By Dr. Melanie J.Barton, LCSW, Ed.D
Dr. Melanie J. Barton, LCSW, Ed.D was diagnosed with cancer and had to close her psychotherapy practice in Alabama within a week and to move to Florida to recover. Here are some helpful guidelines for clients who encounter a similar situation with their therapist.
When Your Therapist Must Terminate Abruptly
Therapists sometimes have crises in their own life. It may include having to abruptly terminate therapy with you because:
- They need to care for an ill family member.
- They were in an accident.
- Their spouse/family member did some behavior that has affected them (domestic violence, infidelity, arrested for driving under the influence) and now do not feel they cannot competently work with couples/families.
- They need treatment for relapse of an addiction / depression/ Post Traumatic Stress Disorder / anxiety.
- They have a life-threatening illness and need immediate surgery or treatment.
- There is a catastrophic event that destroyed the office and they cannot afford to reopen one elsewhere.
When You Begin Therapy
- Ask for a written copy of their plan if therapy is stopped abruptly including the name and number of an emergency back-up therapist and how treatment information is transferred.
- Give your therapist updated contact information about you and a person to reach if they cannot reach you.
When the Unthinkable Happens
If you get a call from someone saying your therapist can no longer see you ask:
- Is this temporary or permanent?
- Are you to or do they contact emergency backup therapist?
- How will the information in your file will be transferred?
- Do you need to come in to sign a release to have records transferred?
- Call your insurance company, explain the situation, and ask if backup therapist is an acceptable provider?
- If new therapist does not meet your needs, ask your insurance company for a different referral?
If Your Therapist Is Hospitalized
- Ask the person who contacted you if allowed, where to send a card, and how to get updates on your therapist’s condition.
- Do not go to the hospital as the therapist needs privacy to heal.
- Recall the tools you learned in therapy and use them now.
- You can pray for the therapist if that is your practice.
- Look for the good in this situation as a growing edge for you.
People come into our lives and exit our lives sometimes without preparation. Each person helps weave the tapestry of our lives into an integrated design. If you only look at the backside of a tapestry you see a mismatch hodgepodge of different colored threads and knots, but the front side is a unique design that draws it all together. Remember that you have inside of you the tools you need to be a fully functioning human being and now is the time to draw on those strengths.