Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Saying Good-bye

“Well,” Arlene begins, “We have three sessions left including today.”

“How do you feel about that?” I ask.

“Good. I’m happy. I never thought I’d be able to say that. When I started with you three years ago I was totally miserable. I’m sure part of it is being on medication, but you’ve been so helpful to me.”

I’ve been seeing 65 year old Arlene in therapy for three years. And she’s right. She’s made excellent progress. She’s no longer depressed, can speak up for herself with her husband, and is more accepting of her grown children’s need for their own lives.

She continues. “Even last night, Larry took the remote and started flipping channels when I was right in the middle of watching ‘Madame Secretary.’ For a second I sat there and said nothing, but I could feel myself shutting down and I knew – because of you – that’s the first step to my becoming depressed. So I told him that wasn’t considerate of him and that I wanted to finish watching my program. I could see he wanted to give me an argument, but he didn’t and he did put my show back on.”

“And how did you feel about that?”


“Only good? Didn’t it feel like a victory, like you wanted to jump up and shout for joy?”

“I wouldn’t go that far. But I did give myself a kind of pat on the back.”

“Good for you!”


“I don’t know what else to talk about. I’m happy.”

“I glad you’re happy but can I ask you again how you feel about ending?”

“Like I said, good. I feel that I’ve accomplished a lot and that we’ve talked about my big issues - my fear of my father and my dependency on my mother - and that we’ve been mostly rehashing for months and that I don’t need to be here anymore.”

“I agree with you, Arlene, that you don’t need to be here, but I still wonder, we’ve had a long relationship. Do you feel any sadness about leaving?”

“No. I don’t feel I need to be here.”

I’m taken aback by Arlene’s response. I know that she has been quite attached to me during the time we’ve worked together. I also know that I almost always feel some sadness at the ending of a treatment. How is it possible she’d feel no sadness? I persevere.

“I agree you don’t need to be here. And you can feel a terrific sense of accomplishment and satisfaction about being ready to leave. But you can still feel sad about saying good-bye. I do. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t leave. Let me ask you this, will you miss me?”

“No. I hope I’m not hurting your feelings, but I don’t think I’ll miss you and I don’t feel sad. I feel too happy to be depressed. Maybe the medicine keeps me from feeling sad.”

“I wonder if you’re saying you’re afraid to feel sad for fear of becoming depressed again.”

“I just don’t feel sad.”

Increasing confident that Arlene is defending against her sadness I ask, “What does make you sad?”


“I know that’s not true, Arlene. You were certainly sad when your granddaughter went into the hospital or when your friend Miriam died.”

“That’s different. That was about death. I was scared for Haley and Miriam’s death was a big loss.”

“You look a little sad now, thinking about Miriam’s death.”

She nods.


“Maybe we shouldn’t terminate,” she says suddenly.”

“You know, Arlene, it is all right to feel sad and still terminate.”

“There’s no reason we have to end.”

“I think what you’re saying, Arlene, is that you don’t want to feel sad. If you’re going to say good-bye you have to keep yourself from feeling sad and if you start to feel sad you have to keep yourself from leaving.”

Arlene shakes her head. “If I feel sad maybe it just means I’m not ready to leave.”

“I wonder, Arlene, if you’re feeling with me as you did with your mother. In order to be your own person you felt you had to cut off your feelings about her, to feel nothing, or separating from her would have been too painful. And that’s what you’re doing with me as well.”
“Well, if I’m still doing that maybe I’m not ready to terminate.”

“Or maybe in our two remaining sessions we need to deal with your allowing yourself to feel sad and still say good-bye.”

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