ENTERTAINMENT

Novelist Erin Kelly talks about how hard it was to break up with her therapist


At that time last year, I was a mess. The book I had just finished felt more like a nervous breakdown than a work of art and I had delivered it almost a year late. My immune system was almost collapsed and I was not sleeping. Everything felt impossible, from being responsible for bringing up my two children to completing my VAT return. I snapped everyone at home. I had consulted a few times before and knew it was time to seek help again.

My last advisor, who was found by my family doctor, had retired, so I had to start over. It's okay to ask friends to recommend a plumber or waxer, but the therapy is different. They ask them to acknowledge a vulnerability that they may not be able to share. I turned to the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy (BACP) website, where understanding the different types of therapy offered – Jungian, Psychodynamics, CBT – was a day job in itself. I chose Mary (not her real name) because her page was full of information – her qualifications and experience – without being too wordy or opaque. We talked by email, I tearfully filled out a form about my concerns and she emailed her terms to me. A week later we had our first appointment.

Letting someone in your head is a bit like letting someone into your bed: they know you inside out, all your weaknesses, and when it gets confrontational, it feels personal

I felt comfortable in Mary's motherly but empathetic presence from day one, feeling just uncomfortable enough to know it was working. We met every week. If I couldn't make it, I still paid according to their 7 day cancellation policy. I appreciated this when the circumstances (children, health, the beast from the east) kept me away, even though I privately thought Mary could have been more personable. It was a point of respect, from one freelancer to another. And I understood that in this strange relationship that blurs personal and professional boundaries are important.

Together we found out which parts of my life I take responsibility for and what I have to delegate. Which expectations were reasonable and which would help me to let go. In fact, it went so well that I decided to take the summer off, not just from therapy, but from everything my brain had fried. I retired to Suffolk with my family, closed all social media, and didn't turn on a computer for seven weeks. After months of looking at the navel, I looked outside again. I was calm, slept better, cycled and swam in the sea every day and communicated properly with my husband and daughters. even sing in the house. The work I had done with Mary had paved the way for it, but I knew I could take it from here.

Back in London, I emailed her seven days before our appointment and said I would not come back. The essence of their answer was: you can't do that – it violates our agreement, we have no deal, we have to see what you got from this process. Actually, I said, I felt that continuing introspection would do me more harm than good. She repeated that we needed at least one more session until I had the impression that this was for her and not for me. At the end of our exchange, her cold, almost bullying tone was so far from the therapeutic warmth of our sessions that it was hard to believe that it was the same person.

When I said I wouldn't be back, my therapist's bullying tone was hard to believe

Then the demands for money began. Our notice period (as opposed to the notice period) was apparently 14 days, not seven, a footnote to a document that I read (but did not sign) five months ago during the crisis. I found this unreasonable after a seven-week break. Mary replied by making an appointment for me the following week, doubling her bill, and threatening legal action. She also included the questions and answers that I had interfered with before our first meeting: the document flashed on the screen as I did my daughter's homework with her. This insensitivity annoyed me more than the money or even the fear of legal action.

Letting someone in your head is a bit like letting someone into your bed: they know you inside out, all your weaknesses, and when it gets confrontational, it feels personal. The irony was not lost: The book Stone Mothers that sent me to the edge is in an old Victorian institution and deals with the wishes of women who are being subdued, and here I experienced the same thing in 2018.

Or was I? Mary and I had talked about how the brain that has served me so well in my career sometimes makes me the unreliable narrator of my own story. I reread her emails and looked for a sign that I was getting carried away. She thought she had been clear about her conditions; I didn't think she had a standoff. I knew that there was a chance that my feeling of being punished for ending the relationship would be to project something I wanted to avoid back onto Mary. This time I asked around and got advice from a trustworthy group of friends and some acquaintances from writers who also practice counseling and psychotherapy.

The first therapist I spoke to said that borders are the foundation of their customer relationships and that payment is as much a part of engagement as surfacing. However, she agreed that in my case, since there was no longer a relationship with the salvage, she would do so. The payment is unlikely to go to court. Another said that respect for her clients' consent is paramount and if for some reason it doesn't work, it's the therapist's job to soak it up. She added that she usually has the opposite problem; that clients who no longer need therapy are reluctant to stop and use it as a crutch.

It is important to say that I believe that my experience is atypical: there were ten good experiences for all stories of devoted therapists

It is important to say that I believe that my experience is atypical: there were ten good experiences for all stories of devoted therapists

Something else has surfaced: my experience is anything but unique. My friend Kerry had therapy after her beloved but complicated father died. "I had to bring a picture of myself and my father with me when I was a teenager," she explains. "An old polaroid. I never made a copy. We spoke to "Little Me" during our sessions. I really tried this method, but it always felt silly and forced, so I asked my therapist if we could try a different technique. It took courage to suggest this at all – my fear of authority figures was the reason why I was there – but he clearly rejected it. It took another month to tell him that we don't go well together. He decided to hold the photo back until he said I was ready to get it back. I chose therapy that would make you feel uncomfortable or lose this valuable photo. "

An old colleague, Ben, was in a difficult situation when he got advice after the divorce. “I wanted this to be short-term: someone to help me build my self-esteem. But every time I said I should stop therapy, my therapist took this as a sign that I still needed it. He would say don't you feel like it's worth spending time and money on? The money was more important than my needs. When I stopped, it still felt like another failed relationship. "

Psychotherapist Wendy Bristow says the final session that I was forced to attend is standard. “Endings are powerful: they influence what you get out of every experience. Closing sessions provide an opportunity to see what worked and what didn't. You can be moving and happy. I would recommend it, but it makes no sense if the customer doesn't want to participate. Regardless of the form of therapy you practice, the relationship between therapist and client is of paramount importance. “Bristow does not sign a contract with her clients, but recognizes that many therapists consider this to be valuable. "We are all human beings and do things differently." Psychotherapy is not regulated in the same way as the law, for example, and there is no standard way to end the relationship. All professional associations such as BACP and the UK Council for Psychotherapy insist that these conditions be communicated to the customer. "

It is important to say that I believe that my experience is atypical: there were ten good experiences for all stories of devoted therapists. In the end, I paid half of my bill to improve the situation. I am still sad that things have turned sour, but I am grateful for the work that has been done: I still benefit from the advantages today. After I made the payment, Mary wrote back saying that she would like to continue working with me if I ever wanted to in the future and that she would look forward to it.

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