I saw a therapist for 2 years in 2002. She abruptly ended our relationship by writing me a letter saying that I needed a group of therapists, and essentially that she wasn't a good fit for me. I was suffering from severe depression, suicide thoughts....she gave me her cell phone number to call. She said I called it too many times (in between sessions). She felt bombarded and that I didn't respect "boundaries".... That prompted her to feel the need to end our therapy.
I was extremely hurt by this, but I moved on. As hard as it was I did not call her. I started therapy with a new therapist and now I am doing better, 7 years later.
I got a call last night at 8 pm on my home phone. It was her!! She left a message saying she had been thinking about me and that she was happy to hear my voice....that she came across some old files and that she had thought of me a lot over the years...she was shredding files "but not yours"...just wanted to say hi......blah blah....and that her daughter just graduated from the same college that I attened.......
I am in complete shock. I feel vulnerable. I want so badly to call her but I feel like it will open up the hurt again. Is it "ethical" for her to call previous patients out of the blue? Would you ever do such a thing? Is this a common practice? Do you think she feels guilty or maybe she is just in need of new clients and wants to start up therapy again?
Utterly confused and distraught, Mary
Last Edited by on Aug 26, 2009 8:23 AM
I'm so glad you asked this, because it's a tricky, painful situation, and better for more heads to be sorting it out than you alone in the middle of it. So these are my thoughts, from what you said.
First of all, her actions don't seem sensitive to what you might feel. That alone is more than enough reason for her not to do it, or for you to feel upset about it. There is no specific law or ethic that says therapists can't call former clients, but under the circumstances, it is clearly a hurtful, or at least selfish act. I don't believe I would ever do the same thing, and hopefully, she already recognizes her mistake. I certainly can't say I've never made mistakes, but recognizing them sometimes offers the opportunity for some repair. Maybe that's what she thought she was doing, and maybe she does feel guilty, or sad about the way she handled whatever was going on for her at the time; we can only speculate. However, therapists are not supposed to act out these feelings with clients; they are supposed to talk about them with their own consultants, friends or colleagues, so that their actions are consistently for the clients' benefit.
It makes complete sense to me that you feel pulled toward re-connecting, if only by returning her call--your connection to her probably felt really good at some point, and that is compelling. On the other hand, you are undoubtably right to think contacting her would open an old wound. Calling her back would mean either having a superficial conversation, which probably wouldn't feel good, because it wouldn't be honoring all your feelings; or it would be an authentic conversation in which you talked about your hurt, anger, vulnerability, grief, longing, etc. If her response were to disconnect, or tell you her vulnerable feelings, or blame you or not understand, you would certainly feel re-wounded. If she were unselfishly empathic and apologetic, that might provide a little healing. If she said little but tried to get you to work with her again, I would think that would feel bad too.
I'm trying to think through the possibilities and consequences out loud--I hope it makes sense. There are certainly other possibilities too, and you may want to think more about them. The bottom line, is that you need to do what works best for you. If that is ignoring the call, calling back, writing back, having a superficial exchange, having a deep exchange, reporting her to the BBS.CA.Gov, talking to others about it, talking to the therapist who helped you, or anything else, that is what you need to do. Think it through with someone who can help you find the right path, and support you in taking it.
You have reason to be utterly confused and distraught, and on behalf of the profession, I'm so sorry all of this happened to you!
Last Edited by on Aug 27, 2009 1:53 PM
Thank you so much for taking the time to reply so eloquently. What you said makes so much sense. You really hit the nail on the head with what has been running through my mind over and over again (essentially for the past two days straight!) The countless ways. IF I call, what would I say. What would she say. This ruminating has caused me anxiety.
Like you precisely stated, she is acting selfishly in a way. Yes, we did have a connection that felt really really good at times. It healed me in so many ways. I try to remember the healing more than the pain, BUT my mind tends to wander towards reliving the yearning for her comfort, hugs and advice.
In an ideal world, I would hope to call her or have a visit with her in which I tell her about my hurt, anger, vulnerability, grief, longing, sometimes sexual attraction...and she responds professionally. This would not include hugging or holding me, because If she did that I am afraid it might progress and be really damaging. I need for her to genuinely apologize for hurting me. One of my worst fears/hopes is that she feels the same way (some attraction and sexual feelings) and we act on them. So then what. We both may admit to those...OR she chickens out and is completely superficial...and so am I. Or what if I call her back and leave a message and she doesn't even respond? Then I am hurt AGAIN. Oh this is so crazy!!!
Despite what happened and her questionable boundaries, I would not report her to the BBS because I understand that she is human, and we all make mistakes. I think that we connected beyond a typical patient-therapist relationship for some reason. She did save my life and for that I can never repay her. I guess in life sometimes healing comes in different ways for different people. For me, I needed a very intense therapist at that time. She gave herself to me in so many ways, and she crossed boundaries to do that in the process, which in the end proved detrimental but I don't think she could help it. She provided me with intense support, 4 page daily emails at times, even holding my head on her chest next to me on the couch as I cried, and talking to me for hours on the phone at times.... I can only imagine how hard it was for her. She always told me she loved me. I don't know if she really did, but it sure felt like it. She even took me grocery shopping when I was too depressed to shop or eat. She didn't get paid for many of the sessions because she did it on her own time.
In a way I am excited to know that she thinks of me too because I have thought of her countless times. I just wish I knew what her motive was. Maybe I will never know. At least now the ball is in my court. I feel a sense of control that I hadn't felt the past 7 years.
This will likely not result exactly in the healthy way that it should based on our past. If it doesn't I need to recognize that the pain could be even worse than it had been. Oh the endless possibilities. Decisions. Decisions.
Last Edited by on Aug 27, 2009 6:41 PM
It is surely a burden to obsess about what to do, but on the other hand, it may take a great deal of thought to figure out exactly what you want, what you could do to give yourself the best chance of getting it, and what all the possible consequences of what you choose might be. Hopefully, once you've figured all this out, you'll be able to let it go.
One caution, though, as you try to figure it out: the situation seems like an invitation to become addicted to the good feelings she has the potential to provide. I think just about anyone can feel addicted under certain circumstances. Not being able to stop thinking about something is one sign of addiction. If the something promises great pleasure or relief, but ultimately can't really satisfy the craving, and causes more pain, this is another sign of addiction. If you explore with a cocaine addict, for example, what will happen when they use, they can say that they will feel relief, and intense pleasure. That is as far as addicts can afford to think. Who wouldn't use cocaine with a promise like that?
But if the cocaine addict has to think through the longer term, the truth is that that relief and pleasure last only for a few minutes, and mostly on the first time they use after not using for awhile. After those few minutes, there are many huge painful consequences that follow.
I'm not saying you're an addict, but I think most people can get pulled into an addictive process when they find something that is enormously relieving or pleasurable--especially if they are suffering. So if you contact her, and it feels really good or relieving, you will want more, and you will obsess more. If you pursue it, will the pleasure and relief keep coming indefinitely? Would she be available to nurture and protect you until you don't need it anymore? The better the initial contact feels, the more painful it is when it's withdrawn. The more pain you feel, the more you will crave the good feelings you had, and try to get them. It's a vicious cycle, and it can really disturb your life, and your stability.
So the safest option would probably be just to walk away. If you decide to contact her, just be sure you've thought it through longer term to see if you are willing to take the risks involved. The clearer you can be with yourself and with her about what you want from her, the more likely you are to get it, or to decide it's not worth the risk to try.
All that being said, if you find responding is irresitable, and hopefully you've decided on a way that maximizes your chances of getting something you want and minimizes the risks, you will survive, and you will learn from the experience. There's no wrong way to handle this, just different outcomes for each of your choices.
I realize this may not help you figure out exactly what to do, so feel free to ask more questions or keep checking in, if you need support. Also, let us know how it turns out, if you want to!
You describe what I have not been able to understand about my obsessive tendencies. I am so surprised that you are able to to this without really "knowing" me. I am quite impressed.
I do have an addictive personality. I do not drink alchohol or do drugs because I know that I can't stop once I start. Ironically, she is the one who prompted me to stop drinking. I would call her up drunk, late at night or IM her and she would talk about how her own alcoholism ruined her life as a parent and how it clouded the issues I was having with depression. Being so young and vulnerable when I met her (in the midst of my first manic episode) made me really yearn for someone, something, anything to cling on to. She was the one that just happened to be there I guess. I feel like I have been addicted to therapy every since. I have gone only one year or so with out at least monthly sessions with a therapist. I always feel like something is missing with my new therapist (the one after "G") but I think what is missing is that up and down feeling, some kind of euphoria when it is good, the roller-coaster type drama that I had with my first therapist. With "G"(the first therapist) over time I began to feel so reliant on her. I couldn't make any decisions without her input. I felt that my mind was so dysfunctional and ill.
I was hospitalized for the depression and she came to see me in the psych. ward where I was a total wreck and I felt lost without being able to see her that week, even though I was in a "safe" place. She was a crutch. I finally stood on my own when she "abandoned" me. I don't want to go back to that state of needing her. I have been in an agitated state recently, and I know that the euphoria of her love and affection will be yet another thing I cling onto. I also do this with food and work. I get obsessive and I can't stop.
Your message has been very eye opening to say the least. I feel I have to treat her like my addiction with alcohol and drugs, and that is to have none. I am going to have to pull together all of my strength. Thank you for being there for me. It has soothed the hurt to have someone so skilled to interpret my behavior in a non judjemental way. I have to remember how hard it is to let go once I get obsessed. I know this is going to be hard, especially now that she has entered into my dreams and she is doing sexual things with me in those dreams. I think she might represent past hurts, and acts as an icon. Having her back won't fix it. Like cocaine, people just want one more fix. If the past is any indication, the aftermath of her is certainly going to be more painful, confusing, depressing, rocky and frustrating. Although she is supposedly a qualified therapist, "been doing this for over 30 years"...she has her own issues that have not been resolved. I refuse to be her punching bag. I have enough to sort through on my own. Life is hard enough. Who needs an unstable therapist. I have enough instabililty in my life. It feels good to write all of this and get it off of my chest. (ahhhhhh, a sigh of relief....)
Last Edited by on Aug 29, 2009 4:34 PM
Wow! You've really worked hard on this, and come to lots of brutally honest insight! It sounds like you're on track now. It could be that a 12-step program would help support you through this tough time. Let us know how you're doing.