I’ve been struggling with a situation recently, and I’m not sure what to do. Two weeks ago, I told my therapist that I was done with therapy; I thanked her, gave her a big hug and left her office. It was somewhat impulsive, and I hadn’t fully decided to break off the relationship until I was sitting in the oh-so-familiar navy recliner. I’m not completely sure why I did it, but I did and now I hope I’ve made the right decision. Ugh.. I hate it when I feel this way.
For starters, I live in a fairly small, tight-knit community. I am not originally from here, but I grew up in a town very similar. I was enamored by this little city when Gil and I moved here eight years ago. It reminded me of my hometown but without all the drama that inevitably comes if one moves back to the place she spent her youth. Plus the climate is divine, and there’s a progressive, artsy vibe. Our town has LOTS of selling points and seemed ideal for a young couple itching for a change from the claustrophobic metropolis we had endured since we married.
Fast forward eight years; I still love this town and feel more at home here than any place I’ve ever lived, but I know a lot of people and at times I would enjoy a bit more anonymity. I hadn’t seen my therapist since the beginning of December. The holidays were busy and I had scheduled my next appointment for mid-January. Well, one day while I was down with the flu, my cell rang and my therapist’s office number showed up on my caller-id. I assumed it was her receptionist, and I picked up with the hopes of rescheduling my appointment when I felt better. It was very much NOT the receptionist, but my friend, Kelly, from my book club. This was one of the few moments I was grateful for my illness — no energy to be mortified. “Umm, hi. It’s Kelly, you know, your friend.” I began racking my brain wondering WHY she could be calling from this number. Didn’t have to rack long before she announced, “I’m Dr._______’s new office manager!”
Oh. How. Fabulous.
I fully believe there should be no stigma attached to seeing a mental health professional, and I’ve done my best to be as forthcoming with people as possible about the fact that I go to therapy. Kelly is not a close friend, but she and I had actually had a conversation a year or so ago about the fact that therapy was awesome, and I shared with her how much it had helped me when I was in the depths of post-partum depression. She also told me that she had struggled with new motherhood and had also taken medication and was seeing a therapist. No harm there — just a healthy dose of female commiseration. I never regretted telling her and as far as I know, she was perfectly comfortable doing the same with me. So, I was a bit taken aback when, as the new office manager, our conversation went as follows:
Kelly: Yeah, well, you know Dr. ____ was my therapist back when I was having all that, you know, stuff. But, uh, I mean, I’m totally fine now.
Me: That’s great. So, you’re working there now?
Uncomfortable silence that lasted entirely too long.
Kelly: Yes, but now I want you to know i would NEVER say anything to anyone about you coming here or whatever. Everything is completely confidential. I would never want you to feel uncomfortable.
Well, I never felt uncomfortable until this weird-ass conversation. Why the fuck did my therapist have to hire someone who is in my book club and whose kids go to the same school as mine and who I see socially on a fairly regular basis? And WHY does Kelly feel the need to convince me that she’s “fine” and that she’ll keep all my crazy under wrap?
I rescheduled my appointment and got off the phone feeling violated, exposed, and questioning my sanity. I sincerely hope Kelly is doing fine and has no more need for mental health services, but I do, and to some degree probably always will, and now my sacred space has been tainted. I KNOW. I should not feel this way. I should be okay enough with myself to not give a rat’s ass what some person in my social circle thinks, and I really don’t think I would feel this way if our conversation hadn’t been so awkward and forced.
After we hung up, I replayed our conversation in my head. I went back and forth about the best way to handle it, and I felt like I should bring it up to my therapist. Well, I finally got over the flu, and I finally managed to get in to see my therapist. After the initial shock had worn off, I decided that seeing Kelly every time I had a therapy appointment could be an opportunity for growth, and I felt at peace with the situation — until I walked in and saw Kelly in the office. I arrived early and my therapist wasn’t there yet. Kelly and I caught up on the kids, the holidays, our upcoming book list for our book club. We might as well have been meeting for morning coffee. It was cool until she pulled out my file and turned all professional about filing my insurance. I told her that we were in the process of changing insurance companies and that I would keep her posted. She assured me that “Dr. _____” had sung my praises and told Kelly not to worry about my account. I was a longtime client and was very “on top of things.”
I felt myself heave deep inside. Great, now Kelly has access to my nearly five year file, my complicated ADHD, my eating disorder, my marriage problems, double post-partum depressions, my crazy mother, my father’s suicide, my brother’s drug addiction. I was not going to be able to handle this. When Kelly and I were discussing insurance, I told her that this was probably my last appointment. “You know, I’m doing really well,” I lied, “I just wanted to check in and say thanks and good-bye.”
“Oh, I completely understand. I can tell you’re doing great.” Kelly chirped, obviously feeling the need to reassure me.
So once I was in with my therapist, I said nothing about the Kelly situation other than how great Kelly was and how we were friends and that I was glad she had found her for her office. Dr. ____ told me that Kelly ADORED me and just went on and on about what a cool, genuine person I was.
I feel like a class A screw-up. Midway through our session, I knew I was not going to be able to handle Kelly or any other friend working in my therapist’s office, so I told Dr. ______ that I wanted to discontinue. I was doing well and wanted to see how I could manage on my own. She looked a little shocked, but said that if that was my decision, she would certainly support me. Then she backtracked slightly, “I do have one concern. Your weight is really down. Are you sure you feel comfortable discontinuing right now?”
Yes, my weight is a little low, but I have had the flu. I’m not spiraling back to anorexic hell; I’ve just been sick. So, just like that, I was done.
Here’s how I feel two weeks later. I want to run back to my therapist and beg her to forgive me and take me back. I adore this woman and have made so much progress with her. She’s my fourth therapist and by far the one I’m most in sync with. I think she really gets me and knows how cut through my bullshit in the kindest way. At the same time, I think it might be time to move on. She and I have several mutual friends/acquaintances, and I almost think that she’d make a better girlfriend (in time) than a therapist. Five years is a long time, and perhaps the Kelly thing happened for a reason. I’m doing okay, but I feel slightly in limbo.
This post is dragging on, so I need to wrap it up. I don’t know. How do you know when it’s time to move on? I also feel the need to explain all this to her, but I know that’s not really necessary. She’s a professional. She doesn’t expect me to come to her forever. She even asked months ago if I still needed to do the therapy thing. We had actually moved to more of a coaching type of session, but holding me accountable is not easy and it was never her greatest strength.
I sort of feel like a cheater if I shop for a new therapist.
Follow-up 2/9/13 **** After I originally posted, I sent my therapist a lengthy email explaining that while I did feel I was in a good place, I kind of freaked over discovering that Kelly was working in her office. I laid it all out because I feel that honestly is important in these kinds of professional relationships. She thanked me and apologized and offered to come up with a workable solution if I wanted to continue. I declined and went ahead with the break. I feel better telling her the WHOLE truth, but I still think discontinuing is best for now. ****