I Believe that You Believe

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?

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.

Usually you fill out a long intake form before the appointment, so they already have you halfway into a designated diagnosis. But then, 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.

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 a small bit of shame. 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, and that should have been a red flag for me about me, but also, it indicated something that wasn't about me at all, but about him.

At the time, I told him I'd try harder, do better, because not only did he know all of my history, I had to admit there was some fear, there. He has the power of the ICD and DSM at his fingertips. And that's way too much power with someone wearing that many warped lenses.

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: "I took medications that damaged my brain, my vagus nerve and brain stem resulting in severely disruptive neurological movement disorders that are terrifying and take a real toll on my everyday life and relationships. I've been to a lot of medical doctors, and for the most part, I've been dismissed by the medical community, despite the copious amounts of literature on what's happening to me and why. Despite the drug maker's own admissions in their boxed warnings on the meds. So, I need help navigating all of that."

But during that initial conversation, you feel it. This lack of connection because you see it on their neutral countenance and 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. But therapy, that's a safe place. Right?

Now imagine, after years of being dismissed by medical professionals, the onus is placed on you by the therapist for medical mistreatment and harm. Adding injury to injury, imagine the therapist using your fear, pain, lack of trust, to stick you in that form, blurping 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?"

I have really been looking into myself ever since I terminated therapy with him, wondering if I jumped the gun, but then, the "powers that be" handed me a gift on a platter. A while ago, I'd referred someone I know to the same therapist. He's not someone with whom I deal a whole lot, so I saw no conflict, and while I haven't seen much improvement in this acquaintance, what do I know?

But just last week, this acquaintance disclosed that his (my former) therapist suggested he get on medications for his depression.

So it turns out, the real lack of curiosity wasn't on me. But it sounds like this therapist's ability to Google, read, research, listen to me and see me without that Phoropter might have made him uncomfortable; made him question the entire system he's devoted his life to.

And clearly, he's not comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Maybe he should talk to someone about that.


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