Growth in Goodbye Kathryn Van der Heiden
Three years after she abruptly walked out of my office, she wrote me a note. I was surprised to receive it and remember the trepidation with which I opened the envelope. Our last session had been a difficult one and had ended suddenly with a phone cancellation. I had been seeing her for less than a year and she had been working on her difficulty in relationships with men and others. She presented as depressed and her affect was muted, her voice often hard to hear. She presented as a victim, someone who just did not know why she could not form lasting relationships; why people left her seemingly without warning. She complained about her loneliness and her lack of friends. She was not an unattractive woman, nor was she unintelligent, but it was clear that she was repressed. She had grown up in a home that was fairly placid though she described her mother as controlling and her father as absent. Sometimes, in the session, it felt difficult to maintain conversation and contact. She retreated into silence. I don't remember exactly what I said on the day that our therapy relationship ended but it was something that provoked a reaction in her that took me by surprise. I suspect that her reaction surprised her as well. What happened is that, after I spoke, she threw her shoe at me. It was a high-heeled pump and she threw it hard in the direction of my head. Thankfully it missed its mark as I reflexively jerked to the side. I grabbed the shoe, looked right into her eyes and said with clarity and intensity without yelling, "I have no problem with your being angry and we can talk about what made you respond the way you just did....but DON'T YOU EVER THROW YOUR SHOE OR ANYTHING ELSE AT ME AGAIN. You could have hurt me." Her face was red and she was breathing hard. She put her shoe on. The time for the session was at its end and I said that I would see her next time. She called a few days later to say that she would not be back. At the time I worried that I had been too harsh. I wondered if I had shamed her in a way that would be detrimental. I did not make a habit of speaking so directly and emphatically to my clients. Then I let it go until the envelope arrived, and my anxiety flared just a bit, as I wondered what she could be wanting after all of this time. The note was a thank you note, the kind you buy by the dozen in a grocery store. She wrote that she was getting married in a few months and wanted me to know how grateful she felt for the therapy she had received from me. In particular she wanted to thank me for that last session. She regretted that she had thrown her shoe at me and was grateful that I had not been hurt. More importantly, she wanted to let me know that it was the first time in her life that she felt seen, and that her actions toward another person really mattered. She wished she had possessed the fortitude then to come back and work through the issues with me, but that in and of itself, that moment was transformational. She wished me well and wanted me to know that because of that interaction she was able to move forward and finally allow herself to love and be loved.
Kathryn Van der Heiden practices in Dayton, Ohio.