12th December 2019

The death of a therapist, coach or mentor – how to cope.

Coping with the death of a therapist, coach or mentor (c) KarinSieger.com

The death of a therapist, coach or mentor can be hard to cope with, especially if you have established a close bond, if the death is sudden and if there was no shared ending – no good bye.

I know. It happened to me.

Let me explain why this loss can be extra hard and what to do. I also offer one off support to help those affected by the death of their therapist, counsellor, coach or mentor to reach appropriate closure and peace with this experience.

1. Why can the death of a therapist, coach, mentor or other trusted support be so difficult to cope with?

When therapy, coaching or mentoring work well, the other can become an important person in our life. When this alliance works really well, the other can become the one person, that knows more about us than most or even anyone else. And their death is bound to hit us hard.

Depending on your own experience you may know what I mean, or not. You may agree, or not. And that is ok, too.

Therapy, coaching or mentoring can work for different people in different ways. And sometimes it does not work out.

The fact that you are reading this article suggests you may have been affected by the death of a trusted source of support and understanding.

You may

  • have started on a process of discovery, processing or finding solutions and your goal has not yet been reached;
  • feel like hanging in the air, perhaps worse than when you started;
  • dread having to start the whole thing all over again with someone else;
  • not want anyone else.

You may be left with mixed feelings, including anger, disappointment and a sense of abandonment.

When your therapist, coach or mentor dies, then you may feel very alone and not easily understood by others in your grief:

“It’s not like they were family or friends, right? They provided a service. It was their job. They got paid for it. You will find another … If you feel so much grief, then perhaps you got too close, and then perhaps it was not good or professional support  ….”

When it happened to me, the shock was immense. I was in the middle of a major health and existential crisis. There was no warning, no good bye, no funeral to go to, very few people to talk to about it, and very few people understood, why this was so painful. I needed to figure out what to do for the best.

2. Suggestions to help you cope

  • Depending on the circumstances of your own experience, you may be offered some help by others, who your therapist, coach or mentor may have instructed in the case of their death.
  • You may want to think of a ritual / ceremony / activity  – an act of remembrance and letting go you can do by yourself, in your own good time.
  • You may want to re-visit the place or the neighbourhood where you met, and through the physical closeness find the start of closure. This may be painful, but it can be an invaluable start.
  • Whether you had face-to-face, online or telephone meetings, you may want to think about setting aside some time on the same day and at the same time, when you would have had your session. Have a session by yourself, in a place where you feel comfortable, safe and private. There, try and have an imaginary conversation with the other. Talk about how you feel. Say what you want to say. See how you feel. You might need this ‘session’ a few times before you can say good-bye.
  • You can write a letter. Putting feelings into words can help process difficult emotions and get some perspective, clarity and direction.

Here is what I did Letter to my dead therapist – Read More

3. Support I offer

If you would like some help with working out what you need to find closure, then you might like to know that I offer one off consultations in person or online. This can give you a chance to talk things over, have someone listen and help you explore, what is right for you to grief and find some closure.

4. In summary

The death of a therapist, coach or mentor can affect us in many ways. The loss and grief can be complex and you need to take extra care.

Feel free to use your imagination and think bold in terms of ‘what’ and ‘when’ may work best for you.

Grieving and closure are personal and should not be rushed. But neither is it good to get stuck in the grief process and suffer in silence.

Image courtesy of Escher

Thanks to all my readers, my website is among the Top 10 UK Psychotherapy Blogs


 

11 Comments

  1. Hi Karin, I found your website as I searched for help in coping with the loss of my therapist. I had been going to him 4 years and just recently was learning to feel the safety at a level I have never known. I was able to begin work on getting angry and feeling at a depth that was always something I was afraid of. I was raised to not recognize any feelings but happy. I am 72 years old and have a lot of grief behind me but with the help of this man I was willing to work at it as long as he would. He was an extremely young 78yrs old and loved learning anything new that could help his patients. He had cut down his practice to 2 days a week but the time and depth of caring that he gave was amazing. He was killed in a car crash 1 week ago yesterday and I am not sure I can get through this alone. Thank you for your site. Just reading and seeing your picture makes me feel that you are a very caring person and are possibly very similar to my therapist in your approach.

    • Hi Christine, thank you for reading and commenting. I am so sorry to hear about your therapist’s tragic death and your tragic loss. It sounds like the time spent working with him has been special, transformative and of help. I hope that in time that memory and its impact on you will offer you support, solace and guidance in coping with his loss. With best wishes. Karin

  2. Hello Karin,
    Thank you for this bereavement guide to we who never hoped to need it. I have had a therapist, mentor, friend who had guided me for years till one day he vanished from practice. His employer would not share any details, only that all his patients had become divided into two groups and reassigned to new doctors. It took me five months of searching for an answer of what was his reason for his untimely disappearance when I came upon his obituary. I was shocked in disbelief as he had never disclosed a heath concern of his own and his age was only 65 years. I learned from our time together beginnings have an end, and ends can be new beginnings. So I will continue my path with his memory brought to my next beginning. Never the less, I thank you for sharing this wisdom of understanding as his loss, my loss, has been unique and I had no idea if my feelings were natural or misplaced.

    • Thanks you for reading and commenting on my article, Nicholas. I am sorry to hear of the death of your confidante and the way in which communication (or lack of) was handled. This is often done in the name of the “therapeutic boundary”, and protection of the client’s feeling. Also it can be argued, that organisations / colleagues don’t know how the therapist who has died would have wanted such communication handled. Having been there on both sides I would argue for openness and transparency. The pain of not knowing and possibly doubting the integrity and honesty of the therapist who has “gone” or “disappeared” is too much of a risk. I am glad there is something valuable and powerful you can take forward from your time together. With best wishes. Karin

      • Hello Karin,
        Thank you for the prompt response. I am aware of the theory and practice of “therapeutic boundary”, and agree it has merit and room for improvement. My issue is the created feeling of abandonment that an organization can project in not offering any real type of closure for individuals under their care. It, in my opinion, leads to loss of trust and potentially fear of future use by individuals whom previously took refuge in their program. I know each person’s experiences are unique on to themselves, so I speak for myself, but I feel that in creating an obvious condition of doubt and/or trust loss, the effectiveness and opportunity of such programs and environments can be set back years or permanently removed. I have visited these emotions since making my own personnel decision to my particular matter, but share my experience so that my feedback may potential effect the outcome of another in a positive aspect. Thank you so much for your article and assurance that my feelings were in fact natural. I wish you and all you seek to help the best in life.

  3. Karin,
    My therapist is still alive but he is in his 70s. I can’t help but worry and feel sad about when he passes away. I am scared and sad for that day.

    • Hello Cindy, thanks for your comment. I think it would be worth discussing your feelings about losing him and death / mortality in general with your therapist. This could be a really important part of the therapy. Best wishes. Karin

  4. My teenage years therapist just died. Aftet therapy he became a friend and we sometimes worked together as I became a psychologist as well. Now he died all of a sudden I feel like I lost my father again. I feel like noone will understand me again like he did. I am devastaded.

    • Dear Konstantina, I am sorry for your loss. There is probably not much I or anyone can say at this stage to make it better. The initial stage of such a pain cannot be penetrated or “made better” by well meant words or reasoning. You have got to get through that somehow. But what a special connection you have shared, and probably enriched each other. In time, I worked through it by remembering what my therapist used to say, or I imagined what he might have said. A bit like what we call “the internal supervisor”. We would laugh, when I said I carried him (my therapist) on my shoulder. Even (or should I say – especially) in grief the relationship became stronger, and I have grown through it. It has certainly enriched me as a person and the work I am doing. I trust you will find your own unique way of working it through. You, like we all, will have your internal wisdom to guide you through the pain and beyond. My best wishes for you. Karin

Share your comments here

Your email address will not be published.


*