Bittersweet Thoughts: Saying Goodbye to Agency Work and Hello to Full-time Private Practice

Change is hard for many of us humans; even good change can feel overwhelming and scary. 

I fully admit - change is hard for me (because therapists are people, too, after all). 

photo credit: Sissy McKee Kimbrell (a very supportive friend & colleague) - the day she visited me in my office and freaked out with enthusiasm, "You're really doing this!!" 

I recently left my full-time job as an outpatient therapist for a mental health agency in which I served a diverse population of clients whom I loved deeply. While I would never break the confidentiality of my therapeutic relationships and divulge any details about the individuals and families I saw, I can say these words without revealing identities or breaking any trust. 

I will never forget the time someone said to me during our first meeting, “You need to fix me.” 

My response was, “What if we discover that you’re not broken?” 

Most people come to therapy because they feel broken - or, at the very least, because there is something in their lives that they want to “fix.” Many times our feelings tell us an exaggeration of the truth - especially when we’re saying negative things about ourselves. 

It can take so much effort for a person to open up and make themselves vulnerable with a therapist. Being the person on the receiving end means that I need to take very good care of myself so that clients don’t ever feel they need to take care of me, but it does not mean that I need to become robotic or repress my feelings. 

I fully admit - I think about my clients when they are no longer my clients. (Notice how I use those words together - “my clients”). I grieve when I leave an entire caseload of clients. It is bittersweet for me when clients end therapy on their own (because I am beyond delighted when a person reaches their therapeutic goals, but I know that our relationship is ending and I will miss them); but when a person decides to leave therapy on their own it is very different than the therapist making that decision to leave. All of this is okay - especially since one of the biggest factors determining positive outcomes in therapy depends on the therapeutic relationship. I think that my emotional investment in that relationship is what makes me really good at what I do. 

This was not the first time I had to leave an entire caseload with an agency position, but I believe it may be the last. In some ways this is also bittersweet for me because I have reached my own goals of transitioning full-time into my private practice. I handled things a little differently this time by slowly weaning myself out of my job by reducing hours to part-time and building up my practice on the side. I gave my clients an incredibly long notice and stopped taking any new clients several months before my last day. 

While I have no regrets about my decision for my own needs and the needs of my family, I think it’s important to be honest about my feelings in the face of this big change. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with every person I’ve met in the therapy room and I will always be grateful for the trust I earned and the moments we shared.