Inspired by a post by Angel at Canvas of the Minds.
I’ve been through so many therapists it’s embarrassing. I’ve been on and off meds since I was 5, in and out of therapy since I was 8, and in and out of hospitals since I was 15. So I’ve racked up a lot of “treatment.” Whether I liked the people or not, there was always something I learned from them.
Therapist #1: Gail
I started seeing her when I was 8 and my parents divorced. I don’t remember being particularly upset about the divorce, but I was having trouble in school and with socializing because I was depressed, although I couldn’t label it as such at the time. I remember Gail (tall, ash blond, prone to wearing long, flowy dresses) and I remember that I liked her, but I remember nothing about therapy with her. Liking her did, however, teach me that therapy is not a scary thing.
Therapist #2: Bonsai Guy
I don’t remember his name, which is probably intentional. He went to church with my grandparents, and I got taken to see him during late middle school. I hated him with a fiery passion, but when I told my mother I wanted a different therapist, she told me I was just “making excuses.” He would use silence to try to intimidate me into talking, and I would imagine all the ways I could kill him using only what was in the room. (My favorite was always shoving one of his collection of bonsai trees down his throat.) One day, after weeks of dead silence, he told me if I wanted help I had to tell him why I was depressed. I wanted help. I was just beginning to remember bits of the abuse, so to see if I could trust him, I told him about an incident involving an older boy in the neighborhood–my father had coerced/set up the whole thing, though I hadn’t remembered that part yet. When I told Bonsai Guy, he told me that it was “just normal childhood sex play” and I hadn’t been abused. I learned therapists could not be trusted, especially men.
Therapist #3: Jesus Joyce
This was one my mother dragged me to after she’d decided I had borderline personality disorder. (I’d self-diagnosed it years before my mother or any doctor did.) She was a Christian counselor who claimed to be an “ex-borderline.” Her solutions to my problems included praying more, accepting my mother’s verbal and emotional abuse because God said so, and not thinking about anything negative. Clearly, that advice worked really well for me, which is why I’m a Pagan now. I learned from her that religion meant denial and that the best way to solve my problems was to stubbornly refuse to admit they existed.
Therapist[s] #4: Hospital Therapists
This isn’t really one person but a conglomeration of people: they’re all basically the same. Their approach mostly involved treating me like a child while berating me for acting like a child. (By “acting like a child,” they apparently meant having suicidal ideation/attempts, self-harming, having an eating disorder, feeling depressed, and having any feelings that weren’t unicorns and rainbows.) To “protect me,” they took away anything I could conceivably hurt myself with and some things I couldn’t conceivably hurt myself with, like my sense of humanity and autonomy. I had to write my junior thesis–on red and black color symbolism, yin and yang, and androgyny in The Scarlet Letter–in crayon because I wasn’t allowed a pen, even with supervision. I learned a mental patient wasn’t a person, and I learned I was so dangerous I had to be saved from myself.
Therapist #5: Mary Ellen
The first good therapist I had. She was a trauma specialist who focused mostly on EMDR and hypnosis. I was incredibly skeptical of her methods at first, and I had no plans to talk about the abuse, ever–Bonsai Guy had taught me it wasn’t safe. It probably took 2 years before I would talk about the abuse, and I was shocked when she didn’t disbelieve or reject me. VERY slowly, I began to open up and trust more. Even when I got really self-destructive, I felt safe in therapy. I learned from Mary Ellen that there are good therapists out there, that there are people who will believe me, and that it is possible to feel safe with another human being.
Therapist #6: Renee
When my eating disorder got bad, Mary Ellen brought in Renee as a secondary therapist because Renee’s focus was ED’s. Her own ED had brought her to the brink of death, but she’d recovered and was now a therapist helping other people with similar issues. She was smart, witty, and sarcastic, so we got along well–we’d even gone to the same arts high school. She’d call me on my bullshit when I needed it (which was a lot, at that point) but was also empathetic when I was hurting. I learned from her that, no matter how fucked up I was, I could still recover if I was willing to work.
Therapist #7: Dr. Charles
My Riggs therapist. Our relationship was a difficult one. My previous therapists, Renee and Mary Ellen, had been very warm and open, and Dr. Charles didn’t seem to be. She didn’t speak often; there were many long silences I spent staring at her Oriental rug, panicking about what the hell I was supposed to be saying. We both had to learn each other, and eventually I learned to like the silence: time to think, space to speak. She became the fiercest ally and advocate I’ve ever had, and she made it safe for me to talk about the lightest and darkest parts of my experience and myself. I learned that ambivalence was okay, that darkness didn’t have to mean terror, that I mattered, and that I could choose to live.
Therapist #7: KTT
KTT is short for “Kate the Therapist,” which is how I referred to her on a forum I frequent, to distinguish her from a friend called Kate. She was the first therapist I saw in Boston, and she worked with the outpatient program I was in. She was an idiot. I suspected it from the get-go, but I doubted myself. She furthered the doubt by telling me I was convincing myself we weren’t a good match because I wanted her to be Dr. Charles. I resorted to cutting a binging and purging. I finally knew she wasn’t the therapist for me when, after an ER trip for stitches, she asked me which end of the scissors I used to cut myself. I never went back. I learned from her to trust my instincts about therapists because I’ve been to enough of them to know when it’s not working out.
Therapist #8: Jaine
Jaine was a referral from Dr. Charles, who I trusted entirely. When I started seeing Jaine, I was in a really bad place with the ED and SI, but she didn’t freak out about it and feel the need to save me from myself. I think her cool-headedness was a big part of what allowed me to just stop self-destructing–I just didn’t feel the need to do it. She supported me through several hospitalization and a bunch of ECT, and she was the one who first spotted the DID. I’d known about it for a long time but had pretended not to know because I didn’t want to deal with it. She really went above and beyond in supporting me and being available. From her, I learned that I don’t actually need to be saved from myself, and I learned that a DID diagnosis is not the mental health equivalent of a death sentence.