wounds and make for more intimate and meaningful beginnings.

1 Comment

  • Merika Skirko

    We also have a potoential client here who was traumatized by a termination with her previous therapist. The therapist saw a possible dual relationship and a conflict when he realized that they went to the same church. Now she researches every therapist she has seen after that one (and there have been many) afterwards, terrified that she will form a dependency and be abandoned.
    Sadly, no one meets her criteria and she has not worked through the loss. This has left her bitter and demanding, and not easy to match with another therapist. Until she has her proper closure (whether it be with a new therapist or with her old one) she is stuck. Termination is a very important phase of treatment, and some clinicians don’t realize that it must be handled well.

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