I've had a fair few therapists in my time.
Since the age of 12 my life has felt a lot like a constant journey in and out of consultant rooms, mental health hospitals, and living rooms. More times than I'd care to admit, in fact. Every therapist that I've seen, whether it be for 40 sessions or two sessions, have provided me with vital knowledge, whether it be good or bad. Some remain in my long term memory, some have faded to that part of the brain that has the trap door secured tightly (with a plan for no return). 10 years of therapy is a long time and I'm honestly unsure whether it will be something I will ever not need. I've learned to accept that being in therapy is not a bad thing and shouldn't be seen as so (maybe I should do a blog post about this?), but I've also learned how difficult and emotionally challenging it can be when the time comes to leave a therapist you've developed a particularly strong connection with.
There have been two therapists in my 10 years of treatment that I became particularly attached to. Both females, both of roughly the same age, both compassionate, caring and involved in the development of my personality and confidence as I grew older. Both who had an interest in me, my life and my interests and hobbies - my life outside of a mental illness. Both, to an extent, saved me from suicide.
Although I am still currently in therapy, I've had to cope with learning to adapt to life without two particularly special therapists who supposedly kept my head above water. I never thought I'd cope four years ago once I had to leave CAMHS and somehow, I did.
Through my two week work experience at YouthNet I've noticed a trend in young people concerned about having to leave therapy, how they'll cope with the transition to living without support, and their doubts on their ability to deal with this change. I'm hoping that this post may give you a few tips and advice based on my personal experiences to make that transition feel a little easier for you.
I find that it's extremely easy to belittle yourself for your emotions following the termination of treatment/therapy. Many people refer to leaving therapy as a grieving process - and I wouldn't hesitate to agree. Many confess difficulties and emotions with their therapists that they wouldn't dream of discussing with their closest friends or family - and for someone who is mentally ill, finding someone who they can trust to that extent is often a significant event in ones life. It's very easy to develop strong attachments to therapists, to treat them as parental figures even (I know I for one have had that experience), and to invest your life with these strangers who, perhaps unlike others in your life, have a role to support you. My advice is - don't belittle yourself for the grieving process. By not allowing yourself to feel your emotions/sadness - you're possibly throwing away everything that you've ever been taught. Feel the sadness, but don't forget the positives that have come out of treatment also (I'll talk more about this in a minute).
Make your last session a productive one
I've had a few 'final sessions' in my time, and some have gone better than others. Make sure your final session is one where positive closure is made. If you want to write your therapist a letter or a card, do so (I have done this in the past many times!). If it helps to reflect upon therapy (the positives, the negatives and the in-betweens) during this session then so be it. If it helps to vent solidly for one hour about how much you want to thank your therapist for their contribution towards your recovery, then so be it. Ask everything you want to ask, and say everything you want to say. Try not to get into a position where you regret not saying all of the things you wish you could have said or asked, whether this communication is executed verbally or not.
Come up with a support plan
In preparation for your final appointment with your therapist, ask if you can come up with a support plan. Your therapist may have already suggested this, but if not, it is so essential to know where you can get the required support in the event of a relapse or the need for further treatment. Develop mechanisms to cope with the sadness of leaving treatment should it get too much for you. Make a list of helplines. Make a structured timeline of what to do and where to go in the event of the need for therapy once more. Keep in regular contact with your doctors and make sure you know who to turn to in the event of an emergency. The sooner this is prepared for, the less devastating relapse would be should this occur. Also, if you do feel that it it necessary to seek further treatment, don't be disheartened. It doesn't mean you've failed or let your previous therapist down. Recovery, as we all know, is all about peaks and troughs. See every step back as an opportunity to take further steps forward and an opportunity for you to learn how you can prevent these reverse steps from occurring next time.
Note down and recognise what treatment taught you
This sounds ridiculous, but occasionally I look back and reflect on my therapists and look at how they inspired me to recover and to be a better person. See therapy as a positive process and an experience that you've gained knowledge and skills from. Note down breathing exercises, techniques, and mottoes or phrases that you've retained in your mind. Maybe even ask your therapist if they could give you one phrase or piece of advice that they want you to take with you moving forward, what that would be, and cherish that advice. Look back on the relationship that you and your therapist have had with the knowledge of just how much you have gained from the experience of being in therapy. Note these positives down if you can and perhaps have a look at how you can tailor everything you've learnt into your life post-therapy.
Have confidence in yourself - even if it's false
It's so easy to assume that your therapist 'made you the person you are' or that you 'would be nothing without them'. To an extent, I definitely felt that way with two of my former therapists - but over the years I've been slowly realising that a huge proportion of my recovery was down to my own doing. Have confidence in your ability to move on from therapy, even if to an extent the confidence is false. Your recovery is not 100% down to another individual, as easy as it is to view it that way. Your recovery derives initially from inner strength and willingness to participate in treatment in the first place, no matter how long that may take. Recognise the leaving of therapy as a sign of progression, as opposed to initially perceiving failures. The more that you fuel your confidence to live independently post-therapy, the easier that transition will become, even if there are setbacks along the way.
Most importantly, try to feel positive, encouraged, and enlightened to begin this next stage of your life. It's absolutely terrifying at times and can feel rocky and indeterminate, but have a little faith in yourself. You've made it this far and you can keep going.