Los Angeles Chapter — California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT
Connie Zweig, Ph.D.
My Retirement from Clinical Practice:
A Late-Life Ritual
Throughout my career as a therapist, I shared intense intimacy with clients and guided them where others fear to tread—into the shadow. I felt privileged to mentor them and watch them alter deeply ingrained patterns and lead more fulfilling lives.
But during my sixty-eighth year, I noticed a restlessness, a stirring that I had felt several times before at the end of a cycle and the beginning of another—when I had stopped teaching meditation but had no vision of a new career and felt like I stepped off a cliff; when I had stopped working in journalism but didn’t hear a new call and stepped into the unknown; when I had left book publishing to go to psychology grad school, but without financial or emotional support. Each time my soul had whispered, and I left behind a former role and entered liminal space, not knowing what lay ahead. Each time, a path appeared, with allies and guides and, eventually, a fulfilling destination.
Then, I was aware of approaching a threshold again. I noticed that it no longer bothered me when clients disappeared without a formal closure. Previously, I felt that I was left holding the relationship when a client stopped communicating. Now, I could let it go. Previously, I looked forward to traveling from the mountains into town. Now, I didn’t want to do the drive. Previously, I enjoyed traveling into others’ inner worlds. Now, I wanted more time to explore my own.
My attention was moving away from the work, and my heart was opening in other ways. What was it moving toward? A new orientation to time—less structure, more flow. A new orientation to responsibility—less obligation, more choice. A new orientation to purpose—from role to soul.
Then, the most essential question arose: Who am I, if I’m not Dr. Connie, a therapist, the shadow expert? What would it mean to let go of my role and my brand? What have I sacrificed to maintain that role? Who am I if I am no longer the Doer? How do I overcome resistance to letting go in this transition?
First, I stopped accepting new clients. When they emailed, I took a breath, wished them well, and referred them out.
Next, I began discussing my departure with clients, exploring how to move toward completion.
A few months later, the opportunity came to give up my city office. I went for it—and let go into the unknown.
I suspected that, with the gain of freedom, there also would be loss. I would feel less needed and less important for a while. I would feel less secure and more uncertain for a time. It would change my partnership with my husband, who was still working. And I might feel less purposeful and a bit disoriented, with the path ahead still hidden.
Perhaps hardest of all, I would lose the precious vehicle, the clinical relationship, in which to transmit all that I’ve learned from my own inner work, intellectual development, and spiritual growth to others. As I’ve carried that positive projection over the years, I’ve become accustomed to wearing it like a gown and standing in the archetype for them, rather than disclosing my personal story. It will be a loss to give up the power and status of that projection—and a gain to cultivate more equal and reciprocal relationships. It will be a loss to give up the “brand” of shadow expert—and a gain to extend it into this whole new territory of late life.
So, for me, retirement from clinical practice was not simply stepping away from paid work at the office. It meant retiring a spiritual path to my own deepening and widening awareness. It meant retiring the need to help; it meant retiring the need for answers; it meant retiring the need to be appreciated. It meant retiring from a life that’s known and facing an unknown, liminal time. And it meant retiring a practice of love that connected me to the depths of the human soul and to the journey of the human species. It has been a privilege.
I decided to mark it with intention, with a rite of passage, because I knew I was letting go, stepping into liminal space, and would emerge with the renewed vitality of an Elder.
One night I gathered a circle of friends and colleagues to ritualize my retirement from clinical practice. I lit candles and lowered the lights. I read for a few minutes from the opening to this chapter so that my observers would share my framework. Then I lifted each of four white cards, one at a time, that had my careers written on them: meditation teacher, journalist, book editor, therapist. And I lifted the five books that have been my gifts to the world.
I spoke for a bit about who might have been influenced by my work, including the known influences, such as my meditation students and therapy clients, and the unknown influences, such as readers of the books I wrote or the hundred books I edited, whom I would never meet. And I acknowledged myself for these contributions and deeply felt the value of those years spent working.
I held up these symbols of my work, roles, and responsibilities and offered them to the world: “I bless and release you to find your way now.” And, letting go in my heart, I set them down.
Then I asked each member of the group to offer a blessing. I stood for a moment, then crossed a threshold of silver tape on the floor, empty-handed, into open space.
Connie Zweig, Ph.D., Retired therapist and author, is a wife and grandmother, and an initiated Elder by Sage-ing International. After investing in all these roles and doing contemplative practices for 50 years, she is practicing the shift from role to soul—and authored her new book, The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul which extends her work on shadow and spirituality into midlife and beyond. Website: ConnieZweig.com.
This article has been adapted from The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul.
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