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Posts Tagged ‘therapists’

Child abuse survivors need therapy. Period. It does not matter if the abuse happened one time or was ongoing throughout your childhood. Healing from child abuse is extremely difficult, and you need a qualified therapist to help you through it.

I was determined not to enter into therapy when I first started having flashbacks about the child abuse. I was in the process of trying to adopt a child, and I feared that I would be “disqualified” if I was in therapy because I would be seen as “crazy.” (As it turns out, therapy is highly encouraged for hopeful adoptive parents and will not be held against you. You just need to have your therapist write a letter stating that your reason for seeking therapy will not negatively affect your ability to parent a child.)

I decided that I was going to do the healing work myself. The problem was that every resource I turned to began with, “Find a good therapist.” There is a very good reason for this advice …you need to work with a qualified therapist with experience working with people who have been abused because trying to do it yourself is simply too hard. If it was possible to heal through sheer force of will, then I would have done it.

If you try to heal from the child abuse yourself, you will find yourself in over your head. When you first come to terms with the reality that you were abused, you will go through a “breakthrough crisis.” For me, this felt like a pressure cooker of emotions had the lid blown off of it, and my emotions had exploded all over me. For six weeks, I truly did not know from minute to minute if I was going to survive it. Nevertheless, I was hell-bent on healing myself. I changed my mind after finding myself lying on the floor, shaking, crying, hyperventilating, and trying to decide on the best way to commit suicide. At this point, I realized that anything would be better than this and decided to enter therapy.

You will have many reasons not to enter therapy … costs too much … don’t have the time … etc. None of these reasons outweigh your need for therapy, especially during the early weeks and months in coming to terms with your history of trauma. If you were diagnosed with cancer, would you make the time to see a doctor? If you didn’t have insurance to treat the cancer, wouldn’t you seek out trial studies or lower income medical care to find affordable treatment? If you were abused as a child, you have emotional “cancer,” and the healing process is the “chemo.” Don’t try to treat the “cancer” yourself – work with a professional to help you heal.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Finding a Therapist if you have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), a reader posted the following comment (I added asterisks to any reference to G*d to help anyone who is triggered by religion):

I did want to say something in regards to Christian therapist, they are not all the same. I see a Christian clinical psychologist who’s priority is to keep me safe and trusting him at all times. He has a masters in theology and knows there is no place for blaming the wounded. G*d does not operate that way. When I am in his office I am taught the reality of a loving G*d who hates what happened to me and never blames me for any part of it. Instead He looks upon me with an endless love that is more than willing to heal me. There is no blame, shame or guilt put upon me for my feelings or whatever they may be. These sessions that are combined with my doctors skill and his spiritual reliance on the power of G*d to heal the brokenhearted, broken in spirit, broken bodies has helped me in so many ways. Sadly, I now see all to clearly how lacking the church is in actually being what Chr*st has called her to be-a place where all can belong and be safe. ~ Sarah

I am sure that there are exceptions to the rule, as Sarah describes, but I stand by my advice that someone who has suffered from child abuse needs to seek out a professional psychologist for therapy and not rely solely on a Christian counselor without a degree in psychology.

The reason for this is that child abuse survivors have suffered from some very serious trauma, and we need therapists who know what they are doing to help guide us through the healing process. Licensed psychologists have been educated about the cause and aftereffects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other related disorders, including dissociative identity disorder (DID). Someone with a divinity degree does not have this kind of training.

If I was diagnosed with cancer, I might meet with my pastor and pray, but I would also seek out an oncologist because I want a specialist in the area of my illness. The same holds true for healing from child abuse. I am happy to receive additional support from clergy (and did when I was healing), but I am going to rely most heavily on the person who has the training and experience in guiding child abuse survivors through the healing process.

I have heard some terrible stories of Christian counselors whose well-meaning but woefully incompetent guidance only made things worse. My sister’s Christian counselor told her to write her “sins” on a piece of paper (her abuse was considered a “sin”) and then burn it. Just as the paper burned, God was removing her “sins” from her soul. When this one activity did not cure my sister’s PTSD, the counselor then told her that she had “Satan on her shoulder.” What a crock of $#%&!

I know people with DID who had Christian counselors tell them that their alter parts were “demons.” Because these people could not “exorcise the demons,” they assumed that their alter parts were condemning them to hell. Again, what a crock of $#%&!

I am a highly educated and intelligent person, and I have even healed from child abuse, but I do not presume to have the tools that a licensed and educated psychologist does. I can offer advice from my personal experience on my blog, but I would not meet with one of you weekly and “play therapist” because I am not qualified to do so. I think it is irresponsible for people who have not been trained as a therapist to presume that they can heal someone’s PTSD just because they have a divinity degree or have taken a couple of night classes on counseling. Guiding someone through healing from child abuse is a much more serious endeavor than premarital counseling.

If you are seeking a therapist, I strongly urge you to find one with the education and experience to help you heal. If you can find one who is also in a Christian practice, that’s great, but don’t assume that the word “counselor” slapped on a door makes the person qualified to help you heal.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Man behind desk (c) Lynda BernhardtI am woefully behind on going through old emails and comments, but I did want to address this one. On my blog entry entitled Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and Conflicting Alter Parts, a reader posted the following comment:

After 27 yrs of playing off as ‘normal’ to the world, how are we now supposed to find a therapist and how are we supposed to present ourselves? Do we just call up some random psych office and say “Hi. I have DID, but I’ve never seen a therapist. You available?” or what?? ~ AndrAia

If you are healing from DID, you need a therapist. I tried to do it alone at first, but healing from severe child abuse is too grueling to do alone. You really need the guidance of a professional to help you navigate the healing waters, at least in the early stages of healing.

You can go in one of two directions when you are looking for a therapist – you can focus on the DID, or you can focus on the underlying trauma. While both ways involve healing from the trauma, you are coming at it from two different perspectives. If you are seeking to heal the DID, your initial focus will likely be upon managing the DID. If you are seeking to heal the trauma, then the DID is viewed as a symptom, but the focus is on what caused the DID.

I, personally, worked with a therapist whose therapy was the same as for anyone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I eventually told him about the alter parts, but he simply saw them as aftereffects, just like the binge eating, self-injury, etc. He said that I needed to talk about the abuse until I no longer felt the need to talk about it any longer. He challenged anything I told myself (such as that I was unlovable) that was not healthy. When I integrated alter parts and eventually the host personality, it happened between sessions. My therapist was not involved in communication between the parts or anything like that.

Neither way is “right” or “wrong,” but you need to decide which avenue is your biggest concern to get started. There are fewer therapists who specialize in working with DID patients, but they are out there. If you happen to live in Florida or Colorado, I have heard that there are practices that do nothing but work with DID patients.

Next, you want to make sure that you get a referral (if possible) for a therapist and ask for his or her credentials. Only work with a therapist with experience with survivors of severe child abuse. I, personally, believe it is important to work with someone who has a degree in psychology. I would not use a Christian counselor because our issues are far too extreme for the training that Christian counselors receive. Also, you will likely cycle through being angry with God, and you don’t need to hear that this very normal part of healing is a “sin.”

My therapist let me screen him by phone before our first meeting. I felt better when he said he had worked with someone else who had suffered from mother-daughter sexual abuse. I had a good feeling about him by phone. The first session was nerve-wracking but a good foundation for therapy.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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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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Sunrise (c) Lynda Bernhardt

A friend of mine has written his child abuse story for a brochure to encourage other people who are struggling with their child abuse issues. I am the “Internet stranger” in the story. He has given me permission to post his story here. The story is much longer than what I usually post in a blog, but the story is well worth the read. I hope you find it as inspiring as I do.

– Faith

++++++++++

When my folks divorced I blamed myself. Eleven year old boys don’t reason like an adult. I thought there must be something wrong with me because Dad took my older sister with him but never invited me to go. I was left to be raised by my mother but her work kept her away from the house too many hours so a neighbor girl was hired to baby-sit all my waking hours. In the 50’s child abuse was a hush-hush subject with nowhere to turn for help. How a 14 year old girl could conceive the cruel and perverted acts done to me is hard to understand.

My mind was totally controlled by her after being forced to repeat this poem to her several times a day:

“Every day, I will obey, whatever you say, sweetly, completely, immediately, without questioning, crying or complaining, or I will be severely punished.”

Resistance became impossible and I endured horrible physical and sexual abuse. Do you know what a little boy does after he is tied spread-eagle and naked to a table and whipped with a fishing pole? Anything he is told!

I learned helplessness, mastering fear, humiliation, shame, pain and terror. I cried myself to sleep nights, unable to change my situation. I withdrew to my inner feelings and did what ever was necessary to just exist. My memories are difficult to dwell upon even after having told and written my entire story in a book. It is still hard sharing the embarrassing things which I long to forget.

One public and very humiliating experience happened in a store as no one who witnessed it attempted to stop my babysitter from baring my backside and spanking me with other shoppers watching. I totally lost control of bodily functions and messed myself in public. That was the day that I first began considering suicide.

Wounds and scars over time lessen but the inner hurt stayed with me for years and years. My mind, emotions, and sexual orientation of life were confused and misguided. The abuse continued for 5 years and ended only when we moved away. Then I was able to persuade my mother that I was old enough to be a latchkey kid.

Years went by with graduation, college, marriage, children and a busy life. I tried to bury my past but many things triggered horrible memories which would not go away. I found the courage twice to discuss what had happened. Once with a doctor who told me that I should have been man enough not to let someone do those things to me. I wasn’t a man, I was a little boy. The other time was to a minister who told me to just forget it all and get on with my life.

Amazingly, I never turned to drugs, alcohol, or crime and did not become an abuser myself. I turned to God and stayed busy helping others in order to avoid dwelling on things I never wanted to face again. I hid my childhood horrors from my children and my wife even though she knew something was terribly wrong.

After 40 years of hiding the hurt, I realized that I would have to deal with this because too many things triggered memories that gave me insomnia, and flashbacks. Suicide seemed my best option so I made plans, and wrote out my last will while trying to determine the best time when my family would be able to cope with my final decision.

On an internet chat room, for Adult Survivors of Child Abuse, a stranger gave me some life-changing advice encouraging me to write out my story, call a hotline and to read it anonymously. Blocking my phone number, so it could not be traced, I read it as my final act so someone would know why I was ending my life. I was amazed at the compassion and confidentiality I found with the counselor on the phone. An invitation was given to me to come and speak with the therapist. I was so afraid that I would be “Baker Acted” that I hid my car and would not tell my name.

First, I met weekly with a counselor named K until she moved to a different job and then I began therapy with M. It took me a long time to face and find victory in each of the traumatic and horrible experiences as I relived them It was a very emotional and difficult season in my life but the wisdom, and compassion of a trained counselor guided my thinking and helped me to find peace, joy and victory. I was never told what to do but was coached and guided into making the decisions I chose that led me to total healing.

With M’s guidance I made the decision to write my story in a book entitled It Had To Be Told, So He Told It To Me! That entire story is available at ItHadToBeTold@gmail.com. My desire is to help others who have been abused to begin their own journey and find healing and fulfillment in life.

I have written many poems and articles which have been posted on internet sites to help others. M even gave me an opportunity to speak at a Sexual Assault Awareness Day event in our community. My speech ended with the nine recommendations that follow entitled: If You Have Been Abused

If You Have Been Abused:

1) FACE IT

Stop denying, hiding and ignoring it.

2) FOCUS ON IT

Deal thoroughly with it.

3) FOLLOW A QUALIFIED COUNSELOR’S ADVICE

Don’t try to be your own emotional physician. Let wise, trained counselors help you.

4) FEEL IT

Stop suppressing the memories. Let it out of your heart. Hurts can become scars you can live with.

5) FIGHT BACK

If the statute of limitations is over and you cannot do something to prosecute, do something to prevent it from being repeated!

6) FIX IT

Healing often is hastened by expressing it. Some people paint, some write poetry, some get on “Safe Chat Lines.” See a Therapist; Do something!

7) FORGIVE IT

(This is hard!)

Forgive those whose choices permitted or caused it to happen. Forgive the person who did the abuse. This does not clear them, it heals your heart. Forgive yourself for not telling sooner!

You are NOT to blame!

8 ) FIND A WAY TO HELP OTHERS

This is a world-wide problem and you can help others who have suffered similar things. Look for hurting people! Reach out to someone else!

9) FREQUENTLY CELEBRATE

Celebrate each accomplishment on your journey to healing!

Wishing you – “Joy On Your Journey!”

~ David

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