Preparing to end here reminds me of the attention we pay to endings in therapy. Writing this penultimate blog I pay attention to how it feels, just as I ask my clients to pay attention to endings in their lives and in our work.
I pay close attention to endings in the work with clients. Regular endings – every session’s ending, endings before breaks for periods of leave and ultimately the end of the therapy. I consider a client’s response to how sessions end, how we approach a break, how we return from a break. Planning and preparing for these invites a dialogue, exploration and discovery of one’s experience of endings. This gives precious information about one’s internal world.
Our life is full of endings. Big ones and little ones. Our experience of endings impacts our attitude to later endings. Have they been sudden? Many often are. Have they been acknowledged? Many often aren’t. Have they been painful? Freeing? Sad? Complicated? Celebratory? Wanted? Feared? Threatening? Forced? Liberating?
Whilst endings may be gateways to beginnings, to view them as such avoids facing the finality involved.
Endings are about loss. Something becomes absent; unavailable; lost; empty; gone; closed; final; dissolved; finished; terminated. Often it is a relationship, a loved one, a job, a role, an identity, something which was once wanted. It is natural then to feel bereft.
Darian Leader, ‘The New Black, Mourning, Melancholia and Depression’, draws on Lacan’s observation: ‘Mourning is not just about mourning the lost loved one, but about mourning who we were for them.’ (2008, p.145) The death, or departure through separation, of the one who made you feel loved and cherished leaves you feeling … unloved and uncherished? If we identify ourselves as son or daughter, partner, best friend, brother or sister, when the one whom gives us that identity is gone, what happens to our identity? Is that lost to us too?
These are the losses we consider in therapy, the meaning of the losses, the consequences. We learn what needs to be paid attention to, what needs to be mourned, repaired, developed. We aim to redress the balance in one’s sense of self; to not feel less-than as a result, instead integrate these feelings in order to feel more fully who we are.
Like the layers of an onion, one loss touches another, and the next another, and so on; deeper and deeper it goes, exposing always another layer of grief. If not paid attention to, these wounds fester and we see an avoidance of new beginnings – of relationships, commitments, new growth – because the fear of further loss dominates and prevents new attachments.
Facing endings invites a response, from within ourselves and from others. It is a process of emotion and ultimately – we hope – acceptance.
Therapy is a safe space, contained and held, structured and organised. Primed to work towards a planned and thought-about ending it evokes old experiences which can be thought about and responded to. It is a process of reparation.
Facing loss is a delicate task of profound importance. It touches the essence of who we know ourselves to be and how we see ourselves going forward.
‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’, William Shakespeare ‘Romeo and Juliet’.
And so to the good endings. Therapy is not all about the bad stuff! It is equally important to celebrate the good.
Ending therapy can feel daunting. Clients wonder if they’ll be ok, will they be able to come back if they need or want to? Identifying what has been learnt in therapy to be taken forward supports and enables self-care beyond therapy. Inviting a conversation about the client and therapist relationship we consider what the relationship has meant and felt like. How will it be to seek to return to this place, what might be changed. Will the therapist still be here? Will they welcome the client back? It is all grist for the mill and assists in the understanding of how we feel about ourselves and our relationship to others.
Mostly, ending therapy is positive. After the dark, distressing and difficult time which led to the client coming, the ending is reached with a sense of achievement and completion. With newly gained awareness, health and stability this is cause for celebration, recognition and validation. It is a time for affirmation of what lies within the client and what goes with them from this place; from darkness to light, ill health to good health.
Unplanned and unexpected endings happen too. For some clients it does not feel possible to connect with the loss, to work through the pain, to seek something good that can be kept and held onto. Some endings are not faced, final sessions not attended. Instead, a continuation, or a protection, of old wounds. This is not easy for either client or therapist, but it can be understood. It can be respected.
Often, ending therapy is a sweet sorrow. The therapeutic relationship is an intimate one. Its boundaries serve to ensure a safe and secure environment. The attention given to oneself in therapy is often a new experience for the client, deeply reparative and meaningful. We pay appropriate attention to this ending, it is another loss. We experience and acknowledge the emotions that come having learnt that doing so allows good growth.
This ‘sweet sorrow’ resonates as I prepare to end writing a monthly blog. I started writing here because of the first lockdown and consequent loss and disconnection from my clients. It enabled communication and connection when we were all thrown into loss, separation and the unknown.
Writing here has allowed me to explore and find understanding in this most challenging time. It has given me purpose, focus, expression and development. It has been similar to therapy in that way and I have been thankful for it.
Time spent reflecting and writing here will be freed up for something else. No longer the need to connect and support in this way as time is once again spent with clients, either online or face-to-face in the outside space.
Soon, I hope, we will sit again in the space within the walls behind these doors that had to firmly close in March 2020. I remember clearly closing these doors, putting away the Welcome signs and tools of my practice and wondering then – when will I open these again? The sense of grief and severance was strong.