ALL Psychologists are NOT equipped to handle clients with childhood trauma. Period. It takes a very, very wise and awakened individual with
the cultivated ability to 1) bear witness to a client’s inner world and 2) gracefully navigate back out, leaving the client with more than they went in with. Skill, deep INNER excavation and the awareness of when you’re in over your head (beyond your supports) and you need to phone a friend aka tap out aka refer to someone else.
EGO often keeps psychologists, counselors, social workers – any provider who may see traumatized clients – from doing the best they are able for this vulnerable population. As a client, myself, I remember the early days of my healing. I was just happy to have someone listen. A human witness to my sadness and anger. All psychologists are created equal, right? LOL.
I dont know if there are specific training modules for professionals who are studying to be in the counseling gig. Or continuing education classes for professionals who have been practicing…but I have a couple of ideas…. “How to build a self” “Making sense of body memories”, “Dealing with frozen”, “How is my darkness impacting my client’s” – hey, just for starters – But in order to be effective with your clients, you need to recognize and be in touch with your own shortcomings and darkness.
IMO if you’re not cleaning and clearing your darkness – you’re serving your clients from a dirty container. Of course, no-one means to do this, I doubt there are providers out there who woke up this morning thinking hmmmmm…. who can I fuck up today? Who’s trauma can I add to? Who can I u knowingly Re-victimize this afternoon?
Sound harsh? of course! Yes, damn it, I am VERY hard on this profession. Having had some shocking experiences, myself, in the client’s chair – I hope for better for humanity. I know the desperate search for relief of anxiety, terror, depression, eating disorder, strange body symptoms, etc.. just to be met with blame, bizarre ideas, dismissal, odd reactions, endless scripts of ridiculous meds, feeling minimized as you bear your soul… The healing road is not without its potholes, sunday drivers, construction sites and engine failure. For sure.
My first therapist was a sweet middle-aged woman. I was bursting at the seams with my new realization of my abuse and I know a bit unusual, but I could not wait to tell as many people as I could. My Gynecologist referred me to her as she was in the same practice. She seemed like a good enough listener. My expectations were low as I was just looking for some validation. After the 4th session, she revealed to me that she also councils the perpetrators. The abusers. the rapists, the torturers, the derelicts. And proceeded to tell me about them. Wha????? Why? well, my starved self rationalized that SHE was the professional, after all, I’m a basket case, why would my opinion count here…
WHAT? She added that they didn’t mean it and were usually good people. AYFKM? So much for supporting my truth… and what did THEY have to do with my situation anyway? You see, back then, I didn’t feel like I had the right to question or tell her how offended I was, or hurt, or angry that she would attempt to minimize my trauma by COMPARING MY SITUATION TO SOME RANDY? Maybe I should just pity my abusers because they probably didn’t MEAN IT? Ewe, what? So the young me just smiled and felt lucky to have such a professional therapist. Next session we met in her new office, across the hall from her previous one. She was seated next to the window with a wall of amazing plants, some hanging, some towering over her. The sun was shining through the window onto her.
I was incredibly emotional with a torrent of anger and sadness surfacing as I spoke, tears, yes tears, lol, streaming. She was nodding and smiling, which I barely noticed, given how distraught I was. With a lap full of tissues, I looked up to see her reaction to what I was sharing and she was asleep. Head sagged down towards her chest and all. How the?????😳??? Now, if that doesn’t go right to the heart. Here I was pouring out my deepest secrets, finally giving them a voice, with a witness and the fucker is asleep. She was bored with my story, just great. 😔 I never went back – even my vulnerable, unassuming, naive young self knew that THAT was inexcusable. I finally get the opportunity to connect with someone regarding my traumatic past and she is purposefully unconscious? Checked out???? If I doubted the validity of what I was sharing or somehow thought that it was my fault she fell asleep – well Jesus, I don’t know where I’d be…maybe underground? Tragic for *even* me to re-read 😩.
This is serious business. Again, If. You. Do. Not. Know. What. You. Are. Doing – Please, please do not gear your services towards the childhood trauma crowd. This hurts, deeply. I might add that this is the first time I thought, wow, anybody can be a therapist.
I wish this were the extent of my pho-therapist encounters…not so much. My second therapist was a male, young guy, very professional – someone I worked with said he was a great therapist. He would most definitely help me. Yipee, couldn’t wait. First session, nice office, spacious. PROMISING. We began discussing why I was there. I told him everything that led up to my visit. After about 15 minutes, he asked me why I wasn’t crying. We talked a little more and then he asked again, “Why aren’t you crying, what you are telling me is very sad, yet you do not cry”. This went on 2 more times. Today I might say – Listen, Pal…if I was in touch with my f-ing emotions, I probably would not need to be sitting with your critical ass! But like a good little soldier, I said nothing, he’s the professional. So basically, I BELIEVED that it was abnormal for me to not be able to cry. Hmmmmm, yes, where DID I put all that sadness anyway?……Great, add that to the list of my dysfunction. Also, I wasn’t sure HE’D heard a word I said as he was super focused on my dry eyes.😑
Enter second session (cause I’m young, impressionable, an idiot, desperate, feel like I’m REALLY A LOSER cause I can’t even cry like everyone else can, nice). So there I sat, in the waiting area on a plaid couch with the cold words, “Why don’t you cry” reverberating in my head, I reached down and pinched the shit out of my inner thigh, so very hard that it made me cry. A little bloody, bruised, Ahhhhh, success – now he will be satisfied and we can move on from that -less than- bullshit. No joke, I was crying and when I went in he was pleased. Good-night. WTF, never returned to that office again. I didn’t think a therapist should make you feel bad and wrong and be relentless about it. Skills buddy, you needed skills. And compassion for the human condition. I was a walking mess, why on earth would someone., a professional yet, highlight my resistance, frozen-ness and disassociation without telling me that these ARE COMPLETELY NORMAL SIDE EFFECTS OF BEING TRSUMATIZED??? Skills sir, knowledge, the self-awareness, the where-with-all to feel the terror rise in you (as therapist) rendering you useless and even retraumatizing your client. This, was OBVIOUSLY NOT a safe environment for me. He knew very little about the basics of traumatic aftermath or his OWN PROCESS. Sweet Jesus, if I cried too much would that have been a prob too? probably, yeesh.
It’s a mystery why I kept going, kept looking for a therapist – it didn’t seem as though anyone could actually help me. But I didn’t give up. I couldn’t give up on myself. I felt so hyper-aware, so fragile, emotional, angry, anxious and in dissociation most of the time. I decided to try some medicine. My well meaning gyno, again, set me up with this Dr. Ruth Westheimer type of little Austrian Psychiatrist. I could hardly see her over her enormous desk. She sounded like a female Arnold Schwarzenegger. LOL She proceeded to tell me I had a mood disorder (be careful folks, dr’s love to throw diagnoses around – when you are in the throes of surfacing trauma – Jesus, I think one would fit into at least 7 different psychological disorders. Don’t believe the garbage, find someone who tells you how WELL you are – despite how they tried to ruin you. MMMMMMMM, that sits much nicer.
She added that I should take this drug – name escapes me, maybe topomax? … is used with epileptic patients to decrease the activity between the brain hemispheres – insert gasp – like a young, compliant, obedient woman, I took the shit. At work, I couldn’t process anything anyone said to me without having it repeated 3 times. Some stuff I had to write down. Yeah, such an improvement in my functioning. eye roll. Then she switched me to something that kept me up for 4 nights straight (Celexa?) If i didn’t feel like dying before, well that’ll put you right into that basket. On my last office visit, I SOMEHOW FOUND THE BALLS to announce it was my last, she – don’t ask me why – decided to let me know that menopause was going to be hell for me (completely unprompted since I was 32) and I might have a breakdown! I can’t even make this shit up. Ok, so now I’m 51, no breakdown (I think haha) and no menopause symptoms… she’s prob not alive today, so damn I can’t go visit her and have a chat. LOL Education people, education.
I had every reason to shut up and stop searching for validation, a better life and normalcy. I surely was not going to let my abusers “win” My spirit would not allow that to happen. A full life was waiting for me, I HAD to put in the work.
I still had hope, faith in humanity that kept me asking around for therapist’s who claimed to be “good with sexual abuse”… Little did I know, I was headed towards the couches of a brand new variety of CRAZies. The ILL trying to help the ILL – not a good scenario.
Yes, more unbelievably unaware, damaging therapists – to be continued – same title, part 2.