Q&A: How to know if I’m done?

This is in response to TLC, who wrote a series of comments. She summarizes her questions thus:  “I want to know how I know when I am done.”

Some time ago I promised TLC I would write a Q&A post to answer her question, so finally I’m getting to it. First a needed disclaimer, I can’t be your doctor because I only have a few paragraphs of writing to go on, and have never met you, so these are ideas that I hope might help you and other readers.

Some things about TLC’s personality come through. She is doggedly persistent! But also, she is very careful to mute her neediness with her therapist or with me. AS I read her comments from the beginning, one passage from January 13, 2018 jumped out at me:

“I actually hate that I feel attached to him at all. Why do I hate that fact so much? It feels so embarrassing. I hate that I feel that someone needs to help me at all. I usually pride myself on my independence and here I am feeling like I need him.”

Whenever there is shame, there are values. Shame is what we feel when we don’t measure up to our values. So TLC has an internalized value system that says depending on someone is a bad thing. Of course! When we are chronically deprived, when our needs are not met, one way children keep from constant pain is by internalizing a value that goes against their own wish. So TLC, I’m thinking, internalized a value against depending on anyone.

What does that do? It means she polices herself. Every thime she finds herself guilty of neediness, her mind (actually conscience) showers her with painful feelings of shame. Her therapist tries to show her that there isn’t anything bad about needing him, but she can’t help feeling otherwise and trying to suppress her need. That’s where the impulse to quit therapy comes from. Why can’t I squash this nasty neediness?

Values are very hard to undo. See my post called “Shame and Attachment to Your Therapist” explaining this, or better, read chapter 5 in How We Heal and Grow, on the superego. The starting point is radical acceptance. It is a clear and unwavering conviction that depending on someone is actually positive and good. The next step is to work actively on letting go of all those thoughts that it is bad or that it is annoying to him. Then it’s time to go ahead and indulge in loving his support and presence. You see, my idea is that the reason the attachment doesn’t evolve is that you are constantly starving yourself You are giving yourself the bare minimum, running on fumes. And so your yearning retains all its strength.

I can imagine a full-bodied exploration of attachment wishes and feelings both about the father and about the therapist. What, exactly, is your attachment wishing for? What hurt the most? What would have fulfilled your deepest need and wish? Then I think the feelings would come up with a full measure of emotion, making healing possible. That’s how the attachment issues would begin to evolve.

After that, the rest, I think, should follow the pathways of parents and children. He is the father, you are the mother, and you are the child. As in a normal family, all of you will work together to help the child build a life in the world, where eventually that life becomes more vibrant than the family of origin. The attachment to parents remains, but is not as much the center of existence as it once needed to be. That can take a very long time, or not so long.

Now I can see, why my instinct, like your therapist’s, is not to be the one to put the damper on dependence. To do so would be to aid and abet the shame, but more important, parents don’t cut off their children. There is no need to and no reason to do so.

Jeffery

19 Comments

  • Well, now I know why I had one foot in therapy, one one headed out the door, and quit therapy several times! That neediness is a very difficult thing to face, especially if you’ve been pretty independent until you end up in therapy.
    I transitioned to a new therapist a few months ago and am doing well, after my other therapist became very ill. This time I have a woman, but those feelings of closeness still develop, and before you know it you are settling in for a while.
    I would really like to know when you’re done with therapy, the usual answers I get are when you’re done, you’ll be done, or you will know and won’t need to ask. Do you, Dr, Smith, have a more direct, specific answer? Just curious… Thank you..

  • Jeffrey, I’ve been following your blog for a very long time and value your posts immensely. Thank you so much for another valuable post.

    I wonder if you might have the time to elaborate slightly on how when knows to be done. I have been in 5 days/week psychoanalysis for about 3 years; I have a diagnosis of DID. It is evident that my analyst cannot meet the needs of younger parts of myself, such as touch (we actually tried this for a bit and my analyst felt she couldn’t work properly). It feels like these needs will never be worked through and I will be left with a gaping hole for the rest of my life, and I worry that I will never get “better” because of the younger parts. It’s hard to work with the adult parts when the younger parts are so needy.

    My analyst floats the idea from time to time that perhaps this isn’t the right setting for me, though I honestly think the right setting doesn’t exist. I often feel hopeless and like giving up. How do I know if I should stick this out or if I am wasting my time? Thank you.

    • I knew therapy was done when my therapist told me in an email she was done with me after 23 years. I guess I should have ended it long before that but whenever I brought it up she would say ‘ I still think we have a lot of work to do”. Katherine I have DID as well and my therapist since 1993 who seemed to understand the child parts so well just abandoned them / all of us suddenly without warning. My whole life has been therapy since I’m 16. Now I’m 68. This was the best therapist. And it turned out she did more harm then was done to us before I met her. I have no desire or energy to start with someone else. I just periodically stay in touch with Jeffrey. Many days I feel if I died today it would be a relief. And this therapist put me in this place. In my opinion after all the therapists I’ve had over the years they – I wish I had just let nature take its course. Wish you well on your journey. DID poses such great challenges and you need a therapist who gets it. Or who is willing to be mentored by someone else who does. I’m here if you want to talk to another multiple.

      • Sharon – thank you so much for your comment and thoughts. I’m terribly sorry to hear of the abandonment you experienced at the hands of your therapist. I cannot even imagine what that must be like.

        I would love to get in contact with you; I have no idea if what I’m doing is helpful or if I’m in the right place. Jeffrey, perhaps you could privately send Sharon my email address?

  • “The starting point is radical acceptance. It is a clear and unwavering conviction that depending on someone is actually positive and good”

    I wonder if I’ll ever reach that starting point.
    Years of working on the self acceptance part, very little progress,
    although there is some little tiny progress, maybe.

    I have yet to meet a really dependable person. If they exist as therapist I suspect or imagine they know pretty well how rare and precious they are, and they would charge mounts of gold for every minute.

    I have met therapists who are dependable up to a certain point only. They seem to all have their own hidden insecurities, and therefore become manipulative at the end when challenged.

    🙁

    Oh funnily enough I met lately one therapist who sweared I don’t need therapy because my level of self awareness and of awareness of what is being enacted in a relationship is very high. He adviced me to consider helping others. I said no way.
    A few hours later I had as bodywork session and the therapist doing handson work conclued: merely breathing pains you.

    How can we rely on these people? I am so angry at these bunch of therapists who make a living on cheating others. I know there must be some who could help me, but I am yet to meet them and meanwhile become more and more wary…

    • This is for Kimberley April, Katherine, and Lol.

      Kimberley April, When the main work is done, then the same things come up again and you both know the answers, and the intensity isn’t so great. Sometimes the mention of separation brings up a wave of anxiety, but when one is ready, that anxiety evaporates pretty easily when it is talked through. What I said at the end of the post is really the most true thing I can say, that it is like being ready to go out and make one’s way in the world and that is where the energy and excitement are now located.

      Katherine: I’m so sorry to hear the kids don’t feel fully accepted as they are. My own take on it is that kids are kids and need to be worked with in their own terms. When they are, and when their issues are addressed, they start to grow and get to feel closer to the older ones. It’s not clear why the analyst can’t meet their needs, but what they most need is to be understood in their own terms. Maybe their specific needs can be talked through, even if not fulfilled, if the therapist is open to really understanding how it is to be little and have those needs and wishes.

      Lol, Yours is the hardest. It is pretty much true that the best therapists do have their issues. Hopefully the best of them will be familiar enough and at peace enough with their shortcomings that those can be worked with without ruining the therapy. I think that is a better goal than finding a person without weaknesses. Unfortunately, when they get manipulative, that would usually mean that they are not open to acknowledging, but I have known of situations where, given a little time and patience, a therapist could come to admit their role in what happened. That’s the best answer I have.

      Jeffery

      • Jeffrey thanks so much for explaining this. I’m at the stage of getting ready to fly solo too having experinced real dependence and reliability for the first time. I was so so ‘ independent ‘ as a defence from being hurt again. T taught me to rely on someone and not feel bad or ashamed about it. Your analogy about parents and child are so spot on. Thanks again.

  • I knew therapy was done when my therapist told me in an email she was done with me after 23 years. I guess I should have ended it long before that but whenever I brought it up she would say ‘ I still think we have a lot of work to do”.

  • Jefferey, I really appreciate your posts and comments. I’m relatively new to therapy about 4 months ago. I consider myself high-achieving and independent, but have had several life stressors lately that brought me to therapy. I’m finding that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Although part of me wants help from my therapist, I’ve definitely had one foot in and one foot out the door since the beginning. I’ve really tried to find things wrong with him and tried to find reasons to leave therapy (so far, no success with that) which is so strange to me because I made a thoughtful choice to go to therapy. It’s like I’m trying to sabotage myself. Recently, I’m realizing that I might be starting to feel attached and I hate that. I even hate the word. It sounds so weak and makes me feel pathetic. It also makes me feel like my therapist has all the power. On the other hand, part of me wants to push through this icky feeling and trust this whole therapy thing. I just got your ebook How We Heal and Grow, and although I’ve only had time to skim certain parts, it is immensely helpful. I particularly like the section in chapter 7 that focuses on the relationship with the therapist, especially the inner child parts. I’m so embarrassed about that dynamic in my relationship with my therapist. I’m a professional, grown woman and I will occasionally send “crazy” emotional emails to my therapist. Ugh. I’m wondering if it’s a problem that I get so much of my information about therapy (and how it works) from the Internet (including your ebooks) rather than from my therapist. It’s such wonderful and helpful information but I sort of wish I was getting it from him. I’m embarrassed to tell him because I sort of don’t want him to know I care or that I think about therapy when I’m not there. Very childish, I know! So, I’m stuck. Thank you again for your wonderful information.

    • Dear Pixicat, thank you for your comment. I hope reading posts and others’ experiences helps you decide about bringing your therapist into the loop regarding your feelings, experiences and readings. JS

  • I went to my therapist’s appointment today parroting your blog. Accept that dependence is a good thing, bask in the support and presence of your therapist….

    I have been telling myself that it’s ok to have transference for my therapist. However, I am an adult in my 50th decade and I don’t need a therapisit’s support: I can do for myself, I made it, I survived, I am alive.

    My emotional brain does not want a logical explanation of survival, of grounding myself in my adult possessions, of looking at my adult hands, of remembering my adult experiences.

    My emotional brain wants to lean on someone, in this case the therapist, who provides safety and professional boundaries. My emotional brain wants an exploration of attachment through imagination. My emotional brain is trying to heal. If only my logical brain would get out of the way!

    I will endeavor to lovingly indulge myself in the support and presence of the therapist. I recoil at the use of the word love: healing from childhood trauma is one of the hardest things I have ever done.

    Thank you for your timely post.

  • Jeffery,
    I love your blog posts. Maybe you can help me with this dilemma–what if you ARE completely attached to your therapist and have spoken at length about your feelings but the therapist, psycho-dynamically trained does not believe in the the “inner child” ? What then?

  • Dr. Jeffery-
    Thank you for writing this. I did not respond right away, because I need to let your words run over me and really sink in before I responded. You may not have ever met me and only have a few paragraphs to go on, but you kinda nailed it.

    A couple of things really struck me, like this one…
    “You see, my idea is that the reason the attachment doesn’t evolve is that you are constantly starving yourself You are giving yourself the bare minimum, running on fumes. And so your yearning retains all its strength.”
    Yes, yes, yes. I am mortified by the attachment I have for my therapist. I purposely try to schedule my appointments as far away from each other as I can stand, so that I don’t appear too needy to him. I would only allow myself to see him every 4-6 weeks. Then, at one point he asked me to come in every week– it actually felt so good that he asked me to do this. I really felt like I was making great progress, but then I started feeling guilty or I guess shameful about seeing him that much, so just recently I started scaling back our visits to once every 3 weeks or so. I also purposely call too late so that he is already booked with other clients. When I see him now I feel a bit of a disconnect, but I can’t “allow” myself to go more often…

    Then there is this…
    “I can imagine a full-bodied exploration of attachment wishes and feelings both about the father and about the therapist. What, exactly, is your attachment wishing for? What hurt the most? What would have fulfilled your deepest need and wish? Then I think the feelings would come up with a full measure of emotion, making healing possible. That’s how the attachment issues would begin to evolve.”
    Again, yes, yes, yes. And I am so very glad that you convinced me to tell him about my feelings of wishing he were my dad. VERY glad. (And Pixiecat, I would STRONGLY recommend that you do this, too). However, this whole topic makes me so incredibly uncomfortable. Like unless he brings it up again, I am afraid I will never, ever be able to bring it up again. Is he waiting for me to say it again? Honestly, I am not “grown-up” enough to bring it to the forefront again, even though it IS something I truly want to address it. The place where Pixiecat writes that she is embarrassed to admit to her therapist that she thinks about him and therapy when she is not there, is so spot on. And like I said, I am glad I told him about my attachment, because it was like the elephant in the room. At first I felt better about it all, but then all the shame feelings started creeping in, again. I constantly feel weak or weird for having these feelings for him. I kinda repulse myself, but yet I can’t get myself to stop going.

    The catch 22 is that he is an amazing therapist. I really do feel like he GENUINELY cares about me and yet he is so very professional. Some of the things he has said make me know that I am more than just a client who enters his office every few weeks or so. He has also helped me understand so, so much about myself that I NEVER EVER would have been able to make peace with on my own.

    I also constantly think that none of my childhood stuff should be affecting me this much. Sometimes I doubt that any of it is what makes me want this guy to be my dad. What if I am just a weird needy person that likes the extra attention of sitting in a room with someone who give her his undivided attention for an hour or more?? I listen to my therapist talk about how my childhood could have impacted me in this way and read it on blogs like this, but in my heart of hearts I think it is just a character flaw or something else about me that seeks this attention and I hate it.

    As far as just accepting this “love” from therapist makes me so nervous because I keep thinking that if I do let myself settle in and take it, I will never ever be able to leave without being ripped up inside.

    But…you have given me so much to think about and I deeply appreciate your insight. I am hoping to let this go now, but I may still have some questions.
    I am glad you have a hand in the helping form the next generation of mental health folks because you are just that good.
    Thank you,
    TLC

  • How do I know if it is just better to stop going? I have an amazing therapist. I have seen her twice a week for a year now. For the most part she is patient and understanding. My problem is that I am completely terrified to trust or get close to her.
    A little background on me…. I have PTSD from an entire childhood of various abuse and neglect at the hands of one parent as well as abandonment by the other. I don’t get close to people. I don’t let them in. My poor therapist keeps trying. She says things like “when we do get close……” and when she is frustrated says things like “you don’t even trust me enough to……”
    I really like her. In fact I could get attached to her if my panic would get out of the way. I just can’t let go. I try, I really try. Every time that I let go a bit I become terrified and pull back.. I don’t wish to waste her time or to frustrate her. I am wondering if it would just be better for us both if I just walk away?

    • Not Sure, As you will see in these pages, having a therapist you think is trustworthy is a gift not to be thrown out. The idea that occurs to me is to make the subject your lack of trust, what your inner child thinks might go wrong, and how to work on that fear. Another strategy is “partialization,” meaning breaking down acts of trust to the smallest possible units and if those are too big, then finding even smaller subdivisions. JS

  • I saw my therapist for almost a year, twice a week. I was working very hard in therapy. I got attached to the therapist. I was afraid he’d refer me out because of how attached I was to him. He’d say why would he do that. Every time I brought up these feelings of transference he made it ok which gave me permission to keep having these feelings to the point I was in love with him. He said sometimes there’s sexual feelings. I emailed him saying I was having that. When I told him I was having transference and asked him what did he call it, he said transference is a psychological term, he said it’s your feelings. I thought ok, your the doctor and you’re making everything ok. Not a word was ever said about boundaries or limits, and my heart took off in love. It was to embarrassing to talk about these feelings so we never did, we talked about other issues, but these feelings of attraction were right there in every appointment. I mentioned things in my emails to him. Things like if only I could keep you it feels like all my problems would be gone. In appointments He listened, he was so attuned. I dressed cute and made myself look nice. One time the doctor reached down to do something with his shoe and when he looked up our eyes met, yikes what did I just feel. I had previously asked the doctor in an email to please help me talk about this transference. I talked to my Pastor because these feelings were causing me distress and my pastor was very concerned about the amount of attachment I was having for this doctor. He said I was walking a very thin line and this was a yellow flag. Here I was married but was so in love with my doctor. Then at one appointment, and I never saw this coming……..when I was discussing that I was having death thoughts the therapist told me if I was going to do it (suicide) to do it right so I wouldn’t mess myself up for life. He said he believed in death with dignity that if a person was diseased and suffering he had no problem with them ending their life. I was in shock hearing this but he continued. He said he can’t stop anyone from committing suicide, then said, he doesn’t rescue people. Then he said, no one could stop Jesus from dying. I said Jesus died for the joy set before him that He endured the cross because He knew what that would do for us. He said, but He still died. I said he didn’t stay dead, he rose. He said, ya, He was resurrected from the dead like the story goes. Then he told me of the Japanese people who after losing the war jumped over the cliff in shame. He said he was getting supervision. Oh my gosh I was reeling in distress after hearing his stern, new demeanor, stiff, boundaried, not there anymore, curt talking. I told him I hated him. I felt stabbed in the heart over and over by every word he said. What happened to my warm, supportive psychologist? I got ready to leave because the hour was up and he said, you’re ready to go and I wasn’t even watching the clock. I thought you enjoyed slaying me so much you lost track of the time. As I left the building he watched me go out to my car and said, I’m watching you walk to your car to make sure you get there safe. What?? So much confusion! I said and I’m going to hate you all the way home. I saw him the next week and he said nothing was ruined. I said you’re getting supervision? He said, I’m getting supervision so my feelings won’t get in the way of helping my client. I had asked him do you want me to leave, he said we’re doing just fine, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t eat, I went to my family doctor for stress related symptoms. I was grieving massively. My last appointment I took my husband with me and read a note to the psychologist asking for an apology. With the same boundaried, stiff, curt, no longer there attitude he told me an apology meant he had an intent to injure me and he didn’t, that I can’t dictate to him what his response should be and that I didn’t know how to handle disappointment. Crying I said there’s no room for me anymore, he said I can see you’re seething. My husband questioned the psychologist about the things he told me the week before and he said, maybe he was careless with his words, he said, I’m not a magic pill every time she’s in distress. Oh my gosh there was never a word said to me about any problem I was creating for him. Then he told my husband how many emails I sent him when he gave me permission in the very beginning by saying I was investing a lot of time and money into therapy for only 2 hours a week and that he welcomed my correspondence. He told on me! This psychologist works at a very prestigious school. The professionals I’ve talked to since said he should go back to school to learn boundaries, that what he did would only cause more injury, that he lost it, such a bizzare and painful ending, he should of been telling me what the meaning was behind the transference. My psychology teacher told me it was an abuse of power and she wasn’t telling me what to do but that I could report this. Another MFT told me it was like emotional rape, inviting me and then cutting me off. The college counselor told me it sounded like I could of been exploited. No professional I’ve talked to can make sense of his behavior. What do I do? Report him? He has OCPD… could that have anything to do with this?

    Maybe he had feelings for me. He started putting the bathroom key out for me when I arrived after driving an hour to get there. He only did that for a little while then stopped, but I noticed and felt the let down.

    I don’t know what to do… I’m just now trying to pick up the pieces. I’m heart broken. I ended therapy with him, I couldn’t go back to him. He wasn’t there anymore.

  • Jeffrey, I know you don’t know how therapy was for me but based on what I said do you have any opinion of what it sounded like was going on in therapy? What do you think about how the doctor talked to me, does that sound like good therapy, is that how you treat a client? You let them get all attached to you all the while knowing that they are, and then wham you cut their head off and act you didn’t do anything wrong? It leaves my thoughts spinning. I can’t believe how much this has hurt me. Please say something.

    • Dear Grieving, The story as you tell it sounds like a therapist who was not prepared to do the kind of work that was required, and a supervisor who was focused on protecting the therapist from a lawsuit, rather than preventing harm to the patient. Too many stories like this have been shared on these pages. I have an idea of a way to help prevent such a painful ending. I’m writing a new post to share it with all of our readers. JS

  • Short update
    The last two sessions I’ve totally “leaned” into my therapist. I also did not mentally beat myself up for going there in the days proceeding the appointments. In fact, I even let myself enjoy the anticipation of the meetings. I also made myself go 2 weeks right in a row and I have another scheduled appointment this week.

    Low and behold, I think it’s helping.

    One thing that changed was that I could really listen to him instead of focusing in how ashamed I felt for feeling the way I feel about him. Another is that I am attempting to be more “grown up” when I’m there–and that sounds weird when I write it, but it’s true. Not sure what’s going on there….
    One feeling that may never go away though. I do wish that he and I had met under different circumstances and he was like an uncle or a family friend or someone like that, or even really my dad (sigh). Then I could continue to get wisdom from him– long after therapy is done. Sometimes I think he feels the same–I really do.

    This week I’m going to try to address with him why I have the feelings I have for him– he already knows they are there, but we haven’t really talked through them– it was really too intense for me when I first disclosed.
    This was supposed to be a very short update. Lol. This brain of mine…

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