Stepping away from your therapist can be nerve-wracking for many reasons. But with a shift of perspective, you’ll see that it doesn’t have to be so daunting.
I’ve been in a long-term relationship for nearly 4 years. It’s been incredible. A really eye-opening experience. In our time together, I’ve uncovered much about myself. I now understand myself in a completely new way. I move through the world feeling lighter and happier.
Truly, my life has been changed for the better. This person has changed my life for the better.
And no, I’m not talking about a romantic relationship. I’m single as heck. I’m talking about my therapist.
When I found therapy, I was 24. I was depressed but didn’t understand it yet. I was miserable — at work, with friends, and in my home. I cried every single day, I drank too much, and I fantasized about jumping in front of speeding cars.
My sister had been trying to get me to try therapy for months, but it was only after I read Lori Gottlieb’s “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” that my sister’s advice really got through to me. I found a therapist within a week.
I had no idea what to expect. It was 2019, and therapy was still in-person. I found my way into a fancy building in Midtown and weaseled my way into a very tiny elevator. I buzzed a random door, walked into an office, and nestled myself on some stranger’s couch.
For the next 45 minutes, I was bombarded by very personal questions — about my family, my sexuality, my job, my history, my friends. It felt like an interview.
I called my sister after the intake. She asked how it went, and my answer surprised me. I didn’t hate it. I liked the therapist. She was perfectly friendly, and she had a comforting demeanor that made me feel safe. I looked forward to my next appointment.
I remember my sister telling me that finding a therapist was like dating — I might have to try a few intakes before I find the right one. I lucked out. I had one intake, one first date, and I was set.
I’m now 4 years in with that same therapist. We’ve been through a lot together. Multiple relationship break-ups, a pandemic, friendship dramas, medication issues, professional despair, depressive blips, and one good ole severe depressive episode.
I had an epiphany maybe 2 years or so into therapy. My therapist knows everything about me. I have uttered things aloud to her that I had never admitted to friends, or to myself. Once a week, I have a space to unveil all of my ugly parts. I discuss my fears and frustrations, I cry about my anxieties and insecurities, and l laugh about my missteps and embarrassments. I expose myself in a deep, intimate way.
And yet, it’s been 4 years and I know next to nothing about my therapist. I’m pretty sure she’s married. I think she has kids — though I don’t know how many. I know where she went to school — though that’s only because I saw her diplomas hanging in her office. She likes England and once took a vacation with her family there.
That’s 4 years. And I know maybe four things about her.
I suppose that’s how therapy is designed, right? You make an appointment to talk about your feelings and to work through your obstacles. I pay for a professional, not for a best friend.
It’s odd though, isn’t it? In some ways, I feel that my relationship with my therapist is the most secure relationship in my life. It’s solid. It’s easy. It teaches me things and helps me grow. But… I (and my insurance) pay her for this relationship. In a way, it’s fabricated. I depend on her in a way that is unequivocally unequal.
She does not voice her issues to me, nor does she look to me for guidance. Our relationship is one-sided, and it’s designed to be so.
There will come a day when I will no longer see my therapist. Perhaps she or I will move. Perhaps she’ll retire, or pivot in her career. Perhaps my insurance will no longer be in-network. Perhaps I will try my hand at life without therapy. Something in this world will separate us, and it terrifies me. How will I face the issues that will surely arise without her guidance?
I confess that I worry about this separation more than I think I should. It sometimes makes me feel as though I’m too dependent on therapy. Who am I without it? Who am I without her?
What will I even say? You know absolutely everything about me, but we’ll probably never speak again. Thanks for 4+ years! Have a good life!
I mean, is it even socially acceptable to keep in touch with your therapist? What’s the etiquette there? Breaking up and never speaking again sounds more painful than any other breakup I’ve experienced.
However, whenever I get too worked up about this, I remember that therapy is not so much about forming a connection with a therapist as much as it’s about deepening your relationship with yourself. It’s a space for me to dissect my feelings, and talk through problems. It’s a space for me to piece together a puzzle of emotions, and discover their root causes.
I make connections between moments in my life. I better understand my family dynamics. Therapy is a relationship with myself. My therapist simply serves as a guide to chaperone me down the avenue. I’m the one performing the dissection; she’s simply handing me the scalpel.
So yes, the thought of breaking up with my therapist still sounds terrifying. I’m scared to think about how I’ll navigate life without our weekly appointments. I fear finding a new therapist with whom I struggle to connect. I dread our last session or initiating a conversation about leaving.
But when that day comes, I hope I’ll feel as though I’ve gotten all that I can get from the relationship. I will move on to something different — perhaps with another therapist, or perhaps with another type of therapy. Perhaps I will try to navigate life without a therapist for a while.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure I can ever totally leave my therapist behind. After all, I’ll always have the tools that she’s gifted me.
But I do hope that, in time, I will depend on my own voice rather than searching for hers. And I hope that there will come a day when I truly accept and believe that it was my voice I was hearing the entire time. My therapist was just amplifying it.
Medically reviewed on May 08, 2023
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