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How to Deal with the Loss of Your Therapist

The concept of a therapist seemed rather peculiar to me. For one, of course this total stranger was going to listen to all of your banter for the lump sum of $100/hour; I think most of us would to the same. And for second, why would you want to banter about the darkness of your inner and outer mind to a complete stranger. Due to the fact I was only 20 when I started therapy I was highly reluctant towards what any professional had to say let alone a therapist. But one of my best friends assured me that the right medication combination with a therapist would lead to the optimal outcome. And she’s highly educated and intelligent in the subject so I felt nearly obligated to comply to start seeing a therapist.

The very first therapist I saw was a dud. She made me speak for 50 minutes about things that had no value or input on my life. I wanted to talk the real realms of the universe, and she wanted to talk doing chores around the house. 6 weeks passed and I stopped seeing her.

After my third hospitalization (to date I’ve had 8), the social worker on the ward recommended to my parents a highly intelligent and gifted therapist. But he was old, and he was a man, and I was originally uncomfortable. Not because he did anything wrong just because this man was so forward; I found myself now only speaking half a session as opposed to a full. But John quickly got to know me better than my own friends and family. And I would never say things bluntly, I would always speak about things in analogies. Sure enough John caught on.

The first year was pretty rocky with my non-compliance to medication and John having to talk me out of manic ideas and habits. He would always tell me “Just because you think it, doesn’t mean you have to believe it.”  When I met John I had my own perception of how the world would work, and it wasn’t a very common perception at that. Nor was it safe. I was in and out of jobs, on and off medications, temporarily displaced from my home from time to time and I would stop seeing my psychiatrists for months as a time, often putting John in terrible situations. But John was a seasoned veteran and this showed from the moment we first met, to our last session together.

The second year we made tremendous progress, I started to ease up on the drugs, I was back in school, decided not to work while in school and started to cognitively be able to change my thoughts before any sense of destruction was done. I remember after John took a vacation in September of 2013, the next visit I was in a cast and crutches. I knew he would immediately ask if I had jumped off my balcony, since that had previously happened in 2012. And I loved John’s temperature of water analogy. He would always say “Ashley do you remember the temperature of water?” And I would just always respond with an “of course.” And then he would say “Remember you would to be fluid like water, have the fluidity without going too steamy (mania) or too frozen (depression).” And while I originally hated this analogy, I grew to love it, like I grew to admire John’s intelligence and his amazing, gifted ability to help others.

I had my regular weekly/bi-weekly appointment with John on February 26th. He was chipper as ever, happy, healthy, go lucky guy. Things for myself we’re starting to take a bit of a turn but I always knew with John on my side I could accomplish anything. I was telling John about how I failed a midterm with a probable 40%. Yet John knew wiser, he assured me I got at least a 75% with no questions asked. He was some special man.

My next appointment with John was on March 6th, 2014. I had a few concerning items to speak about but for the most part I couldn’t wait to tell him how right he was about me getting the 75% because I sure did. I walked up the stairs of the building as usual, happy as ever I got to spend an hour with the world’s most intelligent, brilliant and compassionate gentleman. When I approached the first door to the seating area I saw a note that said John’s appointments had been cancelled for the remainder of the day and to call the number given. Two years and John had never done this, so of course I was confused and almost annoyed. Couldn’t he have called me to let me know? Well sure enough I was not satisfied with that response so I went up to John’s office door and it was there that I realized I would never be the same after reading the words on the piece of paper. Never had a letter changed my life so tragically. It wrote that John had died suddenly on February 28th (2 days after I saw him last) and that it was a shock to everyone. A few initial tears ran down my face but I was nowhere near convinced. I ran outside of the building and called one of my best friends. I yelled at her to tell me I wasn’t in a dream. And she said “Ash you’re not in a dream, it must be that John is gone.” Then I just broke down right outside the building. People stared, people approached, but people were not John so they were no good to me. I drove home after briefly calming down and when my mother asked what happened I whispered John was gone.

For weeks I scowled the internet for any sort of report to how he died. At one point I was so convinced it was a hoax I thought I could go to his office and see him. I was in denial and I became angry at everyone who wanted me out of bed. I kept telling myself, how can this perfectly healthy man just suddenly die?! It can’t be true, it must not be true.

Finally after a few weeks of depression I decided to seek a new therapist. Again she turned out to be a dud because she tried to tell me that John had committed suicide. But I knew John so much better than that. Then I was lucky enough to find my current therapist who is much different from John in every way but a good different. I’m still hesitant to open up, took me 2 years with John, but I know she’s a good fit that doesn’t replace John but compliments the work he did with me when he was alive.

I wanted to post this blog because as I was grieving my loss of John, the fact I would never physically see or hear him again, I was so lost. I turned to forums to try and find advice on what to do when your therapist dies. Most people said my world ended and I’ve never been the same. But I significantly disagree. While John may be physically gone, I still imagine our sessions in our mind daily, I still remember all of the wise things he told me. That day, March 6th, I thought my life had ended. I was so dependent on John that I didn’t know what to do without him. And yes I had a difficult time ending up in the psychiatric ward twice, but I came out stronger than ever. I gave myself time and patience and I made sure I didn’t stress myself out, but I also didn’t secluded myself. I tried to find as perfect fitting therapist as I could when the time was right and I made sure she was the opposite gender to compare to John less. I will never forget John and the impact he had on my life but I was also not about to let all of our progress ruin just because he is no longer physically here. I have my new therapist to pick up the pieces that shattered after John’s death.

The other day I finally made it back to John’s office after 6 months of finding out about his death. I sat on the bench in his hallway and remember all of the sessions we had. I did not weep, and I did not frown, instead I smiled. I felt John’s presence and I realized it is greater to have cherished than to have lost without. 

Comments

How do replace someone who treated you for 28 years and accepted your Social Security as full payment

I just found out I'm going to lose my therapist and was searching online for something to help me process this tremendous loss.

What courage, honesty and perseverance you have! Your blog post really helped me put things into perspective. Thank you so much for sharing your story and giving me hope. Many good wishes and blessings to you, my dear.

It is so helpful to read this blog...my story is so similar...but it's been only 3 days since I found out he suddenly died...I am so sad not just for my loss but that this wonderful human being who was so good to me, patient, kind, consistent is gone forever.

My psychiatrist died of colon cancer last week. He had just turned 51. He took a 6 month leave 2 years ago, came back for a year and closed his practice in May. We kept in touch by email but in his last email in December, I could tell it was bad because he asked me to please keep praying.

He was my doctor for 13 years and I just adored him. This past week has been a blur of tears and bad dreams. I have a great therapist who will help me process this but I the thought of never seeing Dr. K again is devastating.

Thank you for you posts. My therapist died from cancer. I saw him for eight years. He was the kindest, smartest person I have ever known. I watched him get sicker and sicker and I couldn't stop it. It has been 7 1/2 years since. He was 70 years old and I loved him.

Lucia Matthews was my therapist and coach for nearly 11 years. I loved her. She was beautiful, strong and smart and worked me hard. And she died suddenly a few weeks ago. My sadness is so big, I don't ever remember feeling this way. I know she gave me what I need to survive and survive well. I'm just heartbroken. I know I'll become stronger for this loss, but I'd be weaker to have her back on this earth. Alas, reality calls.

Rip my angel. I will persevere. Your spirit lives on in my wise choices. Thank you, thank you.

Hi Jane,
My name is Mary. I am so sorry to hear that Lucia passed away. Is this the same Dr. Matthews that worked in RI?

I can't find record of it.

My therapist of ~5 years died suddenly from cancer at a young age this spring. I'm devastated. I also recently lost my psychiatrist of 5 years from a move. I have a new treatment team but they aren't great and it's hard not to compare them to the folks who knew me so well. It's really hard to process, because I would normally process with her and she's dead.

I identify with all os you. My psychiatrist of 16 years retired and I do not think I will ever find a doctor so caring as he was. I feel so sad and cannot believe that I will no longer go to his office again. I know I need to find another to talk to, but it so hard...

My therapist of four years died last night. Just as suddenly. I am devastated. Too devastated to say much, but I hope reading articles like this will help me. Thank you for sharing. I'm a writer too and in time will write my experience with this.

Thank you Ashley for beginning this thread. Last night I found out my therapist of 15 years has a recurrence of cancer & is in the hospital. Very poor prognosis & very likely I will never have the chance to say goodbye. I was devastated by this news & had no one to talk to. After crying for a good long while I turned to Google & up popped this piece. It helped get me through the night. I just finished writing her a letter which I doubt she will ever get but it was good to get some feelings down on paper. I feel scared knowing I will have to find another therapist. She was absolutely the best & I can't imagine ever finding someone that could take her place. She kept me alive through my darkest days, stuck with me through multiple hospitalizations & walked me through the death of my dearest friend to cancer whom I cared for 17 months. Somehow I have to get through this.

This was a beautiful post and has helped me a lot. Thank you for sharing.

This post helped me a lot. I am moving on after knowing my therapist for 20-some years. She's made such a difference in my life. Knowing she won't be my therapist anymore has dredged up a lot of feelings of loss even though I am the one moving on. I feel like she has died, and I wonder how I will ever be without her. She is SO special. There just won't be another like her.

Thank you for that beautiful piece.
My therapist who sounds so much like John in your post was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's. My world was shattered. But I unfortunately can't "cherish" the sweetness of him and I together just in different worlds because he is still alive and breathing. He is the same even though changing ever so slightly down a mysterious road.
I wish he had died in many ways, but I still know that the main grief work for me is the same, although painfully different in a lot of ways.
Feeling the love and incredible success and healing of my most precious three years with him is the only way to be able to move on. Going to a new therapist to help pick up the shattered peices was such a good analogy. And I know that it's what he wants. He wants me to be whole and free. I love him. And I know that he will always love me.

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