Our final session and the lessons I’ve learned in this ending.
Approaching this session with Linda I was still uncertain whether it would be my last meeting with her or not. I knew in my heart that finishing our work together was the right thing to do but I didn’t know how I was going to do that. As the session progressed it became clear to me that the most authentic and appropriate thing to do was let this be our final session. Normally I write up my notes the day of the session and I really enjoy processing in that way. I recorded the session again this time and I felt enormous resistance to listen back to it last night. Today I am sitting, ready to listen and type and again I’m feeling resistance… I think I’m disappointed in how lackluster it was and the thought of listening to a cringy and awkward, drawn out ‘goodbye’ is making me feel uncomfortable. It was really clear to me that Linda didn’t know how to play a role in this final session which solidified my confidence that I was making the right decision. I am very sentimental and like to reflect and find meaning. Even in the 14 minute phone call I had with Anna that provided a rushed ‘ending’ she crammed more sentiment and meaning in than Linda managed in the 40 minute session… yes forty minutes… I ended it early because there really wasn’t anything else to say.
As soon as Linda clicked on and very quickly said, ‘Hello Lucy, how are YOU?’ I knew she was having to force interest and connection. I have invalidated my intuition all my life but I really am very in tune with people and I know when someone feels uncomfortable. I can hear subtle changes in their voice or shifts in body language. I can tell Linda has increasingly found the dynamic between us challenging for a few reasons. One is that I am constantly trying to guide our work to a deeper level that she isn’t able to work in and another is that I need to work out my feelings about Anna – her friend. The more I think about this the more in tune I am with an anger that this has even happened. I don’t think Linda should have agreed to work with me long term after Anna closed her practice. She supported me in the gap and she could have been there at the initial shock of ending but there is a real concern around the boundaries of how I can work with someone who is friends with my old therapist. It should always have been understood that she would support me in until I found another therapist… it feels like I was put in an awkward situation by her because she wasn’t willing to be truthful with herself about how difficult the situation was. And I want to make it clear that this doesn’t discount the really valuable, impactful work I did with Linda, there are many facets to this… it was great to have immediate support in the first few months of Anna being ill and then losing her, but we should never have committed to Linda being my therapist long term. But regardless of that being true, what has happened is that I have made that decision myself and I feel I have a sense of power in my own therapeutic journey because of that. So, in that case, this has been a good learning curve… just a very challenging and painful one (aren’t they all?).
I spent some time explaining to Linda that I was stressed because of everything that was going on in the house five minutes before the session. As I listen to this recording I feel a really unsettled discomfort in the pit of my stomach. It’s screamingly obvious to me now that she wasn’t the right therapist for me long term… I was forever feeling this deep disappointment that I’d lost something so precious that I had with Anna that I couldn’t get with Linda. I’ve only had one meeting with Mark and it wasn’t even a session but I know on a very deep level that he will be able to provide what I need. Linda falls into this pattern of platitudes sometimes when I think she doesn’t fully engage with me or understand me. She repeats words like, ‘my goodness,’ or, ‘ahhhh I see,’ in a banal tone that just feels as if she is saying things to give a response, any response. I’m thinking about an analogy here… my husband has this incredible work ethic… he has a low paid ‘unskilled’ job that he does to the absolute best of his ability every single day. He believes that no matter what our job is we should do it as if it’s the most important job in the world, put all our effort in and pay attention to the details of the job… Anna was like that, she poured her heart and soul into her role as a therapist that was her second job. Linda on the other hand, I get the sense that she likes to do as little as possible. Where Anna would constantly evolve and she would read and study and work hard at furthering herself in her profession, I get the feeling that Linda feels that she’s good enough just as she is and all she needs to do is turn up to the sessions. This conflicts with my values and I think this is one of the reasons we struggled to meet each other on a deep level.
I’ve read a wee bit about how psychotherapeutic relationships can be ended in a positive way… especially as both of my long term therapy relationships ended outwith my control, it felt important to me that this was done ‘right’… Mark understood this immediately but I got the sense that Linda really didn’t. I read that ending sessions, ‘may involve a sort of encapsulating the months (or years) of therapy spent together, and ensuring the client is ready to move on in his or her life. Especially long-term or close therapeutic relationships may end with tears and a hug (if both parties agree).’ This was NOT my experience with Linda. If I could give an overview of our final session it would be to say that I spoke for 90% of the time and she gave very brief one word answers with a few sentences in between. She was not fully invested in this process and actually I think she was uncomfortable with it.
I wasn’t sure how to word things at the start of the session. I meandered around the subject for a five awkward minutes. I felt very nervous and eventually I launched in with, ‘obviously in the last session we talked quite a lot about how we’re both feeling and so I imagine you know what today’s session is going to be about… I had my meeting with Mark and I’ve not really thought about anything other than our session and the stuff that came up, particularly hearing that we were experiencing the same thing in terms of you holding a lot every session and Anna being very present between us and it kind of getting in the way of the therapy… and so… this is hard! I think it’s probably best that we don’t work together any more.’ Linda said, ‘okaaay,’ in an, ‘oh this is what you’re getting at’ kind of way, like she wasn’t expecting it. I said, ‘I have thought and thought about this. Gone over all of our work. When I take Anna out of the situation, I really feel like we did a lot of great work together… but she’s very much a part of me and will always be…’ Linda said, ‘okay’ abruptly, I continued, ‘and she’s very much a part of your life,’ Linda said, ‘yes she is, absolutely,’ – this makes me realise that I often felt like an outsider in this strange triangle… like there was Linda and Anna behind this wall and me on the other side desperately wanting to penetrate it. I said, ‘What I experienced with Mark was that giving him an overview of what I’ve experienced the past 6 months, I didn’t have any hesitations when telling him how I was feeling about Anna which made me realise that more recently I have found it hard to tell you how I’ve been feeling. It wasn’t always like that – at the start it was very easy to just let everything out and grieve with you but as time went on I found it increasingly more difficult and my focus was more on how you were experiencing it than what I needed. Obviously Mark doesn’t know Anna so I didn’t feel that at all with him.’ I laughed nervously because she was literally only saying, ‘okay’ every so often. I said, ‘I’m finding this really fucking hard, I don’t really wanna say goodbye to you but I think I’m going to have to purely because…’ she interrupted and said, ‘Lucy, I really respect this. I really really appreciate the amount of obviously thinking and just the energy you’ve given this. I think it’s really important to acknowledge that, okay… okay.’ I thanked her and explained that this is the first time I’ve ever been able to end a relationship. I said, ‘this is hard… so weird.’
Linda said, ‘it’s hard, it’s weird, it’s new but its also a chance to model how it can be done Lucy.’ I laughed and said, ‘by bumbling my way through it all?’ she laughed and said, ‘by just doing it you know and having a good ending whatever that means, as a posed to a bad ending.’ For some reason that made me cry and I told her I was feeling really emotional. I think it caught me in that moment that this really was an ending and I was not going to speak to her again after this. That she can go off and live her life and continue seeing Anna and I am really closing a door on it all. But I also realised that staying in contact with Linda was making the wound of Anna not being in my life even more irritated. It wasn’t allowing it to heal.
I said, ‘I feel sad that this has to happen, I’ve got quite fond of you over the last few months and it’s confusing… I wish that none of this had ever happened and that I could still work with Anna.’ Linda said, ‘sure, but it did happen, it did.’ I talked to her about how I can see that this is part of my journey. That I don’t believe in silver linings but the phrase, ‘what stands in the way becomes the way’ resonates. That I never wanted any of this to happen but it did happen and this is part of my journey… ‘and this ending we’re having is also part of my journey.’ She said, ‘absolutely, aabssolutely.’ I’m aware that I’m over analysing her but she really did appear to be feigning interest in this. Stretching out and repeating inanities… pat responses.
She said, ‘you’ve done the preparation, you’ve looked at therapists… if you don’t mind me asking have you agreed to work with Mark?’ I told her yes and she said, ‘okay so you did the preparation, you had that discussion and it feels right? Does it feel right?’ I said, ‘yeah 100%… with him. I feel weird about ending things with you though I wanna keep you both going!’ we both laughed… there was a lot of nervous laughter. I think I felt the need to keep it going because I sensed an uneasiness in her and wanted to make that feel better by continuously telling her I wanted to stay but couldn’t make it work. I told her that my conversation with Mark felt good. There were some big silences. I told her my head was filled with things I wanted to say but didn’t know if there was any point. I reminded her that the last time we spoke I told her I wouldn’t make the decision to end things over night and I haven’t, a lot of thought has gone into it but I wasn’t sure how many session I wanted to use to have a ‘good ending’. She reassured me a ‘good ending’ doesn’t need to have lots of sessions and again I feel like this was to ease her discomfort rather than what would be good for me. She completely missed the significance of me not being able to have any kind of substantial ending with Anna. I told her I felt like I was dragging it out just for the sake of dragging it out and Linda said, ‘There’s no rule or template, as long as it’s organic and authentic. Yeah?’ again I felt a wave of feelings, emotions coming up.
Linda asked me what I felt I needed to say today, ‘use the session for doing that at least!’ she said. (this was 11 minutes in and already I was feeling like I wanted the session to end, I had no idea how I was going to fill the remaining time.)
I said, ‘Earlier today when I was thinking about this session, I thought about how you would be relieved. I felt certain that you would be relieved to hear me saying I felt we should stop working with you.’ She said, ‘Lucy, that’s very unkind.’ This is an example of how she doesn’t know how to go deeply into things, she just takes things at face value. Why do I feel like she would be relieved? What does that tell me about my self-worth or my pattern of relationships in the past? What does it show us about the beliefs I held of myself growing up? She said, ‘that’s not the case, that’s not the case, alright?’ I said, ‘even with all the stuff you felt you had to hold with the Anna stuff?’ she said, ‘it has been hard but that doesn’t mean this is a relief. You know, it’s really important that you get the therapy you need right now Lucy, and that might not be with me. But its about self determination and making the decision that’s right for you. And I respect the fact that we’re having this conversation because most of the time it’s just an email. I’ve finished with a therapist with an email before, I’ve done that. So I really respect that we’re having this session to talk about this.’ I said, ‘Well it was really important to me.’ Then there was a long silence.
I talked about how things feel very different now than they did in March. I told her that things with Adam feel so much better, I feel closer to him and talk more openly with him now. I also have talked to some friends about what the lockdown was really like for me and losing Anna. I talked about the fact that in March she was the only one I could share my pain with but it doesn’t feel like that anymore. I said, ‘I’m really grateful to you for doing that with me, I think you were exactly what I needed at that time.’ She quickly said, ‘okay thank you,’ and I continued, ‘you were non judgmental and you let me express all of the things I was feeling and I appreciate a lot that you were able to let me do that. Even if we don’t talk about Anna, she’s in my mind when I’m talking to you. I’m wondering if you’ve talked to her this week or whatever, it’s there all the time. And it feels healthier to let that go. It’s the last thing to let go of. That wasn’t what a lot of the work we did was about but knowing that the connection is there, it’s always going to be there for me.’
Linda said, ‘and a lot of the time there were three people in the room or three people involved in the process, you know. Because I think there was for you… Anna was always around even if she wasn’t explicitly around she was implicitly there with you.’ At this moment I realised that this has felt somewhat threatening or frustrating for Linda. Rather than her seeing this as being something understandable that I really needed to work on, she sees it as something that was getting in the way of her and I doing the work her way. I said, ‘I think that’s the purpose of therapy isn’t it, to internalise the therapist…’ she smiled at this and I continued, ‘it becomes complicated when there is premature ending and when your current therapist knows the previous therapist.’ She said, ‘okay.’ I said, ‘it’s not necessarily a bad thing but becomes complicated in this situation.’ She said, ‘I think maybe in another context this might have been discussed and talked about at the start but it might have faded a bit. And I think it has faded a bit for you from the start but she’s still there.’ Again this confirms what I suspected, that Linda really thought I’d be over her by now despite her saying it takes as long as it takes. I don’t think she has worked with anyone either as a therapist or a client herself to the depth that Anna and I worked or maybe not on an attachment level. She really just doesn’t understand how deep my connection with Anna was and why it impacted me so profoundly. If my mother had died she wouldn’t be saying to me that there were three people in the room… she really never fully understood it.
I said, ‘the thing is, because I didn’t leave her I didn’t stop working with her and there’s a part of me that still hasn’t stopped working with her and I think moving on to working with somebody else feels like accepting that me and her have stopped. Which is horrible but… it’s like standing at someone’s grave every day, they don’t want you to hang on to them in death every day. And she said that it was really important for me to continue with my therapeutic journey, ‘don’t wait for me’ kind of thing.’ Linda said, ‘yep and the language that you have always used is the language of grief, that’s exactly what people say when they talk about somebody that has actually gone.’ I said, ‘because that’s exactly what it’s like, she completely vanished from my life!’ I felt annoyed at this and it solidified once again that she didn’t get it.
I said, ‘what exactly are endings meant to be like?’ she laughed and said, ‘I think they’re just meant to be a chance for you to say anything else that needs to be said,’ I said, ‘so is this going to be it then? This is our last session?’ she said, ‘well what feels right for you? And also when are you starting with Mark?’ I told her he’s left it up to me and that he’s leaving the space available for when I’m ready. She seemed surprised and intrigued by this and said, ‘I could start this week if I wanted to…’ and then talked about possibly having a break between. She told me that it is believed to be good practice to have a break between therapists to let things process and settle. She worked for assessments for EAP on the phone and discussed that it helps with ‘contamination’. She told me her explanation was really simplistic and it made me wonder if she had a deeper understanding of it. She talked about creating space, ‘things can flourish in space, when you give yourself space and time things can settle and grow… I’m not talking about forever just a short period of time.’ I laughed and said, ‘four days enough?’ and she laughed.
At one point I said, ‘I’m gonna miss talking to you actually.’ She said, ‘and I’m gonna miss working with you too Lucy, you know its been twice a week for a number of months. And I really mean that I’m not bullshitting you.’ I said, ‘even though I forced you to do the twice a week thing!?’ she said, ‘but the important thing was that it was what you needed.’ I said, ‘the sessions really felt like they were the glue that were holding me together back then.’ She said, ‘I know part of it was that you needed something, but you did jump in as well with both feet and I think I did as well, you needed to… you needed something like a life raft or something coz the grief was so raw for you.’ I said, ‘yeah it’s nice to hear your perspective! I remember the first few sessions really clearly, right at the start of lockdown… I remember you saying that at the time. I really wanted to make it work for me.’ She said, ‘yup!’ and I got a big sense that she was just as awkward as me. I jokingly said, ‘any more reflections?’ and she laughed and said, ‘well have you got any more reflections?’ I said, ‘I wanna hear you talk about me!’ and she gave a genuine laugh. I said, ‘its weird to just say BYE at the end of this. Weird that we’ve never sat in a room together – forever my lockdown zoom therapist! I haven’t really got my head around all of that actually.’
I said, ‘I’ve been thinking about what it’s gonna feel like to do all of this again! To have to work on getting to know another new therapist. How much of the back story does he need to know? What stuff do I still need to cover? When I first started working with Paul I had this mindset that I needed to tell him everything about me so that he knew me fully and could then work his magic on fixing me. With Anna I tried to do that but she slowed me down and tuned me in to my feelings so much that it was far more painful but far more healing. With you it’s been interesting to work on day to day stuff and see that I can actually heal things without necessarily going back decades for some things…’ she said, ‘yes and that will continue to happen Lucy, it will always be different.’ I said, ‘yeah Mark will be very different to what I’ve experienced before.’ she agreed and pondered what it will feel like to actually sit in a room with him rather than working by video. We talked about the various ways people have been working around the restrictions. Walking therapy, garden therapy, phone, video sessions. She shared her thoughts on these things and joked about how she wasn’t really able to do outdoors therapy in the middle of the city. She said, ‘if people want to have a lovely wander through the less salubrious parts of the city then they’re more than welcome to but I’m not sure how therapeutic it would be.’ I said on a more serious note that I personally would find it hard to be completely open with my emotions in a public space and that I imagined it wouldn’t feel as containing or holding for me. That I’m just so grateful we are living in the age of video calls and wifi!
I asked how long we had and she said fifteen minutes. She encouraged me to ‘give it a go’ and talk about what I feel we ‘should’ be talking about. I said, ‘I’m just going to be saying the same thing over and over again, that I’m gonna miss talking to you, that I’m sad I’m having to end things, that therapeutic relationships are weird,’ she said, ‘yes to all of the above.’ I said, ‘you very suddenly start something very intimate, and one way all the way through, then suddenly stop it. And now I’ve added somebody else to miss… hopefully Mark can teach me how to be more mindful and not dwell on and be preoccupied with in my mind.’ She said, ‘that sounds like a pretty amazing opportunity to do that kinda stuff with him.’
I said, ‘see if I was saying goodbye to you in person, I’d have asked for a hug but you don’t do hugs.’ She said, ‘that would have been fine, I’m not like ‘keep away everybody, keep away the whole world!’ I said, ‘except for when it comes to covid19 and then we definitely want everybody to keep away! Okay then I can imagine we hugged saying goodbye.’ She said, ‘absolutely.’ I said I had no idea what the time was and she said, ‘it’s okay we have plenty of time,’ and I said, ‘but I just want to say goodbye now this is excruciation.’ She laughed and said, ‘well, do you know what Lucy, we can. That’s okay my goodness, alright…. emm… I wish you all the best and I really mean that I wish you all the best with the next chapter of your journey. It will be different but go with it and give yourself permission to go with it. You’re gonna be doing different stuff with Mark and those neural pathways might be a bit resistant to change but despite that… that’s the whole point, seriously! Okay… so see what happens.’ I said, ‘thank you for agreeing to do this with me despite it being tricky at times. I really appreciate that you showed up every time and all the behind the scenes stuff that you will have done to try and be there for me in the sessions, I really appreciate it.’ She said, ‘okay, thank you for saying that and I hear that. Alright… all the very best… and I will say this… if you want to send me one email, you can!’ I said, thank you and you can go back to Anna being your friend now and not someone that I lament after twice a week at you.’ She said, ‘yeah, okay, I hear that. Listen, seriously all the best, take care of yourself and go with it. Do the work with Mark.’ I said thank you very much and she thanked me. And we said, ‘see you later’ and she clicked ‘leave meeting’ at the 42 minute mark.
So, this whole thing has validated my decision beyond words. I feel an ocean of processing beneath the surface and a whole lot of faith in myself and Mark that we will get to it… we will work on it. I emailed him explaining that I had decided to finish with Linda and he responded in a couple of hours offering me a time on Friday for our first session and I CAN NOT WAIT!
I’m not feeling anger or resentment towards Linda. There is some frustration and possibly anger about the whole boundary issue (with regards to her being friends with Anna) however I am not angry WITH her. I don’t feel like she, ‘did me wrong’ and I don’t feel like she withheld or deliberately didn’t give me what I needed. What I do feel is that she *couldn’t* give me what I needed. I don’t think she’s gone there herself. So, she literally doesn’t know what’s missing. The work I did with Anna was on a completely different plane to what Linda had to offer. When I would say to Linda that I didn’t feel I would get what I wanted from our work she would say things like, ‘you never know which direction the work will take us’ as if it was only a matter of time rather than the reality which was that within each session I could FEEL I wasn’t getting what I needed CURRENTLY. But I couldn’t put my finger on it until I felt it with Mark! I instantly felt like I used to feel with Anna… I know in my bones that this is the right move. While reflecting on how I feel about Linda it has made me aware of a growing acceptance of the fact that people can’t consistently be what we want or need them to be. We can learn to accept the ebb and flow of relationships and we can learn to lean in and let go of people as and when it feels right for us. Our partners can’t mind-read and instantly know what we aren’t saying to them. Our friends can’t constantly be available and willing to drop everything for us at any moment. Anna couldn’t stay being my therapy mum for life, Linda couldn’t be any sort of substitute for Anna… my mum couldn’t be the mother I needed and deserved. But what is within my power? I can continue to listen to the parts of myself that give me very clear guidance on what I need and whether something feels right or not… then I can go about finding it.