When a therapist passes...where do clients turn?
Just one week ago, our San Diego Emotionally Focused Therapy Community lost an integral member. He was part of the EFT community at large in many states as well, finishing his doctorate at Alliant University here in San Diego, integrating into the DMM therapy community and perfecting his music, bread-making skills and much much more.
Ben was a dear friend. His death, at 33 for medical reasons, was shocking, to say the least--a healthy young man died too soon. Myself and our community at large are reeling from his untimely death. We gathered just two hours after learning of his death last Friday night at his supervisor and dear friend's home. Most of us in shock, hugging each other, sharing some funny stories, and mostly crying. Many of us have had a tough time sleeping this week, canceled some clients on some days, and gathered in many different ways to comfort one another.
Ben had a profound impact on EVERYONE he met. His reach was incredibly wide. The man was so damn talented. A genius. A lover of mankind. And funny as hell.
We have each other to process with. His family, as devastated as they are, have us and all of his extended family to turn to, as hard as it is to imagine what that must be like. But his clients...where do his clients turn now that their therapist is gone? Yes, we have a protocol of calling and referring to other therapists, but when a client has shared their intimate space with a therapist, I can imagine they feel incredibly alone. Their work with Ben was confidential and no one they know knew him and could understand his impact and the professional but intimate relationship created by a therapist and client.
It's been in my space thinking about this--our clients.
Therapists don't often get feedback on the impact of their work with clients. Sometimes a client will share what the process has provided with the therapist, but many times when clients feel better, they exit therapy (as it should be!). This week, some of the clients (their names were known only to Ben's supervisor) gave permission to share (via email) Ben's impact on them as they learned of his death. Some shared how Ben had saved their life.
Clients don't often know how much they touch us...sitting with them in their dark spaces, in their difficult relationships is SUCH an honor. We take our work seriously and are so intentional about helping them out of difficult spaces or patterns. Perhaps we should share that more...I try to, but sometimes forget. But each and every client touches me in some way and I learn more about them, the world, and deep pain. I sit with it daily and am emboldened to work harder, faster, and better from my work. It is such an honor to sit I that space with them.
I know Ben and I talked about this--he was often philosophical about everything and we had a good discussion...and then Ben would always end something serious with something funny.
As a mother of three adult children, my heart has been hurting immensely for his parents and sister--Ben was very close to his family. And of course, for his clients. Much of Ben's community are therapists and we are doing our best to comfort one another in our collective loss of a man who touched us all in deep ways.
Writing is how I best grieve--putting words to my feelings and heart ache as I miss him in the ways he was in my life, as I see my colleagues who spent even more time with him outside the office, and as I think of what it must be like for his clients as they grapple with starting over again with someone new.
Ben left a legacy of love and care for EVERYONE he met and I am choosing to continue his legacy by living my best life, using my talents to benefit others, and taking more time to check in with people I am surrounded by. And of course, continue to strive to do my best work with my clients, like Ben did.
I found these articles on grieving a therapist who dies suddenly and hope it reaches others who need it.
I just know that I needed to write about Ben, and do something productive with my grief, because his legacy is deep and wide and my heart hurts--and for all of my friends, his family, and his clients.
With love & gratitude,
Kimberly Sandstrom, LMFT, is an EFT Couples Therapist in San Diego, CA. You can read more about her work and practice here.