When you learn how to do therapy, you study different theories and do some role playing in your classes. You sit in and observe your mentors doing initial interviews and maybe a session or 2, but overall it's like being thrown into the deep end of the pool when you're 6.
After seeing John for about a year and a half, he went into the hospital around this time of the year and he never came out. I heard from his wife via email that he'd passed away in early December. It's pretty rare to have a client die as a therapist in general, let alone this early in your training. I had such a flood of emotions. And I wondered if it was appropriate for John's therapist to show up at his funeral. The #1 tenet of this job is you always protect confidentiality. If I showed up, his family and friends would ask who I was. I could lie, I suppose. I talked at length with my supervisor about all of this, and I decided not to go. I did email John's wife and let her know what an impact he'd had on me, but she never replied.
Joe was one of my clients who I worked with at the Veterans Administration (VA) hospital during my internship year (5th year of graduate school). Joe had paranoid schizophrenia since he was in his early 20s and was in his early 50s when I saw him. We worked together for a year and he taught me more than any book could about life with schizophrenia. Joe was well known at the VA since he went there most days for classes in the program they had for people with more serious mental illnesses. I'll never forget how he described life with his condition:
It's like living in a dark room, all the time, but there's this dim light in the corner that you reach out to...and sometimes you can get to it, but usually it's just out of your grasp.
I learned that Joe passed away about 8 months after I'd finished my year at the VA from a brain aneurysm. The doctors had missed it when he went to a non-VA emergency room because they assumed his symptoms were due to schizophrenia (something that happens more often than it should). This time, I did attend the funeral service as several people from the VA were going. It still felt strange to be sitting there in the church with Joe's family up ahead of me, but I was glad I was able to pay my respects to my client this time.
“Through others we become ourselves.” ―Lev S. Vygotsky