Thoughts From Another Survivor

Hi, my name is A. Craig, and I’m the person joining Kristi as author and administrator for   Born and raised in the northeast, I currently live in the mid-Atlantic region of the country. Like Kristi’s, my background is eclectic and includes university study in psychology, biology and chemistry, and literature.  I am a woman “of a certain age [very certain],” who used to be a champion sidewalk roller skater (over tree roots, even); and, yes, my skates had a key.  I have worked for many years as a professional writer and editor and as an assistant in a large international law firm.

A reader of Kristi’s blog since she began it in 2009, I have marveled at what she went through and especially at how she survived, and even thrived, in her recovery.  And, although our experiences of therapist abuse occurred far apart in time (mine was in the early seventies), their similarities are sometimes striking.  (It seemed kind of comic to me, all these years later, to recall that I, too, had a shocking supermarket encounter.)

Kristi’s goals for the Surviving Therapist Abuse website were solid from the start:  “First, to bring awareness and attention to the issue of therapist abuse, exploitation, and professional sexual misconduct by providing a survivor’s perspective; second, to offer resources for those who may need help or support.”  These goals are extraordinarily important; it is vital to continue meeting them.  So when I learned that I might have an opportunity to contribute to Kristi’s blog and, ultimately, to help write and administer, I jumped at the chance.

In the years immediately after I got away from my abusive therapist (who found a way to become my therapist, my college instructor, and my abuser — all at the same time), I had a relatively brief period of therapy with an ethical practitioner.  But then I ran out of money and had to go it alone.  I fought against suicidal ideation, anxiety by the truckload (probably undiagnosed PTSD), and isolation  —  and lots of consequences of all those.  For more than a year, I came down with an autoimmune disorder.  Work life and social life were difficult and unreliable.  There were only two people I could talk to about the experience.  One was another victim of the same psychologist, and the other could sometimes listen but rarely, I feared, understand.  The topic of therapy in itself frightened my family, and therapist abuse was regarded as “my fault”; I was called “a tramp.”  Talking about mental illness was forbidden.  A few years in, I told a boyfriend I was starting to trust about what had happened; he “forgave” me.  I stopped telling anyone.

It was a long, hard time.  I lived alone and primarily worked alone.  I talked to my houseplants, not for their sake, but for my own.  It wasn’t until years later that I finally initiated some real contact with the larger world.  I started a “real” job and finally obtained some functional health insurance.  Then the revelations about abusive priests and the Roman Catholic hierarchy that protected them started appearing in the Boston Globe.  All the old neurochemical wounds from the abuse were “triggered.”  For a while, I stopped sleeping.  Finally, my health insurance allowed me to find a therapist — an experienced, ethical professional who had, as the referring doctor remarked, “excellent boundaries.”  Now, years later, I can safely claim that I have learned a lot.  I hope that what I have to contribute will be of help to the readers of this blog.

I look forward to reading about your experiences and your viewpoints, and to replying to your comments.  And I’ll share some of my own experiences as a survivor as well.  Like Kristi, I am neither a therapist nor an attorney; however, I am not a stranger to this territory.

As I’ve thought about how therapist abuse is handled (and mishandled) in our various environments, a number of related issues have emerged that I think might be discussed to help broaden the blog’s reach while maintaining its foundations.

  • Is any organization or entity (state or national) keeping track of how many patients are abused by their therapists in a given year?  Has the total decreased in those states that have criminalized therapist abuse?
  • How do the licensing boards of mental health professionals (psychology, medicine, social work, etc.) function?  What are their various goals?  How are they supported?  How are they governed?
  • How many attorneys around the country serve victims of therapist abuse?  How many of them work on a contingency basis (that is, require payment only if the suit succeeds)?
  • What relationships (economic and otherwise) exist between licensing boards and state legislatures?
  • Do licensing boards support legislative efforts to categorize therapist abuse as a criminal violation?
  • What do members of the ethical therapeutic community believe motivates abusive therapists to make the decisions they do?  As Dr. Phil might put it, “What do they tell themselves that makes it OK for them to use their patients?”
  • How do members of the ethical therapeutic community respond, on a professional level, to reports of therapist abuse?  On a personal level?
  • Does it seem to good therapists, as it does to me, that the reputation of mental health care practitioners could only be improved by the passage of laws that would make sexual contact between therapists and their patients a criminal offense?
  • Have the legislatures that have passed laws criminalizing therapist abuse had support from professional organizations that represent practitioners of the professions most often involved in abuse?
  • Professional organizations (e.g., American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, National Association of Social Workers) all have ethics policies barring sexual contact and other boundary violations between mental health care practitioners and their patients.  But do they put any “muscle” behind those proscriptions?

Please feel encouraged to write to Kristi and me with your “take” on these topics and others of interest to you.  Together, I think we can continue to make a difference.

A. Craig

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  1. Licensed sex therapist, couples therapy, use of sex surrogates, et al has become such a selling commodity, sex among therapist and client is almost implied.
    I’ve preached the desperate need of the first five of your discussion points, and further believe all practitioners should be required a psychological analysis performed by a third party examiner as part of the license renewal process.

    The Ca. Dept of Consumer Affairs would not have born the expense of a public awareness campaign if a public safety crisis did not exist.

    I also am victim of sexual assault by a social worker during the early 70’s liberated anything goes period of therapy. But there is still a long way to go.
    Thanks for your efforts in bringing this crisis, which involves not just consenting adults, but minor children as well to public view.
    Tom S. in Tn.

  2. Dear Tom S. in Tn.,
    Thank you so much for your kind encouragement. I deeply regret that you were placed in the same, or a quite similar, boat as I by your early experiences. It should never, never have happened to either of us. And you are, I believe, quite correct — there is still a very long way to go. I am committed to finding ways to reduce therapist abuse dramatically and, ultimately, to make sure that any therapist who indulges in this cowardly, dangerous, and damaging course of conduct is dealt with seriously by the criminal justice system across the country.

    Is it possible to access the content of the public awareness campaign that California put in place? When was it implemented? I’d like very much to see what was done.

    Again, Tom, thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful comment.

  3. Hi A. Craig and Kristi, Thanks for sharing your time and yourselves. It’s helped me to know that some of the pain I carry around is not entirely abnormal! My relationship was with a psychologist who was so charming and subtly seductive…I became the adoring codependent patient whose feelings ended up being squashed like a bug.To compound matters, I’m a social worker so intellectually, I knew we were crossing boundaries, yet I was under his spell along with the illusion that I had equal control and influence in the relationship. To answer one of your questions, I believe that therapists who use their patients either sexually, or emotionally as in my case, have a variety of unresolved issues. Probably, the psychologist I saw has some degree of narcissistic personality disorder.As I continue to look for a new therapist to help me heal from this experience, I find comfort in the thoughts, feelings, and ideas expressed on this website. Thanks again for the time you put into it.

    • Hi, Mary,

      Your appreciation of Kristi’s and my efforts on our website is very, very welcome. One of our major goals is to provide some comfort to folks who have been abused within the therapeutic relationship. Learning that we’re making some headway on that goal is nothing short of fantastic!

      But I cannot imagine how ANY of the pain you carry around could be considered in any way abnormal. How would that be possible? When therapist abuse occurs, someone we trusted, someone who presented him- or herself as qualified to assist us professionally in surviving, and hopefully surpassing (perhaps even growing from), some of the most intimate agonies that human beings can experience, betrays us and uses us. That HURTS! And the nature of the pain you are experiencing may also emerge from how other events and experiences in your life have affected you.

      The illusion you had (and, I believe, many of us have had) that you had equal control and influence in the relationship is, I believe, part of the therapist-abuser’s “shtick.” The individual who abused me used to tell me that I was so amazingly perceptive, so insightful. He sometimes even discussed other patients (people with whom I was acquainted, people who were my friends) with me. He encouraged me to study psychology and told me what books I should read. He was buttering me up; drawing me into his life, into his confidence; trying to make me feel that I could be his equal. One evening he told me that once I had studied and gotten an advanced degree, I could be “just like him.” It’s all part of the “con.” And I think you’re right on the money about the narcissistic personality disorder.

      Thanks so much for your kind comments, Mary. I hope you find a knowledgeable, ethical practitioner to help you with all this very soon. Please take care.

      • ” It’s all part of the “con.” And I think you’re right on the money about the narcissistic personality disorder. ”

        NPD is part of the, and I wish there were another term, profession. Kind of like hi-pressure sales or neuro surgeons. Anyone who uses emotional, psychological, and intellectual superiority over others to earn a living……….. is the text book definition of an NPD.

        Once again; This industry as a whole, desperately needs third party oversight and monitoring, and any individual counseling in any capacity, church lay people or whatever, should be required to obtain and keep a license in good standing with the board of registry in their state(s) of jurisdiction. And personally as well, I feel a complete psychological evaluation should accompany each and every practitioner as a part of their licensing renewal.
        Exposure of this open hole for predators is long overdue.
        Tom S. in Tn.

  4. I hear you Mary. And I sincerely wish there were something I could say or do for you.
    Back in the early 70’s, when burned out sexually liberated hippie guru’s were reentering society and finding easy occupation in the field of psychology, I became victim to one at a county mental health center and ultimately was publicly raped at the age of 17.
    I hear you Mary, and believe me when I say I can personally feel your pain and anger.

    Now, let me ask you; where does an adult male go for therapy to get over sexual assault therapy done as a teenager? After over 30 more of these self serving pseudo professional practitioners during the 40 years past, this misandry narcissistic industry has only compounded the unGodly pain, anger, and frustration, making the original childhood problems that sent me to that first predator, seem completely insignificant.
    I think someone finally has made the discovery of what this industry can do and labeled it ComplexPTSD, even if it never makes it to the DSMR.
    At least it’s progressing.
    And peace be with you Mary…….. I hear you; Tom S. in Tn.

  5. Hello all!
    Hello Kristi and A. Craig. You are NOT alone. You are anything but alone. Therapy sex abuse or ” professional exploitation” is a silent epidemic. I’m currently fighting to pass legislation in Maryland to criminalize therapy sex abuse and require background checks for all mental health professionals.
    Here is the latest article on the legislation. If any of you are willing to speak out even anonymously about the abuse you suffered and share that in an email with the Senators in Maryland to help them understand why this needs to be crime, please let me know. Our time is running out. I will be checking back in after next week. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to email.

  6. This is for ACraig (Hi, Heather, we spoke last year)….if you would e-mail me I would like to share my (9 year long) sexualization of “therapy” with you.

    Thank you…Kate…Pls. e-mail me, as I am not techie with this site, etc……I am also of a certain age….. 66 year old sophomore in the mental health field. i recently made an appointment with anther therapist to discuss what is going on with my t, but can’t meet her face to face yet and have cancelled.

  7. I would like more info on how different state licensing boards work. I’m in the midst of a civil suit(a year in) and filed a complaint with my states board well over a year ago. I’ve kept in contact with the board periodically to “check-in” on the process. All this waiting and the psychologist still gets to practice. Change needs to happen!
    What I find interesting, I’ve seen other state boards here resolve other investigations more quickly. I’m not sure what the hold up is?

    Thank you for this site, I’ve referred to it often in the past year,

    • Hi,
      I wish I had an answer for your question — maybe someone else does? It’s possible that it’s different depending on what state you’re in. Also, consider that each state may have separate licensing boards for MFTs/social workers vs. clinical psychologists/PhDs/psychiatrists. In California, where I live, the latter are licensed through the state medical board. This meant that the investigation of my therapist was added to a long list of investigations of doctors, et al., accused of serious malpractice. So whereas my civil complaint was resolved in a little over a year, the licensing complaint took two years, chiefly due to the long list of investigations and a shortage of investigators. Even though sexual misconduct should have necessitated priority handling, that’s not exactly how it went. (I kept checking in with my investigator about the progress, only to continually find out he’d been assigned more priority medical cases that were life and death situations. Damned doctors!) It probably would have been resolved a lot sooner if my therapist had been an MFT.

      So there may be a multitude of reasons for the hold-up, none of which may have anything to do with your case. And because everyone is “innocent until proven guilty,” the therapist gets to continue to practice while the complaint investigation is in process.

      It’s horrible to have to sit on your butt and not be able to do anything — the whole legal experience is one big, huge lesson in learning to let go and getting on with your life in whatever way possible.

      I wish you all the best of luck!!

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