The Electronic Baby

This is it, the final ten weeks of my long career as a couple psychotherapist. My retirement has been some time coming; I have talked about ending for the past 15 years. Yet as my 65th, 70th and 75th birthdays have come and gone, so too has my resolve to retire. It has been so difficult to say goodbye to my satisfying and rewarding professional life, let alone a regular income, but now the time has come.

I had two images in my mind as I wrestled with the retirement dilemma; the ancient therapist who is more dependent on her clients than they are on her and the vibrant therapist, still working and writing in her eighties. I can’t bear the former image and probably couldn’t rise to the latter.

Sometimes I can conjure up a gratifying image of the retired me, but just now I have to confess I do feel a little squeamish about the prospect.
[I have to allow for the void before I can know what it will take to fill it].
Meanwhile as the end of my career draws near, my thoughts turn to its beginning.

In 1986 I became a student at the Institute of Marital Studies (now Tavistock Relationships). I joyfully immersed myself in the training and, after four years, had internalised a much-respected institution. This served me in good stead for the rest of my busy working life.

Immediately after graduating I set up in private practice in Oxford and spent years travelling between Oxford and London. I sat on committees, gave papers and, with my co-therapist ran groups for couples. With my colleague Sasha Brookes, I co-edited a book, The Invisible Matrix and went on to write, The Business of Therapy - how to set up in private practice.

I loved my profession and wanted to raise awareness of couple psychotherapy; while chairing my professional society, [Society of Psychoanalytic Marital Psychotherapists] we ran two international conferences, and celebrated couple psychotherapy with an evening of song and role play at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio theatre. Of course, many of my colleagues have contributed far more than I have to my profession and continue to do so, well past retirement age; but I can’t write about retirement without pointing out just a little of what I am retiring from.

I have always loved the clinical work; I have never resented the early morning starts or that feeling of exhaustion after a long day’s work. I have enjoyed the regularity and predictability of the week. As the years rolled by, I continued to match my vacation to the school holidays long after I needed to, enjoying the rhythm that this brings to the year. By mid-July, I would long for my break and a well-earned rest and then, somewhere towards the end of August, begin to look forward to September and the beginning of my working year.

Work has been containing when my private life was difficult and has been endlessly interesting and satisfying. I have almost always felt deeply connected to my clients while working with them, but quite rightly, when their therapy has ended, so has the connection. However, I will always remember a handful of my clients and continue to think about them; people with whom I might have been friends under different circumstances.

As I contemplate retirement, I alternate between feeling excited and depressed. I have just started to see my few remaining clients in my consulting room, as it seems important to conclude our work face-to- face. To be released from the internet sessions of the Covid months is a joy. With my room providing a container for both me and my clients, I find my energy returning; then a tiny doubt starts to appear - maybe I could go on a little longer?

My husband has not been pushing me to retire so “that we could go travelling”; that is not his thing. Although we enjoy life together, I will not be able to rely on Noel for entertainment or trips out as he is fully engaged on his own projects. Meanwhile, I can’t rely on my children needing me to be a hands-on grandmother either; two of my grandchildren are at university and a younger one has such a busy social life that I have to make an appointment to see him.

But I need to stop work now, before I am too old to be enthusiastic about putting my energy into other activities. I enjoy painting and now is a chance to do more, to take a few courses and turn my consulting room into an artist’s studio. I like the image. I like walking in all weathers and I shall enjoy being a lady who lunches

Yet as my retirement date approaches, I feel increasingly sad. It isn’t only the end of work, it is the end of my professional self and although I left youth and even middle age behind some time ago, I feel that it is the end of ageless me, the me who, when asked, could say, ‘I am a psychotherapist and still work a few days a week’. I liked to be able to say that.

My professional life is a lot to give up, and who will acknowledge my loss? There has been much work done about endings in my consulting room these past few months, but my clients are not and should not be concerned about me. I don’t have a group of fellow workers, so there will be no office leaving party.  Close colleagues, friends and family who have been subject to my endless agonizing about retirement will acknowledge the big day I am sure, but when I say goodbye to my last client for the last time it will be a private affair, just as my work has been for the past 40 years.

When my daughter was eleven, she wrote a poem which was all about
loss.  The finishing line was, “so now I have moved in more ways than one, I can’t go back I must go on”. I couldn’t put it better myself.


Pauline Hodson

May 2021