The Importance of Goodbye
Or Endings Through the Lens of a 3-Year-Old!
Twice a week the nursery run is punctuated with kisses and cuddles goodbye in the room, followed up by waving goodbye at every window until my littlest Granddaughter (Gabs) and I are on our way back to the car. It’s a lovely ritual which originally was accompanied by tears in the beginning, but those soon dried up when my elder Granddaughter (Liv) discovered how much fun nursery school was.
Until it suddenly stopped……
One day Liv ran into the room and had to be called back for our goodbye ceremony. No joy. I manoeuvre the buggy outside to the window and watch Liv chatting sunnily away to her nursery teacher. Gabs and I waited and then moved down the path, pausing at each window. No voluntary hug or kiss, and no wave goodbye – I had been dumped by my Granddaughter! It was harsh but not unexpected
I could feel I was sad, but I also felt I needed some more time to examine what was going on. Why was I sad that my perfect Granddaughter was happy at nursery school and didn’t need me that day? I needed her to be happy so being sad myself wasn’t going to help anything. My psychodynamic head was also asking – what did this remind me of? What unconscious processes were around? Was there learning in this painful moment for me? For you?
As an online sex and relationship therapist I see individuals, couples and also supervise therapists and other mental health workers. With each one we talk about “good endings” and “good enough endings” alongside “abrupt terminations” as anyone in the profession might expect. We plan the ending acknowledging it’s not only the end of our work, but also our time together. Via email, webcam or face to face we have encouraged the client to lay bare their feelings as we strive to help in the healing. We talk about how they will become their own therapist when our work ceases and we are no longer there. I do a lot of talking in addition to my listening.
I wondered how much of this forward planning is really for the client – or the therapist. The thoughts floated around my head until I was home.
As an online therapist is very easy to “ghost “me, that is just disappear from my life. Having moved from the dating world to the business world there is a suggestion this is new in counselling. I’m not sure I agree with that. As an ending approaches a session may quietly be cancelled. No fuss, no fanfare, just no connection or email. The ending I anticipate and have planned for is not the one my clients see. The therapeutic relationship is so personal, the sharing of secrets and opening of hearts yet at the end of the day I provide a service. Even more interesting if you consider online therapy can be engaged with as easily as booking the car in for a service. That seems to fit for my clients, and I appreciate the respectful cancellation.
If we hold onto the thought that therapy is for the clients not the counsellor, it can help untangle some of the uncomfortable feelings when the names in the diary don’t show themselves at the door. If moving onto a gym membership or buying new crockery is the plan to reallocate the expense of therapy that choice has to be respected. The client is the best person to make decisions about their life and what is right for them. I’m not important to them – just what I can offer when needed. A safe space where all kinds of thoughts can be let go, like the helium balloon. A different perspective can be found, a rehearsal of a difficult conversation can be carried out and changes can be made.
Yes, I know all about patterns and breaking that of traumatic or unsatisfactory endings but if the client doesn’t want to obediently conform to our ideal of “a good ending” then I can live with that. My therapeutic relationships benefit from online disinhibition. It allows clients to feel anonymous and share in detail yet feel protected. The asynchronous act of cancelling an appointment allows time to think carefully about the outcome yet offers no time for further conversations. It’s part of the landscape of all therapy alongside sitting with the not knowing of anything in a clients’ life once they leave. It’s what I signed up for and why my shoulders are broad.
Liv? She has resumed our wonderful goodbyes, modelling them for her young sister. She knew I would come back and welcome her, as I do with my clients when they are ready to come back. Online, face-to-face or in the nursery it’s still the relationship which counts.
Suzie is a Co-Director of Online Training for Counsellors Ltd, a Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist, Supervisor and Tutor. She has a face to face private practice in addition to her online therapeutic work. She contributed two chapters toOnline Supervision: A Handbook for Practitioners, edited by Anne Stokes of which she is very proud.