Update 2018: I revisited this piece written 11 years ago and it was nice to see that every bit of charge around these issues are gone. Life happens, things change, healing happens. This is distant history for me now. The experience, however, I am quite sure is one that may still resonate with others…the habits of this therapist and how therapy sometimes plays out remains the same. (there are good and ethical therapists too, of course)
I resisted therapy for many years after being labeled bipolar. And before said labeling 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 experiencing altered-states that got me hospitalized. That said, 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…