Some might point out that my experiences in therapy couldn’t have been so bad if I chose to go into therapy as a profession. Others might say it was my own damn fault I got hooked on the practice! Still others might point out that I have been privileged with the best help that money could buy and have been able to use it to avoid disability.
Despite what others might say, I am not sure whether to be grateful for the therapy I got. In my therapeutic journey, therapy makes me mad. I don’t think I have experienced a warranted sense of safety with the relationships in which I have been.
This and the next thee posts will span this journey through psychotherapy over the past thirty years. I will evaluate my experience with seven therapeutic relationships. There have been several generations of theoretical trends and changes to consider. There is also an assortment of distinctive conditions to treat even though I am still just a person.
Many argue that without having a therapist who really believes in you, it is hard to have a sense of safety! Ultimately, I share these experiences so that the reader can learn to navigate and advocate for the care they need. I will stop short of drawing conclusions. I am not here to turn off anyone’s light bulb! Just remember, the light bulb has to be ready to change.
Still, I think the conduct of modern-day healers need to be re-evaluated repeatedly regardless of degrees, the quality of training, or the amount of money they make. I persist with therapy because I am still unhappy and because I want to offer quality experiences to the people I serve. I persist because I believe other people who have experienced catastrophic trauma can learn to be healers. Stay tuned and learn more about the reason I have come to promote peer support as a legitimate form of therapy.
I saw my first therapist starting at age thirteen. The first memorable thing we did together was write down what a popular kid looked like and what a nerd looked like. Then he asked me which one I was?
When I explained that my parents wouldn’t buy me popular clothing, he said, “that doesn’t sound right!”
He was right, they were paying him top dollar for these sessions.
When mom lied and said that my claims were inaccurate, I did get to go shopping as a result. Still, I didn’t take advantage of my Mom and wear designer clothing. That was not my style. But I did dress better, and it helped. I started to try to fit in and the bullying decreased.
I was also referred for psychometric testing. I did not have any idea why this was necessary. Indeed, at times in my journey, it has been a significant source of concern as to why this was suggested. I was simply coaxed into it saying that it might be helpful.
I came out of it with one or two pieces of feedback: that I was particularly good at describing and defining things; and I was smart.
I have learned over the years that psychometric testing does not get shared with the recipient accept to highlight a strength or two. I wouldn’t really know if it affected my treatment. In treatment, I was always encouraged to drink and break the rules. I never listened. My father and my shrink shared the theory that my problem was that my superego was too big.
Lesson Number One–Don’t Side with Society Over the Sufferer:
While it’s arguable that these early tactics helped me stop fighting back against the herd in a self-defeating manner, it’s also arguable that I also stopped celebrating myself. The story just wasn’t over with this intervention. I learned to blame myself for getting teased endlessly. My rage was turned inwards. Blaming myself has become quite a thing over the years.
Now with my master’s degree and twenty-five years of experience, I understand neurodevelopmental disorders enough to understand why this tactic was not advisable. I could recite all the disorders back in college, but it took me till age thirty to realize that neurodiversity needs to be celebrated, not punished.
I’d always played with kids who were older or younger. I’d been left back a year in kindergarten and nearly didn’t even get in because I cut paper in a unique manner. It is hard for me to understand why the info from the psychometric testing didn’t pick up the very clear signs of neurodevelopmental disorders. I would later confirm ADD, Dyslexia. Beyond that, I have surmised that I am on the spectrum. Against-the-grain behavior is not simply a choice. However, the road to ending the blaming the victim mentality would be a long one.
Lesson Number Two–Don’t Ignore Problems:
A year later I stopped sleeping for a year. The best I could do was maybe three hours a night. I’d sleep on the floor or in the closet because I had more success sprawled out in strange positions. I was unhappy about a move to a new house and wanted to paint my room black. I could not explain why this mattered to me so direly. The new house was a significant shift in values for my Mom who was coming out of her depression and starting to challenge the way Dad did things.
Why had I had to suffer all those experiences of ascetic deprivations only to end up living in a new house like everyone else? Money was never talked about and I couldn’t understand that my mother had just come into some. Plus, we were evicting the welfare family, my summertime friends, out of our summer home, “The Lodge” and selling it. Plus, our dog died. Plus, my Dad Quit his job. Oddly, the horrific fighting had halted. But I did not trust the move.
Because I was unlike other teens who were lazy and slept in, my therapist did not consider this to be a depression. My struggle went unacknowledged except by my mother who I woke up every night in tears. I fixed this at the end of my ninth grade year during an Outward Bound course during which we hiked late into each night. This got me back to sleeping after a tough year.
Lesson Number Three–Don’t Engage in Dual Relationships that May Interpreted as Exploitative:
When my parents divorced the next year, the advice my therapist had given them after years of working with them was to “Shit or get of the pot.”
When I finally found these things out, I felt as though I had intuitively predicted the fallout.
Now, as a professional, I have learned that working with three members of the same family individually and adding on couples, group, and family counseling is a bit of a set up. This may make you money, but it may cause conflict and fallout for the trusting relationships.
Unfortunately, this was only one aspect of the way dual relationships didn’t work on my behalf. Meanwhile I had a yard business. One might say the business was impaired by my fear of asking for payment. My father had always gone into rages when I asked to be paid for work that I did. He approved of me working hard for him all summer in return for a modest donation into my bank account at the end.
Meanwhile, my father convinced me to buy a used three-cycle lawnmower engine that didn’t work. Perhaps he wanted to teach me a lesson about business. Or maybe he just didn’t want the wear and tear afflicting his own cheap-ass lawn mower. It was totally his idea. I didn’t understand why a three-cycle motor was important. But I was dutiful and invested in a used three-cycle mower.
When the therapist heard of my angst about the lawn mower that kept breaking down, he said he had a lawnmower for me. He sold it to me for about eighty dollars, almost the same price I paid for the used three-cycle lawnmower. I of course was afraid to tell him no.
Not only couldn’t I get my customers to pay me, I didn’t invest wisely in a good lawnmower. I tired of not getting paid. My therapist’s lawnmower was not much to my liking. I told myself another hundred dollars I could have bought a brand new three cycle engine. I threw in the towel and got a job at McDonald’s my junior year. It was a year I was exceptionally busy, starving, and working on homework into the wee hours of the night.
Then, I had to pay out of pocket for many missed appointments with the therapist that year. My Mom insisted that I make my appointment whether they helped or not. Perhaps it seems like I should have respected this, but she was out late partying every night. I was working hard and had lost all respect for her over this.
When I was put in a hospital, my therapist called and had the staff wish me well from him. Staff were all impressed with his follow through. “He seems to really care about you,” they said. I didn’t know how to feel about that. I still didn’t consider all the ways I felt exploited in the relationship.