"The end of therapy is not the end of therapy" by Anonymous Client
Today my therapist broke up with me. There was no ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ chat, because it was clear ‘it’s me’. I was ready for it. And it felt really good. Not because I didn’t want her in my life. If it was socially appropriate to have refused to leave the therapy room, I would have insisted my therapist drag me out on the street by my feet. ‘You want me to leave? Make me!’
This shit is addictive, more so than the drinking, the drugs and meaningless sex used to mask my real feelings. If I could have an hour to talk about myself each week for the rest of my life, I’d be signed up before you could say ‘99-problems-but-talking-about-them-in-therapy-aint-one’. In reality, the end of therapy is the goal, but there are ways to deal with it, and you can be reassured in knowing that it’s also not really the end of therapy.
How to deal with the end
1. Know it’s the goal and be OK with that
Unlike the other relationships in your life, your relationship with your therapist starts off with the intention of ending. You don’t start a romantic relationship off a dating app anticipating the end (or maybe you do, and you should probably see a therapist!). You don’t leave the womb thinking ‘so when do we go our separate ways?’; we all know that doesn’t kick in until puberty. You and your therapist aren’t meant to be together forever.
A big theme to have come out of my therapy is I enjoy making connections with people. My weekly visits to the therapy room had become so familiar and comforting, so much so I’d romanticised how it might end. I had visions of us becoming friends, sharing a carafe of basic bitch rose in a bar in Soho, and reminiscing… ‘Remember that time when I cried on your sofa… wasn’t that funny eh?’.
Naturally given all of this, saying goodbye was difficult, but like the over-achiever that I am, I’d already read articles about how to prepare for it. While it felt emotional, I knew it was a good ending and even though the shared drink would never happen, that’s OK. Therapy isn’t about that. The aim of therapy is to endow you with the tools and methods to enable you to figure out life’s problems yourself. The end is the goal.
2. Praise yourself for making it to the end and celebrate it
Think about who you were when you started this journey and who you are now. Think about everything you’ve learned and how that’s prepared you for what’s to come. Although it hasn’t felt like my life changed drastically overnight (that doesn’t happen by the way!), when I reflect on the journey, I can see how far I have come.
My final session started off like any other. ‘How have you been this week?’ she asked. I rattled on about how I’d had a shit week; I’d been back home-home at the weekend and had an argument with my dad leading me to storm up to my room and cry in bed like I was 14 years old again. I didn’t leave the house for work or anyone because of an eczema flare-up and allergic reaction and was increasingly anxious about an upcoming solo travelling trip.
Despite these setbacks though, I was sitting in her chair feeling fine, having come to a resolution on these already and understanding my reactions, my thoughts and what to do moving forward instead of feeling stuck and unable to process the week. Sure, I’d come across problems, but I’d dealt with them myself and therapy was simply reaffirming the process I’d been through.
My therapist sprung my final session on me, in the session. I could feel the ending coming, but I didn’t anticipate it would be that exact session. I could sense myself clinging onto some sort of reason, any reason, to still need her. But as I sank into the comfort of knowing I’d made it through a tough week and handled it on my own, I felt proud. To celebrate the end of therapy, you could mark the occasion in a way that feels special to you. I’ve decided to get the date I finished therapy tattooed on me.
3. Remember why you know you’ll be fine
You’re going to be fine, because you’ve learnt how to look after yourself. My therapist explained that at the end of therapy, she looks for signs their client will be OK in the big bad world. She asked me, ‘why do you think you’ll be fine leaving here?’
I thought back to what for me felt like a turning point in the most difficult session. It was the moment I realised the real reasons for feeling the way I do and that the reason was ‘me’. I think when you admit to yourself that you've been responsible for how you feel all this time you claim a responsibility to look after yourself if you want things to improve.
Over the months, I’ve had plenty of ‘truth bombs’, those moments where your therapist tells you something you already know deep down inside, but when said out loud by someone else somehow shatters the world around you and disrupts your beliefs about yourself in a way that feels… like a bomb.
What made this session feel different is that the biggest truth bomb was not some self-discovery truth I’ve been avoiding, but the recognition of how far I’ve come since the beginning. I thought back to that session and how vulnerable I felt afterwards. Like she’d exposed this part of me I’d kept hidden by being a confident, over-sharing extrovert among my friends. But I ultimately didn’t really know my ‘true’ self or like it.
I know I’m going to be fine, because if I’m not, it means I’ve disregarded everything I’ve learnt in the past 4 months. It means instead of practising self-care, I’m practising self-hate. It means instead of listening to myself; I’m ignoring the only person who can meet my needs. It means the breakthroughs in therapy, the self-awareness I’ve developed, the tears I have cried, the empathy I’ve developed for loved ones who are hurting too, the patience to understand things I didn’t want to… will have been for nothing.
4. Write down what you’ve learnt
Write down three things you’ve learnt from therapy you’ll carry with you forever. Put these somewhere visible so you remember them. Throughout my journey, I’ve captured so many notes. In every session, I came away with notes on what we talked about, how it made me feel, and homework to do. In between sessions, I kept a journal about what had happened that week, how it made me feel and questions to ask my therapist. I have notes on books my therapist recommended, psychology theories to research and emotional regulation techniques to look up.
What therapy has given me above all is a wealth of knowledge about myself and the people I love around me. It’s given me the confidence to trust my inner voice and to find space in my life to nurture it. It’s set me up with tools I can use when I’m struggling with a problem, so I can deal with them in a rational and logical way instead of responding entirely emotionally. It’s helped me begin to maintain a way of life I’ve always wanted to live where I exercise regularly, eat well, take time for myself, and focus on my passions.
My therapist and I went deep in our sessions, but at the same time, I know we’ve only skimmed the surface in some ways. Life is so much bigger than that. There will be more highs, more lows, more in-betweens, more laughter, more tears, more joy, more achievements, more setbacks, more friends, more life events and memories etc. As my therapist said to me ‘although this is the end of therapy, you’re really only at the start of your journey’. No one’s saying it will be easy, but I’m excited for the next chapter and feel ready for whatever life throws at me.
5. Thank your therapist
I have so much gratitude for the journey we’ve been through together and I know one of the main reasons I’ve got to where I am is because I felt safe from judgement, and genuinely comfortable with her. I rarely held back on what I told her, especially the stuff you don’t want someone to know! You get more out of therapy, the more you share. Even if it takes a little longer, finding the right therapist and one you can openly share with is uncompromisable in my opinion.
The strangest part about saying bye was not knowing truly how to thank my therapist. While we hugged it out, I couldn’t muster up anything more profound than ‘thanks for everything!’, as she suggested I take another tissue for the road. ‘Thank you’ doesn’t cut it though. My therapist has changed my life and there are no words that can express how thankful I am for that. The only way I can express my gratitude is by continuing the journey and applying what I’ve learnt from her going forward.
In the end, you’re going to be OK
While my therapist broke up with me, I’m now in a relationship with a new therapist. My new therapist is myself. If that isn’t self-care in 2019, I don’t know what is. There’s nothing new about this therapist though. She’s always been there. She just didn’t know me well enough, but she’s more than ready now.