Therapists and Social Media

As human beings we are remarkably terrible at understanding what it is we actually want. I was reminded of this yet again today when I looked up Zooey on social media. Let’s just say it did not feel great.

About six months into seeing her, one of us decided to conduct a more thorough investigation into Zooey’s online presence (*coughJuliacough*). So on top of what we already knew from our initial research before even meeting her (age, schools attended, years graduated, degrees obtained, additional training, previous job positions), we also learned that she has two younger sisters who are married, two nephews, two nieces, a living father, a step-mom, possibly a living mother, and some sort of gentleman friend. From there, it was stupid easy to find their social media pages.

We haven’t actually looked at any of the pages in several weeks. But seeing how it’s the one year mark of when she came into our life, I suppose we were longing for connection and decided to see what everyone has been up to. Turns out her sister came to see her last weekend for her birthday. They hung out and took a selfie at a local market. And Zooey changed her own profile picture to a photo of her celebrating her birthday. Someone left a comment saying it was “so good to see her happy and smiling”….what does that mean? Is she not normally happy and smiling? If not, why?

So of course in a natural human-as-narcissist manner, I jumped to the conclusion that I had made her so miserable as her client that other people knew about it. So then I wondered – did she talk about me (anonymously) to her friends and family? Do they know how much of a challenge our therapeutic relationship was for her? Did they also advise her to refer me out? Were they telling her things like, “You just can’t help her anymore” or “This has gotten to be too much for you”??

Then, of course, there’s the obvious pain of realizing that she has this entire life that does not involve me at all. I always knew this on some level because clearly her personal life is separate from her professional. But now I am not even part of her professional life. I am not part of her life at all.

I hope that is not always true. I am connected to two of my former long-term therapists. We’re not friends by any means, But they’re a peripheral part of my life. We are Facebook “friends”, we send each other emails and holiday cards. I update them on what’s going on in my life and see them every couple years for lunch or coffee. It’s very casual and reserved, but I know they are there. I know we are thinking about each other and that, somehow, we are connected.

I want that so much for Zooey and I in the future. I don’t want to be forgotten. I don’t want to forget her. I want us to always remember how important our relationship was and how important the work was that we did together. I want to always be connected to each other and I want her to be part of my life in some manner. I don’t know whether it’s helpful or destructive to be looking her up on social media. It’s sorta neither. It hurts, but it helps me process the reality of the situation. And, at the same time, allows me to feel connected to her in some strange tangential way.

I am happy to know I am not alone in this need to connect to my (former) therapist. Tumblr has an entire subculture of therapy clients that write about their efforts to learn more about their therapists. A popular therapist/blogger named Ducky answers endless questions about this and has a whole “inside joke” in which she refers to it as TSU, short for Therapist Stalkers Searchers United. Obviously we are not genuine stalkers, but I appreciate the humor she uses to approach this emotionally-charged topic. The therapeutic relationship is unlike any other relationship and there’s no denying that it’s difficult to navigate at all stages.

I don’t know what the future has in store for Zooey and I. She said that she welcomed updates about my life, so perhaps it will never be more than an occasional email. Perhaps it will eventually evolve into more. I hope it does. I hope I get to physically see her again at some point. But for now, it’s nice just to see random photos, even if they are from a life I have no access to.

Also: Happy Birthday, Zooey. I hope it was lovely.

UPDATE: Never-mind. She made it pretty clear that she does not ever want to hear from me again. Read here or here for that ridiculous saga. Trust me, I’m better off.