My experience with traditional “Freudian” psychoanalysis

I resisted therapy for many years after being diagnosed bipolar. And before said diagnosis it had never crossed my mind to have therapy. At some point after my repeated visits with mania**, I decided I would look for a psychotherapist. I read “Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession,” by Janet Malcolm. If my recollection is accurate it is a good book—I actually thought it was a great book at the time, though pro-“neo-Freudian” psychoanalysis, which at this point I am not. It struck me as fascinating and it also spoke to my ego, though I don’t really remember exactly how–just that psychoanalysis was for intelligent, intellectuals and I fancied myself both I suppose. 

I sought out a psychoanalyst and started off with a man who, much like Ruth’s description in the above linked post (edited out: no longer available) of the woman’s analyst who pushed the transference, he also attempted to do that with me. I was initially too smart for such manipulation–though I fell for it the next time around. After one session in which he asked me what I thought about his body–completely out of the blue–I got embarrassed, but took the question seriously. This led to a sexually charged flirtation between the two of us. I left the office at first giddy, but that quickly turned to horror. I called him once I got home and told him I thought he was sexually harassing me. He insisted I come back in and discuss the issue. I did so and he told me he was simply exploring my love for him. (this was after seeing him only a couple of months!) I indignantly told him I was not in love with him and he insisted that patients always fell in love with their therapists it was normal and I was simply denying the truth. I left and did not go back. I looked into reporting him as I thought his behavior was completely inappropriate and unethical. I only later realized it was the norm within psychoanalysis. The next time I would not be so lucky as to extricate myself from the situation.

(I understand that it is indeed normal to have feelings for therapists, but it was his pushing of the issue that was twisted and out of line—I had not had a single romantic or sexualized thought about him at that point)

I decided I should see a woman. I “interviewed” a few analysts and decided on a brilliant woman who also happened to intimidate me. That was certainly a mistake I would never repeat. I admired her tremendously. I was young, naive and apparently masochistic and I soaked up every word she said. She was a sadist and I began 4 painful years of “analysis” that uncovered nothing substantive and she filled my head with lies. The first thing she did was tell me that what my male therapist did was completely appropriate and then she quickly started in with me along the same lines. I was obsessed with her sexually, she said. I wanted to sleep with her. I loved her. The whole song and dance that Ruth mentions in her post–she is right on–my therapist was insisting I was fucking her in my head until I was fucked in the head. (to paraphrase Ruth) But she fucked me in multiple ways–not just pushing the sexual fantasies. I could not leave her. Somehow she bewitched me–she had me in her control.

She told me I was fat because I was a glutton–it wasn’t a side effect of the Depakote and neuroleptics I was on and never mind that I was thin before I started them. (and now many years later, off drugs, I’m also thin again)  She told me I was anti-orgasmic because I was frigid, not because the SSRIs had killed my sexual functioning. (nevermind that I was completely functional before starting the SSRIs—and now many years later completely functional off of them!)

She told me I was sexually promiscuous because I was a hedonist (a frigid one, no less) and as I repeatedly hurt myself by desperately trying to find love with each encounter she shamed me rather than recognizing the pain I was in. Incidentally, this promiscuity began after I started seeing her–I suspect my relationship with her actually triggered my behavior. So much for an empathetic relationship. So much for a therapeutic relationship. She convinced me I needed her. She prepped me each time she left on vacation, warning me I would fall apart without her. I usually did. (Ruth speaks of this too–it’s as though she knew my therapist–that is a horrifying testament to how common this abuse is.)

The only reason this relationship ended was because she moved away. Once she was out of my life I blossomed. My life became relatively normal and healthy and I started having healthy relationships with men again and in fact they where healthier than I had ever had–the promiscuity came to an abrupt halt. Literally within a month my life shifted into a sane one. She had literally been the driving force behind my painful behavior in some way. It was sick and it was twisted. I still feel raped and abused when I think of her. I still hate her. And somehow, I’m still, even if only vaguely under her influence. The fact that I still feel sick and hate when I think of her is proof of that. How to get her out of my system? She is poison to me. I still sometimes unconsciously begin to apply some of her questionable interpretations of my behavior to my life now, though in mostly innocuous ways, but it’s an unpleasant haunting nonetheless.

I also, rather clumsily, within the context of this post, want to say I’ve only given a few of the twisted interpretations she made about my life here. Her ability to systematically gaslight me on a daily basis (twice weekly anyway) was phenomenal.

I never trusted a therapist again after that. I went through probably a dozen or so over the years. Never hanging around more than a couple of months. Part of this was that they were just lousy therapists. I chose them randomly based on what my insurance would cover and many of them were simply not particularly intelligent and it didn’t help that I simply could not let myself trust again.

Last year I started with a new therapist after several years of not even trying. I’ve been with her a little over a year. She is very kind–sometimes I think too kind. I still don’t trust her and I don’t know that she deserves my trust–does any therapist really? I’m pretty damn cynical. I seem to be doing well and perhaps her empathetic listening is helpful. I really don’t know. I’m going through radical changes, but that seems to have been set in motion on it’s own accord. I don’t really think the therapy triggered it. So now I’m trying to decide if I need a nice supportive listener or not. Sometimes I think she is too validating-she never challenges me. She is the polar opposite of the cruel, sadistic woman I had many years ago. I think the ideal might be something in between, but I don’t believe I’ll ever go shopping again. I will talk to her. She is certainly open to my expressing my reservations. It may simply be time to graduate out of the world of psychotherapy. I have a nice neuro-psychologist with whom I often consult in a therapeutic fashion and my psychiatrist too is a nice, supportive man. And then, most importantly, I have a husband and friends. I have always had friends and my husband is wonderful. Do I really need an official therapist?

I’ve kept trying because no matter how far I come, I still struggle with strong seemingly unresolvable feelings. But as I move on the journey I have begun now–the journey to extract myself from psychiatry and reclaim my brain, drug free, I feel empowered and that may be the only therapy I now need. I’m not quite ready to ditch my current therapist. I need to talk to her about what I’m thinking–certainly this current therapy has been terribly disrupted over the last couple of months with all my family drama and most of my reservations have arisen over this time. I’ve found that I can’t stand talking to her on the phone. Her empathetic noise making at my pain makes me want to scream. She does not seem so insipid in person. Indeed I don’t experience her at all that way in person. So I need to see how things go once I see her again.

**I’ve, since writing this post, become clear that all my major mania were drug induced. It’s very unclear that I should have the bipolar diagnosis at all.

Update: One thing I didn’t mention about the therapist I saw as a young woman that is quite interesting is that she never believed I was bipolar.  Seems she was right about something. The thing is even though she didn’t believe I was bipolar she claimed I was floridly psychotic when I first went to see her. (I was holding down a full-time job and was well respected by my colleagues and had many friends and family all of whom seemed to think I was fine.) Her reasons for thinking I was psychotic was because I clung to some psycho-spiritual experiences I had when I was indeed psychotic. Basically she thought I was psychotic because I held unusual spiritual beliefs at the time. Hmmf. That is how we get into forced treatment. She told me later that she was indeed thinking of having me committed when I first went to her. Anyway…enough…I ramble.

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About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters

21 Responses

  1. I saw my last therapist for 8 years, the longest I’d ever been in therapy with one therapist. Most only last a few months. She was empathetic, yet she fostered dependency like you would not believe. I fell under her spell. Thank god she was not a sadist. Anyway, I did get a lot out of our sessions, and there was definitely a purpose for her in my life. But then I simply outgrew her. It happened gradually, and our sessions just kind of fizzled away on their own. I would cancel appointments or set up phone sessions because I just didn’t feel like going in. I don’t even remember how our sessions finally ended, but it happened early this year.

    I suspect you, too, will just “know” when it’s time to end it, and it will be the right time.

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  2. Helen

    Gianna,
    You said you didn’t think most of your readers had seen this which lead me to wonder if you have a lot morre susbscribers than you did a few months ago.

    I was spell-bound by a couple of my therapists. And I will give credit that a couple did really buy into the “chemical imbalance.”

    I think lonely, hurt people become spellbound.

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  3. I guess I’ve been lucky on the therapist front. I’ve had 3 but only because each one was leaving the area and passed me on to someone else. The first one was so brief that all we touched on was “Adult Child” issues at the time, since I was in total denial of my substance abuse. The second one addressed my alcoholism after I stated, as one of my “goals”, “I want to learn how to drink without getting drunk.” (Yes, that was one of my goals, ha ha.) The third and final one lasted about 5 or so years. Mostly we would just talk and he would build up my non-existant self esteem. The last year or so I was seeing him once a month, a session I referred to as “getting my batteries re-charged.” Oh yeah, and one day I looked in the mirror and that awful, black, little core of cancerous hate I had towards myself was gone, for which I will always be grateful. This was 13 years ago and I have not felt the need to re-enter the therapy arena, another reason to express gratitude.

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  4. Duane Sherry

    Gianna,

    Don’t blame you for losing trust in therapists – your story mad me sad one moment, and angry the next – to read abou the abuse.

    The one therapist who thought your mania was drug-induced – have only had one all=out manic episode – when I was a young man – was on Elavil and drinking heavily at the time – have always wondered the same thing……..but, never heard anyone tell me that – actually, I would love for someone to tell me that – I think we often wonder what induces these things – have spent many years wondering about this from time to time.

    I don’t know, I do believe counseling can help, but not sure about ‘analysis’ per say – I think (maybe) the best ‘therapy’ is done with equals – sometimes, I think the entire ‘therapeutic relationsip’ can only lead to more pain.

    But, do believe that a person who is loving and compassionate, and SINCERE – can help – tough to find someone like that sometimes……

    Anyway, your post was interesting – also sad.

    Duane

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  5. Ugh, ugh, ugh. The more I hear / read, the more I realize just how blessed I was with my therapist — he was absolutely safe and appropriate with transference, including the sexual attraction I developed all by myself, he was the perfect balance of listening and talking, sometimes confirming, sometimes illuminating, sometimes challenging. He was wonderful. I doubt I will ever even bother trying someone else, should the need arise again — I’ll just pay the out of pocket and call him. I hope he lives forever.

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  6. Duane Sherry

    Jayme,

    I think you hit the nail on the head – ‘lived experience’ – what could be of more value?

    There are those who counsel, who have experienced some of these things – great losses, anxiety, depression, etc – this (in my opinion) is the only way to truly empathize – otherwise, the whole experience is something anyone could read in a book.

    I enjoy history – recently read ‘1776’ – very good book about the revolutionary characters – Washington was engaged with some very brilliant men – very well-educated, and very well-read – he became respected by a great many intelligent men due to his strong belief in the learning that came from his own life experience – have come to believe that there is great value in this.

    Lastly, I am not sure that the human mind was ever meant to be fully understood – certainly ‘labels’ (in my opinion) can serve to de-humanize – insofar as they reduce the human experience to a simple explanation, and place the person who has been given the label into a ‘fight/flight’ response – either with acceptance or ‘denial’ (a term that is far too overused in our culture) – there is a third choice – to reject the label.

    This is my choice – I chose to consider myself ‘unique’ – this is the only label that has ever worked for me personally – it is one that gives me great strength – and is neither greater nor less than anyone else’s label.

    Duane

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  7. Eve

    Gianna, it’s so sad to me that in therapists we all too often find both the bad mother who does exactly what Mother did (or whomever), and also the good mother, the one in whose thrall we’re held, the one to whom a client can become spellbound.

    What a moving post. I’m sorry for your suffering at the hands of professionals.

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  8. Holy crap, Gianna. This was infuriating and heartbreaking and terrifying to read.

    I’ve had some pretty bad therapists, but none who were anywhere near as bad as yours.

    I can’t even imagine what I’d do if an analyst suggested I had sexual feelings about him/her when I didn’t, but I’m pretty sure it would involve an unambiguous suggestion to fuck off, and the loud slamming of a door. The whole dynamic is just so sick and inappropriate.

    No wonder you’ve lost faith in therapists.

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  9. runaway

    Your experience with therapy and psychiatry is very similar to mine. I believe everything you said because almost all the same things in a slightly different variation also happened to me. It is just too bad that the public still thinks of these “professionals” as people who help mental sufferers.
    I found that heavy duty exercise every single day helps me forget all the horrible things that happened to me and gets rid of my mental suffering and I also am more productive in every way when I do so, getting things done on my to do list.
    Now I hope to help those poor kids somehow who are being labeled and drugged as bipolar when they are two years old. I don’t want to be a mental health professional at all though. Far from it.
    Just look at the Children’s Defence Fund and Bazelon.org.
    There is going to be more labeling and drugging of our youngest citizens if the survivors don’t help the less fortunate who have no rights to refuse or complain about what is happening to them at the hands of psychiatrists and therapists.

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  10. Grainne Humphrys

    Again I have been so fortunate with both integrative humanistic psychotherapists I have had. They both explained to me beforehand that they were not my Mother and that they could not ‘save’ me… rather that they could help me to help myself. I found support groups were helpful too.
    I did have one counsellor who encouraged me to have an abortion (when I had mentioned that option), rather than being objective, when I was in a terrible state about an unplanned pregnancy. I had the foresight and guts to challenge her view and phone Crisis Pregnancy instead. I discovered that my ‘terrible state’ and fear were my Mother’s and my family’s. Thank god I didn’t listen to that counsellor because when I looked deep down I really wanted my baby and he is the most wonderful son. Imagine if I had gone through with an abortion (which I wasn’t able to do, anyway) and later discovered that I did it for my family and for what society thinks (I was unmarried and had already had another child out of wedlock with a different Father… shock, horror!) My psychotherapist (with Crisis Pregnancy) was the first person who asked me how I really felt about my pregnancy with such unconditional love and kindness that I burst into tears with happiness and relief. Turns out I was really happy. She went on to tell me that this baby helped me take life by the horns and to hell with what anyone else thought! It was liberating. My bump grew bigger that very day! And I felt proud of myself and my baby. My son has taught me to not be so concerned with what others think, but with what I feel and what I think. It was my psychotherapist that unlocked that for me.
    I find it apalling to think that a therapist could wreck someone’s head like that one you had, Gianna. Surely, they were on some sort of twisted ego trip. I am quite naive about such things and impressionable. I could become spell-bound too, so I feel lucky not to have fallen into those sadistic hands. And I’m glad I found the strength from somewhere to not listen to the counsellor in that instant. We are so vulnerable in times of crisis or need. It’s frightening how spell-bound we can become. Isn’t there a Souxsie Sioux song called ‘SpellBound’???!!!

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  11. Grainne Humphrys

    Yeah, my gut has always trusted Jung and avoided Freud… what I have read about Jung I have really connected with.
    I’m happy that you found someone who is helpful for you.

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  12. Hi Gianna,

    I just stumbled here from… somewhere in the blogosphere but this is a great blog.. I can’t believe it took me so long to find it!

    I never cease to be amazed at how many “bad therapists” there are out there.. or at how long clients stick with therapy. I suspect its easy to get sucked in to the system.. both the medical system and the belief system of this magical treatment. When I had just started therapy I read a book called “falling for therapy” and it really opened my mind as to just how wrong it could all go.

    There are so many clients out there looking for answers as a result – but at least great blogs such as yours appear!

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  13. Samarkand37

    Hi Gianna – I’ve been following your (excellent) site for a few weeks now because I’m slowly coming off of clonazepam (nightmare) – to be followed by Effexor and citalopram – and I’ve found your experiences with meds very helpful.
    What an awful analyst! I just needed to throw in a positive note for Freud! I’ve actually been in psychoanalysis for two years with a Lacanian analyst and I have to say it’s been an absolute blessing. After 17 years of 11 medications, and 4 therapists of different theoretical orientations, being in analysis with this guy has been by far the most helpful thing I’ve ever done for myself. The Lacanian approach is very much Freudian – in a sense more Freudian than any ‘Freudian’ – but also radically different from psychoanalysis as it’s practiced in the English-speaking world. If, for example, you wanted to study human behavior at the University of Paris, you would study Lacan by default, but for many complex reasons its clinical application never took off in the States-UK-Australia, although its application in the humanities is quite widespread in the States. Anyway, I can recommend an excellent book (by my wonderful although often irritating shrink): It’s called ‘A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis’ by Bruce Fink. If you look it up on amazon, you can read the first few pages by clicking on the cover photo. He doesn’t come up with anything new in the book; it’s simply an UNDERSTANDABLE introduction to Lacanian theory and practice. Good luck with the tapering!! Best, Dioni

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