Therapist of 8 years takes 3 weeks leave to grieve death in the family.

NightSky

MyPTSD Pro
I’ve run up against an issue with my therapist of 8 years. She has been incredible and I think I’ve come really far. But I am very disorganized in my attachment with her and I don’t do well when she cancels last minute. I’m an adult and understand situations warrant it. But she cancels more than most therapists I believe. We’ve worked on it consistently over the years.

She gives me advance notice when she’s taking time off, usually.

In late October she had a death in the family that was expected. She didn’t know exactly when it would happen, but when it did, she took three weeks off. I don’t think that was her original plan. But that’s what she said she needed. I did okay coping with that but had a triggering event happen right toward the end of her leave. I met with her and it was somewhat helpful but I was almost in crisis and just couldn’t regulate well. She told me to be in touch and be honest. So that week when she checked in I was honest that I was having a really hard time. And she said since she wasn’t at capacity it might be necessary that I meet with someone else for a while, especially because she was going to go away again in a week. Which I had no knowledge of.

That put up a wall and made me really angry.

I don’t know if I’m being irrational because I can be in this relationship (and really only this relationship).

One issue I have is that I don’t feel like it’s “real life” that life gets to stop for three weeks in order to grieve. Most of us get a few days and we have to be at work or taking care or responsibilities. It feels like a bit of a credibility issue. Like you’re going to help me learn to grieve when you get to stop the world to do it and I have to work and parent do life at the same speed while grieving. (I also had a major loss in the fall).

In hindsight I feel also that leaving for three weeks with no plan in place and no back up feels like abandonment.

She explained that she’s human and needed to heal to be good for her clients otherwise she knew she wouldn’t be able to help them.

My feelings on this are all over the map. What would you do/say?

I know I can switch therapists but I’m so invested in our work and really don’t want to do that. I want to deal with this rupture in a clear headed way that isn’t driven by anxiously attached parts of me.
 
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One issue I have is that I don’t feel like it’s “real life” that life gets to stop for three weeks in order to grieve.
Bereavement leave, at most major companies/ corporations/ hospitals/ universities / schools is 90days up to 2 years (with your job being held for you, and a temporary replacement minding your position until you return).

The US military allows for 14 days, no questions asked, in addition to any of the 30 days of accrued leave. So you’re looking at 2-6 weeks. More time can & is often granted, depending on the relationship (a child’s death, or spouses death with dependent children than need to be found care, rates more leave than a parent or sibling).

The US military is the nations largest employer. Major corporations, medical, & education? Form the next biggest block.

Outside of the US, in most first world countries with decent social services, you’re actually PAID you salary whilst taking a year off to grieve. Ditto for maternity/paternity leave.

So “real life” only apples to McShitty jobs, and terrible situations, where no one gives a f*ck about you? <<< Might wanna up your standards some.

In hindsight I feel also that leaving for three weeks with no plan in place and no back up feels like abandonment.
To my way of thinking? You can only abandon kids & pets. Everyone else? CAN take care of themselves. I am not a child, nor a pet.

My feelings on this are all over the map. What would you do/say?
Before

Take as much time as you need. If it’s going to be for a few months or more, I should probably find someone on a temp basis to fill in, & double down on my other resources… or …look into a specialty program. Because I’m not in a place to just be living life, right now, and don’t want to lose the momentum. Any recommendations?

After

Great to see you! How are you doing? Up for some 60-second shakespeare on my month without you?

^^^ Neither of which, clearly, is where you’re at. Which appears to be claws & venom & attack mode? Maaaaaaaybe some transferance going on & wanting to punish her for what other people have done, since you’ve been reminded?
 
Bereavement leave, at most major companies/ corporations/ hospitals/ universities / schools is 90days up to 2 years (with your job being held for you, and a temporary replacement minding your position until you return).

The US military allows for 14 days, no questions asked, in addition to any of the 30 days of accrued leave. So you’re looking at 2-6 weeks. More time can & is often granted, depending on the relationship (a child’s death, or spouses death with dependent children than need to be found care, rates more leave than a parent or sibling).

The US military is the nations largest employer. Major corporations, medical, & education? Form the next biggest block.

Outside of the US, in most first world countries with decent social services, you’re actually PAID you salary whilst taking a year off to grieve. Ditto for maternity/paternity leave.

So “real life” only apples to McShitty jobs, and terrible situations, where no one gives a f*ck about you? <<< Might wanna up your standards some.


To my way of thinking? You can only abandon kids & pets. Everyone else? CAN take care of themselves. I am not a child, nor a pet.


Before

Take as much time as you need. If it’s going to be for a few months or more, I should probably find someone on a temp basis to fill in, & double down on my other resources… or …look into a specialty program. Because I’m not in a place to just be living life, right now, and don’t want to lose the momentum. Any recommendations?

After

Great to see you! How are you doing? Up for some 60-second shakespeare on my month without you?

^^^ Neither of which, clearly, is where you’re at. Which appears to be claws & venom & attack mode? Maaaaaaaybe some transferance going on & wanting to punish her for what other people have done, since you’ve been reminded?
Thank you. This is a different perspective for me. It was an elderly father in law. So not spouse or child. I am a teacher. And I know when I lose a parent I will have almost no time off. I get 3 bereaved days a year. I know people take longer leave for spouses and children. In my mind they’re not the same.
Absolutely transference. I know I’m not being very reasonable. I don’t want to punish her at all. I feel for her and her loss. Which is why I came here. For a reality check. So thank you for that!!
You’re right about not being able to be abandoned. So I want to express that feeling while making it clear it’s not about what she did but what it brought up for me. It’s feels tangled.
 
Bereavement leave, at most major companies/ corporations/ hospitals/ universities / schools is 90days up to 2 years (with your job being held for you, and a temporary replacement minding your position until you return).
I work for one of the largest global companies in the world, and we get 3 days. If you need more, you have to take personal time or go on a personal leave (and the position is not guaranteed, and pay is greatly reduced and for a very limited time). I've worked for huge hospitals where people have been denied time off for a funeral, much less given time off to grieve. I'd love to know who offers this much time for bereavement.

So “real life” only apples to McShitty jobs, and terrible situations, where no one gives a f*ck about you?
And the companies I worked for? Definitely NOT shitty--world-renowned, and the current one has the absolute best attitude toward and relationship to employees I have ever seen or heard of.

So that week when she checked in I was honest that I was having a really hard time. And she said since she wasn’t at capacity it might be necessary that I meet with someone else for a while, especially because she was going to go away again in a week. Which I had no knowledge of.

That put up a wall and made me really angry.
Was it her saying she was going away again that made you angry?

I understand that, since you weren't expecting it. I have a similar situation with the T I am/was seeing. We had an agreement that he would let me know ahead of time for planned vacations, because I didn't manage them well. He stopped adhering to it, so I was NOT happy with him. I understood, though, that unplanned time away (which happens to everyone) was unpredictable, so I tried to build up resources to help in those events.

Most of us get a few days and we have to be at work or taking care or responsibilities. It feels like a bit of a credibility issue. Like you’re going to help me learn to grieve when you get to stop the world to do it and I have to work and parent do life at the same speed while grieving. (I also had a major loss in the fall).
Yep. Been there. I lost 12 family and friends in 2008, and I had to work through it all. Unfortunately for us (great for them), therapists and others have the luxury of being able to take off more time.

So...that's just the way it is. We can't change that. We can only try and change our own situation. Way easier said than done. But at a minimum, it would benefit you maybe to find a back-up, invest in alternative therapies that you could attend during these times (massage, animal/equine, etc.), and build your self-care skills so that you are not so badly thrown next time.
In hindsight I feel also that leaving for three weeks with no plan in place and no back up feels like abandonment.
I get that. I disagree with Friday here about not being able to be abandoned by a therapist. Abandonment isn't limited to just those who are physically dependent. You can be abandoned by a spouse, a partner, a physician, or a therapist.

That said, in abandonment, there is typically no expectation that person will come back. But stepping back for a few weeks for self-care? I wouldn't call that abandonment, even though I know it feels like it.
My feelings on this are all over the map. What would you do/say?
I would take care of myself as best I could during this time--draw on skills you've developed, do all those self-care things you can (and if you don't have a list, take this time to make one), and go back when she is ready. Talk to her about the need to make a plan for when this happens again, because it will happen again.
I know I can switch therapists

Sure you can. Except that life is unpredictable, and there's a very good chance something similar might happen with anyone you see.
 
I work for one of the largest global companies in the world, and we get 3 days.
Are you sure you aren’t mixing up funeral leave (3 days, paid, by law, & does not need to be consecutive) and bereavement leave? The bare minimum is usually covered by FMLA (13 days), but up to 24mo in unpaid leave is pretty durn standard. Up to 12mo for personal reasons unspecified, or (not in addition to) 24mo following profound loss.

Maaaaaany of the better companies out there will also either keep you on stipend during unpaid time off -&/or- keep you on their health insurance, flex spending, daycare, EAP, etc.

Just interning for 3mo with my friend’s (nation wide) cancer clinic, I filled out hundreds of these applications for grieving families. As long as the death certificate was valid & the request came through the clinic or social work team to HR? Success rate was near 100%. The few that were denied, were usually clerical errors, most commonly someone in HR mixing up bereavement with funeral, and easily fixed.

Because if you aren’t mixing things up? Your company sounds pretty durn lousy in the benefits department. Very few people ever use bereavement leave, so they’re missing out on the tax breaks that come from offering a program they almost never have to pony up on. That’s seeeerriously shoot myself in the foot level of Miserly.

* ETA … I was shocked, in the beginning, how many kudos/benes so many companies offered, and some were truly Scandanavian in scale; until I was laughed at, that corporations are offered loads of tax breaks to have employee benefit packages that kept people off of govt. assistance programs in times of crisis. From the oh so common EAP to the almost never used Bereavement packages. That the tax breaks alone would profit most of the companies far more than they ever actually paid out. Oh. Common business sense, then? Yep. Plus? If we do the paperwork, HR practically drools, since they don’t have to. They just have to rubber stamp it. Gotcha!
 
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I agree with @whiteraven and as I lost my dad a few short months ago I can say I’m certain. Work policy is 5 days. I am a salaried employee and I’ve worked my entire life and know 3-5 to be the policy for everyone I’ve ever known in any field in my state. I mean I can take my personal
Time off or FMLA but bereavement is 3-5 days.

That being said I think it’s exceedingly unfair for anyone to judge someone else for the amount of time they need to bereave.
One issue I have is that I don’t feel like it’s “real life” that life gets to stop for three weeks in order to grieve. Most of us get a few days and we have to be at work or taking care or responsibilities. It feels like a bit of a credibility issue.
Maybe you’re confusing what your therapist wants you to achieve. Mine would want me to feel my feelings instead of bottling them up only to press on. Maybe that’s my message because I have no problem functioning in the real world. So my therapist taking 3 weeks to feel his feelings would be him doing what he’d want me to do. Would I like it? Absolutely not. Would it be hard on me? Hell yes. Would I understand? Absolutely.
 
Grieving takes time. And therapists have the kind of job where they absolutely can’t show up at work and carry on while they’re in personal emotional turmoil. That would be way worse than them simply taking leave.

My last pdoc lost her dad while she was treating me, and she took at least a fortnight I think it was. I told her to take more if she needed it. That was entirely self-serving. No way did I want her personal shit entering the therapy room.

I know people who haven’t taken no leave when their parent has died, and people who have taken a week when their pet died. I don’t think a ‘standard’ is particularly helpful when people are grieving.

I reeeeeally rate Ts who are able to exercise some personal insight about when they’re not in the right headspace to come to work. It’s not about abandoning you, it’s about making sure they can do their job, and not contribute to your own pain, by bringing their mess into the therapy space.

And she said since she wasn’t at capacity it might be necessary that I meet with someone else for a while
This is the backup plan. It’s not a particularly comprehensive plan, and it’s probably not a plan you like. But in terms of taking leave “with no plan”? Letting you know that you should reach out to another professional support for crisis’ assistance in the interim is a plan. And for smaller practices, a pretty standard one.
 
I totally agree with @Sideways here.

My therapist took a couple of weeks off when her parent passed, and I would have been happy for her to have taken more if she’d felt like she needed it. I don’t want a therapist showing up who can’t be fully present, and given that probably a lot of clients are going to be talking about parents? Sure as hell the therapist needs to be certain they can handle that for 7/8 clients straight.

So can you look at it differently - that this is your therapist modelling self care, knowing when to step back and take some time to get her ducks in a line again?

Your therapist isn’t abandoning you, she’s just stepping back & will be right back when she’s in the headspace to do so. She’s been communicating openly with you, she’s made a plan with you - I’m not sure what else you actually want her to do here? Other than come to work while she’s grieving and has told you she’s not in the space to be able to help you sufficiently.
 
Idk much, except that where I am (one of the largest local employers and a care giving field), it is 4 (or 2, depending on relationship, i.e. there is zero for friend, 2 for aunt or uncle, 4 for spouse or child) bereavement days, normally has to be consecutive, and we fought in the Union for who would be included as a qualifier (eg relative residing in the same house; same sex partner, step children, etc). We have no personal or flex days and Vacation not usually approved outside of what is requested months before, especially in Peak Seasons. Depends on the strength of your Collective Agreement, and your Employer.

But that aside, I can think of 6 things:

1. It is an awfully stressful field, and people can't do more than they can do. And people can't pivot on a dime, and they have feelings and needs and a life too. I agree it sets a healthy example.

2. Anger often comes from hurt or betrayal or feeling as such. From what you've said it's more how she delivered (or didn't) the info than not sharing the info. Having an expectation or hope that it would feel she took in to consideration the gravity for you and would communicate accordingly. Not to cancel her leave but to inform you. (i.e. was she honest about what she intended for a while). deciding if you trust her or if she's trustworthy.

3. If you've known her 8 years caring for her as a person you wouldn't want to make it worse for her. i hate to be direct but it's an inclination for most of us humans (well, speaking of myself anyway) to be selfish or self-centered.

4. Abandonment is a strange word, not one I can really define. Perhaps abandoned-more-by-the-Universe might align with the feeling? (aka bad luck. And simply being OOL). The lacking resources/ 'now what?' feeling.

5. Grief is a strange thing, and can be cumulative: another loss can break the camel's back. I don't think it's as easy as saying there is less grief for A (elderly) vs B (different age or relationship). Really it depends more on the relationship, just as many people grieve their pets (genuinely) more than some relatives. she could have many other stressors too (likely), and who knows what else is going on in her life, no one can say any person should feel or not feel this-or-that. Were it as simple as saying x-should-equal-y most of us wouldn't be on the forum (aka as, ~Get over it/ it's passed).

6. This is supposed to be temporary. It may be or it may be not.

I suppose understanding what makes it a rupture or makes it feel like a rupture is very important. Not to justify feelings but to put it in perspective, and also to not repeat what isn't useful or is harmful. And yes I think for all people it comes back to a large degree to childhood wounds and lessons, even core beliefs. in some ways it might also trigger your own grief or fear(s).

ETA One of my sister's ex-fiances died a short time ago; I overheard her drinking and crying and saying, "Why did you go die on me?" Makes sense to 'feel', even if it makes no sense to level responsibility there. Many people and most of us here have lost a lot through our lives. One more loss never makes it feel easier, it's the opposite. Maybe it feels the same for her too?
 
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Thanks so much for these perspectives. My irl people are mostly saying what she did was wrong. But I do trust her and do want her to heal and grieve and that’s important for our work. I don’t want to be angry with her and I agree it’s transference. I want to work on that with her without letting anger (hurt over past wounds) drive the bus.
 
Idk understand what she did wrong? It's important for her to heal and grieve for herself, as it is also important for you to heal and grieve.

Idk, but I think sometimes (in general) when a service is purchased or provided people forget it's another human being doing so.. Whether it's a clerk at the store Christmas shopping, a plumber, or anyone else. Yes they are expected to do what they know, are trained for, and are paid for (by yourself directly also), but 'human-with-feelings-and-needs-and-strengths-and-limitations' might be the more important word there.

Does that make sense @NightSky ? (i am sorry I am confused. ). Can you explain more what you feel she did wrong, (if the others are commiserating with you) ? It might help you isolate what's driving how you feel.

Best wishes btw. I don't mean to sound harsh, or minimize your feelings. I's brave to talk about it. (Not easy either, even if the typical client/ patient is 'supposed' to be able to do so- that's the same kind of thing).

Good luck. Hugs to you if accepted.
 
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