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When the Psychotherapist Retires . . .

By Mary Helen Garvin, Clinical Member, OSP

This article appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of prOSPect

“Old Psychotherapists never retire, they just ……….?” I actually didn’t know a therapist who had retired when, at 65, I decided to do so. But I was tired and some physical issues were making it difficult to sit for long periods at a time. I had other things I wanted to do with my life while I was still able, so I began the preparation.

Initially I had to think about my clients. I gave them a year’s notice. This was associated with all kinds of clinical issues. Amazingly, no one terminated immediately. Some I knew would need referrals and we began to work on that process. Others began the termination process and by the end of the year, all my clients were either safely in the practices of other therapists, or satisfactorily terminated. At the same time I began to think about my own future. My mother was still living in a nursing home, and I had 5 children, two of whom were living in Taiwan, and three with families living north of Toronto. I decided to return to Simcoe County which was central to all of them and where I had grown up. I found a large retirement community where I could have my own home and where there were lots of community activities with which to be involved. 

Considerations included thinking about future health needs, so I looked for a home without stairs to climb, with good health facilities nearby and family members within easy reach should I need their support. I had to think about how much money I had managed to save and what kind of life style I would have if I retired with a relatively low level of savings to augment my OAS and CPP.

One long-term client opted to be in contact by telephone and occasional trips to see me, while a GP psychotherapist asked if I would act as a mentor to her. This augmented my income for the first couple of years. I had my faithful standard poodle, Sam, to keep me company, and so began my so-called retirement. A friend in my community here asked me once if I was psycho-analyzing my neighbours. I assured her that I only did that when I got paid for it! 

Now I have been retired for almost 12 years. I am coming up to my 78th birthday, and what has that been like for me? I have had a most wonderful time. I recommend retirement! Travel has been part of retirement. A friend and I joined a tour group and travelled the Silk Road in China for 2 weeks where we went to a market that had been meeting every Sunday for the past 2000 years. We saw the Pottery warriors, the MoGao caves, ate lunch in a yurt, and on and on. This was followed by a week in Taiwan and another week in the Kootenay Valley in B.C. on our way home. Two years later, we went to Europe for a month travelling by Euro Rail. We followed the route of my uncle’s regiment during WWll from the Normandy Beaches up through Belgium, The Netherlands, and into Germany (where he had died during the last week of the war), down to Austria and finally to Rome and back to France. We visited the great art museums of Europe, castles, churches, drank wine in the shadow of the Duomo in Florence, visited Anne Frank’s hiding place, walked on the beach at Nice, and attended the 60th anniversary celebration of the liberation of Holland where we visited my uncle’s grave. We stayed in a little mountain-side village an hour out of Rome during a festival of their saint when he was carried in his glass cage down the hill to the village square for the day, his annual outing! We visited the houses used in the film of The Sound of Music, sang in front of the gazebo where Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer danced, and sat in the pews of the great cathedral where they were married. We had apple strudel and coffee down the street from Mozart’s birthplace. 

Voluntarism was made possible in a way in which I could never have participated if I had still been working. In 2007, supported by our Women’s Missionary Society and the Presbyterian Church in Canada, I went to Malawi in Central Africa for three months to educate grassroots volunteers concerning the emotional and psychological needs of grieving children. AIDS has taken such a toll in Africa; in the small area where I worked, there were 1500 orphans. Adults in these families were in such grief themselves that it was difficult to think about the children. Children grieve differently than adults in a number of ways and it is easy to think that the death of parents was affecting them only economically. So the main concern of the villages is about finding shelter, food, clothing and education for them. The custom when a father dies in a household is for the father’s family to take over the house and all the family belongings, leaving the widow and children to return to the widow’s family who are, in most cases, incapable of supporting them. The children are often being cared for by grandparents who have little means of support, or by uncles and aunts who themselves may be ill. With the help of an interpreter, we provided a rudimentary training for two people from each of twenty villages. These people then joined the area AIDS support groups and were responsible for working with the children in their area and educating the caregivers about the emotional needs of the children. 

On my return, I wrote a very basic manual entitled “Helping Grieving Children.” It has been translated into their local language, and in 2011 I returned to introduce the manual, evaluate the project and do further training. I continue to keep connections with many of the dear friends I made there. The people of Malawi are poor in things, but so rich in spirit, and the time spent there is a highlight in my life.

For seven years I ran a Week-end Retirement workshop of several denominations. I continue to participate in the leadership of an annual program under the direction of the Churches Forum for Global Ministries, the task of which is to support those who have worked abroad to return to Canadian life. Many of them have worked in places where violence, war and poverty have been the order of the day.

In my community here, I led a 10-week Bereavement group over a three-year period and am involved in the Photography Club. I have served on various committees in my church and currently serve on the Board of the Barrie Community Health Centre.

Retirement has enabled me to participate more fully in the life of my family as well. I was able to visit my mother almost weekly and be with her when she died, an event I will never forget. I was also able to sit with my sister in Edmonton for two weeks prior to her death. My eldest son David lived with me for six months on his return from teaching in Taiwan, while he waited for a new liver to replace the one that had been ravaged by iron storage from hemochromatosis. I was able to spend three weeks in ICU with him and to accompany him on his end-of-life journey. I couldn’t have done any of these things to the extent I did if I had still been working. 

On the brighter side, I have taken granddaughters on holidays, and gotten to know my grandchildren better that I had. Teenage grandkids are such fun! I have visited Taiwan four times in the last four years and am preparing to go again in April 2015. During my time there I have had the privilege of working with Louise Gamble (some readers will remember her) and proofreading the material that she is preparing for publication. I have visited old friends from my early days (1961 – 1976) and seen the vast changes in the country. It is possible to “travel on a shoe string,” and I have found that to be full of adventure and satisfaction.

These are just the highlights of my retirement. I have not once regretted my decision to retire at 66. Life has held experiences and blessings beyond what I could have imagined. Some psychotherapists DO retire! 

Mary Helen Garvin, Honorary and Founding Member of the Ontario Society of Psychotherapists was a registered nurse who trained at the Brantford General Hospital. She practised for about 20 plus years in Toronto, was Executive Director of the Toronto Institute of Human Relations, and a graduate of the Toronto Psychoanalytic Society’s Advanced Training in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy program. She and her husband served as missionaries of the Presbyterian Church In Canada in Taiwan for almost 15 years. She has 5 children, and 9 grandchildren. Her hobbies are watercolour painting and photography. 

You can reach her at 705-431-9474 or 90 Hawthorne Drive, Innisfil, ON L9S 1N4.

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