Imagine that you are reading a book, the only one of its kind. No other copy of the book exists. That, by itself, makes the volume precious. You find the story compelling. You identify with its lead character. And only then, fully engrossed by the plot, you discover that the last chapter or two are missing.
You are frustrated, aren’t you? Well, now you know a little bit about how a therapist can feel some time after treatment of a patient comes to its end. As the clock ticks away, you find yourself wondering from time to time: how did her life turn out? How is he doing?
Of course, you can call to find out, assuming that you have the correct phone number. Or, you can see if the Internet will avail you any information with which to track your former patient’s post-therapy path. But, usually you don’t. You have other things to do, other patients, other priorities. And, you don’t necessarily wish to invite a kind of contact that will overstep the boundaries of a therapist/client relationship or violate the ethical guidelines of your profession. Still, every so often, you wonder: how did this person’s life turn out after all?
Sometimes, even without taking any initiative, you do learn some things. Your former patient refers a friend to see you and you might inquire as to how your ex-patient is doing. Or, the ex-client writes you a note, almost always of thanks. On the other hand, some of them will recontact you when their lives have again hit a rough spot. In effect, they hope that you can give them a “tune up,” almost in the way that you might do regular maintenance on a car.
A small number of therapists, those who are interested in evaluating their own performance as precisely as possible, do send out questionnaires to ex-patients after six months or a year. That provides some feedback. But mostly what you’d really like to know is how they are doing after five or 10 years. What their life has been like. You’d like to think that time has been kind to them. You hope that their lives have turned out reasonably well. These people, who you have come to know and care about, are mostly decent and good folks, struggling (as we all do) to make the best of things, to have some happiness, to make their lives as interesting and successful and useful as they can. You wish them only the best.
It is not a major tragedy that a therapist does not know “the end of the story” or at least the most recent chapter. It is simply in the nature of the work we do. And, without question, patients also ask the same question: “How is the doc doing? Does he think about me ever? It would be nice to hear his voice.”
Clearly, the answer is yes, we do think back. We don’t remember each and every one of you, but we recall some of you very well. You have enriched us, and I don’t mean by writing a check for our service to you. We learned from you about our craft and about ourselves. We valued and still value your life. As I said, we wish you only the best.
Sometimes relationships continue within a person long after the two people involved have had contact. Rather one-sided, certainly. But, even though you might never know it, I can assure you that some people almost certainly still remember you in a positive way; both therapists and old friends whom you haven’t seen in years. Someone out there may indeed be thinking of you in the very moment you are thinking of her or him.
Isn’t that what everyone wants?
The magazine cover illustration above was sourced from Turn685 via Wikimedia Commons.