Waaaiting, waaaaaaatiiing until the client was lost in thought and then darting my eyes furtively towards the clock, rolling my eyes up and placing my hand on my chin thoughtfully if they happened to glance my way and catch me!
Hiding a clock under the couch, but also keeping a clock in the client’s view. This way, they could see me NOT looking at the clock, while I was secretly looking at the clock under the couch. (This worked magically until a client found the clock under the couch. AWK-FUCKING-WARD)
A ton of things! I did a ton of things to figure out how to get away with looking at the clock. The thing I didn’t do – at least not for some time – was ask myself WHAT WAS SO BAD ABOUT THE CLIENT SEEING ME LOOK AT THE CLOCK?!
Hm. Wow. That question certainly brings things to another level, doesn’t it.
Maybe your anxiety isn’t exactly about having the client see you look at the clock. Maybe it manifests in ending the session on time. Or stopping a client mid-cry in order to let him know the session is up. Maybe you have a ton of anxiety when a client runs late, because you spiral into wondering if they know you are still going to end on time and/or calculating how much you can run over without impacting the next client too much.
So what’s this about?
What makes it hard to end on time? What makes it hard to openly acknowledge that goddamn clock?
I’ve heard from therapists who say they feel “bad” cutting a client off right when they’re in the middle of something.
Or that they worry about hurting the client’s feelings by interrupting them.
I’ve heard of therapists who talk about “going a little over” because they’re worried that maybe they haven’t given the clients enough and – guess what – extra time is a clear value add…right?
It’s easy to tell ourselves it’s just a few minutes. Or that we’re being nice – giving the client a little something extra. But for therapist who continually go beyond the agreed upon time, I’m going to propose that something deeper is going on.
Ah’m about to get all existential on your ass. BOOM.
Let’s think about what time represents.
The fact is, time is going to keep plodding forward no matter what. Winter turns to Spring turns to Summer turns to Fall and back again. No matter how much I twist my panties, October 25th comes along every year and every year, I age just a wee….bit…more.
And, oh the agoooony! I can hire a personal trainer (check!), I can slather my face in all the lotions and creams (check!), I can disavow all whiskey drinks, once and for all (um. Ahem. about that) – but no matter how I FEEL, time continues. I get older. People around me die. And I wend my way, inevitably towards my own death.
Yikes. And that makes me sad to think about.
All this to say, refusing to end sessions on time, is a denial of the reality of death.
Look, dealing with the realities of ending – relationships, a great meal, a sunny day, a session – is hard, but it’s our job as therapists to help our clients navigate and come to terms with the reality.
By doing “nice” things for the client, like habitually letting sessions go on longer than we’ve stated they will or refusing to implement the cancellation policy because the client go sick or not charging the fees that we need to pay for our lives – all of these things are out of line with reality and avoiding these things in our therapeutic work is not being nice!
Avoiding reality is doing your client a disservice.
Our clients come to us because they are, in some way or another, struggling to cope with the reality that is before them. By pretending there are no consequences when we violate our practice policies, we are reinforcing the idea that reality doesn’t apply to them.
Here are some very real consequences:
Not ending sessions on time: You don’t have time to pee or do your notes or take a breath. You get worn out, overwhelmed and behind.
Not charging for missed sessions: You are in perpetual financial insecurity, worried about the ups and downs of private practice which leave you feeling maxed out, despite your justifications that everything is going just fine.
Not charging an appropriate fee: You are seeing too many clients and earning too little. Don’t believe me? How’s that student loan debt going? What about those credit card bills? When’s the last time you skipped out on a nice meal or a vacation because you worried about the money?
We’re indicating to the client that these situations don’t have consequences, meanwhile, our unconscious minds are paddling like mad to keep up with our acts of dissociation.
The truth is, it’s hard to enforce a cancellation policy when your client’s kid is sick. It feels uncomfortable to say, “It’s time to end” when your client is just getting into talking about the death of her mother. It’s hard as FUCK. And sad, too. It brings up all kinds of losses the clients have gone through. All the “misses.” All the abandonments.
What a lovingly professional thing it is to acknowledge the pain, acknowledge the loss, and be there with them in it.
You know what most people do? Avoid it. Try to make it go away. Pretend loss and endings and feelings of anger and rejection aren’t real.
As a therapist, you are quite likely the only person in that client’s life who is willing to both acknowledge the pain, empathize with it and survive it, vs. trying (falsely) to make reality different than what it is.
What a gift.