Dear Captain Awkward:
The academic institution where I work has a counseling center, and offers appointments for staff members at a slightly discounted rate (they’re open for the public, not just people connected to my institution). I’d been seeing one of the counselors there for a little over a year, though I’d make appointments week by week; I didn’t set up a standing one or anything. Well, my last appointment was set for mid-November, but she had a sick kid and canceled, and I said I’d get back to her about rescheduling and well, now it’s 10 months later……
I’m not seeing anyone else, and though I think maybe I should it’s just hard to start. and it’s hard to want to go back to my original counselor. [ I’m not sure we had the same goals, and I’m not sure if that’s okay. Like do the client’s goals always trump, or should I be listening to her cause she’s the expert?]
Anyway, all that aside, I see her a few times a week pass my office, and I feel bad for just stopping and not saying anything and it’s not a bridge I want to burn, but maybe it’s fallen down now? Can I send an email? What should it say? Just, “sorry I ghosted, but I’m okay-ish”? Or “I just haven’t been able to make the time/financial/emotional commitment this year”? “i hope you found someone else to make up that income”?
Don’t know how to end
(Female pronouns for both me and my counselor)
Dear Don’t Know How to End,
Counselors are trained to deal with people when they are stressed out, down, scattered, anxious, distracted, and when they have to seriously psych themselves up to make and keep appointments. I would venture that very little about a client “ghosting” is surprising. Since it sounds like you didn’t get a “Hey, did you still want to re-schedule our appointment?/Should I still keep that time window open for you?” check-in message from her, one could make the argument that you mutually ghosted on each other. After 10 months she’s almost certainly found other patients to occupy her time.
Since you run into her around work, and since it’s causing you some mild distress, sending her a message to say, “Hey, I realized that I never followed up with you after we stopped our appointments. Sorry about that! Hope you’re well,” isn’t weird. You don’t have to elaborate. She’ll say something like, “Don’t worry about it, hope you are well, too!” and it will be done.
If you do want to make an appointment and resume sessions with her (maybe even just one, to clear out the cobwebs), that’s not weird either. “I realize I never followed up when we stopped our appointments. I’d like to come back and speak with you if you have any openings?” Therapists are used to this, too. If you wanted to start back to therapy through work, you could ask to meet with someone else in the office. “I enjoyed working with (Counselor) but I feel like we went as far as we could go together. I think it would be useful for me to start sessions again. Would it be possible to make an appointment with someone else?” Your counselor/the other counselors will have been trained to not take this at all personally. It won’t reflect badly on her professionally or make it awkward.
As to your question about whose priorities are more important: Your counselor may be an expert in her field, but you are the expert on your own life. If therapy is not covering the topics you want, it’s okay to raise that directly:
- “I feel like you are guiding our conversations to X topic, but what I really want to talk about today is Y topic.”
- “I realize that X topic is part of the landscape, but Y feels more urgent to me at this time.“
- You could appeal to her expertise. “When I bring up X, you seem to be leading us to talk about Y. Why is that?” “Do you think there is some specific approach we should try?”
- You could ask directly for what you want. “It would be great if you could suggest solutions and keep redirecting our conversation toward solutions and things I could control.” “Today I just need to vent – it’s gonna really bug me if I’m venting and you automatically chime in with a tool or a solution.”
You’re the boss of your own therapy, you won’t make it weird(er) if you say a simple hello to your former counselor, and you deserve to go back and get some counseling if you need it. I hope that helps.