Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The problem with sharing the same therapist

First of all, I want to thank everyone again who commented on yesterday's post, but especially the final anonymous. All of us are in the wonderful position of sharing words with others, words that heal and encourage, words that strengthen and support, and unfortunately also at times words that tear down and confuse. I am grateful that almost all the words my internet friends leave on my blog heal, encourage, strengthen and support. In the eight months I have been blogging, I have only been flamed once, and that early on in in my journeys through the blogosphere. That's pretty awesome. It is uplifting to experience such an outpouring of good will from fellow travelers. Again, thanks. =)

Yesterday was a super-tough day. Not only was I still recovering from the weekend, but I ran into an unexpected glitch that really threw me for a loop. I am old enough and experienced enough to know that sh** happens, and it is unrealistic to expect only good from people at all times. Duh. Still, this disappointment came at a bad time, a vulnerable time, and from a source which I did not expect.

However, I think that it is worth blogging about for several reasons. First, it is a common scenario that victims of any form of domestic abuse will face at one time or another. Hopefully, by acknowledging this fact, it will help any other wounded wives who read here. Second, writing about it strengthens and affirms me, as a woman, a survivor, a beloved child of God. Finally, even if you, dear reader, are not a person struggling with domestic abuse, you do know someone who is. May this post encourage you to be a good friend to that person you know.

For the record, the therapist I chose for help I chose because of her certification in EMDR. EMDR is a biology based way of helping clients get free from the strong negative emotions associated with trauma. EMDR is intended to enable PTSD sufferers to stop reliving old traumas when confronted by new situations that are reminiscent of previous trauma. These are referred to as triggers, and they could be innocuous things that are sensory related to an old trauma (a smell, a phrase, a tone of voice, a texture, etc.) or finding oneself in a situation in which the dynamics are similar to an old trauma (witnessing a traffic accident,a parent berating a child, an animal attack, etc.).

EMDR has been proven effective at taking the strong emotions associated with trauma out of the equation, so that experiencing triggering situations don't provoke subconscious reactions of overwhelming emotion. Once one has completed a course of EMDR therapy, it is my understanding that a person will recognize triggers and be able to consciously acknowledge them without the strong emotional response that formerly accompanied such triggers.

Also, when I first met with the EMDR therapist, I was seeking treatment only for myself. I was seeking treatment in order to heal not only from any unresolved childhood traumas, but from the trauma of being emotionally, psychologically and physically abused by the man I married. I fully recognized that by the end of therapy, I might very well come to the conclusion that I had to end the marriage in order to live in peace and safety. I also know that if that was the conclusion I eventually reached, I needed support to make the right decisions and take the right steps to do so in a way that was healthy for me.

I was happily surprised to find that, as I described my husband and my marriage to this therapist, she strongly believed that my husband himself was traumatized, and that his abuse was directly related to PTSD. She believed that he could be helped by EMDR himself, though she made no guarantees that he could be helped quickly enough or completely enough that we might not have to separate.

Now I love my husband. So, I was/am eager for him to receive any help he needs to heal and to be set free from all the anger and pain he has locked in his heart. The therapist said she thought she could help us both, but that it was not the usual protocol. She, my husband and I all discussed this, and we decided to seek EMDR individually from her, but not to seek marriage counseling from her. She seemed to really understand the dynamics of domestic violence from both angles, the victims and the perpetrator, which is really key to our decision to both seek therapy from the same therapist.

In general, it is a very bad idea for a victim of domestic violence and her abuser to seek help from the same therapist.

Traditional marriage counseling does not work where domestic violence is the issue. Traditional marriage counseling is great when you have two adults of good will who, in spite of their best efforts to get along, are unable to communicate effectively with each other. That is not the case in an abuser/victim relationship.

Most often, it is the abuser himself who sets out to blame the victim in therapy, claiming that the victim provoked the hostility in some way. Also an abuser will take the knowledge gained through therapy, and use it to further victimize his/her spouse, using the new psychological terms as another tool to blame and belittle. Abusers are often master manipulators, and in no time they can have the therapist agreeing with them and looking at the situation from their point of view only. It quickly becomes an untenable situation for the victim so that instead of being a source of healing, therapy becomes just another venue in which to blame the victim.

People who are trained in domestic violence always keep that dynamic in mind. Therapist are people too and as such are also vulnerable to manipulation. A true professional acknowledges that possibility and fights against it.

I do believe that the EMDR therapist I chose strives most of the time to maintain objectivity and professional detachment. Also, my husband himself is in no way attempting to manipulate the therapist at this point in time. BUT even with those facts in play, yesterday was a classic textbook blame the victim therapy session.

As my husband's EMDR therapist, she had asked me to let her know of any PTSD episodes since our last visit. This has not been a problem in the past. Perhaps that because he has been handling them so well. Perhaps it was because she was just getting to know him, and had not developed a bond with him yet. For whatever reason, in the past, she duly recorded the incident in her notes and we would go on with my EMDR therapy, without skipping a beat.

Yesterday was not like that at all. I went in emotionally balanced and at peace, having spent precious time with the Lord before my appointment. I left hopeless and broken.

We did no EMDR yesterday. She abandoned our agreed upon time table and schedule to grill me about the PTSD episode. What a mess that was! Trying to explain the craziness of an abusive incident is impossible. She quickly came to erroneous conclusions about what actually happened, by getting names mixed up in her head as to who said what, did what, etc. When I pointed out that she was way off course, she insisted it was I who mixed up the names. She then proceeded to tell me all the things I said or did "wrong", implying if not outright saying that if I had not said/done the wrong words/action (and trust me, I was not being at all provocative, and it is my understanding that what I say/do is not the issue in PTSD anyway, but that PTSD takes on a life of its own in response to triggers) then my husband would not have treated me the way he did. She seemed to believe that I had wronged him somehow, though nothing could be further from the truth. And even if it were true, so what? That would not excuse his abusive words and actions anyway.

At first I pleaded that I was being misunderstood and asked her to allow me to try to explain things better. Sound familiar? Ugh.

Had I been more fully recovered from the weekend, I could have simply reminded her that I was there for EMDR and could we please focus on that instead of the details of my husband's latest outbreak of PTSD. Unfortunately, after about forty-five minutes of being forced to relive the details, counter her misunderstandings, unsuccessfully trying to convey to her what had happened to me, I cracked. It was pretty obvious that she thought I brought it up for marriage therapy, and I felt foolish, unheard, and honestly, further victimized as she proceeded to lecture me on Communication Skills 101. (For the record, I could teach that course from memory.) She lectured, and I sat impassively. Finally I surrendered and just agreed with her, at which point she got quite agitated at me and accused me of further wrong- "don't do that to ME!" She claimed that I was giving in to black and white thinking, when all I did was agree with her if only I had been more, better, whatever, my husband would not have been abusive to me.

All in all it was the most disturbing therapy session I have even experienced. I went centered and hopeful. I left with no hope. For, dear friends, if my husband's abuse towards me is caused by my personality, my actions, my way of expressing myself, then there is absolutely no hope for us. I have been through year of various types of therapy, read dozens of self-help books each year and sought to implement what seemed wise from them, and I earnestly seek the Lord and His gracious love almost every day of our marriage. If with all of that effort, I am still the problem, there is no hope.

My best interpretation of these events, with twenty-four hours and a lot of prayer, tears and reading between us, is that the therapist is bonding with my husband, and in the throes of that psychosocial dynamic, forgot everything she had ever learned about domestic violence. In bonding with him as a child abuse victim, she lost sight of the fact that he is also an adult abuser.

While all the literature I read recommended not using the same counselor, the reason given was always because the abuser will manipulate the counselor. That is not what happened yesterday. My husband had nothing to do with the way the therapist came to the defense of the indefensible behavior he indulged in this weekend. That was all one hundred per cent on her.

So I would have to conclude that therapists, being human themselves, are only good at professional detachment when they work at it. Yesterday my therapist sucked at it. It affected me profoundly in a negative way, but I am a strong person with good friends (thanks again anonymous!) and a wonderful God who loves me. By his grace and with his help I am recovered and will continue to recover from that mini-betrayal.

So the question remains, will we continue to see the same therapist? My husband and I discussed this together last night. We have decided to continue for the time being, with this condition. We remind ourselves and the therapist that we are there for EMDR. Period. She is only one of two people certified in our city to do EMDR, and it would really suck to have to start over with a new therapist at this point.

His appointment was an hour after mine, and I did tell him how unhappy I was after my appointment and what a waste of time the "he said, she said" recap had been. Being forewarned, he resisted her efforts at going there with him and insisted that they continue with his personal EMDR therapy where they had left off the week before. He did say that he had to insist on it, or she would gladly have gone over and over the weekend minutia for the whole hour, but that once he insisted on it, she did proceed with EMDR.

Ugh. In a perfect world our mutual therapist would be able to stay personally detached from her clients. In a perfect world she would have only noted "PTSD episode lasting 36 hours" in her notes and continued on with my personal EMDR therapy, as we contracted for from the beginning. But, we live on planet earth and unfortunately our therapist is also one of those feeble earthlings.

So,for the rest of you out there who may be in a similar situation, remember that you are in control of your therapy. You have a right to insist that your therapist stick to the agreed upon protocols. You have the right to change therapists if you feel it is in your best interest.

And remember, if your spouse is filled with animosity towards you, IT IS NEVER YOUR FAULT. Each of us are responsible for our own feelings and actions. No one makes me or you do/feel/say anything. We all experience feelings. We all choose our actions and our words.

Stay safe and live loved. Peace and good will to all, SS


  1. You guys are seeing only the EMDR therapist? Not also abuse and trauma therapists?

    either way, it kinda sucks when a therapist turns out to be human, too. Except that if they really weren't human, they'd really suck as therapists!

    Thumbs down for her being so not the healing agent you are paying her to be! And thumbs up to you (in the end) and your husband (with forewarning) not letting the therapy abuse continue.

  2. Thanks for the thumbs up, Sandra. Your support means a lot to me.

    She is an EMDR/trauma therapist, and I contacted her initially on my behalf to deal with the abuse. But then she thought she could help my husband too and that could save our marriage, So....yeah.

    Everyone can have a bad day. I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt that yesterday was hers. If I am right, then good for us. If I am wrong, it slows things down but heck it's already been ten-fifteen years so what the heck. Life IS pain, Highness. (Princess Bride)

  3. Wow, bummer. Sorry that happened, glad you are OK enough again to realize it was not your fault.


  4. You are very welcome! I almost didn't post, thinking it sounded too negative; I'm glad you heard the positive part.

    As you've probably guessed, I've been in your shoes, only with a narcissistic husband who had no past trauma as an excuse. Doesn't change the nature of the abuse, though, nor the tendency of us "rescuers" to do everything we can think of to help, when in reality none of our efforts will help unless and until HE is ready to change. The stupid patriarchal setup in fundamentalist and conservative Christianity just adds fuel to the fire (been there, too).

    I am continually hopeful for your marriage because your husband is acknowledging his problems and working to change. That is truly wonderful. I hope it was in time to save what was there. If not... well, refer back to Final Anonymous Message #1.

    I think I am going to steal the name Final Anonymous for my future rock band. I plan to rock the house on the nursing home circuit!

    ; )

  5. The Final AnonymousJuly 21, 2010 at 9:45 AM

    P.S. I've been verbally attacked by therapists in marriage counseling, too. Since I kept going back (didn't believe in myself enough to quit right there), in every case the therapist eventually realized I was not the problem I was being portrayed as, and recanted a lot of the earlier crap. Made me dread the beginning of therapy, though, as it took several weeks for he/she to see through the husband's manipulations. Anyway, sounds like there's hope on that front for you, too.

  6. You so will rock the house, Final Anonymous! Can I sing back up? =D

  7. This therapist is way out of line. Okay, a therapist can have and off day, but there is no excuse for her actions. I interviewed a therapist who works with batterers as well as ones who work with victims. All said the same thing, each person should have their own therapist who is trained to work with domestic violence issues. They should be especially aware of how abusers can smooze people. The interviews are available as a free download by going to If you query my book But He'll Change; End the Thinking that Keeps You in an Abusive Relationship, then scroll down to the pdf link and click on it.
    I know it's hard to start over with a new therapist, but you may need to think about it.

  8. Thanks for stopping by Joanna. I appreciate your concern and I will check out your link.

    I do realize I may have to start over with a new therapist, but I prefer to take my time with big decisions like that and not jump to conclusions. I may also be able to stay with this one, too. Time and the experience it brings will tell. =)

  9. Take care of yourself. Let me know how things go.

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