“Michael! Come back!! Michael!!”
I’d been seeing Diane for some time. I was in my 20’s and I was struggling with my eating disorder and with relationships.
Diane appealed to me for several reasons. She wore long sweaters which were very fashionable (doesn’t everyone choose their therapist based on clothing??) and they made her appear motherly. She was a sci-fi geek as well and I’d never met a woman who had that kind of knowledge. I still credit her for introducing me to Robert Heinlein and Stranger in a Strange Land, which is the best sci-fi book ever written.
Our therapy was going ok overall. I was trying to work through my issues and Diane was helping me. It was very much like a mother/son relationship with both transference and counter-transference (we were treating each other like someone else in our lives)).
The issue, as it so often is when insurance companies are involved, was money. I was able to cover the cost of what insurance didn’t cover but just barely. Finally, it got to the point that I couldn’t cover the cost any longer. I brought it up in a session so we could talk about it.
Diane wanted me to continue therapy. I did too. So in that session she offered to bill me for additional sessions that never happened in order to have insurance give me the money to cover the sessions I did attend. I was taken aback, didn’t know what to say. In the moment, I just said, “Let’s continue the discussion next week.”
After the session, I reached out to my friend Scott, who is also a therapist.
“Do you think this was a violation of ethics?”
“Ummm…..yeah! Ya think?”
We talked some more and he convinced me that ending the relationship would be best. I couldn’t be a party to insurance fraud but more importantly, I couldn’t trust her any more after considering what she was willing to do.
I rehearsed some scenarios with Scott and tried to prepare for the following week’s session.
When I got to her office for my next visit, I was very nervous. I knew how I would start but I was afraid of her disapproval, her rejection, her anger. She came out at our scheduled time and invited me into her office. She started with the normal pleasantries.
Then I started with what I planned to say.
“Diane, I came here today to end our relationship.”
“What??? No! What are you taking about?”
I explained how the conversation we had the previous week upset me and that I couldn’t continue therapy with her. She objected and started to explain that she didn’t mean what I thought. She went on for a few minutes trying to convince me to stay. I’m not certain if she was scared that I was going to report her or if it was some kind of offense to her professional pride. I suspect it was fear.
Finally, I said, “I’m not her to discuss this, I’ve already made up my mind, I’m leaving.”
And I stood up.
She also jumped up as I started to walk out of her office. I sped up, thinking that I would get to the elevator and that would be the end of it.
No such luck.
I waited for a few seconds at the elevator and realized that she was right behind me, she had followed me out into the hall.
I quickly found the stairs and started to walk down (her office was on the third floor).
As I reached the floor beneath hers, I heard the door open above and I heard her yell my name.
I started to run down the stairs to just get out and get away.
She continued to call my name and tell me that we could talk. I finally reached the lobby level and quickly walked to my car, a little out of breath and my heart pounding in my chest. I was really scared but I was also exhilarated. I had done it. It was a crazy ending, which convinced me I had made the right decision but I had let her go.
I called Scott and tearfully told him what happened as I drove out of the parking lot. He was supportive, as usual and helped me see that I had done the right thing. He also helped me see that this was a huge therapeutic moment.
Standing up for oneself can be daunting in the most comfortable of situations. Doing it with a therapist in this situation was at a different level. I was no longer a kid in that office, I was an adult, making my own way and defining my own ethics.
I’m grateful today for what happened, although, it’s tough not to laugh, looking back.
Who needs Frankenstein….when you have a therapist?