I think there are probably quite a lot of people out there who are wondering: why do I miss my therapist so much between sessions? Or, maybe, like me, their therapist has moved states, referred out, or some other variation of ending the relationship; and, they find themselves feeling a deep sense of grief they can’t quite understand. That’s what this blog is about: missing our therapists.
First, let’s acknowledge the pink elephant in the room, as K used to say in our sessions: it is completely normal to feel attached to your therapist. It is totally okay if you think about him/her between sessions. It is okay if you need more than one session a week. It is okay if you need a session and a check-in. It is okay if you need a transitional object. It is okay if you need a voice recording from your therapist. Therapy is a weird ass relationship where you can let all your relational quirks and eccentricities just hang out. Your therapist, if he/she is a good one, will not judge you for your needs and feelings.
That said, let’s actually talk about the experience of missing one’s therapist. I will tell you, this can happen whether the attachment with your therapist is healthy or not. If you’ve been with me since the beginning, you’ll remember my rocky relationship with C. That, I would say, was not a healthy therapeutic relationship. I was deeply, deeply attached. The boundaries were blurred and problematic. I knew all of that but I still missed the Hell out of her when I decided to end our work. And, I’ll tell you a secret. I reached out to her a few times. It’s like that Finding Nemo moment, “I’m gunna touch the butt.” You know in your head, this is probably a bad idea but you don’t care. You want the experience. You want the feelings, so you do it anyway. I’ll tell you another secret… I have no regrets about reaching out to her again. The relationship felt unresolved, as therapy relationships often do when they end.
In therapy, they call the end of the relationship, termination. Isn’t that awful? But, the severity of the term does sort of match the severity of the end. Therapists say, “my door is always open.” And, some of the times that is true. When you’re in a good place and you part ways with your therapist, communication generally drops off, but you’re free to pop by for a “maintenance” session. You don’t get this when the therapist determines the fit isn’t quite right, or they’re not the most competent professional to help you, or they don’t have any openings to sustain long-term work with you, or they’ve moved away. The possibilities are endless. What I am getting at is when any of those things happen, it is expected that the client just stops contacting the therapist. I do wonder how often it actually works that way. Therapy is so strict and so boundaried. Yet, at the end of the day, you’re just two humans together in a room. Two humans with feelings. Attachment in the holding space is so completely normal. And, it goes both ways. If anyone ever told you otherwise, they’re either lying to themselves or they’re lying to you.
When K left, she told me that she would miss me. And, she told me “my email and phone number won’t change.” Of course, I know the boundaries. I know the rules. I’m not supposed to contact her anymore. I’m supposed to go to my new therapist with things. That’s how this referred to another therapist thing is supposed to work. But, damn if I hate supposed tos; they’re as bad as shoulds and coulds. Another secret: it is okay if you find the supposed tos difficult. I contacted K twice since she left a month ago because I am literally grieving the loss of that relationship. And, who do you want to go to when you’re in grief? Your therapist. She was my therapist for a year. The feelings developed in that room together don’t just go away when the therapist moves states. They stick around and you have to deal with them. You have to move through them and heal.
If you have a new therapist to help get you through that process, that’s good. But, developing that relationship is going to be hard while you are mourning the relationship with your former therapist. I know it isn’t fair but I keep comparing J to K. (I get the irony in this, considering I wanted to work with J all along; when I finally accept that I need to do the work with K and I let her in… she has to move some months later). It is like a romantic relationship in how we want to compare. Well, K did it this way. K never would have said that. Etc. And, I think, it is made worse by the fact that K trained under J, so J knows her well. Well enough that I think J was feeling some of the pressure to do things like K at first, too. Because she knew things worked with K and she wanted things to work for me. Woo, not good. If you’re a therapist and you’re reading this, just be yourself in the room with the client, please. Make space for the client to talk about how much they miss their former therapist. Don’t try to force them to attach to you as a replacement. Just let them be.
If you’re missing your therapist and you’re not seeing another therapist, be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling without judgment. Your feelings are neither good nor bad. They’re there to help you understand how much your therapist meant to you. They’re normal. Anyone who has experienced the things that you have experienced, would feel what you’re feeling. Make space for your feelings, don’t rush yourself through them. And, if you have someone in your life who is supportive, share with them. Talk about how much the relationship meant to you.
Finally, if you’re missing your therapist between sessions, also totally okay. It hurts to open yourself up for an hour each week, to make yourself completely vulnerable and seen in that room with another person. It’s so intimate. And, then you’re expected to close it up so that you can go back out into the world and work your adult job and take care of the kids and go to school. But, uh, nope… doesn’t really work that way. I mean, ideally it would. Ideally your therapist helps you feel contained and you know you can leave the ineffective feelings locked away somewhere in their office, to revisit when you came back the next week (K and I did that). I think being able to actually contain the feelings and go back to your adult level of functioning is especially hard though. Even more so when you’ve got childhood trauma, when you’ve got attachment wounds, when you’ve never had a secure base and all of the sudden it is this person who used to be a stranger to you, whom you now share all of your deepest secrets with. It is so incredibly natural to long for a return to the secure base. Allow yourself that longing.
In all these things, cry if you need to. Do not dam up the well of tears. Let them flow.