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Ending | by Linda B. Sherby, PhD, ABPP

03/31/2016 12:25 PM | Anonymous

“So,” Philip begins, “There’s something I’ve been thinking about and after all these years I certainly know I’m supposed to talk about everything I’m thinking about. So, here goes,” he says, inhaling deeply. “We have two weeks, six sessions left and for our last session I’d like to take you out to dinner.”

Many thoughts and feelings flit through my mind. I’m surprised. Philip is a 55 year old obsessive man who despite years of therapy is still fairly rule-bound. Taking me out to dinner would definitely be bending those rules. So should I consider his request an indication of progress? Perhaps, perhaps not. Either way, I know I’m not going accept. To do so would be stepping way outside the bounds of our relationship. I have gone to lunch or dinner with patients who have been out of treatment for long time, but then I know that the treatment is definitely over and it’s more like catching up with an old friend. Last sessions and, in fact, the entire process of termination is fraught with many intense and conflicting feelings. A restaurant is definitely not the place to deal with them.

“What makes you ask? Why do you want to take me to dinner for our last session?”

He looks instantly deflated. “You’re not going to do it.”

I smile inwardly. My apparently neutral question wasn’t so neutral after all.  “No, Philip, I’m not going to accept. I’ll explain why, but first I’d be interested in knowing why you want to.”

“Is it because I’m a man? I mean I know we dealt with some of my, uhmm, feelings about you along the way, but this has nothing to do with that. I just want to say thank you for all you’ve done for me.”

“And when you say ‘thank you for all you’ve done for me,’ you’ve given me more than enough, a gift. You’ve been able to put your feelings into words. And your warm feelings at that. That’s a major accomplishment for you.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“I’m sorry. No, it’s not because you’re a man. Did I hear a hint of anger in there?”

“No one likes to be rejected.”

“Whoa. Let’s go back a minute. You say that you want to take me out to dinner to thank me for what I’ve done for you. What do you imagine you might be feelings that last day? Or the last week? Or what are you feeling today about ending?”

“Hard to separate out what I’m feeling about ending and what I’m feeling about your turning me down.”

“Okay. Just say what you feel right now.”

“Hmm. I feel disappointed. And hurt. And a little angry. And confused. I don’t understand why.”

“So let’s say we were at a restaurant right now. Would you like to be dealing with all those feelings at the restaurant?”

“I wouldn’t be having these feelings if we were at a restaurant.”

“Ah ha! So perhaps you’ve just told us another reason why you might want to take me to dinner for our last session. Maybe it’s so you won’t feel all the feelings you might be having during that session.”


“Last sessions can be pretty emotional. I know there’s some excitement about leaving, a feeling of accomplishment. Some people describe it as feeling like graduation. But even graduation has sadness mixed with it, ending a chapter in your life, ending your relationship with me. We’re known each other a long time. It’s always sad to say good-bye. Sad for me too. I’m happy for you and your progress, but your leaving is a loss for me as well as for you.”

Philip stares at me. “You’re so dear to me,” he says softly. “You will always have a special place in my heart. You’ll be with me always and I’ll miss you more than I can say.”

“That’s so beautiful, Philip. Thank you. That means so much to me. I think about how you couldn’t even identify what you were feeling when we first started working together, let alone express it. And to be able to express such deep, caring feelings warms me all over.”  

He smiles. “I was just going to say, ‘So how about dinner?’ and then I realized I was just running from all the feelings in the room. I guess we’ll be meeting here for the remainder of our sessions. Five more to go. Makes me sad.”

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