Was This the Right Action on My Therapist’s Part?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. The article in the recent newsletter made me think about this issue again. I was in therapy four years ago because of an unexpected meltdown after a freakish accident cost me the vision in my left eye. I got myself to a shrink after a number of episodes of “I just can’t get out of bed today.” I called in sick to work — a job I love — so many times that semester that I knew I was in real trouble.

I hate therapists, probably because I had several really bad ones (as I only now know) during my stormy teenage years, so I started therapy (again) with great reluctance. Perhaps even outright hostility. Lo and behold, I got to like this guy, to respect his opinions and trust his observations. There were a number of sessions in which therapy was informative, exciting and even fun — things I never thought possible! After six months we agreed to part company in June, as I was going away for the summer. No tears at the good-bye, but I asked if I could come back in the fall if I got into trouble. “Of course,” he said. “I’m always here and you know where to find me.”

Not true, as it turned out. During the summer he closed his private practice in NYC; he got a prominent job at a facility upstate and relocated. This I found out when, feeling a little shaky in September, I called. He did keep the phone line in the city, which gave his new number. And when I got through to him at that number, he told me about the new job. I was furious with him (though of course I didn’t say so). And hurt. And humiliated. He had basically said at the leave-taking that he would always be there for me, if ever I needed help, though he must have known even as he said it that this was not true.

So here’s my question: did he do right or wrong in not telling his patients that he was leaving them? If he had said to me, when I asked about future help, “No, I’ll never, ever be there for you again,” I possibly might have flipped out — mad, crazy, irrational hysteria, certainly not a pretty sight nor something any shrink would look forward to. On the other hand, he lied to me and I’ve felt betrayed by him ever since. Probably not very rational either. So, to you professionals reading this, what would you have done?

Q. The answer is “it depends.” If he told you to come back when he clearly knew he was leaving, this is wrong and you could rightfully feel betrayed. In this scenario it would have been appropriate to inform you of his departure and to give you a referral. To knowingly lie to you would have been wrong.

What you may not have considered in this situation is that your therapist might not have known that he was leaving when he said that it would be okay to contact him in the future. Based on your letter, some time has passed since the two of you have met and the job offer may have come after your sessions had ended. It’s also possible he knew he was leaving when he told you otherwise but still thought he could see clients part-time. It would seem reasonable to allow for these possibilities.

Of course it’s wrong to lie and it’s always best to be truthful, but it is possible that you may have misjudged the situation and jumped to false conclusions without knowing all of the facts. I hope this answers your question. Thanks for writing.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2008

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2008). Was This the Right Action on My Therapist’s Part?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/01/30/was-this-the-right-action-on-my-therapists-part/