A while ago quite by accident I happened to see a photo of a woman I saw in therapy many years ago. I recognized the name — the face, like mine, has aged and I probably would not have recognized her had I seen her on the street.

And that set  in motion in my mind’s eye a kaleidoscope of  remembered patients now long gone from my life; of patients I saw years ago; kids from the therapeutic nursery program I oversaw more 40 years ago. What ever happened to those kids? The child who was electively mute? The one with feet scalded by an angry mother?  The man who struggled with a serious physical illness? The women who were my Handless Maidens? Among many others.

Because that’s the thing about being a therapist. Patients pass through our lives. And unlike friends, who, even when contact is lost, we can locate again and find out how they are doing, patients, when they leave, may or may not ever contact us again. That’s part of the deal, one of the things we have to accept from the beginning. These people who become an intimate part of our lives, sometimes for years, may very well, when they leave, leave us behind except in memory. And when the desire to know how they are arises in us, we have to be satisfied with not knowing. 

When my daughter was born, we chose for the announcement a phrase I had read somewhere — A child is someone who passes through our lives on the way to becoming an adult. And maybe a variant of that is apropos for therapy and therapists — a patient is someone who passes through our lives on the way to becoming.

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