Therapy Dilemma

I’ve been struggling with a situation recently, and I’m not sure what to do. Two weeks ago, I told my therapist that I was done with therapy; I thanked her, gave her a big hug and left her office. It was somewhat impulsive, and I hadn’t fully decided to break off the relationship until I was sitting in the oh-so-familiar navy recliner. I’m not completely sure why I did it, but I did and now I hope I’ve made the right decision. Ugh.. I hate it when I feel this way.

For starters, I live in a fairly small, tight-knit community. I am not originally from here, but I grew up in a town very similar. I was enamored by this little city when Gil and I moved here eight years ago. It reminded me of my hometown but without all the drama that inevitably comes if one moves back to the place she spent her youth. Plus the climate is divine, and there’s a progressive, artsy vibe. Our town has LOTS of selling points and seemed ideal for a young couple itching for a change from the claustrophobic metropolis we had endured since we married.

Fast forward eight years; I still love this town and feel more at home here than any place I’ve ever lived, but I know a lot of people and at times I would enjoy a bit more anonymity. I hadn’t seen my therapist since the beginning of December. The holidays were busy and I had scheduled my next appointment for mid-January. Well, one day while I was down with the flu, my cell rang and my therapist’s office number showed up on my caller-id. I assumed it was her receptionist, and I picked up with the hopes of rescheduling my appointment when I felt better. It was very much NOT the receptionist, but my friend, Kelly, from my book club. This was one of the few moments I was grateful for my illness — no energy to be mortified. “Umm, hi. It’s Kelly, you know, your friend.” I began racking my brain wondering WHY she could be calling from this number. Didn’t have to rack long before she announced, “I’m Dr._______’s new office manager!”

Oh. How. Fabulous.

I fully believe there should be no stigma attached to seeing a mental health professional, and I’ve done my best to be as forthcoming with people as possible about the fact that I go to therapy. Kelly is not a close friend, but she and I had actually had a conversation a year or so ago about the fact that therapy was awesome, and I shared with her how much it had helped me when I was in the depths of post-partum depression. She also told me that she had struggled with new motherhood and had also taken medication and was seeing a therapist. No harm there — just a healthy dose of female commiseration. I never regretted telling her and as far as I know, she was perfectly comfortable doing the same with me. So, I was a bit taken aback when, as the new office manager, our conversation went as follows:

Kelly: Yeah, well, you know Dr. ____ was my therapist back when I was having all that, you know, stuff. But, uh, I mean, I’m totally fine now.

Me: That’s great. So, you’re working there now?

Uncomfortable silence that lasted entirely too long.

Kelly: Yes, but now I want you to know i would NEVER say anything to anyone about you coming here or whatever. Everything is completely confidential. I would never want you to feel uncomfortable.

Well, I never felt uncomfortable until this weird-ass conversation. Why the fuck did my therapist have to hire someone who is in my book club and whose kids go to the same school as mine and who I see socially on a fairly regular basis? And WHY does Kelly feel the need to convince me that she’s “fine” and that she’ll keep all my crazy under wrap?

I rescheduled my appointment and got off the phone feeling violated, exposed, and questioning my sanity. I sincerely hope Kelly is doing fine and has no more need for mental health services, but I do, and to some degree probably always will, and now my sacred space has been tainted. I KNOW. I should not feel this way. I should be okay enough with myself to not give a rat’s ass what some person in my social circle thinks, and I really don’t think I would feel this way if our conversation hadn’t been so awkward and forced.

After we hung up, I replayed our conversation in my head. I went back and forth about the best way to handle it, and I felt like I should bring it up to my therapist. Well, I finally got over the flu, and I finally managed to get in to see my therapist. After the initial shock had worn off, I decided that seeing Kelly every time I had a therapy appointment could be an opportunity for growth, and I felt at peace with the situation — until I walked in and saw Kelly in the office. I arrived early and my therapist wasn’t there yet. Kelly and I caught up on the kids, the holidays, our upcoming book list for our book club. We might as well have been meeting for morning coffee. It was cool until she pulled out my file and turned all professional about filing my insurance. I told her that we were in the process of changing insurance companies and that I would keep her posted. She assured me that “Dr. _____” had sung my praises and told Kelly not to worry about my account. I was a longtime client and was very “on top of things.”

I felt myself heave deep inside. Great, now Kelly has access to my nearly five year file, my complicated ADHD, my eating disorder, my marriage problems, double post-partum depressions, my crazy mother, my father’s suicide, my brother’s drug addiction. I was not going to be able to handle this. When Kelly and I were discussing insurance, I told her that this was probably my last appointment. “You know, I’m doing really well,” I lied, “I just wanted to check in and say thanks and good-bye.”

“Oh, I completely understand. I can tell you’re doing great.” Kelly chirped, obviously feeling the need to reassure me.

So once I was in with my therapist, I said nothing about the Kelly situation other than how great Kelly was and how we were friends and that I was glad she had found her for her office. Dr. ____ told me that Kelly ADORED me and just went on and on about what a cool, genuine person I was.

I feel like a class A screw-up. Midway through our session, I knew I was not going to be able to handle Kelly or any other friend working in my therapist’s office, so I told Dr. ______ that I wanted to discontinue. I was doing well and wanted to see how I could manage on my own. She looked a little shocked, but said that if that was my decision, she would certainly support me. Then she backtracked slightly, “I do have one concern. Your weight is really down. Are you sure you feel comfortable discontinuing right now?”

Yes, my weight is a little low, but I have had the flu. I’m not spiraling back to anorexic hell; I’ve just been sick. So, just like that, I was done.

Here’s how I feel two weeks later. I want to run back to my therapist and beg her to forgive me and take me back. I adore this woman and have made so much progress with her. She’s my fourth therapist and by far the one I’m most in sync with. I think she really gets me and knows how cut through my bullshit in the kindest way. At the same time, I think it might be time to move on. She and I have several mutual friends/acquaintances, and I almost think that she’d make a better girlfriend (in time) than a therapist. Five years is a long time, and perhaps the Kelly thing happened for a reason. I’m doing okay, but I feel slightly in limbo.

This post is dragging on, so I need to wrap it up. I don’t know. How do you know when it’s time to move on? I also feel the need to explain all this to her, but I know that’s not really necessary. She’s a professional. She doesn’t expect me to come to her forever. She even asked months ago if I still needed to do the therapy thing. We had actually moved to more of a coaching type of session, but holding me accountable is not easy and it was never her greatest strength.

I sort of feel like a cheater if I shop for a new therapist.

Follow-up 2/9/13 **** After I originally posted, I sent my therapist a lengthy email explaining that while I did feel I was in a good place, I kind of freaked over discovering that Kelly was working in her office. I laid it all out because I feel that honestly is important in these kinds of professional relationships. She thanked me and apologized and offered to come up with a workable solution if I wanted to continue. I declined and went ahead with the break. I feel better telling her the WHOLE truth, but I still think discontinuing is best for now. ****

8 thoughts on “Therapy Dilemma

  1. I don’t blame you for initially feeling gross after learning your friend was working at your therapist’s office. Even if we’re open about seeking treatment to support our mental health, it’s another thing for someone to have access to our personal details. But as other commenters have remarked, an honest conversation with your therapist will likely help you through this issue. And definitely discuss confidentiality. From the professional side of things, it doesn’t sound quite right that an office manager would have access to your therapist’s progress notes about your sessions. It’s possible that the file Kelly has access to only contains your billing and contact information and your therapist stores her session notes somewhere confidential. At least I hope that’s the case.

    When you talk with your therapist, the solution might be any number of outcomes– you continuing with her under terms which will help you feel safe again, trying someone new, or something totally different. I’ve been on both sides of this fence, and I have to say that the most uncomfortable moments are the best times for growth. Whether I’m the patient or the professional, I feel that honesty, while painful, also lends itself to healing.

    I wish you the best.


    • Wow — amazing advice, Lori. Thank you! It’s nice to hear someone in the counseling field weigh in. I need to write a follow-up to this post. I have actually set up a time to talk to my therapist, and I sent her an email and briefly explained the situation. I absolutely agree that “the most uncomfortable moments are the best times for growth.”

      Your comment reminded me of the book Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser — “honesty, while painful, also lends itself to healing.”

      Thanks again, for such a thoughtful response.


  2. Yeah, at first, when you talked about Kelly’s initial phone call, I thought, “Okay, that Kelly is one weird chick.” And ANYONE would have been uncomfortable about it, just like you were. But then, by the time I got to the end of the post, I was thinking, well how would Grief Happens have felt if she’d gone in to her therapy appointment and Kelly was sitting there, working at the desk, and GH had had no forewarning? So I think Kelly had to do what she did with the phone call, however awkward it was. (Plus, maybe Kelly needs the job/money.) It’s good that you leveled with your therapist about the reason you were quitting her. But if you feel the need to go back, go. This is about you, after all, right? If you’re not comfortable seeing her, maybe she could even make a recommendation? (And then you can get together for drinks later and compare notes.) 😉

    I love that you’re back blogging, GH! 🙂


    • Yes, I agree that the warning was a good thing, AND I know Kelly has been searching for a job with flexibility for a long time. It’s the perfect position for her, but I don’t feel like I was completely honest with my therapist. I didn’t realize I had all this angst about my friend working there until I bolted and thought more about everything in hindsight. My gut tells me that I need to have another conversation with my therapist. I love your idea about possibly asking her for a recommendation. Thanks! And I very much appreciate the kind words — I’m happy I’m back blogging, too! 🙂


  3. sorry, i was interrupted and didn’t finish my thought. So, what i was going to say is that if you want this same therapist back, that she will take you back and understand. I mean she’s been with you for quite some time and so if she knows you that well, why wouldn’t she understand and take you back? all you have to tell her is the truth of how you felt/feel about the Kelly thing. Also you have to come to terms with the fact that Kelly now has access to your files and everything that is in them right now. That means she could look at what has been going on with you all these years. I always assume the worst, so if it were me, I’d assume that Kelly knows every detail about my life and my past since i’ve been going to the therapist. Then if you can deal with that, and be okay with that (i don’t know if i could), then you also have to consider that Kelly will now know everything you tell your therapist from now on too. So, that may lead to you not being the true you if you see your therapist and then know that Kelly will read about that day’s session. The only suggestion I have, is that if you can come to terms with the idea of Kelly knowing everything about your past, then i’d see if you can go back to your therapist, and arrange that your file be out of Kelly’s reach for the rest of the time Kelly works there, because that’s the only way you can continue to go to therapy without either fibbing about your life, or being paranoid about Kelly reading your file. If you feel like you need to lie to your therapist in order to protect issues from Kelly’s mind, then it won’t be a rewarding therapy session anyways. Sorry for the long response, just my many thoughts on this. Let me know what you think. I hope it all goes well no matter what you choose to do!


    • Excellent advice! Thank you for taking the time to weigh in. I’m hoping to do a part 2 about this situation. I agree with everything you said, and think I just feel really unsettled about the way I ended it. I know I did it impulsively — you phrased it perfectly “the Kelly thing spooked you and you ran.” I want to add more, but it will have to wait. Thanks again — you have great insight.


      • i am glad someone appreciates my view on things. It feels good giving advice and having someone see that i have great insight. I was used to it happening when i was in high school, but it’s been a while ( many years) since someone has liked my thoughts on any of their situations. Maybe i’ve been talking to the wrong people for too long… lol. Thanks for the confidence boost and I hope your situation is getting better! 🙂


  4. i think the Kelly thing spooked you and you ran. i mean i wouldn’t feel comfortable with Kelly knowing everything regardless of if she keeps it to herself or not. you didn’t want her to know this stuff and now all of a sudden she does, so it’s like: hmmm okay, now what?! i would probably have told my therapist that i felt that my privacy was violated, and that you understand that it wasn’t violated on purpose, but you feel weird now and such. i understand how freaking hard it is to find a therapist that is good and on the same page with you. i haven’t found one yet, after years of looking.


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