On Walking Away, On Choosing Again

For the second time since graduating with my masters in counseling, I’ve chosen to walk away from providing therapy to anyone. The following post is more personal than some. This is what healing, and living, really mean.

Photo: Kyle Glenn on Unsplash
Try, Try Again

During my first go-round as a therapist in 2019-2020, I was still struggling through my Celexa taper. I was also struggling to reconcile all the ways that working in the system felt wrong, especially in light of everything I was learning on my withdrawal journey. And I was struggling to reconcile all the ways I was profoundly under supported while trying to find my footing as a new therapist. It was all just too much, and my body in its infinite wisdom—addled by withdrawal on top of a lifetime of stress and deep depletion on many levels—said no.

The second time I tried doing therapy in 2022-2023, I hoped things would feel different. I was in a very different place. I was in a very different work situation with a lot more support. The only downside to where I was this time, so I thought, was that I was responsible for finding my own clients as opposed to being able count on referrals coming through the practice. Other than that it was a unicorn of a situation where I could show up fully and do the work as much my way as the system at large would allow.

And yet… I just couldn’t manage to make myself go all in in the ways that would have made the work sustainable. Please don’t get me wrong, I was all in with my clients themselves and I deeply valued the work we did together. But I just didn’t believe in the larger structures of which, as a therapist, I was a part. That is where I was not all in, and in fact struggled to be even a little bit in. (I will probably write more about this conflict at a later time.) As hard as I tried to reconcile this, as badly as I wanted to, I just could not. I spent the better part of two years feeling totally frozen and largely unintegrated in the life I was trying to build anew post-withdrawal. What I ultimately had to reconcile was the decision to let go of the therapist path.

How Did I Get Here?

Part of having lived a lifetime of stress and deep depletion has meant making a lot of reactionary decisions. Historically speaking no matter how slow I may have been to act on a decision, most of my major life choices up until the last few years came from a very reactionary place—from a place of just trying to survive. I couldn’t see this until more recently of course, but it was true for most of my formative years.

The decision to go back to school and get a masters degree, the internship placement, and both therapy jobs out of school were all life rafts. My whole experience with becoming a therapist and doing therapy was a sort of life raft. These things were what I grasped onto when I felt particularly scared, unmoored and desperate for some way forward. These things were what I grasped onto when I didn’t know what else to do.

The truth of this was especially difficult to see, because it all made sense on paper and in theory given my interests. I am genuinely fascinated by human behavior and what drives change. I unfailingly believe in people and their capacity to grow, heal and overcome anything. I love holding space for the confusing, messy, scary, beautiful, and transformational experiences of our own humanness. I myself have overcome trauma, and the impacts of familial addiction and generational dysfunction. I have transformed myself and my life. Of course this work should be the right work for me to be doing… right?


When I was getting my degree, I told myself: “I’ll feel better when I’m not in school anymore and no longer working for free.** I’ll feel better when I’m in a different clinical setting where I can build longer term relationships with my clients.”

(**Therapist interns almost never get paid anything for their work. We actually pay tuition to our schools, while simultaneously providing therapy services in the community for free. We are literally paying to go to work. While I very much believe in accessible services for people, this is exploitation—especially because most agencies/practices are still collecting money from patients/clients or their insurance companies for the intern’s work. Many new therapists are already burned out by the time they reach graduation, and it’s no wonder. This is something else I may write about at a later time.)

Then right after graduation I landed what I thought would be my dream job… and I felt even worse.

At that point I told myself: “I’ll feel better when I have my license and am out on my own instead of having to fork over big percentages of my monthly income to practice owners and supervisors. I’ll feel better when I can warn clients about the dangers of psychiatric drugs without potential repercussions from bosses and colleagues above me. I’ll feel better when I can really do this work in my own aligned way.”

In that situation my body said no for me, and I walked away for the first time.

My second time around giving it a go as a therapist, I was in a practice that took no percentage of my earnings from me (unheard of, by the way). I had a supervisor who I really felt safe with, who really saw me, and who encouraged me to show up fully as myself and to practice on my own terms. Truly the dream situation! And I still felt so conflicted and ambivalent.

I told myself: “I’ll feel better when I have more clients, when I have more experience, when I have more… when I have less… when I… when what, exactly?”

Living Into Truth

I’ll feel better when I get really honest with myself, and change my life accordingly. That’s what. Any other “I’ll feel better when” is a trap.

Photo: Everett Bartels on Unsplash

Sometimes we just don’t want to have to see or accept the truth that’s right in front of us, the writing on the wall that says “not this way. It doesn’t matter how much time, money, energy, planning, hope, etc. you have invested in this path. Not this way.”

Life rafts are essential for survival, but they seldom become anything more.

This, you see, is part of healing too. This is the real work. This is what it means to live beyond all the damage we inevitably sustain by trying to conform and cling to old stories, to “shoulds” and “supposed tos,” to what isn’t for us, to what was never meant to stay. There was a time when I would have continued holding on, when I would not have been able to recognize that I even had a choice to make, and when I would have done what was necessary to keep going down the same path even if it was literally killing me.

A big part of why I ended up on SSRI drugs was because I couldn’t see that I had choices, or that I could walk away from what wasn’t working no matter how much I had invested in it. I learned the hard way that if I had to be drugged to carry on in my own life, then something—or a lot of somethings—needed to change. A big part of why I stayed in toxic work environments and in relationships of all kinds that were not serving me was because, for many reasons, I couldn’t see that I had choices. Everything fed into everything else for a long time until I could finally say “that’s enough” and actually do something different.

It’s about doing something different. Not just thinking or talking or planning, but actually doing.

Courage, dear heart. Courage, dear ones.

Listen, Trust, and Choose Again

Still, the noise is loud. My internal critical parts are screaming at me that:

I “should” have tried harder to make being a therapist work (never mind what exactly “tried harder” actually means).

I am a fool for having rejected the “safer” path, the more “certain” and “stable” thing that would ultimately have offered me more longevity. (As if safety, certainty, and stability in work and in life are anything other than illusions. And as if doing something that felt in so many ways to be at odds with my own truth and personal ethics would have ever been sustainable.)

I’m crazy for turning away from an established industry (therapy) in favor of forging my own path forward as an “uncredentialed layperson” coach/consultant (or mentor, or doula-of-sorts, or whatever it is that I am) working completely outside the system. (Don’t ask me what the difference is between therapy and what I am doing now, because the answer depends entirely on what you believe.)

I’m already too old, and I have already wasted too much time.

I will never be taken seriously without the same license that I came to see as more of a hindrance and a liability than anything else.

I have failed.

“Listen to the universe.
Follow the small quiet voice.
Do what you need to do for yourself.
Do not apologize.”

My pattern was always to stay in places that keep me small for far too long… to scrutinize and second guess what the still small voice deep within tells me. You know, the one that’s always there underneath all the noise. It’s taken me years to finally start listening.

I’m listening now. I am doing differently now.

You can, too.

It’s never too late. It’s never too late to pivot. It’s never too late to do something different. It’s never too late to say “this isn’t for me, this isn’t where I belong.” It’s never too late to walk away. It’s never too late to say “no” to one thing so that you can say “yes” to something else–perhaps yourself. It’s never too late to choose again… and again… and again.