WEGO Award

The Trauma of Losing a Therapist


Shirley J. Davis

Recovery from a severe mental condition such as Dissociative Identity Disorder is not easy. It takes many years of psychotherapy, patience and a lot of guts. I know, because I have spent the past 27 years doing just that. I was extremely fortunate to have met and worked with a wonderful Psychologist who, although she hadn’t a lot of knowledge about DID in the beginning, was willing to make the dedication to work with me using all the training and skills she had learned throughout her years of practice.

I began therapy in 1990, entering my therapist’s office not understanding exactly what was going on in my life. I knew things had been happening that I didn’t understand, such as losing time and having people say I did and said things I didn’t remember, and suffering from major depressive episodes from early childhood, but I had decided that everyone lived that way. How could I know they did not? After seeing my therapist, at which time she listened to me relate how I lived my life for two months or more,  finally she told me that she believed I lived with what was then termed Multiple Personality Disorder. Thus, we began the long and arduous trip down the road less taken together.

I would be lying if I said that psychotherapy wasn’t excruciating. I had begun to remember more about the trauma I had lived through as a child before I began to see my therapist, and this continued on for the many years of our time together. I didn’t want to remember, and I didn’t want to live with Dissociative Identity Disorder, so I bounced in and out of denial for a long time.

I had gotten married during my time early in therapy, and my husband became very ill. We were forced to declare bankruptcy. Unfortunately, we were also forced to declare the clinic where my therapist worked, and they cut off all my services. As a consequence, I experienced the first loss of my therapist. I was more than devastated. I felt as though my heart would wrench from my chest, and I was very lost. I bounced around from person to person trying desperately to make the same kind of therapeutic connection I had enjoyed with my first therapist, but it was no use. Finally, I became so ill that I had to be placed in a long-term psychiatric facility, where I remained for over seven years.

While inpatient I languished because I had no one to believe in my ability to get well. I may have remained that way had not another great therapist entered my life. She had experience with Dissociative Identity Disorder and was not afraid to work with me. I began to grow, and in September 2011 I left the facility to reenter the community.

In the fall of 2012, I was reunited with my first therapist. It was a joyful reunion with my inside children raging with happiness. It was so loud in my head I could barely hear what my therapist was saying. I began growing by leaps and bounds, as once again, she used all her skills and talents to help me understand myself and my situation better.

In August 2014, my therapist announced she was going to retire in a year, the following September 2015. I began the hard task of processing the fact that I would most likely never see her again. I looked upon her as a mother, mostly because she had taught me so many of the life skills that a mother should endow to her children. I learned so much from this woman, and I am so grateful to have known her. Now I was going to lose her for good. It wasn’t just a matter of me, the adult, understanding and coping with this idea, I am full of child alters who were extremely attached to her. She had always been very professionally cautious to only allow all of me to attach to her in a therapeutic fashion, but after so many years and so many miles down such a torrid road together, it was inevitable that I would grow very fond of her. I believe she was fond of me as well, but it was time for her to retire and the boundary had been set.

I wish I could say I spent the next year acting like an adult and planning for my therapist to leave me. It wasn’t quite that simple. I had a major relapse during this time and was dissociated for ten months. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t lost so much time being with her, but that’s hindsight. When I reemerged we only had two months left for us to say our goodbyes. When the day finally came, at the end of our last session together, I gave her a warm hug knowing I would never see her again.

This past year has been one of the hardest of my life. I’ve had to face many situations without my lovely therapist. I know I will never hear from her again, and that makes me tremendously sad. My inside children are just now beginning to cope, as I keep reminding them that although other people will leave them, it is impossible for me to do so. I love my kids, and this knowledge somewhat comforts them.

The whole purpose in writing this piece has been to help others who are in therapy to understand that someday they too will leave their therapist or they will leave them. Change is an inevitable part of life, without it we would stagnate and not grow. I believe my therapist will find a way to keep contributing to the world in her retired capacity, and for that reason for than anything, I am willing to give her to that world because I know she will make even more of a difference than she already has.

A final word to clients and therapists.

To Clients:

Leaving your therapist is extremely difficult, especially if you have made a great connection. However, it is inevitable. Therapists are humans too, they get sick and sometimes need to move away. They have children, husbands/wives, and other responsibilities you may not be aware of and must tend to. They must take time off to take care of themselves because if they don’t, they are no good to themselves, their families, or you. Remember, you are not alone, and you need not suffer alone. Seek out support from other people in recovery and make as many friends as you can to help you through. Don’t give up on recovery just because someone had to leave your life to take care of themselves. It is not personal and should not be taken as such.

To Therapists:

Your clients are not disposable beings you can see and then toss aside. They are hurting human beings who have come to you for guidance. If you don’t get along with a client, or if they need more help than you can offer, then talk to them about it. Explain carefully what you are feeling and be honest with them. If you must leave your position or are retiring, then carefully hand them off to someone you trust. Don’t just have someone call one day and tell them you are no longer available. I have had so many acquaintances who have had this happen and it is cruel. If you are sick or you need time off for yourself, please do so. Don’t worry about your client’s needs when there is a death in the family or your child is ill. You must take good care of yourself if you are going to be any good to your clients. It’s okay to be real and to be human. When you plan on retiring, give your client lots of time to adjust. Give as much calm reassurance as you can and then do what you must to take care of yourself without feelings of guilt. You’ve earned your rest.



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