I stopped seeing my psychologist in January. After 12 months of pretty much weekly sessions, I decided to end it, just like that. Why? Because I felt I had become too attached.
Kara* was the fourth psychologist I had seen since 2012 and the first I felt I could talk to. I felt comfortable with her pretty much straight away, which is unusual. I’m a fairly quiet person and on top of that have a pretty big trust problem too, I know I do. I suppose that started in my teenage years, when I realised how different I was from everyone else. I had a secret, a big one, and the best way to keep a secret is to hold it close and never let anyone near it.
Becoming a cop only made things worse, because we deal mainly with the untrustworthy. Thieves, liars and those who are intent on doing every kind of harm imaginable. Whatever trust you have going into a job like that, you lose it pretty quickly. You have to, if you’re going to survive.
In late-2016 I was in the depths of depression and mourning the loss of my operational career. It was while I was in this state of mourning that I found comfort, safety and solace in Kara. I trusted her more than I had ever trusted anyone in my life, told her things I had never told another living soul, and it was from that deepest sense of trust that other feelings soon arose.
Within a few months it became clear to me that I had become quite attached to Kara. It wasn’t a sexual thing (obviously), but rather a feeling that she was the kind of person I could imagine myself sitting opposite in a busy cafe, talking about everything.
I was so comfortable with her that it was starting to feel uncomfortable. Actually, it terrified me. I felt like I was breaking all the rules of therapy.
“‘You know she’s not your friend,” I kept telling myself. “She’s just doing her job. You shouldn’t be feeling this way.”
But I did feel that way and it bothered me, a lot. I eventually gathered up my courage and told her what was going on, which was hard. Firstly, because I’ve never been that good at difficult conversations and secondly, because I thought she just wouldn’t want to work with me anymore.
Kara thanked me for being honest and told me she’d be happy to keep working with me, but would be equally happy for me to transfer to another psychologist. Whatever was easiest for me to manage, she said.
I talked it all over with Jamie*, a good friend of mine and he thought what I was feeling was understandable, even natural. His advice? That I should continue to trust Kara and the therapy process.
So Kara and I left things as they were and I made the conscious decision to take a step back. Some days were easier than others. Some days I felt could just push it to the side and get on with it. But some days I couldn’t. And the longer we worked together, the harder it became.
Intellectually, I got it. Of course I did. I was supposed to tell Kara everything without getting too attached. But at an emotional level, as one person talking to another person, I was struggling.
The fact is, I didn’t want Kara as my psychologist anymore, I wanted her as my friend. And there were many times when it did feel like I was talking to a friend. That was foolish of me, I know. She made it clear that she cared for me as much as she would for any client. I think that’s what made it so difficult.
So I decided to stop therapy.
Working with Kara I felt safe and grounded, then overnight that was gone. The first thing that comes to mind is rock climbing with and without a harness. Take away the harness and the person spotting you, and climbing that rock becomes a very different experience. All of a sudden you’re basically just some loser, on a big rock, hanging on for dear life.
For me, life after therapy has been lonely, sad, chaotic and at times overwhelming. There have been many days when I really needed someone to talk to. I’ve thought about finding another psychologist, but just can’t face it. Frankly, the way I feel right now is that I don’t want to go through any of this ever again.
I miss talking to Kara. And because I owe so much to her influence, I find myself thinking about her often. It’s because of her that I got on top of the PTSD and still have a job. It’s because of her that I am finally able to talk about my asexuality. It’s because of her that I started meditating. It’s because of her that I’m able to now talk openly about all the work stuff. It’s because of her that I started writing again and now have this blog.
I’ve seen a lot of positive changes in myself and usually it’s because of something Kara and I talked about. Not huge leaps, but more like these little ripples of change that I’m seeing pretty much daily.
The thing is, I don’t think it’s possible for me to be this open with someone and this altered by someone without some other feelings creeping in. I don’t. After all, it’s these very things – trust, honesty and safety – that are at the root of any good relationship.
The relationship between psychologist and client is a professional one, but entirely in its own league. I have had many professional relationships, but none like this. I have never been this open with my boss. I have never been this trusting of my physiotherapist. I have never felt this safe with my accountant.
There’s a lot about this that feels unresolved. I still don’t know if I felt so comfortable with Kara because I shared so much with her, or if I shared so much with her because I felt so comfortable with her. I just don’t know. I haven’t been able to figure it out. Maybe I never will.
I also don’t know what she thinks of me and that bothers me. What do psychologists think of their clients? Do they ever become attached?
Thirdly, I don’t know where I went wrong. What should I have done differently? Is it possible to be this open with someone and remain unaffected? Was I supposed to be so open with her, or should I have been more guarded?
To all the psychologists out there, you ask a lot of us. And for those of us who are willing to let our guard down and put everything into therapy, that can come at a real cost. That kind of honesty and trust does not come easily for me. For you, the psychologist, it’s an opening.
For me, a vulnerability.
*names have been changed to respect the privacy of those concerned