Sliding out the back door
It was quiet in the practice on Wednesday evening, some of my colleagues were away, and others were working behind closed doors. I finished my last session at 7 pm, closed my trusty laptop, picked up my raggedy pad with scrawled notes, untangled the cords to my old-fashioned earphones, and packed my bag. Took my favourite green teacup to the kitchen, said goodnight to Millie who was managing the reception desk and slid out the backdoor.
I left behind the psychologist’s chair, its contours will be warmed by someone else, but no longer by me.
Tears slid down my face as I drove the 10 minutes to my home. That was it, I’d retired. I’d finished my career as a psychologist. Who was I now?
I was only working two days a week but those last 20 sessions in the final fortnight were gruelling. Every session was a heartfelt goodbye. It was like putting unfinished books back on the shelf, but therapy is often like that. This time though I knew that the clients could not return. I would not witness chapters yet to be told or future chapters of their lives. I’d worked intensely with these wonderful people, some for many years and knew their hopes and dreams. I knew what held them back and I had to let them all go.
The tears that escaped only hinted at the turmoil within me. Grief, joy, fear, hope, regret, and relief whirled within me but were mostly contained during those last sessions. I hugged clients, shook hands, patted backs and, accepted gifts, letters and cards. “Goodbye, go well, take care” I whispered. I hoped I would bump into them in the street some time, but I have rarely seen clients outside the therapy room. Floundering for the final words, nothing I said felt enough.
I will miss the laughter
A friend asked what would I miss most when I stopped being a psychologist, and I surprised myself when I said “the laughter”. The laughter of therapy is like no other. We expect tears in therapy but not laughter and yet they come from the same deep well of emotions. I will miss those moments when a client suddenly laughs at what they are saying or thinking. It’s not a dismissive or condescending laugh, Nor is it an avoidant laugh. Rather it seems like a ray of sunshine, giggling with the delight of new knowledge. The joyful newness of discovering a new way of being.
How I will miss those clever, ironic and humorous comments made by clients when they suddenly understand a part of themself. I rarely laugh as deeply and with such compassion in my “real” life.
You’ll find me drinking Bloody Marys in my PJs
My son, daughter, and daughter-in-law celebrated my retirement by gifting me a bottle of vodka, Bloody Mary mix, lemon juice, a glass, and PJs. The Bloody Mary tradition was born while living in Papua New Guinea for eight years. I would board the plane to leave and order a Bloody Mary. It’s become our family marker of travel and transitions. Is this what they think I’ll be doing with the rest of my life?
Therapy is an act of love
While part of me still longs to do the therapeutic work I no longer want to sit inside a closed room for many hours of the day. I want to be free to create (perhaps to write another book), to enjoy the sun on my face. and perhaps to do nothing much at all.
I want to re-connect with the people I love but have not seen enough of.
For me, therapy has been an act of love. A love full of respect, safety, caring, boundaries, vulnerability, growth and hope. Therapy has often included raging against the injustices of the world. I will find ways to maintain both love and rage.
I have such gratitude for the wonderful, inspiring and insightful clients and colleagues with whom I have shared my therapeutic journey. Thank you.