I Believe that You Believe
Updated: Sep 27, 2021
My husband dislikes the term "patient," especially in the therapeutic sense. Someone may have a Ph.D in psychology, but we're not their patients. We're clients. More on that later.
The thing is, if you have been harmed or your life turned upside-down by medications, I can't urge you strongly enough to find a good therapist. The problem I've run into since my neuropsychologist, Dennis, is this:
Therapists see people through a psychological Phoropter. If you haven't had the pleasure of being legally blind without corrective lenses, allow me to walk you through an eye exam.
When you're in a chair that looks skeptically dental in nature, you sit and wait for the eye doc to bring the monstrosity, above, toward your face. Rest your chin on the tissue paper. Smoosh your face right up close. Ready?
Now, the optometrist says, "Left eye first. What's the smallest line you can read?"
You shakily read the mid-range row of letters and numbers, and then he starts to flip, slide, fiddle with the Phoropter and says, "Okay," [one-beat pause], "better or worse?"
"Better." Flip, slide, fiddle.
"Okay, 1 or 2?"
"Two." Flip, slide, fiddle.
"Three or 4?" Flip, slide, fiddle and on it goes.
This isn't unlike how most mental health professionals operate, including medical mental health professionals (psychiatry.) But when seeing a therapist, what you hope for is someone who sees you as more than the sum of your diagnostic parts.
Therapists who are good at their jobs will see or learn what modality works best for you, and therapists who are afraid of their lack of certainty (more on that later) will use the modality most comfortable for them, pressing you like dough into a form. Even if key parts of who you are and what you need blurp over the sides.
Stubborn medical doctors are just as guilty of this behavior.
Before therapy, you usually fill out a long intake form, so they already have you halfway into a designated diagnosis. But then, just to make sure, they sit down opposite you and ask you why.
"So tell me why you sought out counseling."
"I have been feeling a lot of pressure at work and in my marriage." Flip, slide, fiddle.
"What do you do for work?"
"Well, I'm embarrassed to say, but I work at a strip club waiting tables." Flip, slide, fiddle.
"Mmhm, and how long have you been married to your husband?"
"Almost 3 years, but I think he's having an affair with my best friend—he owns the club."
Flip, slide, fiddle and on it goes. The therapist is looking for patterns. They're subjectively observing your demeanor, your affect, your ability to take responsibility, you're inability to see your role in your own life, and they're looking for a suitable box to place you in, a "mental illness" category that appeases both the insurance company and their own needs to feel useful and competent. A guessing game at best, a waste of your (the client's) time, at worst.
Unless, of course, the therapist is good at guessing games, good at listening, good at discerning what their client’s need, and good and forming genuine reciprocal bonds.
Recently, my (former) therapist told me he hadn't seen a "genuine curiosity" in me re: my past trauma and the role it plays in my life. I've never been accused of a lack of "genuine curiosity" about anything, so it struck home in a very real, scary way.
I felt ashamed. Had I really not given into the process? Before that appt. I was deciding whether I should continue seeing him, and even weirder, I was worried HE would not want to continue seeing ME. That should have been a red flag — not just about me, but about him. Not once have I worried a therapist would “reject me.” I’m the client, paying for a service, not the other way around.
Of course, I blamed myself and my rather justified paranoia re: mental/medical health professionals.
The thing is, there was no “transference.” I didn’t want to “please” him, what I wanted was connection with him. Every way I tried to connect, he seemed to want to veer me away from it and back to his comfort zone.
At the time, I told him I’d try harder, do better, because not only did he know all of my history (and that takes time), I had to admit there was some fear, there. He had the power of the ICD and DSM at his fingertips and I didn’t want him sticking me in a slot that would come back to haunt me. Bottom line?
That’s way too much power with someone wearing that many warped lenses, and the antithesis of a safe space to process your innermost life and struggles, wondering what kind of credibility-altering label he was going to slap on his notes about you.
I had a couple more sessions with him, but then, I got curious.
I began reading through journals, looking back through our therapeutic relationship for the past 2 years, and I realized I'd felt no real connection with him. There wasn't any form of therapeutic reciprocity, something that engenders trust and makes the client feel like they're being seen and heard and believed.
I finally cancelled all my upcoming appointments and he emailed me to ask if that was on purpose. He wanted to talk in person, but I am the client. My terms were email, and that needed to be respected, so it was. I told him my past traumas are in the past, and while they might inform the "NOW," I had to deal with re-traumatization, daily, by the medical community and by the medications' tardive effects. He'd alluded to the fact that he believed medications weren't helpful and that's the belief I'd been going on.
But I still terminated our relationship because his email to me had a semblance of "I believe that you believe medications gave you brain damage." He didn't write that out, but it was implied, strongly.
It was that moment when I knew finding a therapist would be much, much harder than I thought.
Now I want you to imagine, for just a moment, that you were in therapy, and this is how the therapist responded:
"I believe YOU believe your father beat you."
"I believe you believe your husband is cheating on you."
"I believe you believe you were raped."
"I believe you believe you sustained invisible head trauma while in the military."
"I believe YOU believe your ex-husband it stalking you."
"I believe YOU believe your mother abandoned you when you were eight."
It's inconceivable, isn't it?
So, imagine opening up to a therapist and saying: "I took medications that damaged my brain stem and impacted my vagus nerve function, among other systems. The result has been living, day-in, day-out, with progressive and disruptive neurological movement disorders that are terrifying. I don’t feel safe at a hospital. I don’t feel safe with medical professionals and that lack of security, along with the conditions, take a real toll on my everyday life and relationships.
"While I have some fairly good medical providers, I’ve mostly been dismissed by the medical community, and this, despite the copious amounts of literature on the long-term effects of these medications, the conditions I have, and what caused them. Despite the drug maker’s own admissions in their boxed warnings on the meds. So, that’s why I’m here. I need help navigating all of that."
Now imagine, as you’re talking during that initial conversation, you feel it. You see it (flip, slide, fiddle) on their neutral countenance, complete with a practiced “concern” eyebrow-furrow, and you feel it because your limbic system is highly attuned to threats and danger. Like a horrible mutant power you wish you didn’t have, because so often it’s wrong, so it’s easier to just stay clear of all of it and do everything on your own.
But therapy, that’s a safe place. Right? Your therapist should want to know more about what’s happening and it what I say is true, doesn’t that inform, like…everything he/she/they do from that point forward?
Oftentimes — after years of being dismissed by medical professionals — the onus for medical mistreatment and harm gets placed on the victims by therapists as well.
Adding injury to injury, imagine the therapist using your fear, isolation, loneliness, pain, and lack of trust to stick you in that form, shmooshing you in until you blurp over the sides.
"Why is it so important to you that I believe you?"
"Why do you have such difficulty trusting me?"
"Why aren't you more curious about how your childhood traumas could be impacting your physical health?"
Ever since I terminated therapy with him, I've really been looking at and into myself, taking ruthless personal inventory, wondering if I jumped the gun. Worried I’d inferred the wrong thing.
But then, the "powers that be" handed me a gift on a platter.
A while ago, I referred someone I know, a friend of a friend, to my therapist. The individual isn’t someone with whom I deal a whole lot, so I saw no conflict. However, just last week, this individual disclosed that his (my former) therapist suggested he get on medications for his depression.
Verrrry interestink. Much like his tepid answer on why he had a DSM-5 prominently displayed in his office, he said it was still a reliable diagnostic tool.
So I suppose the real lack of curiosity wasn’t mine. And apparently my former therapist’s ability to Google, read, research what I’ve told him about the adverse drug reactions that led to my conditions, as well as his ability to listen to me, HEAR me — without that Phoropter — made him uncomfortable. Made him question the entire system he’s devoted his life to, which would indeed explain a decided lack of curiosity on his part.
Clearly, he’s not comfortable with being uncomfortable.
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