Monday, October 10, 2016

In Grief: Terminating A Counseling Relationship

The only person you should ever fear losing in a relationship is you yourself.  ~ Miya Yamanouchi

A reader writes: My situation isn't really typical of the reasons most people join your forums, but I am experiencing terrible grief and it's not something I can talk to anyone about because most people don't recognize or understand it. I feel incredibly alone.

I've seen a counselor for coming up to three years and she has helped me through some of the most difficult times of my life. I have a tough life with a long-term illness and I have a disabled child so I feel really isolated. I've been fortunate enough to see my counselor free at an agency and I feel really close to her. I'm not close to my family at all as I had a tough upbringing and I don't see my friends very often. I'm a single parent since my marriage broke down 5 years ago.

My counselor told me 4 weeks ago that she is leaving the agency due to personal circumstances.

I am utterly devastated. I can't put into words how bad I feel. I've come so far with her and I know I'm much stronger than I was before I started seeing her, but I've never known grief and despair as bad as this. Even my nan's death when I was 14 and the ending of my marriage pales in comparison. I am sobbing uncontrollably and I feel so alone. If it was a family member who had died or was moving away I could explain and people would understand and share in it, but the relationship with my counselor is a close and confidential one. No one else shares in it. That is a good thing but the pain is now so bad that I don't know how I can manage alone. I have no energy, my health problems are much worse and I don't know how to cope. I’ve been crying a lot already and actually thought I was over the worst, at least for the time being until she and I actually end, but I saw her yesterday and I've been thrown into unbearable emotional chaos. I spent yesterday evening and most of the night sobbing uncontrollably and in such despair I questioned being able to live through it all.

I feel so much pain and while it’s not a death and not actually a member of my family I feel closer to my counselor than any of my family and the loss is so profound that she might as well be. I have told her everything, she has given me so much, and always supported me. I care about her so much, nothing seemed as bad when I could talk to her about it. As I said I feel isolated because this isn't the sort of grief that is widely known about or accepted. I think it is still grief and from the posts I read on your site, people share similar feelings. Hope this makes some sort of sense.


My response: Having been in therapy myself, my dear, I understand completely how difficult this termination must be for you, but bear in mind that, if she is as skilled as you say she is, your counselor is in the best position to help you work through your feelings about her leaving, and you’ve every right to expect that she will do so.

Just be completely honest with her about how this ending feels to you, so she can help you sort through your feelings and come to terms with it. While you still have some sessions remaining, give some serious thought as to what you’d like to say to her before you part. Now is the time to bring up any unfinished business, so you won’t have any later regrets about what you wish you had discussed with her. Make a list of the points you need to discuss, write them down so you won't forget, and bring the list with you into your next session.

As you say, this isn't the sort of grief that is widely known or accepted ~ but it is still grief. I think it’s important that you recognize your grief as legitimate and real, expect to feel the pain of loss, and allow yourself time to mourn. You mentioned the death of your nan and the ending of your marriage. Understand that a current loss nearly always awakens memories of past losses, and it can feel as if you are drowning in sorrow. It is also true that no loss is as painful as the one you are experiencing right now. I encourage you to do some reading about what is normal (and therefore to be expected) in grief, and what you can do to manage your reactions. (See Grief: Understanding The Process.)

Take time to pamper yourself, and to do whatever brings you comfort. Just make sure that your choices are healthy ones! That means taking care of your body by eating nutritious foods, drinking enough water, getting sufficient rest and physical exercise. It includes doing what you can to nourish your soul: using nature, prayer, meditation and mindfulness, music, reading, or keeping a journal. (Explore these and other suggestions in Bereavement: Doing The Work of Grief. See also Tools for Healing.)

Focus not only on what you are losing, but also on what you have gained. Consider what you have learned about yourself as you’ve been working with your counselor. How has this therapeutic relationship helped you to grow, and how can you continue to grow from it?

Put a support system in place before you part. Has your counselor offered to refer you to another person in her agency, under the same arrangement as you've had with her? I know that is the last thing you want to think about right now, but knowing your therapist will help you to transition to someone she knows and recommends is far better than leaving you with nowhere else to turn. Plan to discuss this with her, and when you get a referral, go ahead and set up an appointment with another counselor.

This is also the time to surround yourself with supportive people, and our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups is a good place to start. You are most welcome to join us, where you will be among some of the most caring and compassionate individuals you’ll ever hope to meet.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below.
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