When we lose a colleague and friend. Death and the therapist.

Somehow as therapists we often think we are immortal, will always be of service to our clients and colleagues and then we are confronted with often untimely and premature deaths. Our dear colleague and friend Sarah Collings died, on January 10th of a terrible illness.

She had been a stoic in the face of degeneration. She had, or was diagnosed with, MSA some four years ago (Multiple system atrophy is a rare condition of the nervous system that causes gradual damage to nerve cells in the brain. This affects balance, movement and the autonomic nervous system, which controls several basic functions, such as breathing, digestion and bladder control). From being a feisty, vivacious and eye wateringly intelligent and active woman, she became bedbound, needing 24/7 care and lost the power of speech. Many ‘mini deaths’

Sarah and I co-authored a book, which we did some 18 months into the diagnosis. She said it kept her alive. She was in the very first cohort of students when we ran the course from the Whittington Hospital – she walked in, striking, tall, and a force to be reckoned with! She then became a clinical supervisor for our students, actively involved with the lead bodies including AHPP, UKCP and COSRT. She managed to complete her M.Phil. A woman with drive and energy. One of her last public engagements was coming to talk to our students, in a wheelchair, with a tracheostomy to engage them is the field of disability.

Death is something we, as therapists, deal with all the time, sometimes not physical but the death of relationships, the death of biological/organic function, the loss of work or retirement, or loss of savings/income. It may also be the death of a pet, or a long-standing friendship. We may also have clients who are anticipating grief and loss and become stuck/fixed, does anyone really have enough preparation time for the final ending? Equally, we will have clients who come to us after their previous therapist has retired or died and this too is a death. All of this speaks to our work as PRT therapists. It is about relationship.

The question is how we withstand the pain, how we hold the client’s pain without being triggered or activated ourselves. Most of us have experienced death in one form or another, we have felt the shock, numbness, denial and confusion. Our clients may be preoccupied with the loss and if in a couple relationship, become distant and unavailable to their partner. Thereby the partner too feels the loss, albeit differently.

When I, and indeed many others, lost Sarah, which I knew would happen, and many said it was a ‘relief’ and ‘release’ from the terrible challenges of her disease – all of which is true on some level – but I also lost the twinkle in her eye, the half-smile that she could manage right up to the end, the woman who could still listen intently to what was being said and above all the relationship.

The field of PRT lost an amazing practitioner, a woman who could be sharp and soft in equal measure,the loss of whom will be felt for a long time and whose wisdom, humour, sharpness and bravery is a lesson to us all.

Judi Keshet-Orr
Founder and Course Director LDPRT

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