All Therapy Should Eventually End
A Reflection on Grief & Growing Past People
Last week, I finally had my first “famous blogger” moment. I FaceTimed a childhood friend who I hadn’t spoken to in over 15 years — she’d been reading the blog and reached out after my most recent piece offering to reminisce on my early childhood, of which i remember basically nothing. We talked for an hour and a half, mostly me listening to her rattle off obscure, impressive memories about me hating pizza as a kid and always taking the skin off hotdogs before eating them (if you want to stop following me after reading that, i get it). Reuniting with her was a validating reminder of how i was a kid and reaffirmation of my nature outside of how I was raised and how I was abused. It also showed me how many people I’ve grown past in my life.
In my 23 years, I’ve lived in a lot of different places. I moved from my childhood home in 3rd grade once my brother and sister were getting too old to share a room, changing elementary schools and what felt like my entire world even though I was now just across town. This new distance caused a rift in my first elementary school friends, as i adapted and began to make new, better ones at my new school. Things were great for a few years as I continued on to middle school, having a lot of fun, until 8th grade, when the testosterone-fueled demons came out and I started getting mercilessly bullied by the bigger, more athletic kids I wanted so badly to be.
Ashamed of my sensitivity and intelligence, but also knowing it was all I had at the time, I decided to apply to an all-boys Catholic school in New York City to escape my hometown (and to try to make my parents proud). I got into that school, more or less said goodbye to my life at home, and spent 4 years there, where I began to realize this cycle of loss and rebirth would repeat itself many times over.
Regis was a small school (130 per grade) and I was super close with my freshman year advisement; we did almost everything together. As Sophomore Year came around and I switched advisements, I found a smaller, more core friend group over the next 3. Still floating through those 4 years, I experienced time in just about every social group you can imagine. Even under the homogenous backdrop of generally nerdy guys, we still had our cliques — the nerds, the jocks, the theater kids, the minorities (hate that this is a group but at a PWI it is) — I spent time with all of them, learning more about myself but still feeling on the outside looking in.
I then went onto college, where I had a similar journey, getting super close with a big friend group Freshman Year that I slowly grew apart from into a smaller, core group of 4–5 by my Senior Year.
The summer after my Senior Year, I “broke up” with my best friend from childhood of 7+ years, who came from similar circumstances as me but refused to do the work needed to get better and resented me for it as I did.
I then lost my best friend from college (and podcast partner) over more personal, moral differences that got exposed during the pandemic. Another instance of 2 people growing apart.
I’ve since lost touch with almost all of my college friends for similar reasons and now only keep in touch with 1 person from my hometown, no one from high school, and only a small handful from school.
And this is all on top of letting go of my parents and potentially my brother.
It pisses me off to no end when people say I haven’t experienced loss because I’ve never been in a serious relationship. Believe me, I know loss. I know grief. I know sad.
That's the biggest, unforeseen downside of maturing and really focusing on your self-growth and self-discovery— the amount of people you see not doing it that get exposed when you start to. My experience has put a temporary damper on my perception of my past self as I’ve become fully aware of who I was putting up with before (once I stopped trying to change them or fix them), but I see it as a necessary exercise in reflection and forgiveness, of which I can always use more.
Which brings me to therapy. I decided to stop seeing my therapist for the foreseeable future last week, a positive sign of growth in my trust to emotionally self-regulate without needing validation from someone “better” at it than me once a week. Putting another drop in the bucket of a relationship I’ve grown past has also given me a new perspective on the purpose of therapy— to end.
Therapy is designed to teach us how to endure the cycle of love and loss inherently found in life. It gives you the space to open up to someone who won’t hurt you (even if you feel they might) and help you develop the tools to honestly and vulnerably communicate. That sounds great, but doesn’t actually do anything to improve your life.
Therapy's biggest benefit is taking those newfound communication skills and turning them inward to help you realize what needs to change, take responsibility for it, and equip yourself to make that change.
Therapists are more like mirrors that give hugs than angels in that regard. However, once you make those big changes, therapy won’t help you maintain them either. It’s on you to keep your peace, just like it was on you to create it. The best therapists help people become self-sufficient to the point that they don’t have to go back to them or to anyone else.
As I began to make the foundational changes in my life necessary to heal, I noticed a distancing from my therapist, who became a tool for my own flourishing instead of a personal relationship to manage. This learned boundary setting has helped me do so with every other relationship in my life (hence all the aforementioned fat-trimming). It’s left me shocked at how many were built on a faulty foundation and way more lonely than I ever thought I could be, but grateful that I’m at least able to recognize and address it.
All patient-therapist relationships are designed to teach us this lesson. Life is a repetition of love, loss, grief, and healing — a dance we first do with our own mortality and then with the mortality of everything else. I’ve been dancing close to the sun my entire life and am beyond grateful to be where I am now.
However, this puts me in a weird pickle. As an aspiring therapist, am I staking a business model, a living, a life, on people not getting better? I obviously want to build up a practice, but I also want all of my patients to eventually get better and leave me. I can’t wait for my first patient who grows past me and doesn’t need me anymore— I’ll be so proud since I’ve learned first hand just how important that is. Guess we’ll see.