Dear Dr. Barb,
I have been working with a therapist for several years. He is someone I trust, and he knows a lot about me that I have not discussed with anyone else. He recently announced that he will be retiring and that he will help me find a new therapist. This is overwhelming and I feel scared and abandoned. I do not know how to go about finding a new therapist and building a relationship again.
Sad, Scared, and Alone
This is a difficult one. Change is an inevitable part of life and many people we care about and depend on are not as permanent as we would like them to be. This is hard for most people, but for those with ASD it can be overwhelming thanks to difficulty coping with even small changes and more limited social support networks.
First, acknowledge how you are feeling. Anger, sadness, and anxiety are all reasonable responses to the upcoming loss. Acknowledging the feelings as real and legitimate is important. You should feel free to share those feelings with your therapist. However, you also have to acknowledge that your feelings will not change the reality of the change so you will have to find coping tools.
As with all change, figuring out what steps you can take to gain more knowledge and make decisions is important. A professional working with you should offer to help you find a replacement. In some cases, such as with county workers or large clinics, you might be assigned another provider. In other cases, your provider may give you a list of potential providers. You can ask for information about them and even ask to meet them. You should talk with your provider about what you want in a therapist or other provider, including age, style of interaction, and other important factors.
If you have family members or friends who are willing to help, they might work with you to make the initial contact with a new provider and listen to how the potential provider answers your questions. You also may discuss with your therapist how much of what you have discussed in the past you would like to have shared with a new provider.
It may be helpful to look over your past relationship with the current therapist or provider, identify what you have learned and how you have grown, and remind yourself that you have strengths and coping skills that you may not have had when facing previous changes. Remind yourself that things change and it is not because you did something wrong or are a bad person - it is just the way of the world.
You also may want to make a list of other supports that you have: family, other providers, support groups, and friends who can support you in this challenging time. You might list what each person can be expected to do for you. Don't be afraid to ask for this help, even if it's just spending time together.
While change can be unpleasant and even scary, it also is an opportunity for growth. Recognize what this therapist has done for you, while also remaining hopeful that a new provider could bring something new to the table. Good luck!