Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Bad Therapy Session

It happens.  Sometimes a therapy session is just a waste of time.  Sometimes this is my fault.  Sometimes it's my therapist's fault.  Sometimes it's a mix.

But this time it was bad.  This time it was wounding.

I usually see him every two weeks.  This time, due to a scheduling problem, it was a month between visits.  I'm sure this contributed.

My last visit was rough.  My PTSD had been triggered.  I finally revealed to him an incredibly difficult memory from my past -- the memory that's held more power over me than anything else.  Ever.  One I only have vague images of.  One that's left painful muscle memories.  One I've been cautioned not to share openly because it could be dangerous for me.  One that causes me to feel like a small child and to cramp terribly.

It was a very intense session for me.  He listened and validated me.  He helped get me through the worst of the PTSD.  We formed a plan for working through it.  He assured me that I could heal from this even without the entire memory.  I left that session hopeful.

Over the course of the next month my PTSD was triggered two more times; my husband went through two anger cycles; I went through a deep, week-long depression; and I had a two-hour conversation with my mom which triggered that memory again.  That dark and painful and frightening memory.

I spent a few days cramping badly, my uterus and my back, almost like labor.  Constant.  No relief from anything I took.  And I knew it was directly related to this memory.

I knew I had a session coming up.  I knew we were going to work on it and I would feel better afterward.  I held on.

But the session didn't help.  I gave him a quick recap of the month and told him I was ready to work.  I needed to work so the pain would go away.  And he went a different direction.  He wanted to focus on something else.  It's not that he was trying to avoid what I wanted to talk about.  It's that he didn't remember.  I tried to redirect it a couple of times, but since he didn't remember that memory I had revealed last time, he thought he knew best what we should work on.

Sometimes I am strong and when he goes off on a tangent or chit chats too much I can pull it back where I need it to be.  This time I couldn't.  Like I said, this memory makes me feel like a little girl.  I am hesitant and scared and timid.  All I can do is politely go along.

When we had about ten minutes left, he asked what direction we should go next.  I reminded him of what had happened last time.  And I could tell he immediately realized his mistake.   And it was too late to do any work on it.  In reminding him about it, I had reopened it.  I was raw and crying.  He tried to salvage things.  He tried to give me something to work on before our next session.  And I did my best to reign in my emotions.  Our time was up.  I had to leave the office.  And I was trying not to make him feel bad.

But I was not okay.  I made it out of the office and twenty yards down the hall to the bathroom before I crumpled to the floor sobbing.  I got it under control enough to leave the bathroom and practically ran to my car, hoping no one would notice my red eyes and shaky breathing and ask if I was okay.  Once in my car the sobbing returned, stronger.  I sobbed in a way I have only done once or twice since I was a child.  Gut wrenching sobs.  Devastated cries from deep within me.

Over the next few days there was a lot of crying.  And there was still the intense physical pain.  But worse than that all my old, unhealthy coping mechanisms reasserted themselves.  Things I thought were in my past.  Things I thought I'd overcome.  Things I thought no longer had any power over me.  They suddenly slammed me to the ground and repeatedly kicked me.

My husband and I went out a few days later.  As we drove I told him about the session.  After approximately 10 minutes of yelling and swearing, I had to admit I was angry.  And it wasn't getting any better.  So when I got home I wrote my therapist a letter. 

I told him what the experience was like from my side.  I told him how difficult it is to know I only have one hour every two weeks.  I told him how hard I prepare for that hour so I can use it wisely.  I told him it costs me $100 every session because our insurance doesn't pay for it.  I told him it's a real sacrifice to pay that, but when it's necessary and helpful I am okay with it.  I told him I felt like he'd stolen from my family that day.  I told him that session wounded me because at such a vulnerable time he didn't listen to me.  And I wasn't strong enough to fight him if he wouldn't listen to me.  I told him I wasn't sure if I'd be able to come back.  I wasn't sure I'd be able to work on this with him after all.  I'm not sure he's a safe person for me anymore.

And then I took the letter to his office and gave it to the lady at the front desk.

I have not heard from him.

I have a little over a week until my next appointment.  I'm examining my options.  I've spent a lot of time trying to decide if I will go back.  I know he sees lots of patients.  I know it was a month in between visits.  I know he's human and makes mistakes, like we all do.  And I can forgive those things. 

But forgiving them doesn't take away the wound.  If you hit me with a rock and then apologize, I will forgive you.  But the bruise will remain.  It will take time to heal.  And any time I see you with a rock in the future I will worry about whether or not you're going to hurt me.

Unfortunately, our session was the rock.


If you read this post, please read A Possibility of Healing for the resolution.


Bonnie said...

Dang. What a rotten experience. Courageous to write the letter. Good for you. I will keep praying.

Melissa G. said...

I'm really sorry you had such a bad experience. Hopefully you guys can work through it or at least discuss it openly at your next session.

Bev Feldman said...

Oh, I am so sorry to hear about the result of your last appointment. You go to therapy to hopefully work on healing, and this time had the complete opposite effect. I commend your courage for letting your therapist know exactly how you felt. Like you said, he's human, and we all make mistakes, but it is important for him to know the effects of your last session.

Vicki M. Taylor said...

I'm so deeply sorry and hurt for your therapist experience.

I too have PTSD, what helped for me was my therapist recommended I see an EMDR counselor who used EMDR to get me through the worst of my PTSD. Now, I can talk about my traumatic episodes without turning into mush and uncontrollable sobbing and shaking. EMDR truly works. It was totally worth the 12 sessions I had to go through as I had a LOT of issues. Ask your therapist if there is an EMDR therapist in your area.

And, maybe it's time to find another therapist who understands you and treats you like a person, instead of a billable session. I have a wonderful therapist who was recommended to be by a dr who was recommended to me by a dr who was recommended to me, well you get the picture. It took several tries to get to my therapist, but I'm so glad I did. She doesn't take insurance either, so I have to pay per session and right now I'm going through a depressive cycle (I have bipolar) and I'm seeing her every week. Also seeing my psychiatrist every week. It gets to fill up your schedule fast, seeming that all I'm doing is going from one appt to the other. But, if it makes me better, I'm for it.
Followed you from SITS. Have a blessed day!

Heather Jo said...

I'm very worried about you, my friend, so I will be praying for you to receive the guidance you need as you make this decision.

Tamara Camera said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. How tough. Glad you gave him the letter. Hoping for better sessions next.

Robyn said...

I can't even imagine what a difficult experience that must be, to open up and trust someone with a piece of you, and then to have that trust ripped away. I hope that he responds to you before your next appointment, or that somehow you are able to figure out what will be best for you to move ahead and heal.

The Dose of Reality said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. I'm so glad you finally shared your feelings with your therapist. I'm sorry you haven't heard from him. It's so hard to start over with someone new, but sometimes it comes down to that. I hope it becomes clear to you what will make you feel the best so you can get back to healing in a safe and productive environment.

Anonymous said...

Your experience, sadly, is not surprising. The nature of the asymmetrical therapy relationship is ripe for exploitation and emotional harm. The problems you experienced are inherent in the very structure of therapy, and are exacerbated by the power-hungry narcissistic types of people that the profession tends to attract.

Some advice for healing: stay away from therapists, join a support group founded in *mutual* relationships with equal openness/ equal emotional exposure, etc., make new friends to talk to through hobbies or meet-up groups; meditate, exercise, read self-help books such as Brene Brown, connect with people you trust (i.e., not therapists), write your feelings down in a journal, get massages, listen to music, volunteer to help others, engage in random acts of kindness, etc.

Again, in my humble opinion, the healthiest thing you can do is put the whole experience of psychotherapy behind you once and for all. The structure of psychotherapy perpetuates dynamics that are harmful for both the therapists and the clients — like the vicious cycle of harm caused in abuser-abused or bully-bullied relationships that get repeated and passed on.

Russell Dill said...

Terribly unprofessional of him, in my opinion. While it may have been out of protocol, I think he should have insisted on working on it despite being past the 1 hour mark. Aside from the fact that he did miss one session beforehand, he was in the wrong for forgetting where you left off. Okay, he can’t possibly have remembered it all, but he could’ve at least noted it down somewhere for him to remember the next time you visited.

Russell Dill