Will I Get Over My Attachment To My Therapist?

*** Now Available: Attachment to Your Therapist: A Conversation. This series of posts in expanded E-Book form, on Amazon.***

I had an opportunity to consult with a patient who asked if the kind of strong attachment we have been talking about ever resolves. Do you eventually feel differently about your therapist?

How can we understand the intense attachments that happen in therapy?

Her question re-opened the subject of where do such fierce attachments come from? For me, when feelings are out of proportion with adult reality, its time to look at childhood experience. The question I ask is when in a child’s development might he or she feel something just like this. As a new grandfather, I’ve been noticing more vividly what it must be like to be very small. When there is a very powerful attachment, I picture children around three. Younger ones—say, two-year-olds—are more focused on their own needs. A little later, children begin to see the parent or caregiver as a very special individual apart from themselves. In their very small world, parents are huge and very intensely beloved, mind and body.

Why does this intense love get rekindled in therapy? We humans seem to have a wonderful capacity to protect our future. What I mean is that by freezing parts of the present, we insulate ourselves from worse forms of distortion and damage. Instead of growing up stunted by a shortfall of something crucial like love, we we are able to freeze in a stance of waiting, so that we don’t have to accept despair. Peter Levine (See earlier post on PTSD) talks about trauma responses becoming frozen at a moment of bodily experience. We seem to be able to tuck an incomplete wish or need away somewhere for as long as necessary while we wait to find new hope. This is one more instance of our instinctive affect avoidance. It is an avoidance of despair.

Until that moment, our wish or need stays dormant and we seem to get along alright without it. But when hope appears, suddenly the wish awakens. Like a plant spore touched by water, the wish comes to life with the same intensity as when it was frozen long ago. These observations might seem more like poetry than science but I am guessing that they are fairly accurate descriptions of neurobiology that will someday be correlated with the anatomy and physiology of the brain. In the meantime, this is the best I can do to make sense of how therapy, and the person of the therapist, by reawakening hope, can become the focus of intensely powerful, childlike love.

Sometimes the love becomes sexualized. My guess is that this may grow out of a developmental period a little later, closer to five or six. Why this age? Think of the fairytales that enthrall five and six-year-olds, but are not so gripping for three and four-year-olds. These are ages when such things as marriage and the complexities of jealousy and triangular relationships take their place in a child’s consciousness along with early versions of sexuality.

How, then, can these feelings resolve?

My answer was this: “When you were six, maybe you wanted to marry your daddy. When you were twenty, did you still feel the same?” Her eyes opened wide as she took in a new perspective. Feelings that had felt timeless and permanent, could also be seen as a phase of life. Suddenly she could see the attachment as a critical moment frozen in time and, in her case, still unfinished.

The resolution of attachment to a therapist is not something that can be forced. It has to be given due respect and treated as it should have been in childhood, with understanding and real compassion for the yearning and the ache. The feelings need to come out in the open with the clarity that they are real, but not of today. There is no room here for hiding due to shame nor for a therapist to mistake their origin. With that kind of respect, a process of transformation begins to evolve once again.

What happens then is probably more like the end of a love relationship. Losses and attachments don’t heal overnight. In my first post on attachment to your therapist, I think I was too glib about transferring feelings from a therapist to other, more appropriate, people. I wrote as if it were a simple, matter of fact transaction. The truth is that it takes more time and a more gradual letting go. The feelings are not simple or easily managed. If letting go isn’t forced, then there is room for a gradual transformation like the one from six-year-old love to twenty-year-old appreciation.

Please feel free to share your take on this issue. All of us would all like to hear others’ experiences.

120 Comments

  • Thank you for this post and other recent ones as well. You say, “the feelings need to come out in the open with the clarity that they are real, but not of today. There is no room here for hiding due to shame nor for a therapist to mistake their origin.” But how do you broach that subject? It’s terrifying to think about. I’m so afraid to go there and tell her how I feel. I do feel so ashamed! I’m a motherless daughter and grew up with a lot of abandonment from my father as well. I long for my therapist to take me in her arms and just hold me and tell me she will never leave me. I long to call her and have a “mother-daughter” chat with her. I just want her to be my mother. I KNOW it can never be but it breaks my heart. I feel like being mothered was just never in the cards for me and that is so sad. I can’t see a point yet where I’ll ever be OK without her in my life.

    • Hi MD,

      Yes, it can be a difficult subject to bring up. I had a difficult time myself, to be sure.
      Do you have your therapist’s email address? I emailed my therapist some quotes and articles I had read on transference, and told her via email that I thought I was experiencing transference.

      If you don’t have access to her email address, I would suggest printing out one of these articles and giving it to your therapist to read. Seriously, transference is not at all unusual (although it is embarrassing and not easy to broach, as you say, for the patient), and any therapist worth his or her salt will take the article as a cue to begin a discussion with you about transference.

      If neither of these options resonate with you, simply ask your therapist to “explain a little bit about transference” and I’m sure she will take the lead (although I understand CBT therapists [in general] are not too open to discussing transference, probably because Cognitive Based Therapy deals with the here and now, and transference has to do with the past).

      You can do it…so just go for it!

      : )

      PS Discuss your feelings of embarrassment and shame with your therapist; it’s not easy, but it’s all part of the healing process. Even though our feelings of embarrassment and shame are difficult to look at and deal with, they’re real. I believe they are deeply rooted in our past experiences. And I think you’re lucky that you have found a therapist whom you trust enough to want to explore the feelings that are coming up.. I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of…you deserve to know what it feels like to be loved in that way, and to know you are worthy of that love.

    • Oh my. I feel the same way. I’ve seen my therapist for 8 years in September. I love her so much. It’s just like yours … I want her to be my mother. I want her to hold me. I can’t imagine her ever not being in my life and it makes me panic just thinking About it. I am so scared right now because my attachment to her feels so strong it feels unbearable. We’ve never had that conversation although I know she knows. It seems way too hard and uncomfortable to Ever bring up 🙁

    • I’m was in a similar position with my last therapist. Transference (taking feelings from one person or situation and placing them onto another) is COMPLETELY natural. Say your first boyfriend broke your heart, to fear the next boyfriend will do the same is probably the most common form of transference. It’s expected that you will transfer something of your relationship with your mum (or lack of relationship) onto an older female therapist. If she knows your history, she probably has already identified that you are doing this.

      My last therapist TOLD me she was under the spell of my mother. I was not sure that she was right while I was with her. However now I am with a much younger therapist (closer in age to me I would say) I can see the difference. With the first I wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable and child-like. I felt protected and nurtured by this mother figure (I was but only in a professional sense). My inner child wanted to curl up and have her stroke my hair. I was safe to let that child-like side of me out and I never questioned it or noticed it because it felt like breathing. In my last session with my latest therapist, my inner child (the vulnerable, exposed, tender part of me that was hurt) came out and I began fiddling with my hair (just as I did as a kid). When I realised this was what was happening, I felt threatened. My inner child ran off. She did not want this new therapist to stroke her hair. Don’t get me wrong, my new therapist is lovely and for me is a better match than my previous therapist… HOWEVER, I transfer onto her (I think) issues with my sisters and friends and bullies because some of my abusers were my age or of a similar age, I felt threatened and scared that I’d been that exposed in front of her. I did feel ever so slightly ridiculous too. I want her to respect me, not nurture me. The dynamic is very different. It’s a more subtle power balance. She DOES have the greater power because she is the therapist. However, because she is in her 30s too (unless I am a really rubbish judge of age or she looks and dresses younger than she actually is and she’s actually older than I think she is) I feel like more of an equal when I am talking to her with my adult head on.

      I’m hoping that in transferring these painful feelings onto someone who is safe, if I can learn to trust her, eventually I will begin to forge relationships with those my own age IRL.

      What I also think is going on (I’m no therapist but I’ve been in an out of therapy for 20 years) is that your inner child is desperate to be loved. You express a divide between what you KNOW vs what you FEEL. Your logical side doesn’t seem to connect or influence your emotional side. You FEEL you want her to love you like a mother would, but you KNOW this can never be. That is totally normal. It’s what happens when you were hurt/abandoned/had to grow up without a mum. As the author says, you get stuck in that very emotional place. Your emotions remain stuck while your logic grows and develops. I believe that under normal circumstances the 2 develop and mature together, so there is never this divide. What you end up with is an out of balance individual with a very emotional side (the inner child who remained stuck in that hurt place) and an adult side of you who is more logical and struggles to understand why it can’t talk to the emotional side.

      This is 100% a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. You have nothing to be ashamed of. I experience this constantly. It’s confusing and overwhelming, isn’t it? I’m aware that this post is now old so I hope you eventually did go on to talk to your therapist and have time to resolve this issue. However, I will post this anyway because you are not alone, there will be someone else googling attachment issues to therapists who might benefit from my comment.

      I hope you are well.

      • I’m thankful this post was shared recently! I’m experiencing this in therapy now. I’ve been in therapy since I was 5 and I’m 21 now and the first one in my family to go to college. My mother was abusive when I was a child. Would beat me, lock me up in clothes and let others sexually abuse me. I grew up never attached to my mother and I hated her. I still resent her to this day. She denies everything she ever did and it wasn’t until my freshmen year of college that I was able to find some true healing in therapy. It’s my safe place. But now I’m experiencing maternal transference and it’s really scary and uncomfortable to me. I can name it and I’m going to talk to her about it, but the true worry is I’m afraid I’ll never get over it. That I will never have these unmet needs met, or ever truly come to terms with that.

        • I have been following this thread as I am so intensely attached to my therapist I am in unbearable pain with the longing for her 24/7. The good thing is that with the help of this forum I have talked about my feelings of love for her and of course we both know this is intense transference from a time of separation from my mother when I was 3. She accepts totally how I feel and does nothing that makes me feel ashamed, we have talked about it as love. I am astonished by the power of good therapy that she has unfrozen this child and we are working together to heal and grow through this profoundly deep relationship. I see her 3 times a week and often email in between (she always responds and says she wants to know how I am Feeling). We have found a way of connecting through music when she has her breaks. This helps a lot as I do find the separations so so hard at the moment. I can’t imagine a future where I don’t see her, That is terrifying at the moment. But I am discovering that with such a good therapist there will come a time in the future where I am naturally able to have to experience these feelings in my own relationships and become a complete person. By the way, I am a 60 year old woman in therapy for 18m and wishing I had done this 10 years ago!

          • It’s all very well understanding why we feel this way, but I can’t decide if it’s right to keep going through it. I am 9 years with the same therapist and she has been very accommodating so I have been able to be nurtured, but now feel completely confused.
            My brain tells me I shouldn’t behave as I do in therapy, I shouldn’t be needy, I should grow up; then my brain says I should listen to my feelings and let inner child have what she has craved for so long; and then brain says that I have made myself feel worse by allowing myself to feel the needs.
            I see saw between wanting to be loved and wishing I had never started this therapy. I have paid out tens of thousands of pounds to still feel lost and alone on occasions – but these are all prompted by the absence of my therapist. I get it probably mirrors my aloneness on childhood, but I don’t get how to stop feeling it, and it feels self indulgent to continue to see therapist cos she makes
            Me feel loved!!!
            I have been stuck in this merry go round for years. I keep telling myself I have to commit
            To therapy and I do, and then it gets awful again and I want to never see her again cos the boundaries
            Make me miserable – they remind me I only have so much time and then I have to wait, that I pay for her ‘therapy love’ which isn’t real.
            She keeps telling me it will change when I can nurture my inner child – but doesn’t tell me how to do that.
            Therapy feels like getting your nose rubbed in what you craved – and having it taken away all over again, time and time again.

          • Dear Steph and Chimp, These comments deserve a new post. I think this issue is really really challenging. The human mind works very hard to avoid painful feelings. I do believe that just as in childhood, the trigger for internalizing motherly love is saying good-bye. By this I mean not definitively, but every time there is a separation and yearning is intense. When the separation is too violent and the yearning too intense, then probably nothing good happens. On the other hand, avoiding the feeling of loss, and the mind has a million ways to do this, ultimately results in not doing the growth work that goes with coming to tolerate aloneness. It is when we gain this experience, that we internalize (make our own) the love we have received, so that it becomes accessible without the object of our yearning being present. So I think that the answer is somewhere in the middle, perhaps in steadily increasing involvement in the world and substituting that for depending on the therapist. If you think about it, the process in children takes a long time and involves some times when we don’t want to say good-bye and others when we are eager to pursue our own interests. Little by little, independence grows stronger and the child experiences the resilience that comes from having an internalized sense of being loved and lovable. I am dealing with this in my own work with patients, and I know it isn’t always clear.

            Hope that helps. Jeffery

          • Dear Jeffery and Steph
            Thanks for your replies. It does help to an extent to understand that we heal through separation. The question is how long does it take? Steph you have been going through this for 9 years I am only 18m in and in such daily agony I can’t imagine being like this in another 7 years! So I have to work with my therapist to make this stop. I know she will help me but I also know that at the present time my need just to be with her 3 times a week will be stronger than my need to let go so I will have to tackle that head on. Before I started therapy I had no idea about the pain of intense attachment, I do think therapists should be explicit about it from the start, I wish mine had just said that therapy comes with a health warning. I still would have taken it but the shock of this transference and the difficulty of talking about the feelings of love for her would have been softened.

          • Dear Chimp, Your questions are excellent and raise real issues. I am currently working with several young adults who have experienced very problematic parenting and are now at a point where they need to let go of parents and embrace the outside world. They are all having tremendous difficulty with this and experiencing intense feelings. I think this is analogous to letting go of attachment to a therapist who has become the substitute for a parent. I don’t know how long it takes, because that is quite individual. What I think is that it takes going through intense feelings. If the bandage is ripped off prematurely then the healing won’t work, and if too slowly, it also won’t work. After all that, my thinking is that the thing to watch is the degree of attachment to others in one’s circle. If those connections are growing, then don’t worry. If they are not, then the separation needs to be moved along more intentionally.

          • Dear Jeffery thanks again for your response. I think in my case The intensity I am experiencing is such That I am pushing others away emotionally rather than connecting, so guess it is too soon to take my bandages off? Although my therapist is truly responsive and very attuned to my feelings, I need her to tell me how to get through this, sometimes authorative advice is good. I keep thinking she must have had previous patients who have been as attached as I am, and there must be at least some generic advice that would help someone like me to get through the pain threshold.

          • Dear Chimp, Here’s what I see with my young people struggling with separation from their problematic parents: They unconsciously yearn to get the parents finally to do their job. As they do so, they are also unconsciously aware that if they reach out to the outside world (where truly responsive people are waiting) then the parents will no longer feel any pressure to come through. Therefore, they push away the people they really need in the interest of influencing the ones who won’t respond. I wonder if that dynamic might be operating with therapists as well. I am thinking of one patient who tried to get his sphinx-like therapist to give him advice, and waited for years, making no progress in the meantime, till he finally gave up. I hope that might be useful.
            Jeffery

          • Dear Jeffery
            I have been thinking about your observation about the dynamic of pushing away the people who want to love us as a way to get the parent (therapist) to give us what we really yearn for. It does make some sense but how does one break the cycle? How will I eventually transfer these intense feelings I have for my therapist to real life relationships? I would love to feel what I feel for her towards someone who can actually give me what I need rather than go through this agony of an attachment to my therapist who will never love me , even if she cares about me as a patient. You talk about hope in your first post, but actually the despair I feel is in the hopelessness of this intense transference that I can’t experience in real life. Or is it that I still have a long way to go in my therapy?

          • I’m afraid that the emotional work that needs to be done is going through the pain and grief of letting go of the therapist in order to be open to attaching to others. That’s what children go through over years, and it works much better if the parenting is good. JS

  • I’m a professional woman who entered therapy begrudgingly; my family and friends insisted upon it, after my husband of 20+ years was diagnosed with a terminal disease. Anyway, to cut to the chase, I found out that I had some attachment issues which is one of the reasons I was taking my husband’s illness so very very hard. I had an avoidant attachment style with a narrow range of emotions that tends to go with it…. and besides being attached to my husband, and my now adult daughter, I really wasn’t that attached to anyone else. I quickly became very attached to my therapist. It surprised and scared me, and led me to read everything I could about attachment. We talked about it extensively. I told her how I felt because I read that that would help. It was very difficult to do, and it did help somewhat, but it was still difficult. I was seeing a clinical psychologist with a primarily cognitive bent; she herself said I was different than her other clients, and that she would be seeing me for years, not weeks, due to the nature of my needs. But, I was often feeling such despair related to the intensity of my feelings about her, and my feelings that she didn’t really like me, and feeling crazy for my infantile feelings… I felt like quitting. I had suicidal ideation. I was sharing all this with her, but her usual response was, “it will get better over time.” Well, three months would go by, and I would be no better. Then, another three months. I eventually just quit after four years because I refused to have another session in which I was just talking about quitting even one more time. I felt so stuck.

    When I quit I was heartbroken. I was also someone who couldn’t imagine her not in my life, but – more than that – I had come to believe that I was a burden to her, and that she didn’t really care outside of a feeling of professional responsibility. Why did I feel that way? A number of things. For one, the same dry, almost detached, response over months to my despair – “it will get better” when it didn’t… I had requested to see her more, maybe twice a week, and she clearly didn’t want to do that, nor did she offer an alternative such as a phone appt or check-in, or texting, which I understand other therapists-clients do. I think that would have helped me a lot. I never called her between sessions. I did send emails when things got rough, and a couple of times she never even looked at them between sessions, even though I was having a really hard time. Lastly, a couple of times she would say, “I’m going to bring in a book for you,” then she would forget week after week after week – it would take three or four sessions for her to remember. I would think, “how hard is that, to remember to bring in a book for someone?” She teaches and only has a dozen clients, so it’s not as if she has a full caseload. Then the last straw was when I went on a vacation to visit family. My appointment was changed. But on the day and time of my usual appointment she called me and said in an angry tone of voice, “where ARE you?” Now, I had not missed an appointment in almost FOUR years, nor had I ever been late!!! I was so hurt by this. I was in the company of all my family, and had to say into my cell phone, “we changed the appointment, remember?” But I never got over the initial tone that she had used with me. Why would she have been angry, instead of concerned? That’s why it was the last straw.

    So, fast forward two years. I still feel the sadness over the loss of that relationship. But I recognize it as a one-way relationship, a relationship of projection, of my needs. So, I did a lot of mourning. I cried and cried. I told myself I had to grow up, I had to reach out and create the support system we had talked about so much in therapy – and, ironically, ending therapy helped me to do that by making it a more pressing need. But I am more wary of therapists. This one held my fragile soul in her hands, and didn’t seem to care if she dropped it. I put the pieces back together again, with the help of friends, some good books and blogs… lots of work. that’s my experience.

    • Dear Sue, I’m really saddened to hear your experience. Thank you for sharing it. I hope the posts and responses here are of help to you, and am really glad to hear that the experienced pushed you to lean more on your real-world supports.

      JS

    • Dear Sue, I’m really sorry to hear about your experience. That must have been so sad and difficult for you 🙁 Makes me really sad to hear it. So glad you seem to have come through it OK. I hope so anyway. I hope that if you go into therapy again, that it is with someone who is far more attentive and caring. I think finding a therapist who is truly caring determines everything. Best wishes

    • I had a similar experience and it was and still is so hard! Sometimes I think it would be better if I never even started therapy. I think there should be a group where people meet with other clients with similar feelings without the therapist around as the last phase of therapy. That’s where I feel like someone “gets” me. You would probably make a good therapist because you’d know what people need.

      • Ironically, it was my experience in therapy that made it very clear to me how much better off I think my family (starting my grandparents) and myself would have been WITHOUT psychotherapeutic intervention. I’m really thankful for that insight.

      • Goodness I think this is such a good idea, Robin. I desperately need a support group for people who are going through intense attachment/transference feelings towards their therapist.

  • I have been in therapy for about 7 1/2 years now, and after I became attached to my therapist I had the same intense feelings expressed here so real and eloquent. I can identify with all of these feelings, and because of that, reading blogs like this have helped me to know I am not crazy, I didn’t do something horrible, I am not a bad or shameful person. That’s why I feel blogs can be very helpful, especially when monitored by what I call caring professionals. So I appreciate thisblog.

    Fast forward 7+ years of therapy, and now finally my brain is beginning to understand what was shared in this post. Yes, it took me 7+ years. These were some very difficult years of trauma recovery from abuse of various kinds, and then finding out the ultimate abuse when my first granddaughter was born, and the flashbacks began. This was the best and worst event in my life.

    I have been fortunate to have a very caring therapist. My feelings were very intense, and that caused me to feel shameful, want to run away, even to think about and almost self destruct. I was so confused about feelings, and still to this day I have struggles with these feelings, but the intensity of the feelings has finally quieted down, and I would be the first to say that I didn’t think they ever would!

    Fast forward again, some recent unpredictable events came up in which I have not seen my therapist in 4 weeks. First time ever! It was very hard at first, and I so wanted to go and talk with him and hear his calm voice, and just feel the love in his office, but I couldn’t. I wanted a Skype or a phone session, but no offer came, until after 3 weeks, and I was not available for one of the two choices he gave me. So I’m now waiting til Tuesday for my usual apt. During this time though, I have learned that even though I thought I would fall apart without him, I have not. Was it hard? Very! But after awhile I started thinking about some of our talks, times when there was this visceral connection, times when I saw tears in his eyes after sharing something I remembered, and all the times he did call me back, and all the times (countless!) I said I quit, and he welcomed me back… Somewhere it clicked and I realized he wanted to really help me, and he did care.

    So now when I see him we will probably continue our conversations until I can finally let go. For awhile family members pressured me to quit, and I did more than once. But now I am not in a hurry because I have learned it takes time to get attached (in my case several dark, difficult years of not being able to trust) so it must take time to let go, and now I’m OK with that, and one day I will be able to give him a paternal hug, say thank you so much for teaching me about life and love, feelings, little girls, moms, dads, , and people, and say, I’d like to check in every few months. If this sounds Pollyannish, it really isn’t as I have left out the very destructive parts of this journey with betrayal trauma occurring in a home with one parent when the other parent was forever gone when I was 3. i trusted no one! Just for me to trust my therapist was huge barrier, really difficult, filled with fear. But I am so glad we were able to build a connection that could let the little girl know it’s OK to come out and tell someone what happened. The journey was hell for many years, but the connection gave me care and concern, support, and I would add love.
    There are good therapists and bad therapists, and that makes all the difference. I am grateful to have met a good one…

    • Thank you so much. I identified with your story totally. .i have felt such shame in going to therapy when my family would ask me about it. I no longer do that. I know it is good for me and what i need. .

    • Thank you for sharing this. I’m so glad I know some English as there’s so little about all this in my native language. I’ve been in a very bad place and the only way to let my therapist know how I’m feeling was to write her a long, long e-mail after a session, about my despair, my tireness of this overwhelming sense of worthlessness and abandonment, deep depression, abuse, loneliness, attachment. The result was: switched from once a week to twice a month. Oh thanks. I’ll never understand why she did this now. There have been happier times when trying it would have made more sense. Not now if I cry for half a session. She helped me so much but now I often feel like she’s no longer really listening to me. No longer attuned. I had just asked her to help me out with two last things: my terror of time passing by and abandonment, and attachment. We discussed it in that sessions and the week after she comes out with this. And I have no idea what to do. She insisted until I sad “OK, 15 days is fine, OK”. Despite telling me she’s always there and I can call her if I need her and we’ll see each other no problem, I don’t care, I was not in a good place and can’t get over her forcing me in the first place. So I’m NOT calling anyway, for no reason. I’ll make it, but when I’ll go and she’ll ask me how it’s going I’ll tell her “you know it’s like you ask a colleague to teach you accounting in the next few days for work and they say, sure, and the day after they go on vacation and leave you instructions about how to use the office e-mail”.

      • Dear Silv, I’m so sorry to hear about your therapist’s apparently erroneous handling of your openness. Over the past year, I have been working primarily on a textbook for therapists in the hope of establishing a solid basis for new therapist to understand and learn to work with feelings like yours. I have also opened up a new section of the blog for therapists. Most of the articles I write are aimed both at consumers and at therapists. In the new section, many of the old posts are relevant, and I will develop some new ones that may slant a little more towards the therapist. I hope you find a more radical solution to your needs, one that is more than allowing a bad situation to continue.

        Yours, JS

        • Thank you so much, I think sometimes it is difficult for therapists to find the right way to deal with patients. We are all humans after all, it’s a great a idea focusing on helping professionals. I’m fond of mine: she is brilliant and respected already, young though. I chose her because she was so focused and enthusiastic. We almost “started” together and did a great job for some time, I literally saw her growing too, in a sense. Thanks.

  • I really appreciate this blog as it has helped me not to feel so alone or the only one out there who feels attached to her therapist. (A shaming experience for me, which I am s-l-o-w-l-y coming to terms with.) I’ve also read your book, “How We Heal & Grow,” and have shared several insights from it with my therapist. And I’ve read “A Fractured Mind” by Robert B. Oxnam in which you are mentioned. I, too, have DIDNOS so the therapeutic process is very long and, sometimes, frustrating. However, books and blogs have encouraged me along the journey, so please keep these excellent posts coming. And, thank you, for caring.

  • Hi Denise,

    I’m so glad reading blogs and books have helped you to feel not so alone…I agree. I’ve read so many books about therapy, attachment, trauma, etc. all to try to figure out this therapeutic relationship dynamic. Sometimes it would help, others not so much. I know now it is a process that takes time, going through all of the feelings and parts of our past, trusting another person a whole lot, getting attached, then letting go. Reading this site helped me a lot because the topics were client centered and realistic. By the way, it took me a looooooong time to realize letting go takes time, and can turn out to be sometimes more difficult qthan attachment. But it works out in the end (I hope), as I’m not completely finished. What helped me the most was when my therapist said I could come back if I needed to. There is no shame in loving your therapist who has given you what you so desperately needed when you were a child. It takes a long time to let that sink in. Shame still floods in sometimes, but the connection and talking about it with someone who listens and cares is very healing, and the shame melts away…

  • You were asked an important question by a client, I would say the most important question: will I ever get over these intense feelings of attachment. Your answer went on and on, avoiding the question, until the last paragraph where you wrote: “The truth is that it takes more time and a more gradual letting go. The feelings are not simple or easily managed. If letting go isn’t forced, then there is room for a gradual transformation like the one from six-year-old love to twenty-year-old appreciation.” So, your answer, scant as it was, loaded with disclaimers, is at best a weak maybe. “Maybe”, if you have all the time in the world (like 20-6=14 years) there is “room” for “gradual” improvement. And this gradual improvement just magically happens. No reason given, just does. ( Like when Donald Trump becomes President we’ll be great again. We just will.) Forget that in the father/daughter analogy the pair spend more quality time together stretched out over 14 years (or more if necessary) to achieve this maturation, with the understanding that they will not be separating until death, but other than that (and a million other things), they are exactly alike and you can expect the same outcome! That is silly. Should the client be concerned that there is no scientific data to support this, or that there is not even anecdotal evidence? ( Even the few people who commented here in support of what you wrote have not successfully separated from their therapists.)

    I’m a hiker. There is a term we use when a person gets lost and then tries to convince themselves that their surroundings match the features on the map, when they really don’t. It’s called bending the map. You are bending the map. You do not know if your client’s emotions will be resolved. You do not even know that they are from the past. They may well be solidly rooted in the present relationship with you, but you, like all therapists, will insist that they are related to the past (this is a monolithic belief among practitioners in the field – nothing can be ascribed to the current relationship). Evidence? Proof? Other possibilities? Be damned!

    When therapy gets to the point where the attachment is still so strong and the therapy has been going on for a long time, you have to consider that the therapist is only a person too. And they can just as easily, and maybe at this point more so than the client, begin to deny the reality of the relationship. The burden of their responsibility to this client, this person, this (dare I say it) dear friend, weighs heavily and the therapist desperately wants to believe that all of this mess is from an earlier relationship, not the current one. It’s a mess doc. It really is.

    Why not just tell her the truth? Tell her you do not know and that embarking on this journey involves risk at the highest level. Because if you invest years and tens of thousands of dollars only to find that you cannot “successfully” detach, you will be in grave trouble. And you will be entirely on your own. There is no way this profession can avoid creating these outcomes, it is only a question of the frequency of this outcome and my guess is that the frequency of traumatic separation from therapists is very high. Just my gut, as it must be because it is not a subject of study anywhere that I have seen. What becomes of all those people? That is the real question your client is asking you: “What will become of me after this?” She’s scared and she should be because if you don’t turn out to be her savior, you will be her destruction, right? Everybody’s got a lot of skin in this game, but most especially, the client.

    • G,

      It’s obvious you have never had a good therapist. If you had, you would KNOW from experience and memory EXACTLY where, when, and why these feelings of attachment (and transference) took place.

      Without this knowledge, I can understand why you feel so angry, frustrated, and perhaps betrayed.

      Best of luck to you on your journey.

    • I appreciate your perspective. I think it is important to decide for ourselves what is a healthy relationship and what is not. Just because one sees a therapist doesn’t mean that the relationship is a healthy one.

      • I’m so tired of this “decide for yourself” or “follow your gut” advice to people with mental illnesses. If I could do either of those things, I probably wouldn’t need a therapist. An oncologist doesn’t tell you to “follow your gut” or “decide for yourself,” she does tests, determines how far your cancer has spread and how dangerous it is, and makes recommendations.

        I have had good and bad therapists, but even the good ones could never understand that I just don’t have the capacity to do things on my own, for reasons of how my brain works or is damaged.

    • Thank you, this was a great comment to read.
      I always look at where the money is. If someone gets into a vague type of profession that is based on regular visits, it is in the best interest of the business person (or in this case, therapist) to keep the client coming back. Without no real (concrete!) objectives, therapy can linger on forever. I see in these comments that some people have been going to therapy for upwards of 7 years! Although the patient may think the therapist is great, if they have been there for almost a decade, I wonder what the objectives are. Not only for the patient, but for the therapist.

    • This post is incredible. It is the only sensible thing I have read since separating from my therapist ( and I have read everything I could put my hands on). Thank you for capturing and expressing my own grief so well. Eleven months of agony after being left by my therapist I am wondering precisely what is going to become of me.

  • Dear All,

    I went through all the comments. G, I would love to hear about your personal experience about the topic? That would be quite helpful to understand what you have written earlier in your comment.

    I have been seeing my therapist for over 2 years now. Attachment came real quick, I have a good practice, I can even spot people on the street as a possible subject of strong attachment. Letting go started to come in the last 2 month or so but I must say a lot of things led to the start of it. Maybe it was somehow always there, I think my soul always wanted to let go. It might sound very strange as I obviously know all those feelings too well, everyone talks about here.

    My mind was constantly running about things she might feel, might think but I qas most interested about what she feels about me. Does she really love me? I had to ask a million questions and go through a million possibilities cause I never got a “yes, I love you” answer. It hurt so much. She did a lot of other things though…shared a million personal details about her life, husband, children, traumas, very intimate and personal things. My biggest issue was if I can get hugged. Very embarrassed. We talked about it but I could never say it. Eventually she did it, I asked for it in so many ways. And that brought in a very important experience. I did not feel what I thought this hug will bring me. I thought I will melt away and finally I will feel what longed for for all my life. It was a definite bodily experience: ITS NOT POSSIBLE! It is just NOT possible to be one with the other. I think this is where the comscious partnof the letting go strated. I finally got what I longed for and it did not help.

    For trying to expand boundaries and make her into my Mom I also got a lot of NO’s which hurt a lot. We exchanged many emails for eg and when I would write a long one full of emotions she would answer short, to the point. Hurt like crazy. But hurt less and less. Somehow I started to contain more and more of these diffcult feelings.

    It all manifested in my reality, Im a different person. More confident, meditate a lot, less gossiping, not running after people etc many thigs.

    I think we are born with the capacity of growing, we somehow know what we need and this positivity made me go through all my feelings, cry and cry and cry when I had no feeling of hope, but I always had a knowledge that it will one day be all right. Otherwise why would I have seeked helped if there is nobody in my saying there is hope.

    This is my first week when I donnot go to therapy and it was my decision out of a last desparate attempt of getting even closer to her and not succeeding…than I felt like the child in me said…you know what..go to hell..its bloody painful and Im not doing it to myself..All that rage came but I could see its just pain, she is the same lovely therapist as ever…I just need this rage to tolerate the feelings of letting go… and its needed to create a distance between me and her.

    I still dont know what she feels exactly but I have to say I can not deny the love I feel. At a certain point I though am I crazy not to see and to concentrate on the very reality of the LOVE that is there in that office instead of trying to get to know something that is apparently not my business.

    My dreams helped me a lot too. One day I dreamt about being in therapy and she said she is taking my case to a nother therapist…later when I told her about the dream it turns out she did take it to supervision and she said it is not the first time I bring in something I dont know about but have a dream. There is this intuitive conmection. As you can imagine, her acknowledging this is ours and its special helped me a lot too to see what we actually have instead of concentrating on what I lack. Its all part of the letting go process.

    I have been too long but I could write a case study out of my own process. There is hope but I can totally understand if someone with a huge trauma gives it up. You need tobbe very positive, need supportive friends or family and need to want to change and let go. Hard work but worth it!

  • Hi there G,

    I must be honest with you and I sincerely hope you believe this reply comes from compassion, empathy, humility and truth.

    I have been thinking about your post for several days now. At first it bothered me and I wanted to defend all that is therapy. I felt as if my experiences in therapy, my new experiences because of therapy, my personal insight gained, all my benefits from therapy were at once belittled, demeaned, artificial and valueless, among some other strong negative feelings. Then, naturally, I was mad and ready to say so.

    Now though, G, I’ve come to resolution of my feelings and thoughts about your post. You are correct, therapy is risky, what occurs in sessions at times is reality, and therapists do carry a heavy responsibility for and to their clients. I would like to suggest that those who engage in therapy, both therapist and client, are not bending the map, but together are revealing it. They are facing, head-on, the question of “what will become of me after this” at the beginning of every single session, at every second and minute in a session, and with each and every step and breathe they take leaving a session.

    They are daring greatly…

    Snow

  • Well, my therapist and I now have agreed (mostly) to have Skype sessions every other week. This sounded pretty easy to do in one sense, but now in reality I am finding it a bit more difficult that I thought it would be. Right before this decision we had been meeting two times a week for a month because I learned the office was closing, but my therapist would continue Skype sessions out of his home.

    In this sense I think I am understanding G;s comments, and also admiring Snow’s response. I am living this right now in real life. Yes, I do think therapy is a risk, and I found it a risk for me, but a risk worth taking. I wasn’t so sure about this whole process in the beginning because of my trauma.

    I still believe if you find the right therapist who knows how to connect with his client in a deep way, has professional but pliable boundaries, empathy, and an ability to listen, thinks will eventually work out OK. I am banking on this idea now because this is where I am in our therapy. No, it is not easy in any sense, nor ha t been for me throughout my difficult journey. However, I was able to tolerate the process without self destruction (sometimes) because my therapist was able to hold my feelings and contain them until he was able to teach me how to do that on my own. It took me a long time to learn this!

    Right now I realize that that the next few months are going to be harder than I thought, so I am going to have to put into practice more of what I have learned, and I am hoping I will be able to do that. I have e-mailed my T (more than once!), which is now off limits mostly, so I feel badly about that, like I’ve failed. But, after seeing him twice a week of late then switching, it is understandably difficult, so I need to give myself some slack. I learned that from my therapist, because before I would hate myself, think I failed, and then act out in unhealthy ways. Now at least I can think about what I’ve learned and try to practice it without such steady contact with him. Yes, I find it difficult, but I am doing it. I am not doing it perfectly, and if he really gets irritated with my e-mails he will surely let me know. (not sure what he’d do…)

    I think that as difficult as it was for me to agree to this every other week plan, it will work out in the long run. I have hope, because my therapist has been along side me on this journey so far, and I know he wants to complete it with me, not one foot from the finish line, but over it! So I think this was necessary for me to figure out I can make it without him, even though I used to think that was impossible. I’m not saying I don’t still have very deep feelings for him, because I do, but the intensity now is something I can bear because I understand the process of therapy from reading blogs, including this one and the one by Ryan Howes, as well as from my own therapist who has brought in books, handouts, websites, videos, etc. to help me understand and deal with the life I was given. I just realized I came to this understanding as a process, but the most helpful part was reading this last post on attachment because it tells it like it is, and doesn’t cause the client to feel embarrassed or afraid.
    Thanks again for this blog! I am sure I will be checking in to let you know how my letting go journey is going…

  • This topic is so critical yet not discussed as often as it should be. Absolutely agree with your solution that the attachment must first be accepted and then dealt with maturity to acknowledge that is perfectly natural and not something to be ashamed of. After that, moving on and healing must be carefully handled with objective understanding and not rushed. It helps.

  • I have worked for five and a half years with a therapist who is like a dad to me. I am very attached to him and we talked of this openly. he is retiring in the summer 2017 and I am no where near sorted, I have multiple traumas and serious trust issues still – I am terrified. I understand the post above where the person got so angry at how therapists can just dump clients, leaving them worse than before. Statistically, 60% of people who do therapy feel they come out worse. I will come out worse unless this ending is handled very skilfully. but for me it is a premature ending so i am very worried indeed.

  • Hi Sarah,

    It looks like you have about a year left before his retirement. From my own experience he most helpful and healing thing you can do is continue to share your feelings with him. You obviously have a strong attachment to hom, and that in itself is really half the struggle for those of us with multiple traumas. My therapists office just closed last week. So now we are skyping every other week as he is in treatment for cancer. When we were talking about therapy winding down ( I refuse to use the word termination because I don’t like the finality of that…) I finally asked him if we could let go slowly. At first he wanted a clean break, but as we talked he must have sensed that the clean break wouldn’t be the most helpful one for me. He changed his mind, and said I can come back when I need to, but also that we can do skype every other week.

    I think I understand where you are coming from, and how afraid you are of ending therapy. Therapy is all about talking about our feelings. Therapists are human. They are usually open for further discussion and negotiating the terms of therapy ending. Please talk about this with him, and see if you can work something out like a gradual letting go of therapy. I am sure he will listen and think about what would be best for you. Just be real with him about what you need from him in this unplanned ending. I am hoping he will assure you of a process that’s not like dropping you like a ot potato, but will respect your journey with him and help you gradually let go. I don’t know where you are with your therapy, but I am sure he could share that with you, just in case you might need another year or two. Think creatively, like have him give ou a referral to a therapist he knows that might work well with you, then have him skype in also to a few sessions to help you adjust, and to diffuse some of your trust issues. Therapists do want to meet the needs they are capable of meeting in a caring, respectful, boundaried way.

    I wish you well on your journey. I remember that I had a lot of black and white, all or nothing thought and feeling patterns, and when those were resolved I was able to see light in the darkness, and hope in My despair, and my fear…also continue to use blogs like this one that are monitored by caring professionals. That’s what I’m doing as well.

  • Hi there
    I too just finished online therapy. Never saw my therapist face to face. I think that was the hardest part for me. Wondering what he looked like. I think what hurt more was that I shared my pictures with him. He was actually retired not even in practice anymore. Met on a forum. Long story short I think I got way too attached to him emotionally that constructive therapy was not working anymore. So we mutually ended. He said I could still post on the main forum anonousmly but just seeing him online and knowing I can’t message him directly anymore really hurts. That I tell myself maybe I should just never go back to that site again.

    I think am I normal? I got attached to someone I never met or saw I know it’s different from everyonelse experience here.

    But what really bothers me is he saw what I looked liked but I never knew what he looked like and I never will.

    To be honest I would never do online therapy again unless I can see the person.

    • Dear Amber, This is the first time I have encountered attachment to a therapist through an online therapy. Reading the blog posts or the new book, Attachment to Your Therapist, there are many stories and examples of feelings like what you describe. Usually the attachment is an indication of unfinished business from the past. The goal of therapy is to resolve issues from the past. Termination of treatment is usually not a helpful way to work with strong feelings. JS

      • Thanks Jeffrey for your reply the thing is he told me we can continue to post on the main forum under the strict confidentiality that we had when I was messaging him one one one on the forum. But he knew I was a very private person it took me a long time to open up to him and when I finally did he felt I was letting my emotions blind me of any constructive therapy.

        He obviously didn’t know me well enough as he claims to have or why would he make that suggestion. My online therapy only just recently terminated and I go on that site trying to help other people who are also suffering but than me going on there and seeing him online but knowing I can’t message him directly anymore is causing me mental anguish. I think for me is to never go back on that site again or at least until I feel emotionally ready too. He knew had abandonment issues from my past and now I feel like I gave been abandoned all over again. It helps to know I am not alone and that I am not crazy to feel this way.

        • Sorry I just realized I repeated a lot of what I said in my previous post.

          He basically feels I have the self confidence to get better on my own and near the end of our therapy he started to feel like I was using him more as an emotional crutch.

          I know I will get past this but it’s like you feel like you have lost that one person who you completely trusted and I am sure he still cares for me but he feels I can do this on my own now.

          • What I’m hearing about Teletherapy is reminding me of the importance of the formality of the traditional setup of a therapeutic relationship, where the rules and boundaries are clear from the outset and don’t change. I usually think of termination as an important decision to be discussed and decided on together. I hope this new way of conducting therapy eventually develops a set of guidelines and ethics and I hope the anonymity doesn’t lead to degeneration into the ugly irresponsibility I have seen where “trolls” with no understanding or empathy have commented on personal sharing in blogs. JS

  • Dear Dr. Smith….

    ” I have seen where “trolls” with no understanding or empathy have commented on personal sharing in blogs”… not sure what you mean by this. but as i mentioned before this was a forum i joined with people with anxiety, panic and depression issues and they do their best to ensure no trolls come onsite.

    this gentleman retired several years ago and is older than me, and he comes on there to help people in general… i approached him for one on one online therapy and he agreed free of cost…. . i think what happened was we crossed therapy patient relationship boundary and we became “online friends”… because we are both spiritual people by nature… yes he did establish some boundaries, not saying he didn’t… i guess i felt like he was the father figure that i always wanted since i have my own issues with my father..but he said that can not ever happened and i respected that.

    i think what bothered me most is not putting a face to the name, and every time i asked for a pic, there was always an excuse or a “why do you need to see what i look like” therapy is therapy… yes it is but i have strong sense of curiosity.. i see your face Dr. Smith and i can tell you look like someone one who really cares about people too…

    so for anyone who considers therapy online,I strongly recommend, you seek out someone who you can talk to via Skype, face to face, that way you don’t have any misunderstandings, miscommunication and you can see each other’s facial expressions and emotions. That was the hardest part of this therapy, not seeing him face to face,constantly wondering what he looked liked. Perhaps that would of made a big difference in our therapy ending in a better way than it did.

    Amber

    • Dear Amber, Thanks for clarifying. I need to clarify, too. My mention of trolls was not directly about your experience, only wondering if anonymity might tend to undermine normal respect for boundaries. In a way, that’s what you describe. I hope that over time, we all learn to use these new tools in ways that avoid problems. Your suggestion of visual contact sounds like a good one. Jeffery

  • Thank you so much for this blog, and for this particular topic. After a lifetime of dealing with the aftermath of abandonment, foster homes, sexual abuse and all the issues arising from these experiences, I have finally found a therapist with whom I click. Trust, obviously, has been a big issue for me; I also always assumed I needed a woman therapist since all of my abusers were men. Interestingly, the therapist with whom I’ve had the most connection and most success is a man! This was just one of many surprises about our therapy relationship. We’ve worked together for two years, and both anticipated at least several more years ahead. But, unexpectedly, his wife has been offered a job that would benefit their whole family, and with very little head’s up (8 weeks), he will be leaving for a new life across the country. I’ve been going through various kinds of panic attacks and revelations in the three weeks since he told me of this decision. We are right in the middle of some crucial issues from my early childhood, and of course this event is triggering a lot of traumatic memories and feelings for which I sometimes have no language. It feels like we have to ramp up treatment to try and get me to a place of semi-equilibrium before he leaves. Let me add that my therapist has basically opened up his calendar for me and told me to use whatever time I need as long as he can find space, which hasn’t been a problem. He is generous and purposeful about helping me deal with this loss and with moving on as much as I am ready to at this point (it will take me awhile to want to look for another therapist). He’s offered phone or Skype appointments as well, but these will be out of pocket as my insurance will not cover a therapist out of state. But this sudden termination is breaking my heart, and I am struggling with how to maintain my roles at work and in my family while going through this rollercoaster of emotions. Never one for deep friendships, now I feel myself isolating even more. Worst of all, I have several very ill family members depending on me, including my spouse. Because of severe health problems, my spouse is less than sympathetic about my attachment to, and pain over losing, my therapist. It’s not something that is easy for me to talk about with him. If you have any suggestions for readings for partners of people in therapy, or people in the middle of termination, I would really appreciate it. And thank you, too, for “Attachment to your therapist” which I purchased and have been slowly reading. It has helped a lot. Callie

    • Dear Callie, Thanks for writing and sharing your experience. Termination might be expected to involve loss, grieving and acceptance, which are natural, though your timetable seems short. I think from a therapeutic point of view, the most important issue is to identify dysfunctional coping patterns, especially self-harming ones and work hard not to follow them. As far as readings, I the best I can identify would be things about loss and grief for both of you. Perhaps other readers might have suggestions. JS

    • I am facing losing my therapist too but the circumstances are different and sad. i am trying to figure out how to find someone as good as he is and am not sure how to “vet” them because I had been to other therapists that just couldn’t do the things he can do. When I first started going to him I thought he was just telling stories hoping I would go back to the therapist that had referred me to him. Then I had a visual image come to mind that I was inside a room within a room – a crystal room. That is how I realized he was doing things to help straighten out my thinking without me even knowing that was what he was doing. He’s well respected and teaches but he is older and I’ve gotten glimpses that he is having some problems with memory and other things. So I have to face the idea that he might not be able to finish helping me. How did you all find your awesome therapists?

      By the way, I am experiencing the same achingly deep feelings of attachment which are expressed so well here. This feels like the most intense relationship I’ve ever had. I have had experience with moving forward and gaining insight and now all I want to do is take it as far as I can and connect as deeply as I can with life. If I don’t find someone with his level of skill that isn’t going to happen.

  • Hi Callie,

    As I was reading your post I felt a deep empathy for where you are right now in therapy, the approach of therapy ending, and you additional struggles and responsibilities with family members. I know you have probably thought of this, but since this therapy worked for you, ask if your therapist will give you a reduced rate since it is Skype. I recently changed my insurance, not out of choice, but I had to go on Medicare and pick a Supplement. My therapist and I are skyping every other week, and he has offered a reduced rate. I was very hesitant to ask and felt ashamed, but he was also offering other clients a reduced rate,so I accepted his offer. Along with this when you are ready you could ask him for a referral to another therapist, and then see if he will join a Skype session with you and your new therapist, just for a few times, to ease your discomfort and fear. I see hope in that he opened up his schedule for you, which means he understands where you are, cares about you, and wants to help you heal.

    I am always willing to listen to others who find themselves in difficult situations. If I can be of any further support, just let me know here on this blog.

    Wishing you further healing,

    Kimberly April

    • Kimberly, thanks for your comment. My therapist did offer Skype therapy, although he cannot manage reduced rates. We have Skyped several times since his move. I have to say, each time has been excruciatingly painful for me. the first session I simply cried the whole time. Feeling the feels, for sure: abandonment, fear, grief, loss, the whole nine yards. the next two sessions I was more able to talk, but the mere thought of therapy sessions still makes me cry. It is so hard to be this far away from the one person who understands the little girl experiencing all these emotions. Still, the sessions each have had some productive moments, and it is certainly better than no therapy at all, or ending in the middle of this quagmire of grief. Also, my therapist and I did spend the last few weeks when we could meet in the same room talking very honestly about attachment, his willingness to meet with me on Skype, mutual disappointment about how finances often require us to uproot (I, too, took my current job in order to be able to provide health insurance for family members), etc.

      I live in a very small town, far from larger urban centers. My therapist mentioned that eventually I might need to invest in a long drive in order to find someone suitable, as he didn’t think the few other therapists in our area had room in their schedules or might not be someone he would recommend for me.

      In general, I continue to work my way through the feelings from my younger selves that have been opened up by therapy, as well as those “boomerang” emotions from my therapist’s departure. I alternate between devastation, determination to move on, and numbness. I continue to berate myself for not being fully present in my job, or in my other relationships, but I keep telling myself “put your own mask on first” as a sort of mantra that I have to get myself right before anyone else. I had just reached a point in therapy (before my therapist’s departure) when I felt I’d been brought to my knees by grief and loss; then, this. Talk about bad timing. Still, I am grateful for my therapist’s continuing support; that’s huge. and, I think he knows where I’m at and is going to remain in contact until I find another therapist. I’ll keep your suggestion about having him Skype in a few times if and when that happens.

      Thanks again for responding. It meant a lot.

      Callie

  • Hi Kimberly
    That is really sweet of you. I am still struggling over getting over therapy where I constantly messaged this person back and forth. It was not your typical once a week therapy.

    I decided for my own mental health it is better not to go back on that forum. Too many painful emotions come up especially when I see him online and no I can no longer message him.

    Time is the best healer but I really do feel the client always gets the raw end of the stick. For therapists they are better equipped to move on with their lives.

    Sorry just feel like I needed to post again because wounds are still raw.

    Amber

  • there should be a law that prohibits mental health professionals from abandoning their clients when they are in highly emotional states. even if the clients themselves “quit”. the therapist should make an attempt to have at least one last session for closure. many times clients quit because they feel let down and unsettled, what the clients really want is to make a point that they feel unhappy with the way things are and like a little kid that throws a tantrum all they really want is for the parents to notice them and show them they really care and love them and want to make everything better. therapist should let one or two days go by and then contact them and try to schedule an appointment to solve differences and decide if they should continue or stop but there should be closure.
    I find it highly irresponsible to let a client walk away with open wounds, at least patch them up until client is ready to go back to therapy or allow them to slowly heal on their own.
    Luna

    • Dear Luna, Thanks for your comment. I want to write a post soon on adult temper tantrums. This is a good lead-in. Jeffery

      • Dr Smith, I can’t wait to read your post about adult tantrums in therapy and how a therapist is supposed to handle them. If a client is brought to a highly emotional state and he seems resistant, is countertransference ever a good reason to abandon a client. how is it that a therapist can get angry or offended by something an unsettled client says? and even if the countertransference is so strong that therapist doesn’t think he/she can work with client, shouldn’t the therapist schedule a final session and help the client find a new therapist?
        Thank you so much for your blog. I find very informative and comforting.
        Luna

  • Hi Luna
    I totally agree with you in my case it was online therapy. He bascially kept saying “he would never give up on me and kept reassuring me if that “… And a year later when he finally felt like we were not getting any where and he felt like I was just using him as emotional crutch. He said ” you can do this on your own”… After that he bascially deleted all my messages so that was my clear indication he is done with me.

    This was the first therapist that I really trusted myself with and now this experience has made me realize better to go it alone. Yes I say this right now because I feel hurt and angry. He said he really cared about me and I sit here thinking is it possible for a therapist to do a complete 360 and not even care to see you are coping. Not once has he even bothered to message me on that forum to see how I am doing.

    • Amber, I feel your pain. I too became very attached to my therapist and we became rather friendly but never inappropriate. I think he struggled a lot to maintain a professional alliance, he loved discussing other unrelated subjects and chatting with me. I also brought out other strong not so positive emotions in him. At one point I was very angry and frustrated with him and emailed him informing that I needed a break from therapy and all the unsettling emotions. I thanked him for all he’s done for me. I was hoping he would ask me exactly how I wanted to proceed and for at least a last session to provide closure. Instead I received a response saying ” thanks, best of luck to you!” I guess he was dying to get rid of me

  • Hi Luna
    Sorry to hear what your therapist did. My therapist was retired not even in practice so we had mix of both therapy and an online friendship or so I thought we did. When I told him in frustration and emtionally upset at the time. ” he too said it’s been a pleasure working with you. ” so now I think back and realise I was just “a patient” of his and not a friend as he led me to believe half way through therapy. He even said at one point ” i hope we don’t lose in touch”.

    I am starting to think maybe I need to go back into therapy and deal with unhealthy attachements because that is how it ended up as.

    May we both heal from our experiences. For myself i have to tell myself it was a learning experience and what I still need to work on.

  • I have come to the realization that it’s impossible to not get attached to your therapist if you develop a good therapeutic alliance. When we seek therapy we feel our most vulnerable, our emotions are heightened.
    I have decided that therapy is not for me. I don’t care what its called in the mental health community, transference or anything else, the reality is that I was falling for this man because the incredible intimacy in our therapeutic relationship and in order for therapy to be effective this intimacy is encouraged. However, to solve some issues and then end up heartbroken and with new issues is counterproductive not to mention expensive. I really did not resolve any of my issues but the reality is that I loved it because ultimately what was happening is that I was having an emotional affair that was acceptable and that’s why I felt so good about going to therapy. I was not sad anymore, I was motivated to get things done just to impress him. I started working out again and taking care of my appearance, I was in cloud 9. Exactly as when one starts a new relationship, so let’s be real, it is an emotional affair but unlike a real emotional affair or a regular affair, the other person (the therapist) is just manipulating you to feel emotions so they can add more details to their cases. Because that’s all we are: cases. They don’t care when you leave. they justify it on their notes by saying you are resistant to treatment, or that you’re going to develop better coping skills or any other therapeutical jargon to put the blame on you and not feel any guilt whatsoever. Your feelings don’t matter at all, has anybody ever received a message from a therapist saying: “I’m sorry I didn’t realize how deeply i hurt you for not trying to understand what you needed from me because I was too busy writing notes and observing your reactions and your affect and your body language to confirm my diagnosis” Therapists just play with your emotions and let you walk away with tremendous emotional damage induced by their “therapeutic methods and interventions” I much rather engage in numerous unheathy real relations that would be destined to fail but at least the emotions will be real on both sides and I would not feel taken advantage of, used and thrown to the curb. It’s like they are thirsty vampires that seduce you to suck your blood and then move on to the next victim. the worse part is that you can’t express your anger and disappointment to your therapist because you want to be dignified. You just walk away with your soul shattered in a million pieces to put it back together again on your own.
    They encourage you to sit up high on that wall, then when you have a great fall, the therapist is no place to be found. oh Humpty Dumpty
    Worst kind of relationship, will never do it again.

    • Readers may want to look at the Scarsdale Psychotherapy Self-Evaluation. (look in the resources tab for “Free Downloads” and inside for the SPSE. The last section is on safety in therapy, and brings up issues like allowing expectations that can’t be fulfilled and handling negative feelings. There is no doubt that the therapy relationship is a powerful one. The book Attachment to Your Therapist: A Conversation, has examples of very helpful things and some very damaging ones happening in this relationship. Jeffery

    • Luna,

      Are you really me? I cannot believe how you said exactly the things I’ve been going through.

      I had been going to my therapist for a few months When I was so angry (suicidal, raw, etc.) and things werent getting better, I emailed my therapist to let him know I was scared for my safety. I asked for an appointment sooner. He didnt respond. I spiralled and texted him a few days later and asked if I could make an earlier appointment and he said yes. I asked for a date and time but never heard back. I emailed him again with the dates and times I was available. No response.

      After a 2-week period of trying to get back into him and worried about just going to an ER instead, I was so frustrated that I emailed him and said, “I quit!” He response was rapid this time and he said “Ok. Good luck. Let me know if you want a referral.” What the …..?

      Talk about not learning my lesson, I have returned to him. I did tell him it made me angry that he didnt care if I quit. He said he believes his clients know what is best for them. He also asked what he wanted me to say in the future. I said, “Don’t just let me quit. Ask me first to see if we can work on it.” He agreed.

      Now at the one-year mark, he still drives me crazy. He doesnt ask about the things he assigns me for the week. He tells me to text/email him about something and I do – then he never acknowledges he has even received text/email. As a therapist who claims to practice DBT, his inconsistency in crisis assistance between sessions is so unpredictable and I have no idea his boundary or limits on between-session communication.

      Unfortunately, as my BPD symptoms are so well under control that I no longer meet criteria for it (yeah, me) my therapist seems anxious to be rid of me.I didnt start therapy to work on those behaviors, so it doesnt make sense that now that I can handle working on the things which brought me to therapy in the first place, he is ready for me to move to sessions every other week, then only to check-in every few months.

      But, now I’m ready to start therapy. I need help with avoiding and not following-through. Oh wait, thats exactly what my therapist has problems with, apparently.

      Sure there is transference. I dreamt the other night I married him and that scared me to death! I never wanted to see him again. But, because I am trying not to avoid things (my own reasoning) I went to my next appointment.

      I have an appointment with him on the 25th that I would skip, but I need him to sign off my paperwork so I can return to work. I also have an initial appointment with a new therapist 2 days later. I know the office because I attend DBT group skills class there, so I know what their belief is and how phone coaching works. But, Ive gotten those down already. I dont know that I will fit BPD diagnosis anymore. Which is GREAT but now I need to work on the trauma issues, etc. and not BPD.

      So, yes, Luna. My therapist seemed overly eager when I told him I quit.

    • Thanks for saying all that Luna. That is exactly how I feel. (I think though that the therapists are trained to do it this way and if they had a way that was less damaging to people they would probably be grateful for it). Hopefully, someone will come up with a better way of doing things that doesn’t put the therapist in such a bad spot and leave people feeling so shattered. Funny thing about the looming end of therapy is that I find myself looking for the coping skills I’ve always used to get over losses. With all the therapy why don’t I have new ones?

    • G – thank you for writing this. You have expressed a lot of what I have been feeling lately. I have been attached to my therapist and am starting to think about the end of therapy. When I expressed by concerns that I knew leaving was going to really, really hurt and I would feel like I was being abandoned, he simply told me that we would work on it together and make it so that it didn’t hurt. How on earth can you do that??

  • Hi Luna
    Sorry to hear about your therapist relationship. In my case I saw him as a father figure but he did say that kinda of relationship could never be possible.

    Now I find out he is having his own setbacks. I am starting to realize therapists are humans too so the only comfort I can take in all this is that it’s not my fault how our therapy ended I could tell near the end he was dealing with his own demons.

    What your therapist did to you was so wrong and unprofessional. So I can understand your hurt and pain.

  • Hi Amber,

    I understand how you feel, at least the hurtful feelings you have described. Sine the psychotherapy relationship is so powerful and brings out intense feelings some rules or framework of therapy are put into place to prevent clients from being taken advantage of, or from clients or therapists overstepping the boundaries of therapy. From where I sit as a client your therapist didn’t follow some of these boundaries.
    For example, texting each other a lot resembles being friends, not having a therapeutic relationship. That’s probably one of the reasons you became so attached to him, and why it hurts so much to let go. Regular therapy sets boundaries in texts, emails, and calls as well as frequency of sessions. To me it felt kind of like a secure and safe process because I knew when I had a session, a check in call, or could email. What threw me off was when my therapist would forget or wait a week to return my email. But we always talked about it. I know online therapy is really taking off, but it does not have the parts of therapy I have found so healing which include hearing my therapists voice, looking at his eyes and seeing tears after telling him something that happened to me, just to be in the same room and feel positive vibes from him very palpably in my body. I think skype might be more helpful if you decide to try again, and make sure the therapist has a framework and boundaries set up so you know what to expect. One of the scariest things for me would be not knowing what to expect of my therapist. That fear stems from trauma. I hope your feelings are starting to heal.it is not easy, and doesn’t happen over night. I have been dealing with letting go for three months now, and today I will have my last skype with my therapist of 8 years. I have so many feelings, don’t know what to talk about, and some of it feels overwhelming.
    But I’ve also been fortunate to have those positive vibes, some hugs, a consistent therapy frame, etc, which is why I have felt so safe. It’s not all hunky dory though, because we get our wires crossed due to our trauma and the fact that our therapists are human, which is another reason to have a framework and a few boundaries or rules. It’s most helpful when those can be negotiated, not dictated.
    When we negotiated therapy ending what helped the most for me was when my therapist listened to me and then changed our ending to adapt to what I needed.
    You didn’t have that chance, and I feel badly for that because an unclear ending, and sometimes unclear expectations can really cause confusion and painful feelings. The therapists responsibility is to provide this therapeutic frame and set of boundaries. You did nothing wrong here. There was no framework to your therapy.
    Really good therapists also have flexible boundaries dependent upon what their clients need during the various stages of therapy. This site and Ryan Howes site called In Therapy provide excellent resources. Best wishes for your continued healing.

  • Hi Kimberley
    Thank you for taking the time to write to me. Mine was a very unique situation. My therapist/ friend was retired for many years he was just posting on that forum and when I saw how knowledgable he seemed I messaged him about counselling. He warned me it was not for everyone but I persevered.

    Since he was retired he had plenty of time to message me back and forth. About 4 to 5 months into therapy. I suggested skyping and he was very reluctant he said our online messaging had been working so well why mess it up. I was very hurt inside since I had sent him some pics because I fully trusted him. I felt like why he could not to do the same.

    Than his wife had an accident and I think that took his till on him and than he seemed to not be able to handle whatever issues I was going through and we ended it just under a year of messaging each other.

    I still feel like I had some issues to resolve especially being abandoned at a young age and now I am dealing with that all over again since we no longer message anymore. He is dealing with his own issues since his wife’s accident.

    But yes in hindsight if I had to do it over again. I would rather do it face to face like I have had in the past. He was a very loving person always giving me virtual hugs and ending his messages very lovingly and I think that is why I am having a hard time letting so. We were both spirtual people so we had that in common too. But I need to focus on my own life and real friends which I am blessed to have.

    I am sure it will be hard for you after 8 years of therapy to day goodbye but it sounds like he is transitioning you well so that when it does end you will have the courage to go on your own.

    I wish you well.

    Amber

  • Two days ago, as mentioned above, I had my last Skype with my therapist of 8 years. Most of the therapy was in person except for the past few months. My therapist has cancer, so he needed to make one adjustments. So I was expecting, even visualizing that I would go down that black hole that first brought me into therapy, but that didn’t happen! We talked about how I have changed and grown as a person, and since I wasn’t orally clear on all these changes I asked to explain, which he did. I started from a very dark, isolated, and numb state, and now I have learned to open up, trust other people (carefully) kind of like going it with your eyes open and on the Gage’s…my ER has improved quite a bit, which was something I thought would never improve. My heart was shut closed, locked, and now it is pretty open when I feel safe. I also had he chance to tell my therapist some of the most helpful things he did, and to be able to do that was healing and a way of thanking him for his help and sticking with me. I had quit many times over the years, but he always let me come back…

    I just want to share that after our skype, I cried a lot for about 45 minutes and then felt much better, able to carry out my to do list for the day. Later at night I also spent some time reflecting on therapy, how healing it was, sometimes painful, all the hard work, and my therapists patience, kindness, and empathy. I feel therapy was a gift I decided to give myself. At first it was in crisis mode, but I stuck it out for 8 years. So. Learned I could survive our last skype for now. I also learned that if you ask your therapist for things you need, most often they will say yes, unless that’s not I your best interest. So I asked if I could have a session in6 months, and he said yes. I also asked for a voice recording from him for me to listen to if any flashbacks or flooding came up, and he said yes.

    I shared this for those f you whose therapy is winding down. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, like periodic sessions, a recording, or other things you think would help. I was really afraid to ask, and thought he would say no, but he said yes. The most healing part of that last session is learning how much you have grown, what you appreciate about therapy, and the hearing of pretty intimate up front feelings. The word love was used, but I already knew he loved me as a client and in the Lord, and that I loved him in a paternal way.

    I already miss him this morning, but now I can sit with those feelings. I hope his helps some who are struggling with therapy and letting it go. The key is having a therapy framework and boundaries that are not rigid, but negotiable within the safety perameters of therapy. I love this blog!

  • Awww Kimberley glad to know things went well with your therapist. Sounds like you had a competent therapist and open enough relationship with him to end things gently in order to move on with your life.

    I did reach out to my former therapist and he had hugs own setback as well like I mentioned previously.

    Things didn’t end maliciously with us but I wish the door had been left open that when he was well enough maybe down the road we could of started up again.

    But some time has gone on now and I don’t have the same strong feelings I did for him.

    In fact I actually feel I am confident to go it alone now.

  • After several days of accepting the ending of my therapy, things started to change drastically including my feelings, thoughts, and old defenses which started to reappear. The variation and intensity of my feelings ranging from sadness, confusion, anger, and a very deep depression have proved difficult for me to navigate, and at times I have reverted back to old defenses such as over medicating to get rid of my feelings so I wouldn’t drown. I don’t think I understand what is up right now with me and this process. It has caused me a lot of fear because there’s no way I want to go back to the depression that first brought me to this therapy. I have also navigated confusion, shame, and anger, as well as a lengthy time of learning to trust my therapist. This was so difficult for me. I have started to isolate, pull back, close my heart, and just want to go away. To explain my different feelings here are a series of emails I.ve written to my therapist. I did not send this one yet, as it is in my draft folder, feeling that if I send this it will hurt him so badly, and although at times a part of me wants to do this, I really don’t want to hurt him because of how much he has helped me. So I am hoping Dr. Smith, and perhaps Blog participants can help me understand and navigate dealing with the ending of my therapy. If you can help me understand what is going on, I hope that will help me deal with my feelings more constructively than self-medicating. Thanks in advance for any feedback you can offer. Sorry this is long. You can probably skim the emails to get a general idea of where I am right now, which is described in the first email listed here, which I have not yet sent.

    DRAFT, haven’t sent

    I have concluded that you are not really there anymore, which means you don’t care about us anymore. Therapists set up this relationship presumably based on safety, then once the client gets attached, and improves, termination starts which is the ending of this relationship. How is this different than bait and switch? All of it is designed by the therapist in his pretend room so clients feel safe. Little do they know the painful feelings that lie ahead when therapy ends. The relationship ends, too. So does the connection and stability. You arranged for us to have this very close relationship, which set me and her up for a monumental fall when therapy ends. But I don’t think you explained what happens when therapy ends, like the therapist just disappears! There’s no way I would have stayed if I really knew or understood this, and you know it! This was the closet relationship I’ve ever had in my entire life, which you were aware of, and you left me high and dry. I knew it was therapy, but sometimes the closeness seemed like you really cared about us. Her and I are human beings, not robuts, so ending therapy is not a neutral, unfeeling transaction, or one without deep feelings and confusion. I guess I thought because you’re a Christian you would be different and not set us up for a fall…but you did, and we have fallen so far down that there’s no light or hope here, and love is dead. We feel so dead inside. Now we know we will never get a chance to say a proper goodbye to you, because we really don’t matter, and it seems inconsequential to you that we would want and need to be included in any future goodbyes. This was an attachment relationship lasting 8 years! We will not be included and that alone feels devastating to us because you do have control of that, but prefer we remain distant, like it wouldn’t mean anything at all if something happens to you. Well, that is a lie!!!! I.ve grown so close to you that I would need to work through any future loss as well, because you have meant so much to me and to her.

    If you would have filled us in on what happens regarding the closeness of the relationship, and then the process of losing that relationship with the pain, sorrow, depression, confusion, and instability, I probably would have walked away if I was able to. Unfortunately, when we came to you in the beginning we were not in a position to walk away, but were vulnerable clients who really didn’t want life, and were not capable of thinking things through like what happens if we get attached to this therapist. The problem is none of this happens out in the real world, only in therapy, so then the client is really left back in the real world, left picking up pieces to a confusing and painful life puzzle that has no meaning or sense to it, and trying to put them back again. I would suspect that many clients finally give up because the task is too big for them. That’s where we are right now. Our only hope, which is a distant hope at that is that this God who you represented to me as God with skin on will actually show up and help us put our life together. If not, then I will conclude I was not meant to really have a life. I was meant for destruction, which is pretty apparent from the journey I endured through Hell for 18 years in real life, the purpose my mother convinced me of, then for another umpteen years in reliving everything over and over again, including in parts of our therapy. I don’t think therapist really get clients like me. It is obvious. The realization that betrayal trauma at the hands of a parent, with no other parental support, including multiple abuse and multiple traumatic abandonments needs to include a long term supportive relationship is just beyond your field’s comprehension.

    SENT AFTER THE PREVIOUS email

    I apologize to you for several emails in which the little girl pretty much took over my thoughts and feelings about you and therapy. No excuses… I asked for things you can’t give me, and I’m sorry. I find the loss of this relationship very painful, and at times destabilizing, but I am still alive, and marvel at that. I’m guessing the pain of separation is directly related to the closeness of a therapeutic relationship, which helps to make sense of my grief and instability. But I won’t lie… Losing your support is like losing a very key big part of me, deep inside…and that part gets filled with fear, grief, instability, and confusion. I think she needs tangibles, so my request for a recording to her, and with your permission, a nature photograph you’ve taken that relates to our journey, with a message or verse written on it with your signature for which I can afford to pay 100.00 are what I believe will help her, and the adult. Reading the Bible and listening to songs are a healing balm… Having a glass of lemonade with you on your porch is a dream she’s had since a long time ago as written in her poem, Please Take a Walk with Me… Please keep in touch once in a while. For some reason it’s important to her to really know you’re there… Thank you for understanding, and for your patience, kindness, listening and hearing, as well as being so real, caring, and Christ like, especially in light of my emails of late. I will always think of you as my spiritual Dad, and her Dad as well. Please just don’t disappear without any notice… I’m not sure the adult or her could ever handle that very well…

    Let’s touch base in 3 or 6 months, whichever you think is more therapeutic and healing… I’m guessing it will be 6 months from April 14. The visit to your house would be appreciated and loved, but only if it’s OK with you, and you feel comfortable with it. If not, its off the table…
    Please give me a few more weeks to get this under control..it is not easy…

    SENT BEFORE above email

    I don’t quite know what to say or how to say it in order for you to really understand that her and I are really struggling without a connection with you. Ike an amoeba with no life, no direction, no stability…I feel as if our therapeutic relationship was very close, and we learned a lot from each other. It feels so close to me that I/she want/need to be friends with you in that we remain in contact with each other and maybe have a lemonade or tea once in a while. I don’t want to break rules or boundaries, but I think our relationship was that close and supportive. I. Would be happy to pay for your time. Please think about this. I don’t want you out of my life, because you helped me to find life, love, joy, and God….I also don’t want to break a rule, but She/I would find it healing to have more flexible boundaries. I am just asking you to think about this. I also don’t want it to effect your health and stress level. But I am still asking because without a connection with you I feel like an amoeba just existing, not going anywhere, almost numb and lifeless. If you have an interpretation for this please clue me in…she feels so alone and afraid, and would rather go back behind her wall than to exist without having contact with you. Just telling it like it is. Please think of how you can help us.

    SENT BEFORE ABOVE email

    I feel alone and afraid without you. Please let the little girl have a phone session or have a lemonade with you. She feels lost without you and I can’t relate to her like you did. She is crying and dying inside. I can’t reach her. I miss you. I wish you would take her home just onetime like we talked about some months ago. I think it would help her to feel more secure about you and know you are around, and we are just taking a break. I am sorry this is so hard for us. You taught us again how to open our hearts and with that comes pain which we are feeling now.
    SENT BEFORE above email

    MY INITIAL email a week before our last session

    I am having a hard time because of the way therapy has changed for me. I am unable to stay within the mandated (not negotiated) boundaries, because to do so means I carry a lot of feelings throughout two weeks that sometimes prove more than I can handle, and end up causing flooding and sometimes fragmentation which have a destabilizing effect on my life. The stabilization effect that used to happen in therapy in person with you has melted away. My bag, my feelings…. To continue in therapy with these boundaries for me does not seem to be a healthy alternative in my view and experience. Maybe I knew that a few months ago, but I thought I would give it a try. It’s not working for me. I have more difficulty with thoughts that sometimes get out of control, because I can’t check them out with you to see if I am thinking logically or not. I am not blaming you for anything and I hope you don’t interpret this email that way. I am just trying to explain that sometimes people like me, who have experienced severe, repetitive trauma and additional trauma as adults, need not wish for a little extra support, and flexibility. I wanted this to work so badly because of the connection we’ve had, but it’s been about two or three months of intense struggle on my part to try very hard to be able to adapt to these inflexible boundaries. Yes, I know they are necessary for your health and well –being, but I seem unable to change or stop my struggle with them or I would have so I could still have sessions with you because of the amazing connection we’ve had.
    I came to this realization at the end of last week and over the weekend incIuding today. This has not been easy, so please know that. It was a process, a painful one at that, because now I won’t see you anymore, even have a goodbye hug, and the little girl won’t get to visit you at your house. I only wish it didn’t hurt so much, but it does hurt quite a bit. I really don’t know how to get over therapy ending, or missing our connection, or missing your gifts from God which are life-giving qualities like love, hope, and joy no matter what the circumstances. I know now I will never forget you. I am sure I absorbed some of those neural pathways, not to mention that caring and empathy that helped to melt my walls of fear and shame.
    I would still like to to have a session Thursday as usual because it might help us to talk about any of this. I will be home if you decide to call, and I really hope you do, but I will understand if you think we have done everything we can to save the therapy, and this is the only way out. I have decided not to pursue additional therapy at this time with a new therapist because I know my limitations and what I am currently dealing with in PT and pool therapy, as well as several more tests, and decisions. I am going to teach one class for summer school. I turned down a second class because I am still trying to improve my mobility which is a challenge. I can’t begin a new therapy right now. I don’t have the energy. It would definitely add more intense feelings to those I already have, and am trying to get rid of. So I will put therapy to rest, but will always remember how much you have helped me to find myself, because for a long time, I didn’t know who I was. I am still learning, but you have given me such a great start, and I thank you for that. I know you will not be happy with this decision, but I did make it for my own good. And I’m hoping you won’t be disappointed in me.
    So the teacher who became a therapist, the recovered alcoholic, is the one the Lord used to help me to recover. I had no idea, and telling me your truth really opened up a communication and trust that was extraordinary. Thank you for sharing that with me. I am amazed at how many meetings you attend. Maybe we’ll run into each other sometime…my hopeful thinking. You have worked so hard to recover, and yes, I know the Lord has also helped you tremendously. He has blessed you with so much wisdom, and knowledge of relationships, and what trauma does to a person. He has given you many gifts that flow from His heart and the river of the water of life including compassion, empathy, patience, and love. He uses the simple things of this world to confound the wise, and bring them to nothing, to the end of themselves. I love you. Thank you for making a difference in my life for all eternity.

  • Hi Kimberley
    That was nice and you spoke from the heart. Sounds like your having a difficult time with therapy being over. Eight years is a long time. I think I too would find it very hard because there is a strong attachement there.

    Having said that it seems like you have come along way and have been taught how to cope with your feelings.

    It’s never easy getting over someone who became so close to you. Your grieving it’s natural and it will take time.

    All I can say is I understand all too well. Granted my therapy was not face to face and it was only a year it still hurts.

    They say time is a healer and that’s all I can say is give it time and take all that you learned from him and apply it to your own life. You will be ok

    Take care
    Amber

  • Hi Kimberley,

    I understand how you’re feeling right now. I was devastated for about 3 weeks after termination of therapy. I felt abandoned, let down, used and thrown to the curb. I was angry, sad, resentful, confused. I experienced strong emotions I couldn’t understand, it’s was heart wrenching.

    The good news is it only lasted about 3 weeks. I allowed myself to feel all the emotions, as unreasonable and irrational as they may had been. Every time strong emotions flooded me, I stopped what I was doing and wrote them down on my smart phone notes app as raw as they came to me, some days I would write 4 or 5 times a day, some entries were just a few lines, some others the equivalent of 3-4 pages if time permitted. This allowed me to get all the complex emotions out of my system. I never shared them with anyone.

    I have never experienced separation like this before, I was so heartbroken which was so confusing and I didn’t understand what I was feeling. I cried so many tears because going to therapy had become part of my routine, my life. It didn’t make sense that I was baited to develop this level of intimacy and attachment and then suddenly be abandoned.

    Two weeks passed and I decided I was not going to fall apart and sit at home and be miserable anymore, I was not going to allow another person to have so much power over me. I adopted a dog that brought a lot of love to my soul and smiles to my face. and would take him for walks and to the dog park where I met some other very nice dog owners. I also signed up at a local health club that offered an array of different classes, meditation and nutrition. The busier I became the less time I had to think about the therapy termination and slowly I started to feel less affected by the situation. Then one day, about a month after, I realized that I could start to look back and not be emotionally affected. Now it’s been about 3 months and I have moved on.

    In retrospect I realize that it was not until I allowed myself to be angry at him and stop thinking of him as someone who did so much for me, I allowed myself to be selfish and think just about me and my feelings and not about him and what he’s done for me. I started to think of him as someone who had many clients and I was just one of them. I was not special to him, just a client. He was just doing his work, the connection was all concocted as part of his job. He is just a mental health professional who helped me reconnect with some deeply rooted emotions and to understand them and deconstruct the negative ones, that’s all.
    I wish him all the best. He is a good man.

    This was my process. I hope it can help you see your situation from a different angle. I know I can be harsh but sometimes you just have to protect your emotions and stabilize yourself and get centered. My suggestion to you is to write the emails if it makes you feel better but don’t send them to him.

    Try and find some inner strength, you have it within you. Pray for inner peace and strength, the Lord is with you and will grant it to you. Don’t forget we’re here for you.

  • Hi Kimberley
    I understand how you’re feeling right now. I was devastated for about 3 weeks after termination of therapy. I felt abandoned, let down, used and thrown to the curb. I was angry, sad, resentful, confused. I experienced strong emotions I couldn’t understand, it’s was heart wrenching.

    The good news is it only lasted about 3 weeks. I allowed myself to feel all the emotions, as unreasonable and irrational as they may had been. Every time strong emotions flooded me, I stopped what I was doing and wrote them down on my smart phone notes app as raw as they came to me, some days I would write 4 or 5 times a day, some entries were just a few lines, some others the equivalent of 3-4 pages if time permitted. This allowed me to get all the complex emotions out of my system. I never shared them with anyone.

    I have never experienced separation like this before, I was so heartbroken which was so confusing and I didn’t understand what I was feeling. I cried so many tears because going to therapy had become part of my routine, my life. It didn’t make sense that I was baited to develop this level of intimacy and attachment and then suddenly be abandoned.

    Two weeks passed and I decided I was not going to fall apart and sit at home and be miserable anymore, I was not going to allow another person to have so much power over me. I adopted a dog that brought a lot of love to my soul and smiles to my face. and would take him for walks and to the dog park where I met some other very nice dog owners. I also signed up at a local health club that offered an array of different classes, meditation and nutrition. The busier I became the less time I had to think about the therapy termination and slowly I started to feel less affected by the situation. Then one day, about a month after, I realized that I could start to look back and not be emotionally affected. Now it’s been about 3 months and I have moved on.

    In retrospect I realize that it was not until I allowed myself to be angry at him and stop thinking of him as someone who did so much for me, I allowed myself to be selfish and think just about me and my feelings and not about him and what he’s done for me. I started to think of him as someone who had many clients and I was just one of them. I was not special to him, just a client. He was just doing his work, the connection was all concocted as part of his job. He is just a mental health professional who helped me reconnect with some deeply rooted emotions and to understand them and deconstruct the negative ones, that’s all.
    I wish him all the best. He is a good man.

    This was my process. I hope it can help you see your situation from a different angle. I know I can be harsh but sometimes you just have to protect your emotions and stabilize yourself and get centered. My suggestion to you is to write the emails if it makes you feel better but don’t send them to him.

    Pray for inner peace and strength, the Lord is with you and will grant if to you. Don’t forget we’re here for you.

  • Hi Kimberley
    I understand how you’re feeling right now. I was devastated for about 3 weeks after termination of therapy. I felt abandoned, let down, used and thrown to the curb. I was angry, sad, resentful, confused. I experienced strong emotions I couldn’t understand, it’s was heart wrenching.

    The good news is it only lasted about 3 weeks. I allowed myself to feel all the emotions, as unreasonable and irrational as they may had been. Every time strong emotions flooded me, I stopped what I was doing and wrote them down on my smart phone notes app as raw as they came to me, some days I would write 4 or 5 times a day, some entries were just a few lines, some others the equivalent of 3-4 pages if time permitted. This allowed me to get all the complex emotions out of my system. I never shared them with anyone.

    I have never experienced separation like this before, I was so heartbroken which was so confusing and I didn’t understand what I was feeling. I cried so many tears because going to therapy had become part of my routine, my life. It didn’t make sense that I was baited to develop this level of intimacy and attachment and then suddenly be abandoned.

    Two weeks passed and I decided I was not going to fall apart and sit at home and be miserable anymore, I was not going to allow another person to have so much power over me. I adopted a dog that brought a lot of love to my soul and smiles to my face. and would take him for walks and to the dog park where I met some other very nice dog owners. I also signed up at a local health club that offered an array of different classes, meditation and nutrition. The busier I became the less time I had to think about the therapy termination and slowly I started to feel less affected by the situation. Then one day, about a month after, I realized that I could start to look back and not be emotionally affected. Now it’s been about 3 months and I have moved on.

    In retrospect I realize that it was not until I allowed myself to be angry at him and stop thinking of him as someone who did so much for me, I allowed myself to be selfish and think just about me and my feelings and not about him and what he’s done for me. I started to think of him as someone who had many clients and I was just one of them. I was not special to him, just a client. He was just doing his work, the connection was all concocted as part of his job. He is just a mental health professional who helped me reconnect with some deeply rooted emotions and to understand them and deconstruct the negative ones, that’s all.
    I wish him all the best. He is a good man.

    This was my process. I hope it can help you see your situation from a different angle. I know I can be harsh but sometimes you just have to protect your emotions and stabilize yourself and get centered. My suggestion to you is to write the emails if it makes you feel better but don’t send them to him.

    Pray for inner peace and strength, the Lord is with you and will grant it to you.

  • Hi Kimberly,

    Hope you are feeling better now. I submitted a comment detailing my experience after termination but somehow it was not posted.

    I was really afflicted for about 3 weeks but I am past the intense emotions. It’s a strange feeling how one goes from feeling so abandoned and betrayed to suddenly one day realizing that it was just a professional relationship and that all the feelings were situational. At least that’s where I am now. I think fondly of the experience and I feel like I had a very vivid dream of having a warm relationship with a kind hearted man that provided insight, wisdom and helped me find joy and purpose during the time we had a therapeutic alliance.
    Please let us know if your feelings and emotions about termination have become more manageable.

    Luna

  • Hi Luna and zAmber,

    Thank you both for your kind and helpful posts. I feel supported! You re right about the anger, too…I was isolating and self medicating (a bit)) and feeling so depressed. Then I ended up feeling so very sad and angry to. I foun out from a friend who’s a therapist that I was going through the grief process full force, probably cecuase our therapeutic relationship was so close. But my therapist and I did not really talk about this grief, so I felt unsettled.

    Well, this past week my therapist agreed to do 4 phone sessions to help me process grief, and I was very grateful. I had my first one on Friday, and boy did my feelings come out in full for Force! It was a great start. I learned once again that if I bottled up my feelings I found myself in a very dark place, so we talked about journaling and feelings. I haven’t been overstepping the email boundary now because I don’t feel so panicky and alone. Journaling will also help mewith this, so thank you, Luna for your suggestions. It helped me not to feel so alone. We are only doing 4 sessions, so I’ll check in afterwards and let you know how it went. “

  • Hi Luna
    That’s good you have worked past your termination. I too am working on it and just the other day I went back on that forum where I first messaged my therapist and the feelings were not so intense anymore.

    For me I had never even met this person so maybe it will be somewhat easier to move on. Most days are good. I have a family and real life friends who care for me.

    One day he and that site will be just a distant memory.

    Best of luck to you all.

    Amber

  • Hi Kimberly
    That’s awesome your therapist offered you 4 phone sessions to help you combat your grief that you were experiencing.

    I wish my online therapist could of done the same. I have gone back on that site a few times and see him online. Not once in the last two months did he ever message me once to see how I was doing. How can someone who you shared your most innermost feelings and thoughts just turn off their feelings and disconnect from me completely. Yes I may have gotten to way too attached to someone who was only online, so maybe he feels that to completely stop messaging would be in my best interest.

    I just know I will never do online therapy without proper boundaries set in place as Dr. Smith mentioned in an earlier post.

    Anyways that was my vent.

  • Hi, I am glad to have found this site! I’m really hoping someone here can shed some light on the process I’m going through right now as despite googling and reading loads about it I’m not quite sure I fully get it.
    I’ve been in therapy with the most wonderful therapist for the past two years and she is now leaving the clinic where I’m seeing her. I had plenty of notice and we have already talked a lot about the ending of our relationship. In the beginning I was denying any sad/angry feelings, just pretended I was fine with it all (I gather that is defined as avoidant atrachment style – right?).
    Now with time I’m starting to overcome immense feelings of shame in telling her that I will miss her and that I really wish I could have as much time with her as I want (both in session length and duration of therapy). We now have three sessions left and I’m experiencing and expressing more and more feelings of sadness, hurt and anger.

    Now I wonder, does this mean that after years of avoiding attachment I am now becoming attached to her? Is this a good thing?
    And then when we finally say goodbye what exactly is going on? My inner child will be devastated with grief I assume over the loss of this “newly found mother” – is this right?.. does this mean that when I grieve over missing my therapist deep inside I’m really grieving the fact that I’m finally faced with the fact that NO ONE is ever going to be my real mommy?

    Sorry if I sound really stupid, it would just really help me to at least intellectually be able to make sense of the process.

    Thank you!
    Emma

  • Sorry, me again… just another confusion I’m sure a lot of clients have: if I allow myself to become attached, vulnerable and close to my therapist and THEN we say goodbye and I have all this grief would this not just reinforce my concept of avoiding attachment in future in order to not get hurt again?
    Thank you!

  • Hi,

    I’ve been in twice weekly psychodynamic therapy for several years. I find the whole thing (life, therapy) so unbelievably painful that I’m suicidal to a varying degree most of the time. I’ve tried so many things to help me cope but the bottom line is that a lot of the time, life is utterly unbearable and I just want to die. My therapist says that I have to bear it because there is no other way and that it is hard but just bearable.

    I’ve never posted on anything like this before so I’m sorry if I’ve put anything inappropriate. I was interested in your take on intense attachment but wonder how to survive the things that the intense attachment to a therapist brings up.

    How do other people manage to survive life and therapy?

    H

    • It’s a tough place to be in. If you are confident in your therapy and therapist, continuing to talk about your attachment with your therapist seems like the common wisdom. Maybe ask to get a second opinion if you have been at this a while. If they are defensive about it, perhaps it is time to move on.

  • Hi Emma
    It’s okay to become attached to your therapist that is natural to happen because of being in therapy for so long. As long as she handles your termination properly and your concerns are addressed. I don’t see why you would go down that path to avoiding attachments in the future.

  • Hi H
    To be honest for me it’s my faith in a God. Although at times it has been weak I think that is what helps me get through. Plus keeping the mind busy.

    As for therapy they can only give you advise and suggestions. Ultimately it’s up to you who has to decide how badly you want get better.

    Lastly don’t give up. Things are never as bleak as they seem.

    Take care
    Amber

    • I do believe faith is helpful. You have faith before you met your therapist, and you will have faith long after you leave therapy. The difficulty for me is the relationship I have with my therapist is the best of my life. He knows exactly how I feel about him and he is ok with it. The problem is I don’t want to lose the relationship with him. I don’t know if it is the child in me that doesn’t understand why I have to. I will talk to him about this issue also. The reality is he is just a man doing his job, he did a great job or I would not have this attachment. Leaving will be the hardest thing I ever had to do. I will keep myself very busy to help cope with the loss.

  • I am just posting an update. I had 4 ref processing sessions which I requested from my therapist, and those sessions helped me to settle down inside and to be able to experience my feelings, not matter how great the grief.

    After I completed those I decided to ask if we could have monthly sessions because. These sessions really contribute to my stability. And again my therapist, after thinking for a short while, said yes. I just had a session two weeks ago, and now knowing we’ll have them monthly seems to really help me remain present, feel safe, and stable. That was missing without talking with him. He’s kind of like an anchor.

    I am so grateful for this blog and for those who have supported me especially when I was afraid , angry, and hurting. I guess what I’ve learned is that if you feel you need something in therapy,please ask for it. The worst that can happen is that your therapist says no, which will be difficult. But, if he says yes, then you will be much better off having learned how to ask for what you need, and then getting it, like grief sessions, monthly sessions for stability, a voice recording, an email, etc. thanks again for being here when therapy proves painful, or confusing, or just right.

  • I was in therapy for three years. I did not have at all, in my intention and in my mind to get close to my therapist, or worse, to get attached to him. But this was happened from the very beginning . I make him responsible for this. It is only his fault. I tried so hard to keep myself away of these feelings, and to defense myself from the loss pain. But he treated me as well, as warm, as gentle and kindness, and delicate and sensitive, as I never was. I was overwhelmed with his affection and therapeutic love. I told him I am so afraid , so embarrassed, so ashamed about this. I asked him to do something with me , as I could go and escape of this, as me I would never be able to leave therapy. From this point he treated me harshly , from time to time assuring me of his love, with very powerful proofs, and that all he will do, will be only in my benefit. Now he was pushing me into a therapy pause, until I will be able to rise him up the serious issues I want to solve, trying to make me understand that I should be responsible for reasons I need therapy. Instead of happening that, I am paralyzed of abandon feeling, my heart is broken, I am crushed , and completely down. I deal with regression, and feel so , so, so sorry that my therapy was finished like this. What should I do? It has passed two months by now. Do you think he wait me to call me back anymore? Should I call him and try to tell him how beautiful my life is ?

  • I’ve been seeing my therapist for over a year. I grew up with an extremely neglectful mother and it seems am paying the price for that. My therapist has very clear cut boundaries and makes sure they are followed. That being said, she so totally gets me. She understands my emotions and feelings when I’m having trouble voicing them. I can totally feel her compassion as I speak with her. I have absolutely no doubt that I have an attachment issue with her. I did speak to her about it. She gave me the same you shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed speech. But, she now totally ignores any comments I make in reference to the attachment. She takes off a bit. Usually around four weeks in the summer, quite a few long weekends, sporadic days and then the regular holidays. I want her to be able to spend time with her family, but I also want to know she cares what happens once I walk out that door. My therapist doesn’t believe in reassurance as she feels it’s a bottomless pit, it’s never enough. I’m at the point, I don’t know whether to just quit therapy because I feel I will never be able to overcome this attachment. I considered switching therapists, although just thinking about it causes extreme pain and anxiety, but feel it would just happen again no matter who I see. Because of a recent catastrophe in our area, her office has become unavailable for about 5 to 7 weeks. She does not believe in outside contact, phonecalls, etc. It has been so hard! I realize the attachment isn’t about her, it’s me. Do I quit therapy and hope I don’t just become attached to someone elose or do I continue on? I’m so confused and so tired of feeling pain. Will I eventually overcome this or is there something I need to be doing to overcome this? I read your book about the subject. It was insightful, but I still don’t know what to do or what I should be doing to overcome this. Any help or opinions would be helpful. I’m already embarrassed and ashamed, so please make them kind.

  • hi hope,
    I completely understand how you feel, I was in the same position and I opted to terminate on my own. sometimes I wonder if they push us away a little so we make the decision to walk away and while it’s painful it’s still less devastating than being terminated by them. it also teaches us to walk away with pride and dignity and to not allow anyone to make us feel small or neglected. if you walk away now, it’s going to be really painful for a couple of weeks but because you made the decision to not stay and be subjected to more emotional despair, most likely you’ll heal faster. im not a therapist, but think about the situation: your mom was neglectful and you had no choice but to stay because you were a kid, now you are an adult and don’t have to put up with it, now you can be strong, walk away and learn to be in control of your emotions and your life. Now maybe you can make the decision to forgive your mother for neglecting you, most likely there were reasons beyond her control why she wasn’t able to be there for you (like with the catastrophe in your town that prevents your therapist from seeing you). This could be a great opportunity to learn to take control and not allow people to hurt you.
    if you don’t feel you could manage terminating therapy now, stay and perhaps tell your therapist you want to know when she thinks your treatment would end so you can start to prepare yourself emotionally for the termination that inevitably one day will happen. you can see it as becoming an adult and moving out. therapy is a very confusing thing, we go there because we are wounded birds and the therapist is supposed to nurse us back to health so we can extend our wings and fly, so we can soar and be our best selves.
    we have to come to terms with the fact that we will get attached to our therapists and that leaving will be painful. therapists are professionals that are supposed to teach us how to manage the voids in our lives not to permanently fill them.
    again, these are just my thoughts, I may be completely wrong on the way I see things but I think it could be helpful to hear other’s perspective.
    best of luck

  • Hello,

    My therapist suddenly stopped seeing me and I got no closure. She told me in an email. I saw her weekly for 20 years. I emailed a few times after she truly abandoned me and received no response. She was like a mother to me and I always told her I didn’t know what I would do without her. 3 years later I am still struggling with what she did to me. I ended making a complaint to the Board of Psychology but nothing was done due to lack of evidence? Have tried to find another therapist having little success. She knew I had abandonment issues and she abandoned me more than anyone else.

  • Hi Amy
    That has to be hard. Mine was only 1 year and that was online therapy without seeing his face. I still struggle with it but life goes on. I just find when I am busy I don’t think about him as much.

    I too felt abandoned so I can understand your hurt. In the end the only one who is truly there for you is yourself. Work on nurturing and loving yourself. Because at the end of the day I have learned you can only rely on yourself. People will come and go in your life. That’s just life.

    Take care

  • Psychotherapists serve you that forbidden fruit/drug, it’s just the two of you, they want you to lower your inhibitions so they can dig for what they need. The problem is that in doing so, many times unskilled therapists open pandora’s box and they are not trained to deal with that scenario; they just get overwhelmed and run for cover leaving the client deeply wounded and vulnerable. There needs to be better training, there needs to be more regulation in this profession. I would go as far as to say attachment theory is wrong, it should be banned from practice because its not sustainable.

    There’s no way you can use attachment as a business just to fix emotional issues and then cut ties without leaving the person injured. It doesn’t work on a switch that you turn on and off. Attachment theory is very risky and can be very damaging. The client is fully exposed and completely vulnerable to the therapist, the client fully trusts and depends on the therapist to protect them and be their anchor while the client is healing. But unfortunately, if the client didn’t have parents/caregivers that anchored them, the client will always see the therapist as their anchor just the same way healthy individuals always see their parents/caregivers as their anchors no matter how old we get. So this whole idea of termination and going separate ways doesn’t work. Therapists see us at our most vulnerable, they hold our hearts in their hands, they nurse us back to life; how are we expected to walk away unharmed by the termination? How are we supposed to separate? We never part with our parents, they are always there to make us feel safe even as we may be adults with our own families. That kind of deep connection can’t be established as a business because the separation may turn out to be more harmful than beneficial. Some people need a lot of time to ween off, some may never be able to and there should be the possibility to contact the former therapist from time to time. The clean cut termination should only be an option if the client chooses it.

    Therapy based on attachment it’s just a very powerful and very addictive drug. For some, once they have a taste of it, they will never be satisfied if they don’t get to have it again. Am i the only one that feels that there has to be more regulation in this profession? Shouldn’t this type of therapeutic approach be highly regulated?

    • Dear Luna, Thank you for saying this. I always felt a little uncomfortable about the fact that I don’t cut ties. I leave the door open and the future of our relationship up to the patient. I’m always glad to get a call or contact from someone I have worked with. When you put it the way you do, I think you are right. It really is unnatural to for the therapist to cut off an attachment that is as real if not more than any other human bond. Furthermore, I don’t think that an unnatural cut-off has any additional therapeutic value. The fact of stopping regular visits is already a big enough change to bring out any separation issues and give a chance to work through them. After stopping regular sessions, the feeling of attachment that remains is genuine on both sides and that is as it should be. I don’t think I’ll have to be uncomfortable any more about disagreeing with the abrupt cut-off.

  • Dear Dr Smith,
    I’m glad to hear you don’t cut ties once therapy is done. When i told my therapist i wanted to stop therapy, i was not ready to do so, i was just really disappointed he did not stand up for me when my family was blaming me for some difficulties. I needed him to be on my side and explain that i meant well but the delivery was all wrong. But he just took the opportunity to end the therapy even though he saw that i had truly started to open up and let him in, i don’t know what happened but i think i overwhelmed him. i asked for a last session and he opted for a phone call instead. we talked and he said it was best we went our separate ways and if i felt i wanted to continue therapy to find a new therapist and if it did not work and i wanted to return, i needed to let at least six months go by. He said it was partly due to countertransference, i still can’t figure out if he couldn’t stand me or if he liked me or if i reminded him of someone. It was all too confusing and really painful for me. It was a terrible experience that made me feel really abandoned and left me bleeding profusely for a couple of weeks before i started to heal. I’m fine now but i felt so let down and betrayed, i felt like an angry five year old girl that walked away from a caregiver and the caregiver did not even turn around to see where i was headed and why, he just left me on my own to find my way back home. I’m still puzzled by it. Can you help me understand what happened.

  • Dr Smith,
    So glad to hear you maintain an open door policy. What was a real painful experience for me was the abrupt termination that i impulsively initiated because i felt he wasn’t on my side. I suppose my inner child made an appearance when i realized he was not protecting me or trying to make others understand that my reactions were not ill intended but rather defense mechanisms.
    I just wanted to express my disappointment and had hoped he would understand i was hurt and wouldn’t let me walk away. instead, he took the opportunity to get rid of me when i felt i needed his support the most. He told me it was best if we went our separate ways for 6 months and if after that i wanted to return it would be okay. He mentioned there were some counter transference issues as well. I still can’t figure out if i triggered some negative feelings in him, if i reminded him of someone in his life or if he felt that our alliance wasn’t as professional as it needed to be. Whatever the case may have been, it was such an intense hurt, he left me out bleeding profusely when i needed him most. Could you shed some light as to why therapists do this on occasion, is this supposed to be a therapeutic method?

    • Dear Luna, I wish I knew. I think sometimes therapists disconnect from their empathy and feelings and work on intellect. When humans are guided solely by their ideas, they can become inhuman. Unfortunately, these ideas are often guided without our realizing it, by our emotions, or our need to run away from uncomfortable emotions. Bottom line: I don’t know, but I’m sorry to hear about the experience. I think that therapists do much better to be real in explaining why they do what they do, but I can’t know why yours felt he could not give you the real explanation. That made a double hurt, leaving you and leaving you with no way to understand what happened. The only think I can say is that it is not “your fault” because you did what you are supposed to do, bring your self and your feelings to the sessions. Acting out is not a great way to communicate, but it should normally be the start of a conversation, not the end. Jeffery

  • Thank you for your response. What I find puzzling is a professional in the mental health industry unable to handle emotions. Isn’t the whole purpose of therapy to uncover emotions and learn to manage/regulate them? Isn’t a competent therapist supposed to be unaffected by the clients feelings as long as the client is not lashing out or being disreptful? I must admit: I can be confrontational and direct but I mostly communicate those feelings in writing to avoid awkward situations. I like to conduct myself with pride and dignity even when I’m angry or upset. Am I assertive? very much so.
    So my question is: If a therapist experiences strong counter transference, does it mean he/she have unresolved issues, that perhaps they need additional training?

    • Unfortunately, therapists are not required to have had personal therapy. There is also the possibility of an unsuccessful therapy or a reaction so deeply embedded in implicit memory that it can still be triggered. However, a professional therapist should be familiar with his or her own triggers and be able, especially when your written communication gives time to reflect, to set aside his emotions in order to help you make sense of yours. As you will see in these pages, the incidence of less than professional reactions on the part of therapists is sadly, all too common. My textbook for therapists, Psychotherapy: A Practical Guide (Springer) will be coming out on Feb. 22, 2017 and speaks to these issues. I have also written about this in the e-book, Attachment to Your Therapist: A Conversation. Hopefully, your therapist might recognize the need for help.

  • Thank you so much for your comment, I needed to hear that. Just knowing that possibly it was not “all my fault” that therapy ended so abruptly, gives me closure and helps me move on. I still benefited from therapy and it helped me gain some deep insights on some of my points of view and perspective in life.
    Luna

  • Dear Dr. Smith, I got attached to a therapist in an in-patient DBT ward. I think it happened while we discovered that a traumatized part of me is still deeply effected by negative core beliefs from a religious sect that I have since left. That part of me was so attached to my abusive and controlling exhusband that after I was forced to leave him and my children, I had to disassociate myself from that person I once was in order not to return. I was so very scared of my ex and that I would return to him, so in order to be able to function and in order to be able to be strong for my children so I could still see them regularly, I had to disconnect from that attached needy person, and I became very afraid of it. Afterwards I also developed a lot of shame for being so needy, through the experiences I had after I became attached to other people. I am sure that the attachment is not just an issue from my ex, but much more complex and surely more about my mother issues, but it is all getting tied in. And when it happened with this therapist, I was hit with an enormous emotions of extreme fear, powerlessness, loneliness and on top of that tremendous shame for feeling attached as well. I didn’t realize I would get so attached to this therapist. And now I feel I should have never came back to work with her a second time, because it has become clear that the in-patient setting is not at all suitable, especially to be able work on the negative core beliefs. She always had to follow a strict program, and we only had 8 sessions. Because our communication wasn’t working out well, the sessions were triggering me into dissociating for long periods and not being able to move. I had been working very hard and when she suggested to me to go slower so that she could catch up, I felt angry and was told by a nurse that my anger was appropriate. So when I expressed to her in a letter my anger and fear of losing control of myself when I was freezing, she got upset with me that I was regressing and not controlling the part of me that wanted to be needy and freeze… It hurt very much that instead of working with me on why I was freezing up and how I could avoid it happening again, she was very hard on me, stopped smiling, and wanted me to control myself. She never recognized or validated the adult part of me who IS functioning and was working so hard to be able to survive the enormous stress I was going through. She told me she wasn’t willing to read all my letters to her and how stressful and complex I was. I felt horrible for putting her through so much stress and I was so concerned that I was a burden to her, and when I realized how much I was upsetting her, I apologized to her for getting angry and making to many demands of her time. And then, when we talked about whether or not I should come back for another interval, I was so unwell afterwards. I have never felt so crazy before. Afterwards I had to write a behaviour analysis. So just before the next to last session, while writing it, I thought I had figured out that I all I had to do was to accept my feeling of loneliness in order so as not to feel so powerless. And so in the next session, she was very glad that I had figured it out and it seemed like I was ready to go home and willing to tolerate the enormous pain so that I could let her go. It’s just been so painful. Coming home, I have been having extreme states of fear and I have been getting flashbacks which is rare for me. I also got pretty suicidal and if it wasn’t for my social worker and my new out-patient therapist, I would have ended up in the hospital again. My new out-patient therapist is amazing, and I am so grateful for having found her. She understood exactly why the DBT ward was so hard on me and said is seems that I was retraumatized, because the experience of being left alone with the negative core beliefs is repeating itself. I just find it so unfair when I see how other people have several years or even more in order to be able to learn to let go of their therapist, and I was forced to do it in two 8 week intervals. After reading the blog and comments, I feel relieved that other people are going through the same thing, but also scared because you say that it can be bad if letting go process happens too abruptly. I am feeling very hurt and vulnerable. I had written in the behavior analysis that I didn’t want to come back, because I didn’t want to be faced with this enormous pain again, and she agreed with me because she saw how painful it was for me. But then I wasn’t sure anymore if that was just me avoiding again. What would you say? I also don’t want to return because it is not an outpatient relationship and never can be and now I have an even better outpatient therapist. And I would have had to let go of her again in the end anyways. I feel like something has been opened up and I just hope that can learn how to live with it. And I am still very ashamed and disgusted with myself. Sarah

    • Sarah, Thanks for your comment. I can’t give you professional advice, but it does sound like your outpatient therapies understands and can help you work with your feelings. In a general way, it is common to feel that a problem must be solved by finding the right actions, but in fact, acceptance and mindfulness can be achieved even when there is no right action to take. JS

  • I have been in therapy for 2 1/2 years. I have depression and never been to a therapist before it took a while to open up to her and I got really attached to her.
    I asked about her family how many kids and she told me she is married and her parents got divorced and they remarried and she has 2 sisters and 3 brothers
    Some are adopted. I have talked a lot about my desire to go to Italy for some time and after 2 years of therapy she said she was going on vacation with her husband for 25 Anniversary. I said great she always says where she is going on vacations
    But not this time. So I went to do my investigation on line and found out she went to Italy. I was hurt she did not tell me I was not jealous I was hurt. When she came back it took a few sessions and I asked why she did not tell me where she was going
    She said she did not want to hurt my feelings I said I was happy for her.
    Any way I told her about my transference issues and looking her up on line and she asked why and I said why can’t we be friends she explained she took a oath it can never happen. I got it after a while but she is still in my head every day I look her up and I can’t stop. I have not been to see her for 21/2 months I sent email in October I need time off the holidays are hectic and my job worked a lot of hrs. She was fine with it she kept emailing to see how I am doing I responded doing good.
    After holidays over she sent email to see when I could come to session.
    I responded I’m doing well so I would like to take a break. She said ok if I ever need to talk her door is always open. Ok fine but I feel she liked me to and I really can’t stop thinking about her and she did not address the transference any more will my thoughts end I hate theses feelings I don’t want to talk to her about it and don’t want to see anyone else please help.

    • Dear MaryAnn, If therapy doesn’t feel done, usually that means it isn’t. I can’t know if your therapist has been trained to deal with transference. Not all therapists seem ready to do this more intense work. Reading the pages of the posts on attachment to your therapist, there are many examples of therapists who seem not to be equipped to do this work. My new book for therapists, Psychotherapy: A Practical Guideinner child. I hope this gives you some ideas. JS

      • I get it she said she was trained for transference but I don’t feel it was addressed very much in sessions. I can’t say good bye cause I just can’t do it in person it’s way to painful so I guess I just have to forget I even went to sessions cause I’m not going to see anyone else I feel I was hurt and let down but thank you for your response
        I just want to stop thinking about her will it ever go away?

        • In effect, the longings for a therapist can be seen as the voice of a child who feels terribly neglected and wanting. The best way for a child to get over such a loss is to have someone compassionate who hears. That could be the adult part of the same person, or it could be someone else or a combination. The child will need to do some growing with loving support. JS

          • Well I told her I don’t want to do therapy any more and she responded Why? I don’t understand. Are u angry or upset you seem upset. My response was
            Nope I’m good just need to come to an end. Then her response was please if you every need anything
            You know where I’m at.
            I did not respond then I get another email today from her saying you made it perfectly clear I wish u a nice life I responded thank you you have a great life to.
            Should I explain why I can’t see her
            And how this transference was not addressed properly or just let it be I’m so so confused she really makes me think to much now I feel bad do I owe her an explanation or
            Not geeze I’m confused

  • Dr. Smith;

    I can relate to the readers posting here. I was in therapy for 1 1/2 years; (CBT) and worked through the issues that brought me there. I knew it was time for me to transition out of therapy; but was in no way prepared for how difficult that would be. I tried, and in fact did, bring this up more than once, but my therapist did not directly address it. I did not want to end therapy, but I knew I needed to and the therapist was not helping me. So I went to my Pastor. It was hard to do it; but I just walked up to my Pastor and told him the truth. I am stuck in therapy; I don’t know how to get out, and I don’t know what to do. (I must add here that my Pastor knows me and is involved in my life, I I did not just suddenly spring this on him. He knows I’ve been in therapy). So we set aside a time and I went over and talked to my Pastor about it. I was surprised at some of the things I heard myself saying to my Pastor, saying I couldn’t go back there to my therapist’s office; that it was too easy, I was too comfortable there, saying that it would be ‘agony’ for me to go back, and how much I was going to miss my therapist. My Pastor understood completely and he felt that I was feeling the loss of the relationship and said that was normal. I asked my Pastor to make me accountable; in that; I wouldn’t go back or message my therapist without letting my Pastor know first. My Pastor said that I had complete freedom to do what I needed to do, but he said that based on what I had communicated to him, he felt that it would not be in my best interest to continue. It was hard and I was crying, but I ended my therapy over the phone. My therapist did not agree, he said he was disappointed with me, and in his professional opinion felt I should come back for a minimum of one more session. The next day I sent my Pastor a long convincing message saying how I made a mistake, this feels wrong, I need more sessions to wind therapy down more slowly, I might relapse, I’m scared…I threw everything I had into that message, begging my Pastor to reconsider. My Pastor said again; that it’s my decision, that he is proud of me and my accomplishments, if I feel I need to continue therapy he would support me in that, he would still be proud of me, but if I was asking for his advice, that I already know it, he does not feel that I should return at this time to therapy. My Pastor prayed for me and said he was lifting me up. He said that I will not be able to sort this all out and make sense of it all; and that I was not meant to. He said what you are meant to do is bring it before the Lord. It was hard but I did not go back and am not going back to therapy. I wrote a short message to my therapist thanking him; (cc’d my Pastor) and said that I would have like to have reviewed my accomplishments and some closing things, but that I decided against that, that it was difficult, that I could not fully explain, but that I was stepping away from therapy.

    • Dear Christine, here are some thoughts. Therapists are pretty much all taught that if a patient decides to quit, ask for at least one termination session. The positive reason for this is that it provides a chance to understand together what happened. On the other hand, if a therapist has already shown him or herself not capable of working with transference material (this is not a usual part of the CBT training, but CBT therapists can learn), then it is unlikely that much will be learned. Termination is also a time to say goodbye. That is much harder when the relationship has not gone well. That is true of relationships with parents, too. When they have been difficult, it is harder to let go and move on. See my answer to MaryAnn’s post a few days earlier. JS

      • I know that facing your therapist in person after deciding to terminate is an important part of the process; but I had no confidence that it would be ‘one’ termination session. I knew if we talked about it; that would lead to more discussion and more sessions. He knows I was having difficulty with termination. Yes; it was CBT but he is an experienced psychologist, not just an average counselor or life coach. Surely he’s dealt with transference in the past. I did once have the courage to say the word ‘transference’ but he deflected that and we just moved on to other subjects. I didn’t say that the relationship had not gone well, it was a great relationship, the therapy helped me overcome some past issues and learn coping skills for others; mostly depression but there are a few other things too. I’m very grateful for my therapist. It’s just that when we should have been acknowledging that we’re starting to approach the end of therapy, we just continued to work on (what I feel are) optional things, life skills, relationship skills, and we just didn’t agree as to how to proceed in some of those areas, didn’t connect as well any more, that’s all. Therapy is not meant to last forever; at some point we all have to take what we learned in therapy and apply it to reality, as best we can. I don’t like the way our work together ended, it feels unresolved; but I had to do it, I’m emotionally and mentally exhausted from 1 1/2 years of psychotherapy. My Pastor said don’t try to sort it all out, he said to let my mind rest. That’s why I asked my Pastor to help me, if not I knew I would find reasons to continue therapy. I miss my doctor.

  • hi christine,
    i completely understand how you feel. i was also kind of stagnant and “trapped” in therapy. my therapist and i knew we were not on the same page and getting annoyed with one another and just like you and your therapist we didn’t know how to break ties. now in looking back i think we were just meeting each other’s need for emotional intimacy. his marriage seemed to be going through a rough patch and obviously so was mine and there was a lot going on with my kids as well. when one doesn’t feel loved or appreciated by those closest to you, unresolved issues from the past resurface and haunt you. it just fell so nice to have someone being kind and understanding and helping me understand the turmoil in my world. He also disclosed about challenges he was having with his family and i gave him advice given my kids are slightly older than his and also my point of view as a woman so he could better understand his wife. but his dismissing some of the issues i felt had a big impact on my current situation was really bothering me. at one point i was so frustrated he was not helping me with the main issues i wanted to tackle that i decided to email him and end therapy, he waited a whole day to answer and when he did he agreed and wished me good luck. i was hurt he did not try to talk me to find out what happened. we did talk on the phone about a week later after i emailed him asking for a session for closure, we were on the phone for over an hour and that’s when he told me that his countertransference also was a factor in agreeing to the termination. Anyways, my point being that neither one of us could bring ourselves to terminating a therapy that was long done because we were filling voids in each other’s lives. we never had any kind of physical contact whatsoever, not even a handshake.
    It seems to me your therapist was either (a)experiencing countertransference;(b)wanted to keep you as a client to feel accomplished as a professional and not abandoned or (c)possibly keep an income flow. Im not a mental health professional but based on the fact that he continued reaching out to you he probably had some sort of attachment to you as well. As your pastor has said, it may be best if you don’t go back and awaken your attachment to him. i never spoke to mine again, i did some soul searching to understand the attachment and it’s all much clearer now what was going on. Like dr Smith said, the adult in you will help you understand the strong attachment and why it happened. it will wear off as time goes by and you will stop feeling so unsettled and come to terms with the termination.

    • Hi Luna;

      I feel responsible to follow up on a few things.

      A couple weeks after I quit therapy over the phone, I had to contact my therapist regarding a question, indirectly related to therapy. It opened up the dialogue, and I told him I was feeling upset about the way I had terminated. I told him some of things that had been bothering me about therapy. I scheduled a session. I messaged my pastor and said: I don’t feel right about the way I quit therapy and I need to go back and talk to my therapist about it.

      It was very hard to do it but I told my CBT therapist about why I had terminated the way I did. I told him everything. He listened to me. All he really said about it was that knowing more about the situation helped to put things some things into context.

      I admit that in recent past sessions, my therapist had been telling me several times that he felt I was not working. Talking, but not working. He had been recommending for me to define my goals for therapy, and saying that the sessions needed focus, I just didn’t want to listen to him.

      So he said: from now on we’re going to work in the sessions, I can have space to talk or whatever, but we’re going to get back to work.

      I think what happened was, that when I finally got out what was really bothering me out, I got unstuck.

      I think lately I had forgotten what it’s like to really work hard with a CBT therapist. It’s difficult work, not really a lot of fun, but it feels good.

      This is very important:

      – Any therapist should never be discussing their personal problems with you. If he/she shares anything personal, it should only be because you are dealing with a similar issue. Whatever they share with you should be done with minimal detail and infrequent. The therapy is about you.

      – It wasn’t about breaking ties, emotional intimacy or keeping a client. My doctor felt that I was not ready to terminate. Especially suddenly and without discussing it with him first. After I had a chance to listen to him and consider some things, I agree with that.

      – I suspect my pastor does not completely understand why I went back, but he is my spiritual advisor, and this is about therapy. It did work out, I’m glad my pastor made me quit. Because it didn’t feel right, and forced me to face what was bothering me, directly with my therapist.

      – I’m very fortunate to have a totally professional, ethical, experienced doctor.

      – I don’t recommend just suddenly walking away from therapy. I’m not sure right now how much longer to continue in therapy, but whenever it’s time to terminate I think I’ll know. My therapist and I work hard together and we’ll handle termination together, in the proper way.

      Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

      • I’m sorry, that should read: …lean NOT on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

  • Christine,
    My sincerest apologies if I misinterpreted your comment/situation. My only objective was to be supportive, share with you my experience with my therapist- which I’m completely aware was a bit “contaminated” and my therapist and I recognized it. He said that if I wanted to continue therapy with him, the right thing to do would be to wait at least 6 months– and hopefully provide a different perspective that could perhaps in some way help you sort through your situation. 

    I was just a little troubled by your comment, it appeared to me you felt like you were being kept emotionally hostage; you were trying to leave but your therapist wasn’t listening to you, you even had to get your pastor involved. It was somewhat concerning to me when I read you called your therapist to end therapy and he disagreed and said he was disappointed in you for attempting to end therapy. Sounded a little bit like your therapist had an emotional hold on you. So again, I’m really sorry If I misunderstood and thought that possibly there was counter transference or any of the other things I suggested. My understanding is that a therapist should say something along the lines of “if thats what you want to do, that’s fine but let’s just have a final session to review accomplishments and have closure.”Your therapist’s disapproval and disappointment in you for ending therapy raised red flags in me. 

    However, I am not a mental health professional. I should not be offering any kind of opinion/perspective in this matter without formal education in this field even if I just want to be supportive and helpful. 

    But it seems that agreeing to see him again helped you be honest and open with him, get unstuck and stay in therapy. I’m really happy that you found the peace you needed to move forward and continue working on bettering your self.

    My best and warmest wishes to you.

  • Hi I am following all the posts intensely as I have such a deep attachment to my therapist I am finding even her Easter break an unbearable ordeal. I am trying to journal, get this type of online support, play connective music that we agreed but still the pain of not seeing her for another 2 weeks is so intense I just don’t know how I will get there. I think she is a wonderful therapist and that overall my frozen child will grow and learn to manage these emotions. At least that’s the theory, but reading this blog I am yet to hear of anyone who has separated from their therapist without feeling hurt, abandoned or back to their regressed self. I have been in therapy for 18 months and can’t imagine a life without her but if it’s always going to be like this I can’t think how my life will be, it’s very confusing and I am beginning to think we take a massive risk when we enter therapy and there is no real preparation for the power of these feelings to overwhelm us. It would be good to hear from someone who has moved on successfully from intense transference to an adult relationship and comfortable emotional life beyond therapy.

    • Hi Chimp;

      My previous posts are above from January 18 & January 30.

      I can’t say that I’ve ‘moved on successfully’, but I think I’m ready to start skipping one session a month. I have a group at church with a social event scheduled once a month, so I chose those days to skip my session, so that I have something to look forward to, and also knowing that I would be around other people, with some sort of activity planned.

      I talked to my therapist about it first, he said that sounded reasonable.

      I do not feel hurt or abandoned like you mentioned? My therapist is working with me to help me transition. I’m not regressing, but if I feel like I’m starting to I’ll let my therapist know right away.

      We have to let the therapist know what we need help with, even it is needing help with the concept of at some point, transitioning away from therapy.

      I try to approach every session with the beginning of the end in mind, without putting pressure on myself by setting an end date or anything like that. I really don’t want to do this, but I think I need to, if that makes sense.

      I know I can schedule an extra session, a phone consultation, or send a message to my therapist any time I need to. I try to be honest with myself, do I really need this, or do I just feel like talking to my doctor?

      I’ve been intentionally trying to build solid relationships with others, outside of therapy, and it is difficult but I don’t want to go back to isolating myself like I used to.

      I often take my experiences relating to other people to my therapy sessions, and we talk about how a particular interaction with someone went well or not so well, and why. We examine different perspectives and I learn and try to improve my social skills.

      Other people are not educated, trained, experienced, often are not good listeners, are not completely focused only on your needs, and they react to things in unexpected ways. It’s not the same as talking to your therapist, but this is reality.

      I try to stay on track from one session to another, and prioritize these things: what are we doing toward relapse prevention, how are my coping skills developing, how is my support system outside of therapy coming along…and also I’m starting to talk about my accomplishments during therapy, our work together, what methods helped me the most, just one or two things per session. A lot of meaningful things, it was a lot of hard work. Too emotional to try and recall all those moments at one time.

      If I start just talking about little things that happened during the week, that aren’t really significant, then my doctor mentions it, and asks me if this is how I want to spend my session time, or was there something more important that I wanted to work on? That helps a lot to help me stay focused. However I am using CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), so some things I’ve mentioned may not be compatible with other styles of therapy.

      So as far as moving on successfully, I’m not there but working toward it. It’s actually really unsettling just to skip one session. My thoughts are that therapy termination should be approached one step at a time.

      And my therapist said that not necessarily only therapy, but that stepping away from any activity done regularly and for a length of time would be an adjustment for anyone.

      So later, maybe I’ll try twice a month. Or maybe twice a month with one phone consultation in between. Or maybe change one session to an evening, not an afternoon. Maybe a short session now and then, just anything to break up the pattern a bit.

      Maybe I’ll stay in contact with my therapist for as long as I can, a session once a month? At this moment I don’t know.

      You will have to determine for yourself how and when you are ready for that, you may be or perhaps not even close. You and your therapist will have to work together on that. Consider asking your therapist to consistently push you toward your goals. That’s what my doctor does.

      You are right, therapy is intense. But if I had known that, and particularly the anxiety of thinking about somehow, some day I’m going to have to let go…and considering how much better I feel in general having been in therapy….and the anticipation of the future…I wouldn’t change a thing.

      Christine

      “Pray like everything depends on God, work like everything depends on you” – St. Augustine

      • Dear Christine thank you for your long and insightful comment. I find it so helpful to hear about other people’s experiences of therapy, it’s just not discussed in everyday life especially in the UK where being in therapy is seen as rather self indulgent. I think your approach to gradually letting go but with no expectation of an end date is a helpful one. I don’t think I am anywhere near ready to reduce my sessions yet but it is useful to start to reflect on the concept of doing so. I think CBT is very different in its goal orientation, psychoanalysis does seem to take every thought , word, dream as an indication of an unconscious self that is mirroring and repeating buried experiences. So my sessions are not focussed on goals exactly more on my thoughts and feelings and what that reveals about my frozen child and her need to feel loved. I trust my therapist totally and know she will know when we can truly begin to separate but I don’t trust myself on this yet! I think going back to a previous post I must not take the plaster off too soon. We have yet another long weekend here to get through, I am hoping I can without the need for contacting her. I try to plan activities and social things to keep myself focused on other relationships but I always have this incredible ache going on. It is truly hard work. And for her too. I found Jeffery’s other post for therapists agreat help too, seeing it from her perspective and knowing that helping a patient with intense attachment issues can be really complex does make me realise how fortunate I am with my therapist but also how hard she has to work at this too.

  • Dear Readers, I’m going to close the comments on this post because I am putting up a new post that I hope will shed light on this subject. It is a general response to the issues that have been raised here. Please follow the thread by going to the new post: “Working with the Inner Child.” Thanks to all of you for your contributions.

    Warm regards to all, Jeffery Smith