Here is the final email that I wrote to Zooey. I sent it last night after I got home from classes. I spent about an hour drafting and editing before coming up with this:
I acknowledge your discomfort and thus I will no longer contact you.
Here are my final thoughts on our work together. I think I wrote this more for myself, but I do truly hope that you read it eventually…
I think it’s interesting that you mention the NASW’s code of ethics. I actually consulted the ethical code while in treatment with you, after you terminated treatment, and as a guide to determine how to continue contact with you, post-termination. Thus I know that the code says:
1.06 Conflicts of Interest
(c) Social workers should not engage in dual or multiple relationships with clients or former clients in which there is a risk of exploitation or potential harm to the client. In instances when dual or multiple relationships are unavoidable, social workers should take steps to protect clients and are responsible for setting clear, appropriate, and culturally sensitive boundaries.
It is clear to me that the main guiding principle here is Do No Harm, intended to protect the client rather than to help the therapist set boundaries. At this point, your request that I no longer contact you admittedly appears punitive – a kneejerk reaction to my perceived violation of an apparent boundary that you never made clear, despite the multiple opportunities in which you had to set boundaries, including:
- The 67 office sessions we had.
- The 13 phone sessions we had.
- The session with which you terminated my treatment.
- The final session, which I requested specifically to address issues around termination.
- In response to my previous email on Feb. 3rd(where I specifically stated: “It’s important to me to be appropriate and respectful of both of our space and feelings, so please feel free, at any time, to clarify what you’re comfortable with.” To which you responded only by saying “I appreciate the thoughtfulness you put into contacting me.”).
To me, all of these seem as though they were good opportunities for you to be explicitly clear in your expectations for my behavior. It felt like you were trying to shift all of the responsibility onto me, but ultimately, the fact that I was unable to predict exactly what was and was not acceptable, appropriate, or comfortable to you is not on me. The code of ethics states that the responsibility to set clear and appropriate boundaries was indeed yours.
So perhaps it was not appropriate for me to contact you twice in the three months since termination or to leave a voicemail asking you to call me back so I could “hear your voice”. But how, exactly, was I supposed to know that when you never communicated with me regarding the specifics of post-termination contact?
Also, here is part of the NASW’s ethical code regarding termination of services. I believe this subsection is most relevant:
1.16 Termination of Services
(b) Social workers should take reasonable steps to avoid abandoning clients who are still in need of services. Social workers should withdraw services precipitously only under unusual circumstances, giving careful consideration to all factors in the situation and taking care to minimize possible adverse effects. Social workers should assist in making appropriate arrangements for continuation of services when necessary.
Zooey, you did not take any steps to avoid abandoning me despite your declaration that I was still in need of services. You certainly withdrew your services precipitously, but I do not believe the circumstances were such that you couldn’t have provided continued therapy to help with my transition to a new provider. Perhaps most importantly, you most certainly did not take care to minimize possible adverse effects. I will admit that you did try to assist in making appropriate arrangements for continuation of services, but only AFTER you had already terminated my treatment.
Your final communications to me make it evident that you’re not someone I should have in my life anyway, even peripherally. Your decision to use shame, blame, and the intentional withholding of empathy to assert your point makes that abundantly clear.
Looking back on the last year, I can see that this is also something you did regularly in reaction to me offering you information or responses that seemingly did not help you feel secure and validated about yourself as a person or therapist. My self-awareness, courage, honesty, and willingness to be vulnerable are beautiful gifts that I cherish. I should not have had to constantly recoil because my strength made you feel insecure. And this time, I won’t do it. I am also not accepting any of the shame that you sent me. That shame is yours.
I don’t know why you acted the way you did. I will never know. But I genuinely hope that you use your experience working with me to thoroughly examine the choices you made and will make with future clients.
I offer this feedback to you because I wanted a final chance to express myself in a way that I have previously been unable to because of the dynamic of our relationship. I also firmly believe that we can only grow and reach our full potential when faced with individuals that are willing to give us honest, constructive feedback about our behavior. It is important to know how others perceive us in this world. And it is important to be someone who is willing to stand up and say, “Actually, what you did was NOT okay…”
In fact, as a start, here is an example of how you might have better responded to my request for clarification in a way that is empathic, compassionate, professional, and appropriate:
Your request for clarity shows me I am not being as clear as I thought. I apologize for that.
I completely understand your confusion over the difference between what I have said before and what I am saying now. I originally thought I would be able to receive updates from you, but after careful consideration and supervision, it is my sincere belief that it would cause additional harm to you even if it doesn’t seem like it would. My personal and professional interest in your current and future well-being cannot eclipse your needs, now or in the future.
I understand that this may be a difficult transition for you, but yes, I do believe we should cease all communications so that you can bond therapeutically with your new therapist and treatment team. I know how hard you work in therapy. I feel that the transference of our previous therapeutic alliance is a barrier to that process, and it is incredibly important that you have the opportunity to fully engage in your current treatment.
So this will be my final communication. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for and I truly wish you all the best in your healing journey.
I hope you find this feedback useful. I hope it allows you to reflect on the choices you made and how your behavior may have impacted my life and my treatment. I hope you use it to be better. I deserved better.