(My Therapist Says) I Am A Dog With Cancer

I think I’m going to stop seeing Aisha.

She was the first psychologist I ever saw. I’d been self harming for over a decade by then, but had never spoken to anybody about it, and she patiently sat through session after session of silence, waiting for me to feel comfortable enough to talk. It’s been over 18 months now, and when my emotions are so overwhelming they start spilling out in snark and snippiness with other people, she’s the only safe person I can break down and cry with.

But she isn’t here. She’s literally on the other side of the world.

I only started Skyping her because she was my friend/boss/surrogate father R’s therapist, and R was the one who talked me into trying therapy – it was just convenient to set me up with her because he knew she was good, I guess. By the time we realised I really needed to see someone on the ground who could work with me more fully, I was too attached to just snip the apron strings, and instead it became a case of finding a local psychologist and then slowly weaning off Aisha. Very slowly – I’d been seeing Anna for 8 months and nobody was anywhere near thinking it was time to transition away from Aisha.

But right now, I’ve got a knife and I’m hacking at those strings. I can’t tell whether this is coming from a wise place, or whether I’m being reactive because I feel abandoned, because she didn’t reach out to me after Anna quit and I’m hurt and sad.

Back when Aisha had been seeing me for a few months, she told R to think of his relationship with me as adopting a dog with cancer – to treat me with love and compassion, but not get too attached, because I’m probably going to die. I’m not supposed to know that, but I do.

To be clear, she has never, ever let that thought show in our therapy. She has always been optimistic and encouraging and told me to have hope for the future. But knowing that she thinks (or thought) that I’m not going to make it just makes everything seem disingenuous. It hurts, and it makes me angry, and I don’t really know why. I should be glad that she recognises how profound my emptiness is, that she can see how much I hurt and struggle. But only a very small part of me is glad.

I think she’s amazing at her job, and I love her. But I have some reservations. Like when she went away for four months last year with less than two weeks notice (even though it’s scheduled travel that she does every year), at a time when I was self-harming so badly I needed surgery and had lost other personal and professional sources of support. Like the fact that it generally takes upwards of two weeks for her to respond to simple (e.g. scheduling related) emails.

And I wonder about how much she discloses to me. This was a huge difference between Anna and Sue – I knew virtually nothing about Anna, so I couldn’t ease into session with 5-10 mins of small talk about her life the way I do with Aisha. It has definitely made me more comfortable with Aisha, but I do wonder if this is sidestepping part of the work by taking the spotlight off me.

In addition to what’s happening in her everyday life, here are some of the things Aisha has told me:

1. Her first husband was emotionally cold and didn’t express any feelings when his mother died. She left him when he started hitting her kids, and then later called Child Protection on him to restrict his custody of them – he suspects it was her but she’s never told him.

2. She started therapy when she was 28 and used to have major troubles saying no, so much that she’d white out in session when her therapist would get her to say it. In her early 40s she woke up with a body memory of what had happened to her. She’s had bad personal experiences with psychiatrists and she doesn’t trust them.

3. After her first children were born she had major postpartum psychosis and had recurring thoughts about killing her babies. Her three children are all autistic.

4. Her mother had very unrelenting standards and she has a terrible inner critic.

I feel uncomfortable about sharing this with anyone, even anonymously. I just want to work through all of my confused thoughts. I feel honored and proud that she shares with me. A lot of me loves it. But it also makes it harder for me to trust her judgment, because sometimes I think she sees so much of herself and her kids in me that it’s hard for her to see me. And I wonder whether the advice she gives is biased by her history. For example, she’s the one who set me up with Anna. At the time, I was looking for a psychiatrist who did psychotherapy, not a psychologist, and I made it clear I didn’t want to see Anna, but Aisha had connected with her and R pressured me into it so I went. Was the resulting shit storm influenced by her personal dislike of psychiatrists? I don’t know, but I wonder.

Earlier this year I woke to the sounds of a furious man yelling, banging and crashing and a woman screaming. I ran downstairs (in my pyjamas) to physically intervene, without calling the police, who fortunately arrived just as I stepped in between him and his girlfriend. I was, and still am, horrified that of an entire apartment building of people, most of whom are not 125 pound women with the upper body strength of a soggy bowl of cereal, I was the only person who showed up. I asked around and was even more upset to find that every one of my friends, family and colleagues said to call the police and not to intervene. So I asked Aisha, and she said I did the right thing, and that somebody has to step in and do something. That’s the answer I wanted. But I wonder. Her answer was so starkly opposed to everyone else’s, including Jen’s – is that influenced by her own experience with domestic violence?

I know that every therapist is going to be influenced by their own history. I’m never going to be able to take anyone’s opinion without examining it myself. Really, knowing something of her background is helpful because it helps me be aware of where some of the pitfalls might be. But it’s hard, sometimes. I don’t want to second guess her, but I do.

The care she has shown me is so humbling and has really touched me so many times. She used to cry after every session with me because she was so worried about me. Maybe she still does. I love that she cares so much, even though it feels weird, too. Even when I’ve been furious with her for repeatedly cancelling sessions, not responding to me, going away on short notice, I’ve felt secure in knowing that I matter to her.

I feel special. She’s told me that I’m the only person she breaks the rules for. She tells me she’s proud of me, and she signs her emails with “Hugs”, or sometimes, “Love”. She cries for me during sessions and she gets angry with my parents. No matter what I bring to therapy, she’s always calm and always accepting – if I’m cutting during session, if I’m completely silent for an hour, if I get up and walk away or ignore her and start texting – it’s okay. She has never got defensive and never been frustrated with me for not wanting to try something.

So why would I want to quit? Well, I don’t, really. Part of me wants to be able to crawl into her arms and hide my face in her neck and stay there. But at least I feel mostly numb about it right now. There’s pain and fear and need underneath it, but the numb goes pretty far down. It has to happen at some point, so why not now, when it’s going to hurt less? In a couple of months she’ll be going away again anyway.

I don’t know. I don’t know what to do.

(My Therapist Says) I Am A Dog With Cancer

12 thoughts on “(My Therapist Says) I Am A Dog With Cancer

  1. Zoe says:

    If you were a “real life” friend telling me this I would ask if you think Aisha, and your therapeutic relationship with her, is ultimately helping or hindering your work to live a more full and healthy life? Is she adding to or decreasing your suffering?


    1. I’m not sure I have a clear answer to that. It’s huge for me to have someone I can sometimes open up with. It was 8 months before I cried with Anna for the first time and sometimes I need to be able to let that out. But the circumstances around her being so far away and knowing our therapy has to end cause me ongoing anxiety.


  2. My first reaction to reading this was horror. I am horrified that your therapist disclosed so much to you – well beyond what is professionally and therapeutically appropriate. The comment about the dog with cancer? Christ. That is hurtful. If you were writing this to get opinions on the disclosure, I will share mine (I already did) that as a client, it is completely unethical for you to know so much about her personal life. A barrier to your treatment, and only serving for her. I understand she is caring and was there for you, but this is not a family friend. This is supposed to be a professional with only you and your well-being in mind, not relating her experience to you. I hope you can find some professionals with healthier boundaries and more robust trauma skills. You deserve that. You are contending with a lot, but you are not a dying dog. Not even close.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – part of me knew that I felt this level of disclosure wasn’t quite right for me, but I never really trust myself so it’s always helpful to get other opinions. My dilemma now is that there are only 7 female psychiatrists offering psychotherapy in my area, and none of them are trained in trauma or dissociative disorders, so I’m not convinced that they can be effective for me – but short of moving, I guess I don’t have much choice.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The dog with cancer comment is terrible. Terrible, and not true in the least. I really hate her for saying that! It’s mean.

    That being said, it sounds like there are positives and negatives to the relationship. My guess is you are hacking at the apron strings out of feeling abandoned– kind of a “I’ll leave before you do” kind of thing. Whether you decide to end therapy with her or not, I don’t think that ending it like this is going to be helpful in the long run. I’d also hate to have you end things and then have no extra support. It might be wise to wait until you find a new therapist who is near you.

    As for the disclosures, she has told you a lot. I have a different perspective than Rachel, however. Bea probably discloses more than most therapists, but I like that. I need it to feel safe. When she tells me a story about something that she did and childhood and how she felt and thought and why, it helps me see my childhood actions in new light. When she tells me about her crazy mother in law, it helps me feel like she really, truly gets my MIL issues, so she speaks from that therapist place and wants me to try doing something that I don’t want to go, I know that Bea the person gets it. Or when I was feeling so stupid for needing to hide my face from her while i talked, and she told me that she once spent an entire therapy session with her T with her coat over her head, I felt better. Now, I don’t know what the session was about– that would be too much disclosure. I don’t know. Everyone is different. I need disclosure, because I need my T to be a flawed, messy, human being. And I need to know that in a more concrete way. It makes me feel safe opening up.

    I think it all depends on your needs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It has definitely met my needs in some ways and been unhelpful in other ways. In general, it makes therapy less threatening because I can chat to her the way I would a “normal” person, but there have been times where I haven’t been able to tell her something I wanted to talk about either because I feel like it seems stupid or petty after something she’s told me she went through, or because it’s too similar to something she’s been through/going through and I don’t want to trigger or upset her.

      I do feel that you’re right and this probably isn’t the way I want to end the relationship (and probably isn’t smart when I don’t have another support structure in place), but I just don’t want to subject myself to the additional pain of going back and reconnecting with her and then having to make the decision to leave (which I really will have to do because it just isn’t workable to do long term therapy with her and with somebody else local). Gah. Sucks.


      1. That’s hard that her disclosures make it difficult for you to discuss certain things. I think that is the difference, or why Bea’s disclosures feel “right” to me— they make it easier, less scary for me to talk about things. Have you made a decision about what you are going to do? This is such a tricky thing to navigate. Xx

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks Alice, it is hard. I decided not to decide right now – on balance, my need to be stable right now is higher than my need to have things resolved. I’m flying home today to stay with my cousin (who I reported to child protection) for 5 days to give her some support with parenting skills and to give the kids some love. So it’s still hanging over me but at least I’m functional.


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