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PTSD survivors talk about finding a therapist
I have had about 20 "therapists" since I was diagnosed with PTSD.
They did everything from asking if I was hallucinating during the session to cleaning their glasses while they interrupted me to ask if I thought that what I was saying was "really true" or just an exaggeration.
Joyce told me about 2 years ago if a doctor or therapist (usually a MSW nowadays) wasn't meeting my needs to go find a new one. That was hard for me to do. But I eventually listened to her and stopped going to people who weren't doing the job. Finally, after many years of suffering alone, I found an actual psychiatrist with over 30 years experience who actually spends 45 minutes a week listening to me spill out in bits and pieces the trauma of my past. To me, that is unheard of in this day and age. Psychiatrists USED to do that long ago when the insurance paid them to do so, in fact, they used to see a patient 5 days a week with insurance paying the bill. Now they pay them 15 min a month to monitor meds and send you somewhere else, to an under-qualified 25 yr old MSW with no experience in life and no advanced training in psychology.
I am so grateful to finally find a competent therapist, but I can't help feeling angry about all the years I suffered alone and worse yet, had bad help, or bad meds, while I was struggling to get real help. Now I can only be grateful that help finally did arrive. I am so glad I kept trying to find a competent person. My advice is this: do not settle for anyone with whom you feel you are not connecting or whom seems incompetent or unqualified to deal with your own issues. If you feel uncomfortable in any way about their understanding of PTSD, just check out and find someone better. It's not worth your time and anguish. If you hired someone to fix the kitchen sink and they didn't know a sink from a dishwasher, you would not feel too bad about firing them, or maybe you would, if you are like me. The point is, if you hire someone to do any job, whether it's to fix a sink, or to tile your floor, or to be your therapist, if they aren't making you feel confident about what they are doing for your own money, cut them loose. It's hard to do when you have PTSD, to cut someone loose.
Trust me, it's worth it in the long run to get rid of them and keep on searching at any cost (Big cost, all those disappointing appointments, drive time, just getting geared up to leave the house) to find someone actually skilled to help you! It hurts like heck to go through that process, but that's what it takes nowadays to find someone competent. Be strong, be brave, cancel your appointment with 24 hours notice so you don't get billed, and keep on searching for the right fit. It's worth it!!! Anything less is just prolonging your misery. Be brave, be strong, and keep searching until you find the "right fit."
|Laura, Support pal member. She has a knack for decorating, and loves reading and biking.|
|For a free bookmark send an SASE to Joyce c/o Gift From Within, 16 Cobb Hill Road,
Camden ME 04843.
I began seeking counseling when I began college in 1979. The school counselor meant well and he was a nice guy, but at the time I didn't know what was wrong with me or how to tell him what was wrong. I only know I was depressed and felt like I was different from everyone else. So began my journey to find a therapist who could help me, and it lasted until 2003 when I finally found the right one.
I have had counselors who told me:
1. If I trusted God I would feel better
2. If I would be obedient to my husband he would not abuse me
3. I enjoy being abused and being depressed, it's my crutch and gives my life meaning
4. If I read the book they just had published it will give me my answers
5. If I just leave my husband my life will be fine (DUH!)
6. They don't know how to help me and not to come back (UGGG...talk about wanting to give up!)
How did I find the right one? Well I was focusing on the PTSD from my marriage to an abusive husband and feeling caught in a hamster's wheel because I could not get well until I got away from him, but I couldn't get away from him without getting better.
Someone suggested I might need to go further back into my past for the key. I knew my past was scary and difficult, but I guess I didn't think it was as bad as some kids have and so it shouldn't be affecting me so much now. But the more I read about similar childhood's, about PTSD, about abandonment and lack of nurturing I began to see the link between then and now. I heard about EMDR which is one of the therapy models used for trauma patients.
Consequently I contacted a therapist at a nearby university who specializes in trauma issues. He could not take me on. I contacted a therapist I went to for awhile who I respected greatly, asked him about EMDR. He since had been trained in it and so had his wife. I decided instead of returning as his client, I'd try a female.
At the end of the first session she said to me that she is amazed I had survived this long based on my childhood, all the trauma I encountered and living with an abusive and controlling husband all these years. We hit it off right away. She subsequently confided that she herself was a victim of sexual molestation as a child and I realized that was why she could be so nurturing. She's been there.
I had to find someone who truly understands the effects of trauma on not only our thinking but how it effects our bodies, our overall health, everything. I had to find someone who understood that the main thing I needed was to be kind to myself, nurture myself, be on my side.
I would say anyone who suffers from PTSD needs to find someone who is trained to council victims of trauma and understands the devastating effects of trauma. It's important they understand that PTSD can result from lots of situations, not only combat or being involved in some horrible episode such as 9/11. Trauma can be from a one time event or from years of abuse.
If you don't find a therapist who understands PTSD you will probably end up being frustrated again. My insurance does not cover this therapist, but she works with me by giving me her lowest rate on her sliding scale. It's an expense, but it's my life and to save my life I don't mind paying for an effective counselor.
I am convinced now that there needs to be more research into the relationship between a traumatic childhood and a woman's inability to get out of an abusive relationship. It's not always the case, but often I feel there is a direct link. Most women's shelters only focus on getting the woman away. Their percentage of failure is high. They have to nurture that little girl who was traumatized, often, before she can feel good enough about herself, strong enough and able to cast off her guilt in order to leave.
The first psychologist I saw after having my breakdown and being diagnosed with PTSD by a psychiatrist was an older man that my workers comp referred me to. As it was my first experience with a psychologist I wasn't sure what to expect and felt uncomfortable with him on my own and was having memory/recall problems (which I still have - ack!) so my husband attended the six sessions in which I saw him.
After briefing him on the workplace harassment, retaliation, and death threats made to me by employees and supervisors, he actually laughed and told me I was taking things "too personally" and said I "just need to get over it." Gosh, I wish it was that simple! I began feeling angry at myself that it wasn't that simple for me.
He then began questioning why I brought my husband to every session, saying he feared we were "co-dependent" but he also said it was fine if my husband attended. He spent more time in our sessions talking about how he could retire any time and didn't need the money he got from working and as my sessions went on with him, he told me I needed to stop talking about what happened so I could "just get over it."
When I told my husband about my doubts that this Dr. was helping me or even taking me seriously, my husband immediately agreed and said he was just waiting for me to speak up and say something.
Not knowing how to find another psychologist/therapist, my husband called our workers comp attorney and asked for his help. He referred me to an occupational clinic that has a psychologist on staff. When he finally met with me, he asked me to brief him on why I was there and the meds I took, then explained that he was "too busy" to act as a therapist but could refer me for acupuncture and biofeedback sessions to help with my "trauma issues."
I did five sessions of acupuncture but, for me, it was of no help. The biofeedback sessions I attended (8) taught deep breathing exercises, guided meditation and visualization, and gave common sense advice to help decrease nightmares and flashbacks (not eating late/right before bed, drinking hot tea before bed, using essential oils to pull me out of a flashback, taking a bubble bath to relax before bed, etc). The biofeedback helped a little... though most of the info I received was common sense stuff I already knew. So far, the essential oils haven't been helpful with my flashbacks and, as they happen so quickly and violently and often without any trigger that is discernible to me, any deep breathing is useless... though it does help when I am just feeling anxious and/or hypervigilant about the noises around me, leaving the house, etc. I haven't attended any biofeedback for about a month - though the option is still available to me, I'm just not sure if additional sessions would prove helpful.
I guess it took me a few bad therapists to find and really appreciate the skilled one I am currently seeing. I now see a female psychologist who my husband located through our HMO insurance website. He made a list of about six therapists from the site and began calling them on my behalf. My husband has been such a great support and has made me feel less crazy as he also suffers from PTSD from two years that he worked at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. I am lucky to have him as I have no friends and the rest of my family has distanced themselves and/or cut themselves off from me because they don't understand my PTSD and depression... I have always been the "rock" in my family that everyone turned to for help and now that is not the case and they don't seem to know how to react to that.
Anyhow, my husband narrowed it down to two therapists and I talked to each of them on the phone. One seemed a bit frantic and scattered but, luckily, the other had a soothing voice and was compassionate towards me. In our first phone conversation, she also talked about her credentials and experience counseling women of all ages for trauma, anxiety, and depression.
I immediately felt comfortable with my new therapist. I see her weekly, have attended 8 individual sessions so far... my husband has been in two of those - the initial session and one session in which I had a very bad PTSD week and he wanted advice on how to help me.
I personally feel that I am more comfortable talking to a female therapist vs. a male (probably because my traumas have been inflicted by males). As I have a BA in English and am very analytical, I also find myself drawn to people who are articulate and intelligent yet speak in a simple, common sense way and can empathize with others - my new therapist perfectly meets that criteria. She also takes active notes in my sessions, has spent extra time with me when I've needed it, has recommended books for me to read, allows my husband to attend sessions when he needs to, and has requested that I give her copies of my journal notes, notes of the workplace traumas I experienced, and notes I take from reading trauma and PTSD books. Having copies of these items helps her to get a fuller picture of me and my PTSD and depression. She takes time to read my notes (I've given her well over 100 pages) and she focuses on certain things I have written for about 1/3 to 1/2 of our weekly session time. I really feel cared for in my sessions with my psychologist.
She has also made medication recommendations, sent treatment notes to my disability insurance, and was the first to tell me that though my PTSD is chronic due to the ongoing repetitive nature of my workplace trauma and the fact that it was inflicted by people I knew and thought were my friends, there is hope that one day I will be more functional and more like myself, a newer, wiser self instead of the person I once was. Hearing this from my psychologist has helped me to take a more active role in my healing process, such as finding and being a part of the wonderful gift that the Gift from Within website is! Though I have more bad days than good right now I am feeling a tiny bit more hopeful each day that this will not always be the case. :-)
Finding a therapist can be difficult. I went through all the recommended steps, but when I could not get a good personal referral, I checked my insurance website and did a search for a PhD who specializes in PTSD. I was scared to go, literally, since I have agoraphobia, but I pushed myself out the door. On the second appointment, the doctor told me he had to look at his notes a lot because he had brain damage as a teenager and suffers from a problem where he has no memory and can't remember me from week to week. Just as I was sinking in the chair from disbelief and disappointment, he proudly announced, "Isn't it great that I made it through the PhD program?"
I also told him about a horrifying graphic nightmare I had in which I found my only son murdered. I told him it was the worst dream I ever had and how much I love my child and that it was disturbing me day and night. He looked at me quizzically, paused, and said, "Did you ever watch the show on tv about the psychic who dreams things that are going to happen?"
Needless to say, I never went back.
I have found EMDR to be a very helpful tool in my recovery and healing. From what I have learned of the research, it is more successful with PTSD that is a one incident trauma, than helping one with complex PTSD (like me). With more complex PTSD it seems to be one of many tools, rather than the only one needed for therapy. It has been most helpful to me when I am stuck in a specific place, whether it be a new memory, or flashback, or a specific negative thought or coping strategy. It has helped me to move through and beyond this stuck spot. I have also found that the reprocessing done in my brain as a result of EMDR is permanent. Once it has been reprocessed, it doesn't ever come back. I still remember the event we worked on, but it no longer carries the charge and ramifications that used to be associated with it. It is now just a memory, rather than a constant reliving of the event. Another great thing about it, is that when I clear out an old channel that was never processed correctly when it was occurring, it clears out everything in that channel, so it can help me with lots of different memories/ages etc. My understanding of it is that the original memory gets stored in only one side of your brain when the initial trauma is occurring, and EMDR accesses both sides of the brain through eye movements, or tapping, or hand sensors. It is this right and left brain stimulation that allows the brain to reprocess the event in the correct way, therefore taking the presenting symptoms away. This is obviously only my experience, but I thought it may be a helpful adjunct to the article.
So What Are The Questions To Be Asked When Interviewing For A Therapist?
In July of 2000 I thought I needed help. I was divorced with two young adult children. I had a really wonderful therapist for about two years. She was a psychotherapist and understood a lot about me. She encouraged me to keep at my goals and to live life to the fullest. However, if you are a survivor you will understand that this is not easy at times. I became very close with this therapist in the period we worked together. The day she told me she was getting married and leaving the state I was hurt, angry, upset and felt like I was going to be abandoned again. I had only three months left with this therapist and needed to find another one. But, I asked myself "how does one find a therapist that specializes in trauma and works with survivors and will meet my needs?"
I sat down and asked myself what is it that I want from a therapist. I came up with a list of questions to ask a therapist when I spoke with them on the phone or in person. These question I used as interview questions.
I soon discovered that not many therapists were used to being interviewed by a potential client. But, I found this part of the process very beneficial to me because, it gave me a feeling of relief knowing I was going to be sure and pick someone who could meet my qualifications. Sure enough after searching I thought I had found the right therapist. She had agreed to take me on as her client so I did not continue to look any further for a therapist.
Then one morning I get this phone call from the women who said she would be my therapist. She, said that she was unable to take me on as a client. I was so angry because she had already let me know she was going to accept me. Her answer was that she didn't have much experience in dealing with Sexual Abuse Survivors or those who have PTSD. I guess what made me angry the most was that instead of telling me this in a session with her, she had done it over the phone.
The next day my search was on again. This time I would find a very compassionate and caring therapist who had willingly given me another survivor's name to find out more about how she helped her work thru her grief. After meeting with this therapist and interviewing her more I choose her to my therapist. It wasn't that easy to adjust to. Why? Well, let me see by this time I had been without a therapist for almost a month. The roller coaster of emotions were going strong and when I say this I mean those emotions were like an ocean that was spiraling very fast down a drain.
Finally, my search came to an end when I found the right therapist for me. I still see her today. She is very professional yet in her own way, very understanding and cares a lot about her clients. She specialized in what I needed. This therapist is different in her own way. She has this way of getting one to open up and tell her what is going on inside. Today I thank her because if she would not have done what she had I probably would still be feeling very unhappy and depressed.
I wish all of you the best of luck on your journey to healing. Please be gentle with yourself always.
"THESE MAY BE SOME OF THE QUESTIONS TO ASK A THERAPIST WHEN INTERVIEWING"
1. HAVE YOU EVER WORKED WITH CLIENTS WHO HAVE BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH___________________?(FILL THIS IN WITH A DIAGNOSIS THAT YOU ARE AWARE IS PART OF WHAT YOU ARE DEALING WITH)
2.HOW DO YOU HANDLE WORKING WITH YOUR CLIENTS WHO HAVE SIMILAR DIAGNOSIS TO MY OWN?
3. WHAT ARE YOUR PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATIONS?
4. DO YOU PLACE A TIME LIMIT ON HOW LONG YOU WILL WORK WITH A CLIENT? EX: I WILL ONLY WORK WITH YOU FOR ONE-TWO YEARS AND NO LONGER
5. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING WITH CLIENTS WHOM HAVE THE SAME DIAGNOSIS AS ME?
6.HOW OFTEN DO YOU GO ON VACATION AND WHEN YOU DO DOES ANYONE COVER FOR YOU? DO YOU HAVE AN ANSWERING SERVICE?
7. WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSOPHY?
8. DO YOU BELIEVE THAT A SURVIVORS EXPERIENCES ARE GENUINE?
9.HOW OFTEN DO YOU MEET WITH YOUR CLIENT AND DO YOU CHARGE THEM FOR PHONE CALLS?
10. DO YOU GIVE HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENTS TO YOUR CLIENTS?
11. HAVE YOU EVER DONE ANY TYPE OF PSYCHODRAMA WORK AND IF SO WHAT ARE YOU CREDENTIALS IN THIS AREA?
12. DO YOU MOSTLY USE TALK THERAPY OR DO YOU JUST GO WITH THE FLOW OF THE CLIENT?
13.HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT CLIENTS EXPRESSING THEIR ANGER IN A SAFE WAY AND IS IT OKAY FOR ME TO BE ANGRY HERE AND RELEASE MY FEELINGS AS NEEDED IN YOUR OFFICE?
copyrights owned by ANGELMOM 2000
I think it is ESSENTIAL for a therapist to have undergone therapy themselves and confronted themselves before working with others. This is irrespective of whether they have any identifiable disorder. We are all conditioned by our society in lots of ways we are unaware of and these unconscious perceptions, attitudes, values, beliefs etc impact in therapy . If the client has major disempowerment isues as people with a Disorder of Extreme Stress do, then that has even more ramifications.
Therapists need to have an excellent understanding of the secondary role and a status of women and how that entrenches disempowerment even more in female survivors of D. E. S.. This happens especially if they are survivors of sexual abuse and that abuse occurred in the early stages of life such as pre-verbally.
When I went through my life threatening incident, that day, a therapist was sent to the police station, contacted by them.
She was the county emergency trauma therapist. I saw her for close to a year and then on and off as needed after that. I thought she was wonderful. I rarely speak to her anymore, and haven't in quite sometime. For my children, she had referred them to a children's art therapist, whom they saw for 6 months following that day as well.
It's now been 4.5 years since 'that day', and although I have flashbacks and moments of panic, overall, I am doing well. My daughter only recently has brought up the subject of what happened and has many mixed feelings about it, and my feeling is she probably could use a therapist now, but she adamantly refuses to go (and I don't want to "make" her), so we talk about it as much and as openly as possible, in language that I hope she understands. Guilt is probably my biggest issue now.
If I were not able to see my therapist anymore (for whatever reasons), and needed one, I probably would do a search on line for PTSD therapists, or go through my local yellow pages and ask them firsthand what their experiences are with my type of situation.
My search for a good therapist took longer than it had too. I was told by the wonderful therapist I have now, that searching for one should be like buying shoes. This ground, I am completely familiar with. She said a person should shop for a therapist, trying this one on and that one on until it feels like a good fit. If I'd have thought of it this way, I would have saved myself a year of frustration. I stayed with a therapist that had me feeling worse leaving her office than when I'd gone in. I'm not talking 'work' worse...I know there are times when I will feel worse because of stuff I may be working on, but the kind of worse I mean are severe feelings of self doubt and anxiety about what she would say to me.
Shop around, we're allowed!
|Soacor, the woman.
My experience with conventional counselors has not been successful.
My belief was to find a counselor through a Crisis Center because they are made up of women who understood and care. It wasn't difficult to locate a meeting that night seven years ago - a few days after the assault.
On the first year anniversary, I found myself in tears and unable to stop crying. It became impossible to work. If someone said, "Hello." I would be in tears. I found a Crisis Center advertised as being experts with drink-spike assault victims. I made the appointment and waited in the waiting room for my appointed time. I was called into a room and told that a counselor would be seeing me shortly. When the counselor came into the room, she sat at the desk next to the chair and took fifteen minutes writing in her appointment book and made a phone call while I sat and watched. She would ask things like, "Then what happened?" She knew that I'd been drink-spiked. That there was no memory. She would continue asking questions until I would be back to some moment that was upsetting and the tears would pour. At that time, she would look at the clock and announce our time was up, come back next week. Week after week I would leave worse off than when I'd walked in. One night it was raining hard against the windshield. It was difficult to see the road but I'd made a decision to go to the Crisis Center and continued driving. I was 30 minutes late. The counselor lectured me on how bad I was for being late to an appointment. She was livid that her precious appointment book had been disrupted.
That was the day I stopped talking to anyone -- literally -- I couldn't work, I couldn't talk, I wanted no part of life. That is when SOACOR was birthed. Reality did set in -- I had to make purchases, walk among people who spoke and I didn't want them to feel that I was disabled; so I called myself the Silent One Against Roofies/Rape (SOARR) and handed out cards explaning my silence. I spread the word about how simple it was to become a drink-spiked victim and that there was no second chance. Once in (your drink or food), you would be in black out. I also handed out brochures regarding what little information there was at that time.
That is when I found people - normal, everyday people -- cared deeply.
For years now, through SOACOR.com we pledge time in memory of all victims who have lost their voice. For a few years I would send a cover letter along with material on drink-spiking to bars in that small town. I would ask them to do a minute of silence at 7 pm to kick off the SOACOR Days Of Silence on December 29th but after many threats and my car being disabled, I left town.
The last counselor mentioned above demanded that I go to a psychiatrist at the County level. She couldn't handle my crying. After three appointments of filling out paperwork, I was introduced to the psychiatrist. Then as he walked me from the waiting room down a hall, he began asking intimate questions about the assault. When I refused to be interviewed in such a manner, he ducked into an office. The door remained open and the person who had walked behind us sat down in the chair next to me, blocking my way to the door.
He asked, "You don't mind talking about this in front of Dr. so and so, do you? She is in training." Then he left the room. Dr. so and so talked to me for quite some time before he returned. When he returned, I informed him I was drink-spiked. His first comment was, "What happened then?" Like I knew! I actually had six photo-like memories. He then said, "What makes you think you were raped?" By this time tears were flowing down my face. He told me he would write a prescription for Prozac. It didn't make sense that any woman, experiencing a very normal response to a very horrific experience, would be put under the influence of Prozac. I informed him that I would not take Prozac or any other pharmaceutical. I asked about a homeopathic method to quiet my nerves. He informed me that St. John's Wort was about as good as Prozac. I did not go back to see him.
Nearing the second anniversary of the assault, I sought out another Crisis Center. This time it happened to be in the town where the assault had occurred. The woman counselor basically appeared to be empathetic and reassuring. She was well mannered and I felt whether she was acting or not, she was pulling me back into a sensibility such that I could function. She told me there were several women in town who had discussed the same problem. I felt comforted. I went to her four times, each time leaving with a feeling that she was laughing at me but only after as I would leave the office. On the fourth visit I asked her if she had told me the truth about the other women who had experienced the same type of assault. She said, "No." That she had never heard anything like that before. I did not go back to see her.
To be fair, let me give credit where credit is due. That night while in the hospital, I was able to get in touch with a friend. What she did, I believe, saved my soul. She took me from the hospital and literally hid me for days. We didn't know what happened but she was supportive and loving. She allowed me to burn my clothes and not deal with life. She let me cry and scream through the flashbacks. She protected me. We decided that it would be in my best interest to tell no one about the assault.
Through her, I was introduced to a hypnotherapist whose first instruction to me was to give myself loads and loads of love. She continued this dialog throughout our many meetings. She helped tremendously. I felt she cared. I am eternally grateful to these women. It was through the hypnotherapist's incredible care that I received what I didn't receive from the psychologists, counselors and psychiatrist mentioned above. She did this without the interrogating questions. She treated me as a person. She respected my individuality.
In short, my experience has shown me that conventional 'counseling' has little or no value. I personally do not believe that there is any profound healing by reliving that horrible evening again and again. As an innocent victim, I believe it is vital that we know we are loved, not put on the "witness stand" by having questions asked by professionals or friends and have our veracity challenged over and over again.
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