When a Client Ghosts Their Therapist

I was recently asked to describe what it's like for a therapist when a client ghosts them. I've had a few experiences of clients who have just stopped coming and don't return my phone calls after missed sessions. That has only happened for me after one or two sessions. When the therapy gets much further than that, we've usually developed enough of a relationship that clients feel comfortable letting me know that they need to stop for some reason. 

I assume in the cases where I never hear from a client again that either the client just didn't click with me and didn't know how to handle talking with me about that, or they were not yet ready, after all, to work on the issues that brought them in. I never judge someone who stops coming to therapy. Therapy can be hard work, and a person may not be in the right place in their life for it. Also finding a good fit with a therapist is very important, and it can be challenging to figure out what to do if you meet with one who doesn't feel like a good fit. A phone call to let me know is nice, but I get that it can feel fraught with interpersonal issues, and therefore too much to deal with at a tough time in a person's life.

When a client I've worked with for at least one session disappears, I always contact them after the first missed session, or if they don't get back to me to schedule another session. I think it's important to let them know that I'm there, whenever they are ready. And, on the other hand, I think it's really important not to continue to contact a missing client. I don't want them to feel like they have to come back for my sake, when that's not the right decision for them. So, there is a balance between letting a person know that they can come back, and letting them disappear. Ideally, I want them to feel that whatever option they need is open. 

What I wish I could tell clients who quit therapy like this is that they've made an impression on me. Every person has a story, and I've never heard a client's story that didn't move me. I never forget a client, even if I've only talked to them one time. There is always a sense of wondering what it was that made them disappear, and how they fared after they left.