At the end of last month, I wrote about how one of my clients walked out of our session declaring he would not be returning. I’ve seen him twice since then. During the last session we met, we ended on a very playful note. He declared, “You are kicking me to the curb today! You made me wait and we started late because you were with another client. Now I realize you forgot my paper work we were supposed to fill out…” I responded playfully, “Okay, ________. Lay it on me. How do you really feel?” I was relieved when he put it out in the air: “You don’t care about me. You’re abandoning me.” That, too, was still said in a playful way. The only thing to do was to admit that terminating therapy with him is not going to be easy for me either. We talked about how it’s normal to be upset about ending the counseling relationship. We exchanged thoughts on how hard it is to get to know someone and essentially make yourself vulnerable to that person only to have them walk away from the experience. He wanted to know what the “plan” was for him and I was thankful I had already talked to my supervisor about it. I assured him that a clinician was lined up to receive him for ongoing counseling, a permanent, non-intern clinician who wouldn’t be leaving at the end of the next school year.
My work with this client has always had to be light and not-so-serious. On this particular day, however, the power of humor to broach a really tough space was stronger than I ever would have bargained. By retaining a very flexible style with my client and following his lead at all times, he has permitted me to poke, push and challenge him, within limits and with permission, as he made some really strong connections. When he defaults to, “I don’t like you right now,” that’s his way of saying, “This is uncomfortable and we need to slow down.” I pointed out that just because our work together will stop doesn’t mean his work is complete. Nor does it mean that the work he accomplished with me will disappear. As my supervisor put it, it’s like finishing one chapter and starting the next. I’m sad that I have to stop reading before the book is finished but I have been honored to be a part of this particular client’s process thus far.