Part Two: Open letter to TELL
I know now I’ve been emotionally and verbally abused by my therapist of five years. The problem is, I love her dearly and find it almost debilitating to leave her. I did, finally, stand up to something abusive she said and left the session, but I’m in such pain and don't know if I can find the strength not to go back. The day I walked out, she called, and while she started out loving and concerned, when I stood my ground she again became abusive. Someone was in the car with me, and the phone was on speaker so my friend heard everything. It’s a relief someone finally knows the truth, but at the same time, I wanted to protect my therapist from anyone ever knowing. I hurt so much I think it may kill me. Ana
Dear Ana, thank you for having the guts to contact us here at TELL. The agony you’re feeling is all too familiar to those of us who have been abused by our therapists. When I began to realize how horribly I had been abused by my therapist, whom I also felt I had loved dearly, I too felt the agony would kill me. This agony was worse than anything I’ve ever felt in my life. It saved my life to have friends who helped me because they knew the truth about how I had been abused. I was also helped by eventually finding a subsequent good therapist … not an easy thing to do.
Though it may feel impossible to keep from going back, I hope with the support of your friends and what support we at TELL can offer, you’ll be able to hold your own and continue to stand your ground. Many of us took ages to leave the abusive therapy, going back even when we knew we were being abused. I feel fortunate I had support, so eventually my agony began to lessen.
Thank you for contacting us here at TELL and know you’re not alone. Please continue to write. Please stay alive. I, for one, am relieved I managed to become more than my agony eventually. My Best, Laurie
Laurie, do you know why you were abused? Ana
Dear Ana, your question certainly gets to the heart of the matter. I was so ashamed and full of self-loathing, I couldn’t even begin to ask that question for a long time. My subsequent good therapist had the first best answer. He said, "You just wanted to be loved.” I went along with what my abusing therapist was doing to me for ten years because I so wanted someone to love me I couldn’t stand up for myself.
My therapist was a bad person who used me for his own purposes instead of doing his job with me. Even though I am a physician and a psychiatrist, and knew about proper boundaries in my own work, I couldn’t protect myself from being abused by my therapist. I’ve come to realize he groomed me to become his victim.Instead of helping me with the problems and vulnerabilities, that had brought me to treatment, he made my problems worse, so that I became desperate for him to help me. In essence, my abusing therapist kidnapped me and I was his hostage for years. My therapist was a multiple perpetrator who abused many people at the very same time he was abusing me. He finally lost his medical license. Does my answer make sense and does it echo anything that has been happening with you? Please continue asking. My Best, Laurie
Laurie, does abuse that’s just emotional seem less important than sexual abuse? Ana
Dear Ana, thank you for asking this very important question. Abuse that is emotional and verbal IS JUST AS IMPORTANT as abuse that is sexual. As a TELL responder, I’ve encountered many kinds of abuse, much of it nonsexual in nature. The common denominator is that the patient is made, by the therapist, to become absolutely dependent and the therapist uses the patient for their own purposes. This can happen with completely nonsexual abuse. Please keep writing and asking, Laurie
Laurie, my therapist is a good person. I’m the one who is bad. I so infected her, her heart turned cold and mean after years of giving me unbelievable love and support. If only I could have kept her love. She says she still loves me but . . .
Dear Ana, a therapist should never be abusive in what they say or do. Some patients can be difficult because they had a difficult life, and these patients can be demanding and angry. Since I’ve been a victim of an abusing therapist, and I am also a psychiatrist with years of practice, I know a lot about what patients are like. I’ve even been angry with some of my patients in moments, but I’ve never had my heart turn cold and mean. I suspect your therapist may have given you "unbelievable love and support" in a way that wasn’t helpful to you. I felt loved and supported by my therapist until I learned he had been taking care of me in a way that made him feel good, rather than in a way that was therapeutic for me. He made me feel good and special in a way that felt wonderful at the time, but made me totally dependent upon him, rather than him helping me learn about myself. I’m very sorry to hear you feel you’re the bad one and that you made your therapist turn mean and cold hearted. My Best, Laurie
Laurie, I wasn’t angry. My ability to express anger was one of our goals in therapy. My therapist now says she can’t tolerate my anger, but I wonder if it's her anger she can’t tolerate.
Everything was wonderful until a year ago, when I questioned something she said. She responded that she was putting a boundary around what she had said, and we couldn’t talk about it. I tried to obey, but became more and more bothered internally. I guess I became a problem because I wasn't able to move on as she wanted me to. I never became angry, though, until my session last week when I stood up for myself over something incredibly cruel she said. She was angry at me, once again. I was questioning another boundary she was placing on me ―not saying I wouldn't obey―just questioning, and she said I couldn’t question it.There was a concern my psychiatrist had. My therapist said she didn't want to hear about his concerns, and never wanted me to bring up his opinion again. I felt I had no voice and no reality. I’m shaking as I write this. Ana
Dear Ana, most of us who have been abused in therapy also felt that we had "no voice and no reality.” Those words exquisitely capture aspects of how traumatized I was after I left my abuser. I had to leave so that I could find myself. I no longer knew who I was … everything, and myself, had lost all meaning. If there had not been work to do every day, I would have totally disappeared. I was the walking dead.
What you describe tells me your therapist literally took away your voice. She said you couldn’t question her−you couldn't even talk to her about what she had said. This is the exact opposite of what therapy is about. Therapy is the one place where the patient can say and ask anything. But your therapist told you to shut your mouth and shut your mind; she took away your voice and your reality. This is utterly destructive.
Would you want to tell me what she said to you? Would you want to share what your psychiatrist said to you? As a psychiatrist, currently retired, I would never say I didn’t want to hear anyone else's opinion. This is isolating, dangerous, and anti-therapeutic. Openness to everything is what therapy should involve, never closing out any possibility. Again, please keep writing, Laurie
Laurie, my therapist became a mother to me, which was her goal. I knew it couldn't be healthy for me to be so attached and dependent on her. When I would talk to her about my concerns, she would say to let go, let myself need her, and enjoy the loving relationship between us. She was comforting and loving, and my heart melted. I let go and let myself need her in a way I had never been allowed to need anyone. I know her intentions were good.
I went to her, five years ago, because of a tragedy. Because of this tragedy, I had to sever ties with my mother. Now I’m doubly wounded. I ache for my therapist’s love, which she says I still have, but the emotional abuse of the last year is too much for me. This last year, I often left her office with the intent of committing suicide. Ana
Dear Ana, your guts were telling you something truthful when you were afraid of how much you needed your therapist. If a patient is afraid of dependence, a good therapist will explore and talk about the fear. A good therapist will never say to forget about being distrusting and enjoy "the loving relationship."
Though she felt "comforting and loving and (therefore your) heart melted," she promised you something she couldn’t provide. Her job was to help you understand, and better withstand, the awful reality of your life, not to give comfort in any form other than the real comfort of being truly understood.
I’m very sorry for the tragedy you’ve suffered in your life. It takes a brave person who knows when they must sever their relationship with a destructive and dangerous parent.
Your therapist, it appears, promised at first to provide a loving relationship, then she told you something and wouldn’t let you question her and explore it, and then became overtly abusive to you. Even without knowing you, I can understand this could make you suicidal.
Did you feel more alive with the comfort she provided at first, but then her abuse killed off your hope? I’m speaking from my experience, as a survivor of therapy abuse, and as an advocate who has heard how others have struggled to remain alive in the face of such deadly devastation and betrayal. Please keep writing, My Best, Laurie
Laurie, yes, the abuse has killed my hope.
I’ll tell you what was said that caused everything to fall apart. There were other incidences over the years that I ignored. I believed if I refrained from saying anything my therapist could construe as criticism, I could maintain a loving relationship with her.
By the way, she was very open about her love for me. We went to lunch together every week, for three years. We’ve talked, almost daily, on the phone for many years. In my last session, she said, “Ana, I see and talk to you more than anyone in my life, except my husband.” She said it in anger, and I felt ashamed. It was up to her how much she saw me, not up to me.
There’s something I must tell you, before I go further. This is humiliating and painful to share. I am diagnosed with DID― Dissociative Identity Disorder―commonly known as Multiple Personalities.
Please, don’t think this means everything I’ve told you is unreliable. I’m almost always aware of what’s going on, and although I don't have control over what The Others do, I know their characters and personalities and remember most of what happens. This is such a vulnerable thing to tell you, and I’m afraid you’ll no longer believe me.
The original incident was something crushing that was said to Maggie, one of The Others. I’m aware, however, of what was said, and of Maggie’s reaction. I’m also totally aware of my therapist’s reaction. It affected the whole system within me, which was why I couldn’t ignore it. It threw me into internal chaos. The week after the incident happened, I told my therapist I didn't think it was a good thing to say, but that I forgave her and wanted to move on. Other parts of me weren’t willing to forgive and forget. And thus, it began.
I’m feeling too vulnerable to tell you what happened. Please, tell me if this changes your opinion of me and makes it uncomfortable to talk to me. Please don't just discontinue our conversation, please be honest. Ana
Dear Ana, thank you for daring to tell me about your diagnosis of DID. As a psychiatrist, and also as a psychoanalyst, I’m quite familiar with DID. Though I don’t have this diagnosis, I do dissociate at times. During the entire ten years of my abuse, I was split into two selves and neither self communicated with the other self. I wasn’t aware of this split, but because of it, I was able to live a completely double life during the time of the abuse.
Dissociation, of which DID is one form, is a way to remain sane in a world gone mad. I believe what you’ve told me, and will believe what you will tell me. I won’t stop writing. I’m a very direct, open, and honest person. After what you’ve been through, you’re courageous to write as you’re writing. My Best, Laurie
Laurie, thank you so much. I’ll tell you what my therapist said, which started the "trouble" between us. I wrote about it in my journal. Writing something out is often helpful for me in making some sense of what happened. I would like to share this journal entry with you, as a way of explaining in more detail.
The Day Everything Changed
That day in Julia’s office, started out like any other appointment. Julia was loving and kind when I came in, embracing me in a warm hug as usual. She asked to talk to Meagan. I don’t remember why she wanted to talk to her, but I knew Meagan would be thrilled to be included. I felt the familiar tugging, as if being pulled back into a tunnel, as the room faded before me. I’m not completely unaware when one of “them” takes over; I become a silent observer. I’ve described it as watching a movie in which one becomes so engrossed in the action on the screen, only that story is real; the dark theater, and one’s presence therein, seem to disappear. I disappeared, and Meagan became present in the room with Julia.
A recurring theme when Meagan talked to Julia, was Meagan’s belief in her own evilness. Usually, Julia would encourage Meagan to talk about her feelings, and sometimes they would discuss the traumatic event that had fixated this belief of “evilness” in Meagan’s soul. When I was attending college, a friend of mine saw evidence of The Others and decided it was demon possession. He tricked me into going through an exorcism with a group of so-called pastors. I was 19, the four men were much older. I felt defenseless, alone, and scared. It was physically and emotionally violent.
Of course, there was no demon, but how could I have convinced them of that? They were determined that even my denial was evidence of the evil within. It was a horrible experience, and I carried guilt and shame for years because of it. More accurately, Meagan carried guilt and shame … for me in the theater, sitting in the darkness watching the events of that experience long ago, it seemed to have happened to someone else. Meagan had taken it all and protected me. Julia was the first person I ever told about it.
That day, as Meagan and Julia talked, the subject of the exorcism came up. Something was different, however. I didn’t understand … Meagan certainly didn’t understand, but Julia was different. She was impatient, agitated, and slightly angry. Meagan, in complete trust, opened her heart and talked about her feelings and memories, expecting the gentle and loving response she usually received. Instead, Julia said, “Meagan, I simply don’t want to talk to you if you’re always going to be so sad and depressed. I’m tired of it, and I would like you to leave.” Meagan sat in stunned silence.
It’s not often one of them dissolves into another. Usually, I’m the common denominator and the bridge. But not that day. My protector, Maggie, must have sensed something was terribly wrong, and she appeared when Meagan crept away. Whereas Meagan had felt humiliated and crushed, Maggie, being Maggie, was absolutely fine and started chatting away about this and that. Julia abruptly stopped her and asked, “Maggie, you don’t think Meagan is evil, do you?”
Maggie thought for a moment before answering. This question had never been posed … we had never considered how we saw each other. Within the system, what is, simply is! So, Maggie responded, “That’s a complicated question, Julia, and I need to think about how to answer.” Julia immediately got furious. “I’ll take that as a Yes! How dare you think that, Maggie! I would’ve thought better of you! You of all people! I can’t believe that’s what you think of Meagan. How dare you. I’m so angry at you I can’t even stand to look at you!” During this outburst, Julia had stood up and was looking down at Maggie, berating her physically as well as verbally.
She told Maggie she was too angry to even be in the same room with her and left, slamming the door behind her.
One must understand that Maggie refuses to admit she has a heart. Of course, she does, but it’s a point on which she won’t budge―it’s her armor and protection. Maggie sat in the office by herself, refusing to care about what had just happened. She sat in stony indifference until Julia returned about five minutes later. Julia was calm and icy. She sat down and stared at Maggie. Finally, she said, “Do you want to know what evil is, Maggie? Evil is thinking about Meagan, and treating Meagan, as you think about and treat her.”
“So, I guess I’m evil then?” Maggie asked, her voice even and unemotional.
“Okay.” Julie replied, as she continued to stare coldly at Maggie.
They sat in silence for many minutes and then Julia got out her lunch and started to eat. I didn't know when Maggie left, but I was no longer in the dark theater―I was sitting in uncomfortable silence with Julia. I'm not sure if she knew it was now me, but she continued eating her lunch without speaking. I was devastated. The little ones inside were devastated. Maggie was gone, really gone. My world started to slip, and everything seemed unreal.
After Julie finished her lunch and methodically cleaned up, she asked to talk to Meagan again. I was glad to leave and let Meagan fill the space. When Meagan opened her eyes to look at Julia, it was with fear and dread. What in the world could she want?
Julia then did something that was the most wounding thing she did that day. She stood up and came over to Meagan, sat down, and took her in her arms. Meagan started to cry as Julia soothed and cradled her. Julia told her she was so sorry The Others treated her the way they did, and that she had no idea things were so bad for her.
Meagan sobbed while Julia held her, but not because she was sad about The Others, her life, or the way she was treated. Julia simply didn’t know what she was doing to us. In those moments of trying to comfort Meagan by criticizing and belittling everybody else, she was tearing apart the internal structure of my being.
Everybody started to hide, to retreat into separate corners, and pull into themselves. Never had such loneliness and fear existed as in those moments, as Julia tried to love and comfort Meagan. My world would never be the same.
… Laurie, Maggie was devastated. Everybody within was reeling that this woman who had become a mother to us, would say we were evil. Everybody would have answered as Maggie did, because everybody's self-image is simply accepted as true. So, the evil assessment fell equally on each one of us.
I tried to bring this up some weeks later, but my therapist said she was drawing a boundary around it, and I couldn’t discuss it … if I insisted, she would ask me to leave. I told her I was hurting because of what she had said, and she replied, "I’ve prayed about it, and the Holy Spirit hasn’t shown me that I did anything wrong." I then felt even God was against me. I was crumbling inside; she had sought God’s counsel and He didn't care enough about me to communicate to her that she had done anything wrong.
I didn’t even think it was necessarily wrong, but it created chaos inside, and I needed to talk and work through it. This was the beginning of an extremely difficult and heartbreaking year. Ana
Dear Ana, your therapist had no idea what she was doing ...
Excerpted from "Mending the Shattered Mirror: A Journey of Recovery from Abuse in Therapy" by Analie Shepherd. Copyright © 2017 by Analie Shepherd. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.