Does Anyone Really Want to Know about Therapist Abuse? (Part 2)

Only once, as I recall, did I come right out and ask someone why they had never asked me anything about my situation. As it turned out, it was a big mistake. Both of us, I think, left the conversation feeling really bad. I never dared ask the question again.

Here are a few attitudes about therapist abuse and therapy in general that you might encounter:

“Won’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or “I Don’t Want to Know”
Therapist abuse may be way outside of someone’s comfort zone. When presented with it, their attitude may read something like this: I won’t ask you about it and please don’t tell me anything. Instead, let’s just talk about something else and act like everything is fine. I wish you all the best, just please, please, please don’t make me talk about it. I just don’t want to know. (You can imagine them putting their hands over their ears and saying, “La la la la la….”)

“Why Can’t You Just Let It Go?”
People may assume that because you’re out of the situation and you seem fine, it’s over. It’s done. You can let it go and move on. They can’t understand why you need to talk about it and why you continue to wrestle and struggle and try to make sense of something that isn’t happening anymore. What they don’t understand is that just because you’re out, that doesn’t mean it’s “over.” (Especially if you’re having PTSD.) I think that the healing and recovery process can only begin once you’re out of the situation and away from your abuser. Only then can you really start to deal with what happened. The process takes time and others don’t always understand that. Hopefully, they’re open to some education on the subject.

“You’re an Adult—What’s the Big Deal?”
How many people, do you think, actually understand that a therapist having sexual contact with an adult patient is a form of abuse and exploitation? I suspect that many people regard therapist-patient sex as “breaking the rules”—a violation of ethics and, given the fiduciary relationship, a bad idea. But they may not realize how deeply an adult patient can be harmed by having sexual contact with his or her therapist. I imagine there are a lot of people who look at therapist-patient sex, see two adults, and think, Really, what’s the big deal? They’re adults. People should be able to make their own choices. Okay, but are their choices their own? Even people who are in therapy aren’t always aware of the incredible power differential that may exist in the relationship. If the therapist crosses a line, or if their needs intrude into the therapy, will the patient even realize it? In the case of exploitation or abuse, the patient may believe the choices they’re making are their own, that they’re capable of informed consent, and not realize how deeply they’re being influenced by their therapist’s opinions and suggestions.  (I’ll be writing a lot more about this topic in the future.)

“Keep It to Yourself”
People who would never in their life go to a therapist have a hard time understanding those of us who do. They may be thinking: Why on earth would you pay money to go tell a stranger your problems? Can’t you just talk to your friends and family? Or: Therapy is for self-indulgent narcissists. Just shut up about your damn problems and deal with your life. Quit complaining and go help somebody else for a change. Or you may experience this kind of attitude from close-knit (or insular) families or communities, should you dare to seek outside counseling: Do not air your dirty laundry in public. What goes on in private should stay private. You are a part of this family, and if you dare to expose our private lives or secrets to any outsider, it will be regarded as an act of disloyalty and you will be punished. (Or at least judged mercilessly.)

“Therapists are Quacks”
This attitude is pretty clear cut: Therapy is a scam and therapists are charlatans and hacks. Anyone who trusts a therapist is an idiot and deserves whatever they get. I sometimes see these kinds of comments in response to news articles about therapists (particularly the unethical ones). While I tend to feel really defensive in response to this attitude, I’ve realized that it’s better to just let it go and not get into any kind of explanation or justification. These people have made up their minds and there’s nothing I can do to change them. (Although I have to admit that even now, in writing this, I’m having a hard time holding myself back from going off on a rant! Walk away, Kristi…just walk away….)

*  *  *

Do people really want to know about therapist abuse? No, I don’t think they do. Generally speaking, people don’t like to feel uncomfortable, and I think this topic generates a lot of discomfort—and confusion and fear and judgment and anger (though not always for the reasons you’d expect).

No one wants to be a victim. We’d all like to believe we’re in control of our lives—that we know what we’re doing, making conscious choices, and able to handle whatever comes at us. This kind of abuse is disturbing because it involves victimization, not only of children, but of adults as well. If a “normal,” rational adult can be victimized by a trusted, well-respected health professional (or any other authority figure) that means it could happen to us. And we don’t want that. We don’t want to believe that someone we entrust ourselves to could betray us. We don’t want to believe that we’re not in control. How much easier it is to simply not acknowledge the issue or event, separate ourselves from it—and from the victim as well. If we can avoid acknowledging what happened to them, then we don’t have to fear it happening to us. We can maintain the illusion that we, at least, are not victims. We are in control of our lives.

What do you think?

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16 Comments

  1. In some states, a mental health care “professional” who engages in a sexual relationship with a patient is guilty of a felony. It should be thus in every state in the country. I, too, was exploited by a so-called therapist and I know multiple other victims of the same cowardly, sociopathic user. The state protects him, not his victims; he is a “professional.” Perhaps if we can educate state legislatures and the public about the consequences of this crime, we can persuade them to pass some laws that are based in reality instead of the wistful fantasy of the protected and uninitiated, “I wouldn’t ‘let’ that happen to me.”

    Well done, Kristi. You are now an official part of the solution. I don’t know how long it’ll take us to get there, but get there, we will!

    • If anyone has ideas about steps we could take to bring awareness to therapist abuse and its consequences, protect patients, and increase accountability, bring ’em on! I’d love to hear them.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story and so intelligently.

    It gives strength and courage to people like me, just waking up to the exploitation and downright bizarreness I’ve experienced over the last year. I am still reeling as I wake up to how the therapist systematically manipulated me, gradually gained my trust and bit by bit encroached upon my boundaries. (She fell in love with me in a weird way. I didn’t reciprocate, didn’t feel like that about her and I found it extraordinarily difficult to maintain my boundaries in the face of full-on steamrollering. Contrary to the fantasies of all those in therapy who yearn for their therapist’s love, the reality is most disturbing and damaging. It’s obliterated my trust in every single human being – as far as I’m concerned you’re only as good as your last deed, NOT WORDS, and even then I question your motives).

    Stop abuse and exploitation? I now believe that it’s never going to happen. Most people do not want to know about the abuse on their doorstep, that their friends and family are suffering. We’re never going to be able to educate anyone in authority because ‘authority’ is actually part of the abuse cycle.

    I don’t know what the answer is. Except to keep on speaking up against abuse and exploitation and telling our experiences.

  3. I have learned that people who have been abused by priests and therapists and other authorities need to be especially careful .

    We who have been abused tend to be easily manipulated and exploited to promote other’s agendas and propoganda often discovering that we helped them but they only used us for their gain.

    • I agree that we have to be careful. I think that everyone has their own response to abuse—some may become more vulnerable, others may develop very rigid boundaries. With regard to myself, I found that after the exploitation I swung from one extreme to the other—from very trusting to extremely cautious and paranoid. For a while, I feared I would be stuck there and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to trust anyone (especially authority figures) ever again. But I’m finding that, through my healing process, I am gradually working my way closer to center. Learning how to trust again takes time. Part of that is learning that I have the resources to take care of myself and that I can actually trust myself to make appropriate decisions and not get “taken.” I don’t have to live at the extreme in order to be safe. I am learning to listen to my gut and pay attention to the red flags, which I always used to dismiss, and I’m learning how to say no. I do still get very triggered, but it’s getting better.

  4. Kristi…you are spot on about all of this! I agree with what you’ve said.

    I’ve been in therapy since I was 14 years old. I’m now 26.

    I’ve had different kinds of therapists. I started to have feelings for one of them, but I never revealed that to him. He was married and it would have been inappropriate, not to mention unethical. He never took advantage of me in any way. I’m not sure if he was even aware of how I felt about him.

    My new therapist is abusive in her own way. She tends to invalidate my feelings and experiences. She doesn’t listen. She doesn’t keep an open mind. This makes communication very difficult.

    She will constantly deny my reality. She displays at least two of the attitudes listed above.

    She tells me that I should simply “move on”, but then berates me for not dealing with my feelings.

    She tells me that she isn’t interested in my “stories”. She tends to dismiss whatever I say. She is cold and insensitive.

    It is very frustrating.

  5. Hi! As I am in the midst of my own 15 year saga, I finally found time to read through some more of the articles on site…and reading just now has provided me with some added strength I needed today. It is extremely difficult to find support. Thank you for your personal advice and help.

  6. I’ve been in therapy for three years I’m very satisfied with my therapist.She is extremely professional, caring and compassionate. She has helped me snap out of my depression. Let us not put all apples in the same basket!

    • Hi Maria,
      I never meant to suggest that there weren’t good therapists out there! Believe me, I have worked with some good ones since this all happened to me, and that has been essential to my recovery, both in terms of dealing with the trauma and also learning how to develop boundaries and navigate relationships. I also have friends who are therapists. There are definitely good ones out there who are trustworthy, well-boundaried, and know what they’re doing. I’m glad you have someone whom you can trust and rely on!

      • Hi, Maria,
        I am in complete agreement with Kristi! The caring, ethical professionals I have been fortunate to work with have given me enormous benefit on my very long road to becoming a successful survivor. I am delighted that your therapist is one of the “good ones.”

  7. Kristi,
    I wish I knew how to increase awareness about this. I was shocked by how long it took me after I left the abusive relationship to even understand the reality of what happened. To make matters worse, I had finally gotten up the courage to see a new therapist (because the abusive one was screaming, cursing and throwing things saying there was something seriously wrong with me the last time I saw him) but she didn’t know what Narcissistic predators are. She helped me file a 15 point ethical complaint with the Ohio Board of Psychology, but I still spent the next 9 months going through PTSD not understanding why I would make a little progress and then fall apart. Despite overwhelming evidence, the board of psych dropped the case. They didn’t even notify the Board of insurance about the billing fraud! I have since notified my state reps, my state senator, the Governor of Ohio and the APA. They all said there is nothing they can do. Then I contacted the Ohio Inspector General about a number of problems with the “investigation”. They are now investigating. I am also writing a book about my experience to try and bring awareness to something that right now appears to be actively covered up. I didn’t have a therapist before this man got his hands on me. I took my two small children to see him. He told me I needed to see him and used the kids as pawns. By the time I last saw him, I was a confused, frightened mess! He groomed me for a year and a half before nearly killing me. He knew so many things about me to keep me trapped. It has been the most agonizing experience I have ever endured, but I am starting to find all of the beautiful qualities I thought this man destroyed still tucked safely away. I am actually beginning to see that I can come out of this stronger than when I went in. There is a lot to be learned when you realize there are truly awful people in the world.

    • Michelle,
      I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through and had to endure. Good for you for pursuing action and writing about your experience! Unfortunately, you just never know when you file a complaint what’s going to happen and whether there will be a positive outcome. It seems to be rather unpredictable (and probably based on the state where you live) which cases move forward and are successful and which don’t. As difficult as it is to let go of expectations, that’s exactly what we have to do when we enter the legal arena. It’s very challenging, but can serve as a reminder to pull our focus away from the abuser and retrain our focus on ourselves and our own lives.

      If you would like to become more involved in dealing with these things at the state level, I encourage you to check out Heather Sinclair, who wrote Lynette’s Law for Maryland, and her website http://www.lynetteslaw4maryland.com.

      Wishing you the best!
      Kristi

  8. Kristi,
    Thank you so much for the reply. I actually just found your site last night so I was reviewing a lot of the resource links you have provided and I stumbled across the information about Lynette’s Law. I was very excited reading about it. It gave me some hope that what I endured might not be in vain. To be really hones with you, the frustration I have felt with what happened isn’t so much about what I went through trying to file the complaint, it is more about what the difficulties mean. First it means that a predator therapist is still practicing with a variety of innocent, vulnerable people coming to him for help. He wasn’t stopped. I know for me, this was the most agonizing experince I have ever endured. I still occassionally think about things the therapist asked me in the year and a half I thought he was a good therapist that later became strategic threats to prevent me from leaving therapy with him. No one should ever have to go through that. I believe it is a true testament to my own strength and the support of the people around me that I survived this. I nearly lost my life in this battle. But even more upsetting is that there are likely other people who were strong enough to report abusive therapists to the board who had much less evidence than I had. I gave the board hundreds of email messages from the therapist, statements from group members who saw some of the abuse unfold, voicemail messages he had left me late at night and insurance EOBs where the indurance company demanded their money back for sessions that never happened. This was pretty blatant emotional abuse. And my abuser was cocky enough to put so much of what he did in writing. Luckily I was smart enough to keep it all (actually it had nothing to do with smart- I kept it because like a true Narcissist, he would keep telling me I was misinterpretting what he was saying. I was trying not to misinterpret it because I felt ridiculous for “misunderstanding”). What I am saying is that this failure on the part of the board of psych has implications that I believe are much more far reaching than you might think. One reason I beleive this is because the board has prevented me from knowing why the case was dismissed. They will not return my current therapist’s calls (and she filed the complaint with me). In addition, I have no idea what the medical records he sent them say. When my curren therapist got the records form him, they lacked a diagnosis, treatment plan, diagnostic work and nearly every clinical entry look like it had been written in a hurry (and was nearly illegible). The board will not allow my curren therapist to know what he submitted so that she mitgh be able to provide continuity of care. She still doesn’t know what my diagnosis was , what the treatment plan was , what diagnostic work was done. And most importantly she has no idea what he was yelling, cursing and throwing things about the last time I saw him (when he told me there was something seriously worng with me that he could only tell me when I came back the next week). He (and the board of psych) are the only people who know what it is. The therapist I am seeing now cannot provide me with any support for this awful thing that is seriously wrong with me. The board has refused to let me have access ot the records the abusive therapist provided. That is one of the things the Inspector General is now investigating.

    You would think that is the case was dismissed and the therpiast not found in violation of any ethical codes, that the board of psychology would want to help me understand how what happened isn’t abuse. Instead, I have been prevented from knowing anything at all- even things that should have been made readily available to my current therapist the moment she began working with me. Something is very, very wrong with this picture. Like I said, I believe it has implications more far reaching than just my case.

    Thank you for your time,

    • This sounds so crazy-making! Who knows what goes on at that level and why your case would be dismissed! Did you ever try to file a civil or criminal complaint? Have you spoken to an attorney about any of this? If not, you might give someone a call to get their opinion. There are a few lawyers listed on the legal resources page, and they may either work in your state or be able to refer you to someone who does. With that much evidence, you would think that someone would pay attention to your case. You may also want to consider contacting a local journalist (someone who writes about legal issues) to see if they might be interested in your story. A little publicity might help you get your book published and promoted…

      Please keep us posted!

      • It is crazy! The board also did not complete a thorough investigation. Early on in the “investigation”, I found a Linkedin entry from a psychologist with the Ohio Board of Psych on my Linkedin profile. It really unnerved me because it felt like I was being spied on. In addition, the psychologist who viewed it was from the same area the abusive therapist was from prior to moving to the city where I live. But what upset me the most was that they still had not contacted my current therapist, the one who helped me file the 15 point ethical complaint with the board to get information. I contacted the investigator for my case with the board (via email) and asked her whether or not this was normal protocol. I explained that it seemed to be a bizarre way to information gather since a person could really put anything they want on their linked in profile. I also pointed out to her that it took just a quick couple of steps to make a person’s profile anonymous and that perhaps they might want to do this in the future (if this was a “normal” part of the investigation process). I explained that I was at work when I saw the entry from the Board of Psych psychologist and it really upset me. I spoke on the phone with the investigator (she did not want to discuss via email). She confirmed that the viewer was the supervising psychologist for my case and that he was allowed to do that. I asked when they would contact my current therapist and she said they try very hard not to do that. So then I asked her what they would do if the abusive therapist denied what I was saying. She said they would contact my previous therapist. When I reminded her that I didn’t have a therapist prior to the abusive one, she said she didn’t know how they would handle it. The board placed 1 phone call to my current therapist and the focus of that (per my current therapist) was to get the records she had obtained from the abusive therapist when I began treatment with her. She said she got the distinct impression that what the abusive therapist gave them was not the same thing as what she had received. They asked her to mail them out- not fax- immediately. Again, the board will not return her phone calls regarding whether the records he sent were different and if she could get a copy of them to review. Considering they dropped the whole case, it would imply that he did nothing unethical. Wouldn’t it be important that she have the records (with all of the things that were lacking with what he sent to her).

        After the board dropped my case, I checked my linked in profile again. This time there were a number of “anonymous” entries for people checking out my profile (meaning I couldn’t be sure who had viewed it). However, in the list of “suggested” people I should now connect with was the director of the Board of Psych (with his picture of himself playing the banjo). I would be willing to bet that if I could see who had been checking out my Facebook profile, I’d see that they had been “investigating” there. Very thorough investigation, my foot!

        In all honesty, I have not really known what to do about what happened. I had lost my opportunity to seek legal action against the abusive therapist when the board director (after I came out and asked him whether me seeking legal action could hurt their investigation) told me I did not have a statute of limitations to take legal action against the abusive therapist. One of the cofounders of the victims advocacy group that had helped me begin to heal kept insisting that this was not true. Still afraid that I could hurt the board’s case if I sought legal counsel but increasingly frustrated by what was appearing to be a huge waste of my time in filing the complaint to the board, I contacted an attorney who helped often with the victims advocacy group. It turned out I was less than 2 weeks away from my statute of limitations to file a lawsuit. No one wanted to take my case. I have never had to seek legal counsel for anything in my life before. I have not really known whether I can even take legal action against the board. It is difficult to find anyone who is even willing to speak with me about this. Remember I contacted my state reps, the Ohio attorney General, the Governor of Ohio and they could do nothing about this. The only entity that seems to be able to do anything (and even that seems limited) is the Ohio Inspector General. Here’s the kicker- with the OIG, when you file a complaint, you cannot file a complaint about the process or outcome of any entity. You may only complain about an individual and they in which they handled your case. Since the Board of Psych doesn’t have to tell you really anything about who is doing what (the only reason I knew who the supervising psychologist was is because he checked out my linked in profile), it is nearly impossible to know what is actually being done and whether or not it is consistent with what they are allowed to do (which is also a fairly hidden process).

        So there is really a component of realizing that either no one really wants or can review this that has prevented me doing some of the things you suggested. Add to that the process I have had to go through to heal from the horrible emotional abuse and gaslighting. The failure of the board to properly investigate this and their refusal to allow my current therapist to know important information she should have had all along has made my recovery from the abuse so much more difficult. It has taken a very long time for me to find my self confidence again. In fact, when the board dismissed the case, I felt so defeated for about 5 days. I had given up. I didn’t want to even think about what happened anymore. And then all of a sudden, I got very upset thinking about how everything had gotten dismissed and what that meant for other innocent people in his path. My conscience wouldn’t let me give up. But the truth is, I have been blocked at so many different turns. I am still gaining my strength and finding the qualities that made me such an amazing person before this therapist nearly killed me. The setbacks hurt. There have been times where I have really wished I could just “give up” on the fight for justice. But the same pattern happens- I feel defeated for a few days and then I get angry. The truth is, it may be that no one really cares about this. Many of the reactions I have faced with respect to this are from people who say, “That doesn’t surprise me at all that this happened”. Sometimes I feel like I am being unrealistic in believing that my determination will eventually result in justice being served. It feels like an overwhelming fight sometimes. It is why I have begun trying to connect with the few groups that I can find who seem to see what I see in this. This is a difficult process and I do not have a great sense of what my options are. Thanks for listening.

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