I've worked with one client for several years. He's had a tough year this year, struggling in school and lots of other major life changes. Transitions are especially tough for him. His mother called me one morning about a month ago. It was the end of the school year. "You aren't planning on moving or leaving your practice, are you?" she asked immediately. "No," I assured her. "I just signed a five-year lease on the new office, so I'm here for the long haul." She proceeded to tell me that her son's favorite paraprofessional was retiring, his special education teacher was changing positions, and she just got news that his occupational therapist was moving. The idea of his support system evaporating before our eyes was overwhelming.
A few weeks later, I am sitting on the couch in my own therapist's office. Lori is a psychologist who I've worked with for over ten years. Through our session, I babble on and on about the stresses of opening the new office, ask for her feedback on some clinical situations, and show her a few new photos of my kids at the end of the session. It has been a pretty good couple of weeks.
"Before you go, I have to tell you something," Lori says as I begin gathering my purse and standing to leave. "I'm moving back to Michigan in July to be closer to my family." I freeze, then sink back into the couch. My eyes teem with tears immediately.
I am shocked. For ten years, I have been checking in with Lori about everything in my life. I don't know if she remembers the first session we had together, but I do. I sobbed through the entire session, depressed and desperate for help. She's seen me at every high and low between then and now.
The unconditional positive regard Lori has given me over the years allows a space where I can be completely and totally honest. I have no barriers during our conversations. She has been an integral part of my support system and has watched my evolution into a mother, a wife, a counselor. She has seen me at my most vulnerable, when I've been filled with shame. She has seen me mourn the loss of a child due to miscarriage. She has seen me angry, frustrated, joyful, anxious, and hopeful. I've shared more of my uncensored thoughts with her than anyone else in the world. I value her judgement and feedback immensely. She influenced my decision to enter the field of mental health and guided me along the way.
My path would have been very different if she was not part of my story.
The thought of losing that history is devastating. She assures me that we can continue our sessions over video chat after she moves, but, in that moment, it doesn't help. I am afraid it won't be the same, talking over a computer screen instead of sitting in the corner of the couch in her office, pillow clutched in my lap.
I pull myself together. "It'll be okay," I say aloud, attempting to stay the tears and reassure myself. "You'll be so happy to be closer to your family. It'll be okay." I give a feeble attempt to smile. Acting as if... I manage to finish the conversation. Once in the car, the waves of tears start again. I feel... abandoned? grief? vulnerable?
It took a few days, but the news of the change is sinking in. We'll use video chat for our sessions and continue our conversation. The relationship isn't gone, it is changing. I feel lucky that it isn't a permanent loss.
Which brings me back to the client I wrote about earlier. Saying goodbye to Lori has taught me that I cannot minimize the role that I take in my clients' lives. I'm susceptible to impostor syndrome - in the back of my mind, I feel replaceable. There are many other counselors who can do what I do and probably do it better. But in the moments surrounding the shock of thinking I might lose such a integral piece of my support system, I was able to truly empathize with that mother on the phone.
I guess I've been taking Lori's presence for granted. I'm lucky to have her in my life. And I'm grateful for the opportunity to help others in the way she has helped me.