By Freddie Cocker
CONTENT WARNING: this article contains brief references to sexual abuse and suicide which some readers may find distressing or upsetting, so please read with caution.
How do you grieve when your therapist dies? This is a question I have been trying to figure out for the last three months.
In October 2020 I accessed private therapy for Eye Movement Desensitisation Processing Therapy (EMDR).
For those who don’t know what EMDR is, it’s a form of therapy which facilitates the accessing and processing of traumatic memories and other adverse life experience to bring these to an adaptive resolution.
I wanted to try EMDR in order to finally tackle the scars and traumas that the one incident of sexual assault I experienced as a child by a primary school bully gave me.
I was recommended to contact this EMDR therapist by a previous therapist who was wonderful and helped me a great deal with my overthinking and rumination anxiety.
She put me in touch with a similarly wonderful woman who began to help me deal with these historical traumas.
I knew deep down that no amount of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), (despite how good it has been in helping me manage my mental health on a daily basis) would help in getting to the heart of this trauma and heal the way my mind thought about it.
Initially, I wanted to do this therapy to address the sexual abuse but I quickly realised that I hadn’t properly addressed all of the other traumas which happened to me at school and which have plagued me to various degrees ever since.
Without going into too much detail about how the therapy works in practice, through it, I was able to heal my mind and address a range of traumas which happened to me, including amongst other things: suicide attempts, cyber-bullying, body image issues and self-harm (which I am now five months clean at time of writing).
When we finally got to addressing the sexual abuse, it was intense, exhausting and I realised that there were so many ticks, behaviour traits and scars which were linked to it, a lot of these I am still not comfortable putting in writing yet (although I am optimistic, I will be able to one day).
The entire treatment was done on Zoom (due to the Covid-19 pandemic) which is in itself a strange experience to get used to, therefore I never got to actually meet her in person.
Despite that, she was an incredibly kind person, who was able to soothe and talk me through incredibly dark moments of the treatment and at the same time push back when I expressed thoughts about myself which were irrational or distorted.
Unfortunately, at around February 2021, I was forced to postpone the treatment due to my financial situation at the time and I was hoping to kick start the treatment back up again once this had improved later in the year.
Little did I know that last session in February would be the last time I spoke to her.
In the middle of May 2021, I was given the tragic news that she had passed away. Initially, I was in complete shock as she had given no indication (and why would she?) that she was ill or in bad physical health. Naturally my mind was puzzled as to what the cause of death was; ‘it wasn’t Covid-19, so what could it have been?’ I was asking myself this question on a weekly basis.
As I came to find out, tragically my therapist had taken her own life. I only disclose this information as it is out there in the public domain already but I have kept all references to her name out of this article in respect to her family and loved ones.
A few years ago, this news might have affected me a lot more deeply than it did. I may have irrationally thought that such was the deep and at times traumatic nature of my therapy that perhaps this would have been a factor in her mental health decline i.e., work burnout etc. Thankfully, I did not think this when I found out the news. I see that as a big positive. However, I cannot say that her passing did not profoundly affect me.
I struggled how to grieve in these initial few weeks. It was not something I was used to. I have grieved for friends, elderly relatives and even other people who had taken their own life but how do you grieve for someone who directly helped you through trauma?
There’s a dark, almost comic irony about the very person who helped you through trauma now creating a new trauma in you following their loss.
What I now realise and perhaps what I should have realised is that even therapists and people who help those who are struggling can be deeply struggling themselves. They can have their own struggles, mental health issues and unfortunately in my therapist’s case, feel like suicide was the only option to end their pain.
It makes me extremely sad to know that she had so much pain underneath surface she was dealing with. At the same time, I have a deep admiration for her that despite that, she was still able to do her job, which involved listening and treating people in huge distress and do it to the best of her ability.
I know her loss has affected the whole of the therapist community in the area in which she lived and worked and I can only imagine the grief that her peers and the other clients she was helping have experienced as a result of her loss. My heart goes out to all of them at this time.
I wanted to write this article to give myself closure on this grief. I know it won’t go away with the snap of my fingers but like all my articles, it has been cathartic to write and I hope it will help anyone else who knew my therapist and stumbles across it.
At time of writing, I am currently weighing up my options as I cannot currently get free EMDR treatment through the health system but equally, I’m still not quite in the best position to start paying for private treatment. However, I know that I still have scars from the sexual abuse that I need to address to be able to move on with my life.
It is a very annoying catch-22 and one that is out of my control for the time being.
Hopefully in the near future, I can finally put these issues to bed and start a new chapter in my life but for now, I will have to live with them.
I hope this article provides a reminder that some of you may know already but might forget from time to time that even the people who always look like they have it together, might be clinging on under the surface.
Freddie Cocker is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Vent.