Over the past few weeks I’ve had numerous conversations with a variety of professionals about my desire to recover from what I would describe as therapy abuse that occurred from 1996-2018. I filed a complaint with the Department of Health Professions in September 2020 yet there has been no resolution which has caused me to feel hopeless, regretful, and desperate. In October 2021 I had an emotional, but helpful 22 minute conversation with a staff member at the DHP. Despite my recent request, the staff at DHP have refused to talk with me again and have indicated via email that they don’t have time to answer my questions about the ongoing process which has only exacerbated the trauma that reporting him has caused me.
I asked a counselor if I made a mistake by filing my complaint because it feels like it has only ended up hurting me more than if I just stayed silent. She said that she believes that despite the bureaucratic obstacles that are delaying any action or closure, it was the right thing to do to report the abuse. She suggested that I might consider speaking with a lawyer about any other options I might have.
I took that advice and had two very useful conversations with a lawyer who specializes in therapy abuse. Although she couldn’t take on my case due to the statute of limitations, she suggested that I might want to consider becoming an advocate for changes in the state laws regarding medical malpractice. It helped to talk with someone who’s represented others who have struggled with coming forward, knowing that it often takes years to get to that point and then it’s too late to do anything about it.
I reached out to the Women’s Initiative during their call-in clinic to get advice on therapy to resolve the issues that filing the complaint has caused. I agreed to speak with an intern rather than a licensed clinician because I thought it was important that someone in training hears about the intense pain that may result from bad therapy. Explaining my story in 30 minutes helped me focus on the core issues I want to address. She noted that one of my strengths was my sense of humor and commented on my bravery and strength to reach out for help despite my history.
I spent $208.50 to get a copy of my medical records from my former therapist so I could see what the DHP might have received. It was no surprise that the huge stack of documents was disorganized and incomplete.
It was another unpleasant trip down memory lane especially when I found the notes for the session when he hit me with the door as I tried to leave and the session when I confronted him about a hurtful text and email he sent me outside of therapy. At least I know that those notes corroborate my “testimony” although they leave out some very important details.
I had already received handwritten therapy notes from 2006-2007 years ago when I was trying to quit the first time. In September 2020, I submitted transcripts of those notes typed up by me because his handwriting was so difficult to read. Luckily the notes from 2012-2018 were already typed, but finding any actual encounter notes in pages filled with duplicative information was quite difficult. I spent a couple hours transcribing the 2008 handwritten notes and the 2012-2018 typed notes into a spreadsheet. Then I reviewed all the billing records and entered all those dates into the spreadsheet as well.
That is the number of sessions I had with this therapist. That number alone feels like the strongest and most striking evidence that something went terribly wrong in my “treatment plan.” It’s humiliating and embarrassing to disclose this information, but I need to be transparent in order to finally begin the healing process. When I spoke with someone at the Women’s Center to get a referral she shared with me that if I needed validation that telling a former patient “I’ll pass” when they reach out for help is unprofessional, she was giving that to me. She didn’t even need to know the full story to make that observation as a counselor herself. I could tell that she was upset that something like this happened to someone which gave me hope.
I hope that despite being financially limited due to my current unemployment I might find the right clinician to help me process my experience and grow from it. I feel like my situation would be the perfect case for someone in training and I’m more than willing to share my story to help new therapists gain skills to help others. I need to explore how and why I allowed myself to be in this situation for so long despite numerous warning signs and advice from my friends, family, and other mental health professionals. Most importantly I want to forgive myself. I’ve spent a lot of time ruminating and blaming myself, but as the lawyer reminded me: he was trained to prevent this from happening. It’s not entirely my fault.
Postscript: To add insult after injury, I reached out to the therapist’s office when I realized encounter notes from 2009-2011 were missing without any explanation. I received an email message and letter in the mail that stunned and terrified me. I responded electronically and received a less ominous email reply. These two exchanges pretty much sum it all up. :(
8 Signs of a Bad Therapist: When You Should Move On
Ten Signs Your Therapist is Abusing You: What to Look For
Warning Signs Of An Abusive Counselor