Saying “goodbye” can stir a variety of emotions including sadness, anger, and relief. The whole experience can feel quite uncomfortable, so is it better to say “goodbye” or to say nothing at all? Clearly, the more thoughtful and courteous action would be to leave with at least some type of acknowledgement (a wave, a handshake, the verbalization of “goodbye,” etc), though it might be less anxiety-provoking to slip away unnoticed.
In the context of terminating treatment in Psychiatry, there are various reasons why treatment between the psychiatrist and a patient may end:
- a patient wishes/chooses to end treatment
- the psychiatrist gets a new job, retires, or leaves the practice
- the patient changes insurance plans
- the patient moves
- the psychiatrist passes away
For the sake of this post, I will focus on what I’m currently experiencing — saying goodbye to patients due to a new job. In this situation, the ending of treatment is not the patient’s choice, which can stir a combination of emotions such as abandonment, sadness, loss, betrayal, anger. Though some psychiatrists may feel that sending a letter or written notice informing of their leave will suffice (I won’t get into the complex legal aspects here), effort should be made to ensure that the patient does not feel at fault for the termination of treatment (ie, a patient may feel that the doctor is ending treatment because the doctor doesn’t like them, etc). Which is exactly the reason a termination phase (or at the very least, a final session) is crucial to help process emotions that may come up, allot a decent amount of time to coordinate transfer/continuity of care, and most importantly, to provide closure (for both the patient and psychiatrist).
In the last few days, I’ve experienced random moments of feeling sad and numb. Some of my followers on Snapchat may have noticed my absence of posts for over one week (I usually post on a daily basis). My videos are generally motivated by something exciting from my day or a psychiatric tidbit of knowledge that I wish to share, however I haven’t been as inspired lately. Even while writing this post, I’m interrupted by moments of abruptly staring into space and my mind wandering to more superficial thoughts such as shopping, what to make for dinner, and celebrity gossip.
With only a few weeks left until my final day in clinic, I fight the urge to flee and avoid the discussion of termination. But then I refocus and put my psychiatrist hat on and consider the potential impact that avoidance of the topic may have on my patient. However, the professional aspect of fulfilling my duty and ensuring proper transition to another provider for continuation of care is the easier part. The more difficult aspect is letting go of the strong connections that I’ve built with my patients, especially those who watched me grow from a newbie psychiatrist straight out of residency to one they grew to depend on and trust.
Despite the complex mixture of emotions, I know that I’m doing what’s best for me personally and professionally by taking this next step in my career. Yet, if I’m having a tough time, imagine how my patients must feel.