In summing up my experience with psychotherapy, the last lesson is one I am still working through. It is a lesson I am learning as I am seeking trauma treatment for feeling numb and frozen when I am not at work. This involves rebuilding trust in psychotherapy. It involves building into psychotherapy a significant peer component.
During my first job working at McDonald’s, I worked around the food that I loved. It made it much easier to starve. Especially McDonald’s irresistible french-fries: the more I worked around them, the less appealing they were.
Perhaps that is all that is happening to me as a psychotherapist. I am just working around the lard in the industry and it makes me not want to dine. However, shall I really give up on trusting psychotherapy?
Now there is a new trend pioneered by figures like Bessel van der Kirk and Richard Swartz (Internal Family Systems,) and Karen Shapiro or Laura Parnell (EMDR) These involves new ways to address trauma that are based on “better” scientific understandings of trauma and how it affects the body.
Developing Treatment for Psychosis as a Provider:
When I finally recovered from two years of “psychosis” or what I’ve learned to call special message crisis, I took a long break from seeking psychotherapy services. Instead of receiving services, I provided services.
I worked with other people who suffer from what I went through. It took me six years, but I learned to use my own story and work mutually with program participants. Over time I learned to consider myself to be a wounded healer. I do not pretend that I am not wounded. I am authentic and I believe I get good results.
As a psychotherapist, I have trusted myself. I have learned and grown stronger giving myself and others the liberty to talk about experiences associated with hearing voices or being a targeted individual.
I pioneered professional group therapy for psychosis and developed eclectic strategies to help support people while in psychosis. I work primarily with people who have been severely affected by public warehousing and have suffered homelessness and been institutionalized in shelters and board and care homes.
Providing therapy has helped me more than receiving it. Returning to therapy has been something I have done for a targeted reason, to address trauma.
Here, summing it up will help provide perspective on the mental health system and ways psychotherapy may need to change to become more trustworthy.
Seeking Out Trauma-Treatment:
A year and a half ago, I suffered a back injury and had to be in bed for a week. Then I needed to be out of work as I rehabbed for a month. I decided to seek therapy to try to take the edge off my level of suffering when I didn’t have work to keep me occupied.
I often suffer on the weekends when I am not functioning in a professional capacity. Additionally, I often suffer because I have been unable to build social support that has enabled me to promote my therapy platform as an author.
Curious to learn about EMDR and other trauma therapies like Internal Family Systems, I chose to work with a therapist who appears to be my age and my training level.
This time my therapist acknowledged he has his own lived experience and is open about his religious background and our cultural differences. Finally, he was able to accept my insurance which meant I could afford to see him without feeling financially exploited.
Finding Myself Unresponsive:
In EMDR trauma treatment, there is a process called resourcing. The trainer helps the subject identify wise and protective people in their lives. Also in resourcing it is important to identify safe places. These figures and spaces are used to mentally support the sufferer during the process of bilateral stimulation.
Unfortunately, I found that this task does not come easily for me.
In trying to find supportive and protective people, I found that most people who have supported me have been a lot like the six other therapists I have critiqued up to this point.
While each therapist and support did help me, they also left me with a sense of betrayal. It has been hard for me to believe that my past is riddled with people who I don’t trust. Many have left me because of my mental health struggles and the stigma associated with schizophrenia.
What I found was that because I struggle with the task of resourcing, I am not responsive to the bilateral stimulation. Recently, I heard my therapist say he didn’t think I was a candidate for EMDR because I am not in touch with my feelings.
Lesson Sixteen: True Healers Don’t Make Fun of a Subjugated Group!
Simultaneously, I have taken training that supports my therapy efforts. For example, I took Emotional Freedom Techniques, a scientifically based treatment that incorporates the Eastern practice of tapping on energy meridians and repeating affirmations to help change the level of stress the body experiences.
During the Emotional Freedom Techniques training, I found that in a room full of therapists, I was not able to benefit. The instructor called people like me reversed. He expressed annoyance with such people. ‘Why can’t they just accept help!” “You can spot a reversed person when they come into these rooms from their energy they exude.”
Meanwhile, I progressively realized I was being referenced by these comments. I recognized this as an idea of reference of the sort I experienced during psychosis.
In my own system of treatment, I would call this kind of message a trickster. If I believe in a trickster, it likely to come true. Instead, much like I must do to survive psychosis, I need to use spirituality and exude alternative energy through prayers and mantras and hope that the trickster doesn’t come true.
Even though I knew that I needed to ignore this real situation and change my energy to change the outcome, I fumed. I bitterly stopped hiding the fact that the tapping wasn’t working for me. I noticed that the instructor seemed to avoid my hand and further reject me with angry comments about dissenters and I felt hurt and angry.
As a result, I have surmised that I may live in a slightly disassociated state, perhaps because of my medications, that prevent me from being in touch with my feelings. I believe this state is something I have developed as a psychotherapist who had to work particularly long hours for my license.
For a long time, I told no one about my history until I got my license. Perhaps my supervisors just saw someone who worked seven days a week if they even saw me at all.
I believed if I disclosed, my supervisors would refuse to let me work under their license. It so happened that many of my supervisors said horrible things about people who experience schizophrenia to which I had to silently bear witness.
In like manner, for many years I struggled to get along with my colleagues. First, I tended not to trust other therapists when they complained about people like me who have been institutionalized.
Then, when I self-identified as a therapist with lived experience with psychosis, there were times ridicule made it back to me. Politically I was attacked when I took a job as a peer administrator. One colleague saw this and said I was like Tupac with all eyes on me. I left administration when I was demoted. I went back to my old job and was able to survive the nickname, “Crazy Tim,” and continued working.
The same thing had happened when I sought training years earlier from Bessel van der Kirk, a man touted as the world’s leading trauma expert. In a room of hundreds of upper-middleclass caucazoidal clinicians, he made fun of people who were psychotic. He didn’t do this once. He did it repeatedly. I felt extremely alienated and it follows me into all the trainings I subsequently attend.
Making the Connection:
I think of my behavior in group therapy when psychosis is freely referenced: I am animated, engaged, funny and in touch with my feelings.
I think of the one-time my therapist really tested me to be in touch with my feelings. It was at the end of a long disturbing week.
Even though I can acknowledge that I failed miserably in describing my feelings, I realize I need to contest him that his experience of me doesn’t mean that I am incapable of benefitting from EMDR!
So here, I make the connection that a part of me is putting my therapist in the category with all the trauma experts and past therapists who have rejected me.
I am aware to some extent that I bring significant therapy baggage or negative transference to this therapeutic relationship. As I draft this blog. I never really considered how bad therapy has been for me.
There have been many times in psychotherapy over the past year and a half that I have felt judged or misunderstood. I have worked hard to overlook it and advocate for a better relationship.
While I have tended to give my therapist the benefit of the doubt, I also realize that I am hypervigilant about being judged. Sometimes I have walked away thinking he thinks of me as a narcissist.
When I recently confronted my therapist about his conclusion that I cannot benefit from EMDR, I learned that he is not like the trauma trainers and other therapist colleagues from whom I have observed prejudice against psychosis. My therapist may have been trained by them but he might have alternative views.
I tested him to see if he really thinks I am a narcissist. He did not seem to feel that way about me. I realized that I am blaming him for all he bad therapy I have received over the years. I have not been warm to him. His assessment of me was not his fault.
I think throwing my therapist under the bus and saying that all he ever did was judge me when he said I could not benefit from EMDR is not very rational.
Therapy is not an all or nothing thing. Therapists have strengths and weaknesses just like people who experience “psychosis” or special message crisis. Maybe to find a person who really believes in me, it takes firm self-advocacy!
Therapy that Heals Beyond Social Control:
I think most therapists I have examined in this series have looked at me and felt there is a need to fix something. Many people do not need to be fixed, need only be supported. When I interviewed with Malik Shakur (Tupac’s cousin) on the Knowledge Show to promote my book that was his assessment of me. I was a structured kid, he said. There was nothing wrong with me.
While I don’t feel good about my experiences with therapy, I am responsive to curanderos and other types of healers who try to help me be the kind of person I want to be. I may not choose to need mushrooms or other natural psychedelics, but I like traditional cultures. I have learned that my goal is not to fit in but rather to endure.
Like a good curandero I will help individuals find health despite the goals of the Cabals who advocate for social control and conformity for their own security.
I will persist and trust my therapist who also identifies as a wounded healer. I will try to add music artists who I appreciate to my resource list of people who have not let me down.
I can learn healing skills to regulate my emotions so I can explore traumatic memories and find out more of what I experienced during times of disassociation.
I Am Not Alone:
In the health system there is a new movement to bring peers into the workplace. Indeed peer support and a culture of sustainable recovery suggests that people who have been institutionalized can find meaning and purpose by helping out their brethren in the system.
At the current time, many wise peers are expected to train young staff members just out of school and help each other out without getting any compensation.
For twenty-six years I have seen this go on and I feel that if those wise peers are given training and the right kind of support, they can complete tasks and they have a right to compensation. That’s what I do. I may endure ridicule, but I respond by seeking to outperform my colleagues and sometimes I get respect.
As the Hearing Voices Movement demonstrates, lived experience and stories about managing psychosis and other struggles can be very helpful when shared amongst sufferers. More and more the clinics are hiring peers and including them as members of the treatment team.
Indeed, there are a lot of people like me who know what it is like to repeatedly fail in treatment. I believe we can be utilized to improve services for others. Many others like me have training about what not to do:
- Lesson Number One–Don’t Side with Society Over the Sufferer;
- Lesson Number Two–Don’t Ignore Problems;
- Lesson Number Three–Don’t Engage in Dual Relationships that May Interpreted as Exploitative;
- Lesson Number Four—It Is Important to Set Reasonable Expectations;
- Lesson Number Five—It is Not Helpful to Make Negative Predictions;
- Lesson Number Six—It is Important Not to Ignore Signs of Abuse in Relationships;
- Lesson Number Seven—It is Important Not to Attack a Spiritual Tradition;
- Lesson Number Eight—Don’t Use Treatment to Attack a Political Ideology;
- Lesson Number Nine–Don’t Let the Basis of Your Trust Be Credentials;
- Lesson Number Ten–Don’t Make Decisions for the Client;
- Lesson Number Eleven–Don’t Presume Everything in a Paranoid Person’s Life is Paranoia;
- Lesson Number Twelve–Don’t Predict Permanent Warehousing for a Person in an Emergency;
- Lesson Number Thirteen—Don’t Collaborate with Imposed Treatment;
- Lesson Number Fourteen—Don’t Expect Psychosis to be Suppressed:
- Lesson Number Fifteen—Don’t Impose Your Economic Reality on Your Patient;
- Lesson Number Sixteen—True Healers Don’t Make Fun of a Subjugated Group!