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Page Contents: When your psychotherapist is late for a session.                    


My psychotherapist was late 10 minutes the last session. Is that right? I was late before 10 minutes (two times)—does it have any association? I feel so bad, should I tell her?

Let me preface my answer with a description of similar, but different problem. It’s almost an unwritten law of psychotherapy that when a psychotherapist cancels a session with short notice, the client will somehow miss the next session. That “missed” session won’t necessarily be deliberate, either; maybe a business meeting will just happen to be scheduled, or relatives will just happen to come for a visit, or a cold or flu will just happen to keep the client in bed that day. The unconscious has a remarkably convoluted way of expressing itself because, at the deepest psychodynamic level, that missed session is a quiet form of revenge for having been “abandoned.” In competent psychotherapy, these sorts of things must be discussed openly if any real progress is to occur through the treatment.

Now, in your case, you have the reverse of this process in the context of a late session, not a cancelled session. You were late for two sessions, and in the next session thereafter your psychotherapist was late.

Well, it could be just a coincidence.

But, unfortunately, when dealing with the unconscious, nothing in psychology is just a coincidence.

Therefore, that leaves us with a chilling thought: in being late herself, your psychotherapist reacted unconsciously to your “abandoning” her when you were late in the previous sessions. I feel sorry for any clients who have psychotherapists who are blind to their own unconscious behavior. So, yes, you should tell her—not about your feeling bad, but about her behavior. If she gets defensive, or just brushes off her being late as “nothing,” then you might question her competence as a psychotherapist.

By the way, if a psychotherapist is ever late for a session, the missed time should be made up at the end of the session—or the session fee should be adjusted for the missed time.


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
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