Yesterday I was walking from my car to the grocery store when those automatic supermarket doors opened and my therapist came out with a cart full of groceries. I’ve been going to see her for about a year now, and this was the first time I’ve seen her outside of her office. It’s always a little odd to see someone outside of the context you normally see them (like running into an old high school teacher in a bar). I gave a quick and probably supremely awkward wave and a way too high pitched “Hi!” as we walked past each other. She smiled and said hello and then I was inside the store, before my mind caught up with what had just happened.
I live in a pretty small town of under 10,000 people, and her office is something like 24 miles away in the much larger city of Syracuse, home to the eponymous university, a city of nearly 150,000 people. Running into her on a Sunday afternoon at my little local store was particularly unexpected. Turns out she actually lives nearby, so in some ways I suppose it’s a wonder we haven’t already run into one another around town in the last year. But it made me think, what’s the protocol for running into a therapist outside of your sessions? So I turned to Google and came across this article from PsychCentral, originally published in 2010. It has some good advice and some different scenarios about this kind of encounter, but the big takeaway is that most therapists will allow the patient to set the tone for the encounter- so my hello was reciprocated, but since I didn’t slow down to talk, we both kept going.
If you’ve run into your therapist outside of your therapy sessions, how have you handled it? Is it always weird or usually friendly and genial? If you’re a therapist, do you talk about these situations with patients when they happen or discuss how to handle it at some point during your sessions? I’d be interested in knowing.