“I think this should be our last session,” said my former therapist, Leslie.
“What? Why?” I asked.
My brows furrowed and my heart started pounding. In only a few seconds my mind rapidly conjured possibilities and anxiety-provoking questions.
Was she sick of me? Had I done something to offend her? Was there some problem with my insurance?
“You’ve made a lot of progress,” she replied. “I don’t think I can help you anymore.”
I felt relief for a moment. I hadn’t done anything wrong.
Then I became upset. She had mentioned how well I was doing in other sessions, but her decision still struck me as sudden.
I wasn’t ready to stop therapy. I didn’t know if I could make progress on my own. My symptoms were still a significant burden in my life. It felt like she was cutting me loose without considering how I was feeling.
“But I still want to reduce my symptoms,” I retorted. “There’s more progress I want to make.”
“You now have the skills to make that progress on your own,” she said. Her voice was so zen and soothing. It took the edge off my anxiety. I was still processing the situation, though.
I sighed and looked away from her. Then I started tapping my heel on her rug and looking around the room. It was one of the many ways my body contorted when I was thinking intensely.
Maybe there was also a subconscious part of me that wanted to take in the office one last time. It was as generic as therapist offices come — drab couches and some cheap paintings on the wall — but I had become attached to it. It was a place where I had learned to cope with my challenges and become a better version of myself.
A mix of emotions cycled through my mind. My therapist was dumping me, but it was for a good reason. I felt proud of my apparent accomplishments but frustrated with the disagreement and the prospect of having to hunt for a new therapist.
“Well, I disagree,” I said, struggling to hide how irritated I was. “Is there anything I can do to change your mind?”
“No,” she replied. “I’m sorry.”
That was it. We shook hands and I left her office for the last time.
I wasn’t sure how to process what had happened. At first I resented Leslie. Because of her decision, I now felt uncertain about what I needed to do to continue improving myself and addressing the somatic symptoms of my mental illness.
If I found a new therapist, would he or she send me away for the same reasons Leslie did? Was this the limit of the progress I could make in therapy?
To answer these questions, I looked for a new therapist and found Peter. During our first session, I told him what had happened with Leslie.
“It sounds like she did you a favor,” Peter said.
This response confused me. How could letting a client go be a favor if the client wasn’t ready to leave?
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“She could’ve kept you around and milked you for money knowing there wasn’t anything more she could do for you,” Peter explained. “She admitted her preference and let you go. That was good of her.”
Most of this made sense to me. I still thought Leslie could’ve handled ending our relationship better than she did, but I felt guilty for resenting her. She was being decent, but I couldn’t see that until now.
I didn’t completely understand the situation, though. What did Peter mean by “preference”? Peter could tell I was confused, so he continued his explanation.
“Look, some people, including therapists, think therapy is only for getting you out of the woods and giving you the skills to make it on your own. Once you get to that point, they don’t think there’s a reason to continue. Other people think therapy is a lifelong journey. They always want to work on themselves and don’t mind paying the extra dough, so they stay as long as they can. Some therapists think the same way, so they let their clients stay indefinitely. Others don’t, so they let all of their clients go eventually.”
“So I’m one of these people?” I asked. “One of the lifelong people?”
Peter leaned back in his chair and smiled.
“Bingo!” he replied.
That’s when I realized I could continue to progress in therapy for as long as I wanted. All I needed to do was work with a therapist who, like me, believed therapy was a lifelong journey. Fortunately Peter was the right fit for me, so my journey continued.
If you are in therapy for a long time, something like this might happen to you. Know that it’s OK. Finding a new in-person therapist is a pain. But if you want to continue, it’s worth it.
Instead of hunting through health insurance databases and making in-person appointments all over the city, an administrator conducted the switch for me. To spare myself the process of retelling my life story and mental health history, I allowed the next therapist to access my transcripts with my previous therapist. The network had my billing information saved, so I didn’t need to reenter it or fill out any forms.