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Archive for January, 2009

On my blog entry entitled What is the Point of Therapy?, a reader posted the following comment:

Faith, I’m happy for you that you found a good therapist. That’s not so easy. It took me several attempts before I found someone serious … I would encourage anybody who is reluctant, or who has had a bad experience with an incompetent therapist, to try again until you find the right fit — provided, of course, that your country’s health system allows you to do so! ~ Ahlize

Ahlize brings up a very important point – that your relationship with your therapist needs to be a good match. Even when a therapist comes highly recommended and has helped several of your friends, he or she might not be the right match for you.

I sometimes receive emails asking what to do if a person does not feel comfortable with a new therapist. I always tell the person to trust her intuition. If something inside is telling you that this is not a good match, then listen to that voice. There are many therapists out there, and not all of them are going to be a good match for you.

I was very fortunately to find a good therapist on my first try. My pastor recommended him, and he turned out to be just what I needed.

However, I had a bad experience with a psychiatrist referral to seek medication to help me through my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Before I even met him, I got a bad vibe from his waiting room. The vibe got worse when I met him. By the end of the session, I knew that I would never come back to see him, and my therapist was very supportive of this decision.

Opening up to a therapist is a very personal experience, and you need someone who you feel comfortable doing this with. For example, I would not have done well with a therapist who never showed any reaction when I shared about traumatizing events that I suffered. My therapist would wince when I told him something very bad. He did it in a way that said, “That abuse was bad,” but not in a “you are bad” way. Other people might have a different reaction to him, but his reactions were exactly what I needed.

Some therapists are very into labels. Mine was not. He brought up a label when it was useful. (Believe it or not, I was shocked to learn that I had PTSD!) However, most of the time, he wanted me focusing upon loving and accepting myself and processing my emotions. The labels did not matter.

While this method was great for me, I know other child abuse survivors who really need the labels to help them wrap their minds around their experiences. Neither way is “better” or “worse.” What matters is that it is the right match for you.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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One question that many child abuse survivors have is how long they are going to have to stay in therapy. The answer to this question is as varied as those who seek therapy. Some people will only feel the need to work with a therapist for a few months while others will still be seeing a therapist several years later. So, I cannot give you a definitive answer about how long you will be in therapy.

My therapist said that I covered about two years worth of therapy during the first six months. He told me multiple times to “slow down” the pace of my healing, but I was like a runaway frieght train. While some people think that covering two years worth of therapy in six months sounds great, I would not recommend it. I was physically and emotionally exhausted during this time because my entire life was consumed by the healing process.

Once I slowed down my pace, my therapist moved me to biweekly sessions. (I was seeing him weekly during the first six months.) This went on for about 18 months. After that, we cut down to every 3-4 weeks and then “as needed.” I have seen my therapist 3 or 4 times since I officially ended therapy. He has always been clear that he is here if I need him. He is always just a phone call away. This helped me to have the courage to “fly” on my own.

Over at Isurvive, my favorite message board for child abuse survivors, I had a mentor who was about three years ahead of me along her healing journey. She stayed in therapy long after I chose to stop. It was not that she “needed” her therapist to get through her life, but she found it helpful to have her therapist to talk through different issues that arose in her day-to-day life. I used friends to fill this same role.

Am I more “healed” than she is? Absolutely not. We both chose different paths regarding our therapist’s role in our lives, but we both succeeded in healing and are continuing to heal on deeper and deeper levels.

I often meet people, both online and offline, who have been in therapy for many years without feeling like they are making a lot of progress along their healing journey. Most of those people tend to be fighting their truths and choosing not to love themselves. The key to the healing process is learning how to love yourself. Encompassed in loving yourself is accepting your experiences and expressing your emotions. A person can see a therapist weekly for 20 years but will not succeed in healing from the child abuse until she reaches the place of choosing to love herself.

If you want to speed along your healing process and shorten your time in therapy, then choose to face your truths. Accept that each memory is yours, even if it is held by an alter part. Choose to love and accept each memory, emotion, and feeling as “yours,” and work through all of those memories, emotions, and feelings.

Yes, it is very hard work, but it is the only way to make progress along your healing journey. As you learn how to do this for yourself, you will no longer need to spend so much time in therapy. Yes, your therapist is an important part of healing, but you are the most important part. Your therapist cannot choose healing for you. Only you have the power to learn how to love yourself and heal.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Man behind desk (c) Lynda BernhardtWhen I started having flashbacks, I was determined not to get a therapist. It is a long story why, but the important point is that I was determined to go through the healing process by myself. I figured that I could work through the Survivor to Thriver Manual and do just fine. I was wrong.

The healing process was far too grueling for me to go through it alone. Even more importantly, I had nobody telling me that I was going to be okay or reassuring me that what I was feeling was normal. I found myself having a full-fledged panic attack, lying on the floor, banging my head, and trying to decide the best way to commit suicide. I finally concluded that anything, even therapy, was better than this.

What I found in therapy was an ally and a professional validating that I was not crazy. I pretty much assumed that I was crazy throughout my life. When you have a mentally ill mother and are surrounded by “crazy” stuff, it is easy to assume that you are the one with the issues. I told my therapist about all of my “crazy” thoughts and quirks, and he reassured me that I was actually normal — I am a normal survivors of child abuse. All of these “crazy” quirks are really just symptoms left in the aftermath of the abuse.

I do not know what the polar opposite of codependency is called, but that is what I have. I do not want to rely on another person for anything. I feared that entering therapy meant that I would become dependent upon a “shrink.”

I was surprised to learn that the work in therapy actually happens between the sessions. My meetings with my therapist were to talk about what I had been doing with my healing process and what might lie ahead. He would correct any unhealthy notions that I held (such as that I was “crazy” or “stupid”) and reassure me that I was doing a phenomenol job in healing myself.

I used to get frustrated because I would sometimes look forward to a therapy session so my therapist could provide me with the magic way out. I would tell him how miserable I was and how awful things were going. He would point out all of the healing work that I was doing and how much progress I was maknig and then tell me how proud he was of my ability to heal myself. I wanted him to wave a magic wand and make the bad stuff go away. He provided me with the map and checkpoints to heal myself.

I am always wary when I hear about therapists who recommend multiple sessions each week for years on end, telling their patients only to focus on their healing in the presence of the therapist. My therapist empowered me to heal myself.

My therapist also encouraged me to cut down on the frequency of sessions as I moved through the healing process. He wanted me to move toward flying on my own, not staying dependent upon him to carry me.

The point of therapy is to provide you with a professional reassurance that you are on the right track. A good therapist will encourage you to heal yourself and will be your strongest ally along your healing journey.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Showtime has a new show coming out called United States of Tara in which Toni Collette plays a “suburban mom suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder” (DID). The January 26 – February 8 issue of the TV Guide ran an article about the program. All excerpts in this blog are taken from that article, which can be found on page 55.

Unfortunately, I do not subscribe to Showtime, and I am not willing to pay the extra money to view this one show. So, I can only base my impressions on what I read in this article as well as elsewhere about the show. I am generally wary of the media’s portrayal of DID, and this show is no exception. From what I have read so far, I fear it is just more of the same – more misinformation that will perpetuate the myths about DID.

For example, in the TV Guide article, Toni Collette said that playing this role “made me think about the fragility of the mind, and that in itself was scary.” I do not view my mind as fragile – just the opposite, in fact. My mind was amazingly strong to fragment itself in a way to survive horrendous abuse. If my mind was “fragile,” then it would have snapped a long time ago. Instead, I managed to not only function but succeed in life because of my strong mind. The DID made me stronger, not weaker.

Later in the article, Toni Collette said, “We have psychiatrists consulting on the show, and I read a lot about mental illness.” First of all, why not consult with somebody who actually has or has had DID? Don’t we know more about what it is like to live with DID than a psychiatrist does? And I take issue with labeling DID as a mental illness. DID is a mental disorder, not a mental illness. You cannot inherit DID, and it is not a physical impairment to the brain. The only way to develop DID is to endure severe and ongoing trauma from a very young age. That is not a mental illness.

The article included pictures of each of the personalities. As I have stated numerous times, the whole point of DID is to be seamless when you switch. The four personalities could not be more obviously different – that’s hardly going to blend.

I also saw no mention of child abuse or trauma in the article, which is the cause of DID. Perhaps they will get into this in the show. I hope so.

I do not tell many people offline about my history with DID, and this is one reason why. I don’t want people to think that I am as “out there” as this portrayal sounds like it is going to be.

If any of you have Showtime and watch the show, I would love to hear your reaction. Is my assessment fair? I admit that I am basing it upon a TV Guide interview and have not seen the show. I sure don’t like the portrayal that I am seeing in the magazine.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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If there is one adjective that people use frequently to describe me, it is intense. I honestly do not know how to be any other way. Shallow people who flit around and talk about meaningless topics bore me to tears. I am sure that I scare them to death!

Being an intense person has its drawbacks. I have actually been “called on the carpet” for doing too well on a job! The concern is always that I am going to burn out, and then the company will lose a good employee. I am baffled that I must justify why I meet deadlines early and do a good job. Isn’t the goal to be the best that you can be?

Over the years, friends have tried to explain why I need to rein in my intensity. It freaks a lot of people out. For the most part, I don’t care. I am not going to do a bad job just because other people can’t keep up. I am not going to waste my time talking about inane things like comparing and contrasting the benefits of eggshell paint over off-white – Who the h@#$ cares?? (Yes, I know that less intense people do, but I am absolutely baffled as to why.)

Sometimes I will beat myself up over being too intense. But then I will have a nightmare/flashback, and I will “remember” how I got to be so intense in the first place. My childhood was about survival, not paint colors.

I recently watched a biography about the fabulous Richard Gere. Throughout his biography, the word intense kept coming up, but it was not in a negative way like I hear about myself. Richard Gere is able to take his intensity and use it to create believable (and yes, intense) characters on the big screen.

That got me thinking about myself. I do that here. Goodness knows, this blog is an intense one, but it is also a very healing one for some of the most hurting people out there. So, intensity does not have to be a bad thing. It is all in how you use that intensity.

And the bottom line is that, once people get to know me over a period of time, they realize that I am not going to burn myself out. I have a lot of energy, and I channel that energy in whatever direction I deem worthy of my time. Whether that means writing blogs, teaching a class, or volunteering at my kid’s school, I am going to give it all I have. The recipients of my intensity generally respond with gratitude, not rejection.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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If my therapist is reading my blog right now, he is probably dying laughing at my attempt to write about how to pace your healing from polyfragmented Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). If I had a nickel for every time he told me to “slow down” during my first six months of healing, I would be a rich woman today.

The intensity of my first six months of therapy was like a runaway freight train. I decided that, if I was going to heal, then I was going to give it all I had and get it over with. As you might have noticed, I have a very strong will and “power” inside of myself (for lack of a better word), so it was an intense ride.

Fortunately, people with polyfragmented DID kind of have a built-in system for pacing their healing. Each traumatic memory and painful emotion is separately tucked away from conscious awareness. So, the person with polyfragmented DID has the power to decide how quickly to unlock each memory. This is not a luxury that most people have when healing from trauma.

Many of my most traumatic memories were stored in multiple pieces. For example, with my memory of the first time my mother hurt me with a new form of abuse, I stored those memories in multiple ways. One part held the memory of the event itself. Another part held the smell, another the rage, and still another, the shame. There were other parts, too.

Because I encapsulated different aspects of the same event, I was able to pace how quickly I worked through each piece. Rather than having to face all of the emotions at one time, I could first recover the memory of what happened and deal with the sickening feeling of knowing what happened. Then, I could focus on the rage. Later, I could focus on the shame.

In fact, with my most traumatizing memories, I might only recover the first half of what happened and wait a couple of months to return to the next part of what happened on the same night. So, by the time I faced part two, I knew that I could handle it because I had already healed part one.

Follow your own inner guide about how quickly to work through each piece of the puzzle of your childhood. You are not in a race, and you do not have to heal everything overnight. Take your time, and work at a pace that you can live with.

Suggested Reading:

Safe Passage to Healing

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Healing from polyfragmented Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is possible. I know it is possible because I have done it. I had several layers of alter parts, which included mostly personality fragments but also some full alter parts/alter egos. I am now mostly integrated. According to my therapist, I will always have some residue and recover new memories from time to time. However, inside of myself, I now function as a “me” instead of as an “us.”

I am not going to lie and say that healing from polyfragmented DID is easy because it is not. It takes hard work and courage to face all of the traumas that caused the fragmentation in the first place.

The way to heal from polyfragmented DID is simple; however, simple is (unfortunately) not the same thing as easy. To heal from polyfragmented DID, you must do the following:

  1. Choose to remember your truths.
  2. Accept each memory as “mine” and as true.
  3. “Own” each accompanying emotion and feeling as “mine.”
  4. Love each part as “me.”

That really is all that there is to it. Of course, saying it and doing it are two entirely different things.

Polyfragmented DID develops because the child rejects his experiences and his reactions to those experiences as “not me.” The self-rejection is hard to overcome. The antidote is self-love. As you choose to love and accept each part, you are choosing to love and accept yourself. Even though each part feels foreign, it is all you.

For me, accepting my truths came easier than owning the emotions. Each new piece to the puzzle of my life explained why I was the way I was. Sometimes it was almost like being a detective into my own life and uncovering clues as I went along.

My struggle was with all of the emotions that came with those memories. I often feared that the despair would pull me under and I would never break through the surface again. I also feared that each new memory would be the one that put me over the edge.

Although it was excruciatingly hard to work through the traumas and process the emotions, I did it a little at a time. It is kind of like the old story that asks, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” I frequently found myself just trying to get through this moment. Each moment added to the next, and before long, months and then years had passed.

The bottom line is that you must commit to healing and never, ever give up. No matter how hard it gets, you must continue to choose to heal.

Suggested Reading:

Safe Passage to Healing

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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