August 4, 2020

Dear Therapists: We are Souls dealing with Trauma. Please don’t just Drop us & Tell us to Swim. 

“It’s in your mind that I’m abandoning you.”

My therapist said this to me as I sobbed into a pillow and begged to come back to therapy. I tried to explain that this wasn’t the issue, but she silenced me.

“Let me finish speaking!” she said. I stayed silent, except for my tears.

When she finally gave me the floor to speak, I couldn’t. Tears flooded me. She didn’t say much except: “You need to process this with someone else.”

“It’s in your mind that I’m abandoning you,” she reiterated.

This was the last time she spoke to me.

For the past year, I have said this sentence over and over again in my mind and cried. 

I started therapy while in graduate school in New York City and worked with a wonderful woman who still holds space in my heart. She was my first long-term therapist, and I had grown to enjoy our weekly sessions in Manhattan. I was often quiet and so she’d remind me that she wasn’t going anywhere. A few months after she first said this, she closed her practice for good.

I mourned the loss of her for a year.

When I moved to California, I searched for a new therapist with whom I could feel safe. When I finally found one, she too assured me she wasn’t going anywhere.

“I just bought a house, Rebecca,” she said. “I have no plans of going anywhere unless a tree hits me.”

A year later, she encouraged me to try another type of therapy and said I could reach back out to her in the future if I wanted to return. When I didn’t bond with the next therapist, I asked to go back. Her response was that multiple people were asking to return and her practice was full. She went on to provide other reasons why she couldn’t see me: “You need to process our relationship with someone else,” and “I’m closing my practice there,” and “My fees are too high for you.”

When I asked if I could be added to her waitlist, she said she didn’t have one. When I asked if I could return in the future, she said I could reach out in a year and see.

As I cried on the phone and begged to return, she was silent. After I stopped, she said it was time for her to go. She didn’t charge me for this session, but did leave me with that final message:

“It’s in your mind that I’m abandoning you.”

Then she left for good.

Her words replayed in my head throughout the year as I cried in class and tried to hold myself together at work. After some time, I asked to speak to her because I felt hurt.

“I must be clear. I will offer one session, but it is our last and final session,” she said.

Her email touched my deepest wound—a mother wound. I sat down for breakfast with the family who took me in during this pandemic and burst into tears as if someone close to me had died.

Maybe the work is to explore my search for a mother.

Maybe the work is to learn to let go.

Maybe this is the work.

Yes, I wish my therapists could be my mother.

Yes, I struggle with abandonment.

I’m an adult child of an alcoholic, I have an Adverse Childhood Experiences score of 8, and I struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder tendencies and complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

There is work to be done. There are boundaries I need to place between myself and therapists. I understand this.

What I don’t understand is the need to coldly drop a soul and leave one sobbing for a year. This, to me, is not love and kindness. This is torture, and no matter the client, no matter their diagnosis, there must be sympathy and gentleness in their process toward healing.

I struggle with the testimonial injustice that exists within the mental health system. With particular diagnoses, such as Borderline Personality Disorder, the level of credibility mental health providers give toward one’s story and tears is often less. And unfortunately, women with trauma histories are frequently given this diagnosis because they resist, and are considered overly emotional, disobedient, and reckless. Yet, this diagnosis holds such little legitimacy that it in fact is often questioned by psychologists and there was talk of it possibly being removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

There are many misconceptions regarding trauma-based diagnoses and a lack of awareness of the negative effects of adverse childhood experiences. Rather than abandon those deemed as “having abandonment issues,” we need to work through these issues with these adult individuals in a compassionate way.

We aren’t boxes to be checked. We are messy, chaotic, loving souls seeking the love we were never given.

Please don’t just drop us and tell us to swim.


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