I suppose the preparation for this started sometime in graduate school. Someone in a lecture that I have no clear memory of said something like, “The longer one is a counselor, the chances of having a current client commit suicide goes up.”
And maybe this is surprising to you—because it was surprising to me—but out of my immediate circle of colleagues and fellow counselors, office partners, clinical supervisor, not one of them has lost a client in their private practice to suicide. Sure, in other settings, like inpatient facilities, or community mental health, or crisis services. But losing a client in private practice is different. All of my clients chose me to be their therapist. It wasn’t random, or by accident, or some health insurance bullshit. It is just me and them.
Without a net.
All of this leading up to: in the last few months a current client of my practice ended their life.
Naturally, I want to write about it. Before I was a therapist (and after, actually) I had aspirations to be an unsuccessful fiction writer, so writing has always been my fall back position. Writing about what has happened ideally will help me figure out exactly how I do feel about this and sharing what I can of this experience could benefit others. That last part sounds magnanimous to me. I know psychology and counseling are sometimes called the helping professions, and as much as I may dislike that label, it is true. It’s not like the triumvirate of apathy, anarchy, and assholery are actively improving the world.
Obviously I will not be talking about the client at all. This is simply my attempt at documenting my process.
A fellow writer who also works in the field advised me not to write about this too soon. But that’s not going to work for me. I want to do this now. I may end up writing about it a lot.
Among the support from colleagues and friends, I have been advised to seek out my own therapist, as well as continue consulting with colleagues and continuing my own clinical supervision. That’s a lot of talking, and I am not sure I have anything new to say about it. That’s why I have always liked writing.
But I don’t know how to start. Now that I have identified a wish to write about this specific topic, I can’t finish a paragraph without hating it with extreme prejudice. That’s a pretty good sign that I am feeling a lot of different feelings right now. I’m mad, grumpy, and angry more than usual. I’m isolating to a new level of hermit-dom. And for the first time in my private practice’s existence, I don’t want to be sitting in the office. I don’t want to do my job. Not that I get a lot of invitations to go do something somewhere else, but still.
My first reaction to my own reaction (which should prove right there that I am a bonafide therapist) is to wonder if I will ever know how I feel about this. In a field where we encourage people to examine and reframe so much of their lives, I am finding an inability to “know” what I am supposed to know about what happened. And maybe I never will.
Is that honesty? Or defeat?
Even as I re-read what I have written, I am reminding myself that I need to be more concrete about what I am trying to put down here. Until recently, there was nothing quite as disappointing for me than to realize or be told by a client that I had lost them with my explanation in a session.
As final and as concrete as the idea of suicide is, I can’t get any closer to it with how I am feeling.
And that means something.
It makes me human. It makes me just like everyone else.
Emotions don’t understand concrete.