Wednesday, April 27, 2016

When Therapy Ends

When Therapy Ends

Psyche contemplating her namesake. 

Tomorrow will be the last day that I see my therapist. This June would have marked the four year duration of our work together. During that time I have grown tremendously. I have learned more than I expected from our work together. I can't begin to list all the things that Julie and I have explored, and how her guidance has influenced me. Though four years seems like a mere tick on the hands of a clock, it is a long time to be in treatment these days. It seems to have gone by like so many sunrises and sunsets, gradual, and yet too soon.

I want to clarify that our work is ending for a few good reasons. These are reasons that I accept, though it's not easy for me to say good-bye.

I should rewind the clock back to August of 2015. Julie announced that she was pregnant, and was expecting to give birth in May. She initially informed that she'd take off only three months for maternity leave, and then return sometime in August. I had the option of working with another therapist as a gap filler, but I decided to wait for Julie. Part of that is loyalty, and another part is that she knows me. I didn't want to go through the whole spiel of telling my life story to someone all over again. I would bide my time, and wait for Julie to come back.

I was initially a little hesitant. I reminded myself of Linus in The Peanuts cartoons. He always needed that light blue security blanket to keep himself stable. There are times when our work was like that. I never sucked my thumb, but I came to rely on our work to help me remain stable through difficult times. Mind you, I never used therapy as a crutch, just as a form of self care. To use another Peanuts example, Julie as often reminded me of Lucy, but in a good way. They're are both therapists, and she resembles Lucy a great deal; hence why I use images of Lucy to represent her.
I was worried at first, but then realized, “I don't fear losing Julie. She'll come back in three months. We'll resume our work. It'll be no big deal.” However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized things weren't as they seemed.

I knew then that Julie wasn't coming back, and that our work would soon end.

I originally thought we'd just resume our work, and that by March of 2017 we'd end. There were two reasons why I thought this. The first was that my intuition was working overtime. I'd ignored it for so many years that it finally broke through in vibrant clarity. I kept having that feeling that this was the beginning of a countdown. 

I'd had that feeling since my academic adviser told me I could perform a counseling practicum in the fall. I'm still looking for a practicum, but have not lost heart. I'll find something eventually. It seemed to be that I'd be transitioning from client to therapist, and would “shed the cocoon” so to speak.

The second reason was this...I'd run out of things to say.

When I told Julie these things, she said to me, “That's good! That's a natural ending. Therapy isn't supposed to last forever, it does have an end. Therapy is designed that at some point the client will not need therapy.”

She went into detail about “Episodes of care,” and how clients may need to return to therapy at different stages in life for different difficulties. I may need therapy again further down the road. That's alright with me. The idea behind therapy isn't to cure the client, it is to help them manage their mental health. I'd lost a therapist before, and may lose another one. The true test of the efficacy of our work is, “Did I grow?”

The answer is, “Yes.”

While I'm still a work in progress (who isn't?) I have grown. As Julie herself had pointed out, “You always carried our work with you into the world. And you've worked very hard in here.”

I have, and I do see a difference.

One of the things that is different was revealed in some writing I shared with Julie. I compiled essays that detailed our work together, and life events related to it. In one of them I said, “I became an adult. It's not such a scary thing anymore.”

To which Julie proclaimed, “You're an adult! That was your goal!”

We both laughed at that.

When Julie told me she was leaving, I didn't argue or get angry. Instead, I said to her, “I accept your decision.”

“Thank you,” she said, in surprise.

“And I want you to know I'm not angry at you.” I said.

For which she also thanked me.
Her reasons for leaving do not include the forthcoming baby. Instead, it is because her family needs her. Things in her personal life shifted, and need to be taken care of by her. I can't fault her for that. While none of this has been easy for me, I can tell it isn't easy for her either.

I wrote to Julie, “I also know that I have to release you so that you can continue to grow. I know that leaving isn't easy for you either. I could see the sadness in your face when you told me you weren't coming back. If there's any comfort that I can give you, it's not only in all these things I'm writing for you; it's also in the knowledge that you have done a great job with guiding me, and your clients. You can be released into the next phase of your life with pride. All I ask is that you never forget the lessons we have learned together. I know I never will.

Julie then added, softly, “You have to release me so that you can grow.”

We've spent the past six weeks talking and reflecting on our work. We've tied up loose ends, and I cried just a little bit. And while I feel that my life hasn't changed as much as Julie's life, she put it in perspective, “These are just transitions.” The story isn't over yet.

There is such much I've written about our work. And so many ways that our work as changed me for the better. I can't encapsulate it all here. What I can say is that things will never be the same without Julie. Therapy was my weekly highlight for four years. I decided not to continue with another therapist for now for two reasons. The first being that I did run out of things to say. The second being that I refuse to work with less than the best. Julie was the best therapist money could never buy. She was the best guide I could ever have hoped for. I prayed to St. Christina, patron saint of therapists and their clients, and thanked God for bringing her into my life.

She taught me what relationships really are, and how to be in one. She also taught me, “It is hard work being born,” and how to do that work.

For these lessons, and more, I am eternally grateful. Yes, I'm sad that it is ending. But I am also happy that it ever happened. Julie saved my life, and she knows that.

She'll probably laugh when I tell her that. Like last week, when I read Wild Geese to her, and she said, “You're so sentimental.”

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Copyright Riley Joyce 2016

*Wild Geese is a poem by Mary Oliver. It's my favorite, and has been a recurring theme in my work with Julie, and my previous therapist, Jessica. It was Jessica that introduced me to Oliver's work. I feel that every therapist should have a copy of this poem framed in their office. If you've ever read it you'll understand why.

Mary Oliver reading Wild Geese