A few weeks ago, my therapist of many years retired from direct therapy and moved into a managerial role. That means that a few weeks ago, I not only lost a serious piece of my support system, a repository of a great deal of knowledge about my mental health and history, and someone who knew my coping techniques inside and out, but also someone that I would consider a friend or at the very least an ally.
I’d spent more time with Rebekah than I have with many people I today consider my friends. An hour once a week for over 4 years is a lot of time to invest in a relationship with someone. Add in the fact that those hours are times of serious emotional work, when you show your therapist a lot of vulnerabilities and work through the harder parts of your life, and this is someone that you have to trust in a serious way, not only to be good at their job but also to handle you and your feelings gently and respectfully. You have to learn that this is someone you can feel safe and comfortable with, maybe someone you can even enjoy your time with.
When most relationships end, it’s understood to be a time for some grieving, for some element of hurt and sadness. For some reason the therapist/patient relationship is still viewed pretty strictly in business terms, that they are providing a service and you are paying them. That’s strictly true, but it’s also true that there are many service providers that get close to their clients: massage therapists, manicurists, hair stylists…all sorts of people that you see on a regular basis will come to know you over time, and many people see those relationships as important in and of themselves, beyond the service that gets provided.
While finding a therapist that is a good fit for you is hard in any circumstance, it gets significantly harder when you’re comparing them to your old one, the one you liked so much, your friend. Trying to start fresh after having built up a level of understanding and history with someone is incredibly difficult.
Here’s what I’m telling myself:
This is hard. It gets to feel weird and uncomfortable. If the new therapist keeps feeling weird and uncomfortable in a month or two months, this might not be the right fit.
Finding a new therapist is a challenge no matter what, but finding one to fill the shoes of someone you thought was just about perfect is even harder.
No one has failed if you decide this isn’t right for you and move to a different person. No one will ever replace the therapist you liked so much. If you’re lucky you’ll get a new friend. If not, you got someone awesome to help you through some of the hardest times you’ve had so far.
It’s certainly weird to feel as if I need to grieve for the ending of a patient/provider relationship, but I do feel that way. I miss someone who knew me so well, someone I trusted. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the nature of the relationship between therapist and patient is a unique one. It would be nice to have an open discussion about the rules of the unique relationship.