A Letter to My Therapist

How Gestalt therapy helped me work through the grief of my mother’s death

Dear Anna,

I am thinking so much clearer since I started these sessions with you.

When I settle down in that comfortable beige chair in your warm beige room with the thick beige rug, I don’t always feel at ease. I never know how to start. Sometimes I’ll ask, “how are you?” and sometimes I’ll just look at you and say, “So my grandmother died”. And you’ll sigh, as though the words hit you with something physical. Like you really feel me.

You genuinely care about me. And that’s the nicest thing that €60 can buy. This is time dedicated to me. It’s a lesson in empathy, even though therapy is, arguably, one of the most selfish things you can pay for.

I came here wanting to find out who I am; wanting some kind of diagnosis. But that’s not your job. You reflect and react to my problems with the objective view of a well-informed outsider.

Do I have anxiety? What kind? Am I a hypochondriac? Is this depression? How do I know which thoughts are caused by depression and which are true? Am I a terrible person? How do I stop being anxious? I still have a lot of questions.

But some days we’ll just sit down and play musical instruments because I have nothing left to say.

I don’t often like silences, so I feel the need to fill them. There’s a slight desperation in the way that I want you to really know who I am, because then at least someone will. I don’t want to die a mystery. I don’t want to be misunderstood.

I fear losing memories of my mother or remembering her wrong. This is a space where you ask the right questions and encourage me to talk about who she was. I need that.

I’m doing alright. I don’t feel worse. And somehow I broke the barrier that was stopping me from being able to find a comfortable distance from this trauma. I can be honest with you and you reflect back nice things.

Death is never easy. In a strange way, I feel better having known grief: at least there’s a reason for the depression now.

Sometimes I feel like a storm-battered house on the edge of a cliff looking down at a raging sea. Sadness for me isn’t ever new. It’s just like looking down into the void that’s always there. The clouds are gathering again. Batten down the hatches.

Metaphors make things easier to talk about. They distance you from the problem, give you the confidence of an outside observer. And that’s what you are: a non-partisan observer.

The way you can distill a problem really hits home sometimes. Because I hadn’t thought about it like that before. Once in a while, you’ll say something that I feel like I already knew, I just wasn’t able to put it into words. It jolts things into falling into place, and making sense a bit more.

It doesn’t always feel like we’ve achieved anything. Sometimes I’ll walk home thinking, “Was that worth it? How do I feel any different?” Therapy is a slow process of change. For me, there were no sudden breakthroughs. I am not fully healed, but I am less broken.

You’ve given me the ability to cope with stressful situations and reminded me that despite the horrible amount of loss I’ve had to deal with, I’m still here. I’m still alive. I’m still breathing.