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December 15, 2020

Dear Therapists: A Letter from the Voices of “Terminated” Clients.

Jorge Fakhouri/from Pexels

“I feel like a toy they don’t want to play with anymore.”

“I feel like she stabbed the center of the very wound I went to therapy for.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever heal from this.”

These are just some of the voices of the “terminated.”

If you’ve never spent significant time in the mental health world, then you’ve likely never heard of this experience of termination.

For those who have heard of “termination,” I hope you didn’t experience the pain of the voices I share here.

Since being “terminated,” I have read about the topic frequently on Quora and Facebook groups, such as the one titled,Clients Harmed by Therapy.Before I went searching for stories similar to mine, I had no idea how common this experience was. Each story I read, though, left me with a heavy heart and a bad taste in my mouth.

Before I go any further, let me be clear. I am not a licensed therapist. Rather, I am a PhD student in Positive Developmental Psychology who studies attachment theory, ACEs, and personality across the lifespan. I have no training in psychopathology—only years of experience being viewed through this lens.

Termination.

What a strong word to be using in a system that is meant to be a helping profession.

To terminate or, as I often say, “terminar.” Meaning “to end.” As a speaker of Portuguese, the verb feels even more tart. I often conjugate it throughout the day.

Eu termino.

Você termina.

Vocês terminam.

You get the point.

The word is on my mind all the time.

Since joining groups on Facebook, I’ve collected my fair share of friends who are also still trying to glue themselves together after their therapist tossed them out to land facedown on the cement.

I read often that therapists feel it is necessary.

Excuses include countertransference, not being skilled enough, feeling progress is not being made, the client needing a higher level of care, not wanting to work with personality disorders, boundaries not being respected, the relationship being too messy, and so on.

So they terminate.

A client may say they feel abandoned and that it’s killing them (which it often is), but no biggie. The therapist washes their hands clean after doing their due diligence and provides a list of three referrals (often individuals not specialized in what the client needs). The therapist asks that the client refrains from contacting them in any way. Even though their heart is broken, in the eyes of the therapist, their knocking and begging to come back has crossed the line.

After these experiences, these clients fall—and they fall hard. Some fall into a deep depression. Some refuse to ever go to therapy again. Some have likely ended their lives.

No biggie though. These clients who often have histories of severe childhood trauma don’t deserve patience and care because what person with a disorganized attachment style deserves a therapist who will stay?

I write this article this evening as a plea to mental health professionals to reconsider their actions and treatment.

I write this article begging mental health providers to stop throwing away clients.

I write this article asking that mental health professionals become truly “trauma-informed,” and for termination to always be a collaborative decision with the client’s involvement.

It’s time mental health professionals get off their own pedestals that they have built, and understand that just as much as they can help clients, they can also harm them greatly.

Hold our hearts with care. It is your job to hold the frame—not ours.

If you wish to terminate a client, think about how this may affect them.

It should never be solely your decision to end the relationship.

It is a “relationship,” after all.

~

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