A Survivor’s Story
There are people who come into your life and change it completely—some for better, others for worse. Usually we can tell the angels from the demons. But not always.
MEETING DR. T
I met Dr. T in October 1999. He was not my first psychotherapist. I’d seen several others (mostly women) during my twenties and early thirties in my attempts to deal with issues such as my generally mild depression, my not-always-so-mild self-esteem issues, and what my therapists termed “unresolved grief” stemming from the loss of my mother to cancer when I was 12 and the unexpected death of my father when I was 30. After my dad died in 1995, I started to feel unmoored and my depression increased. Over the next few years, I began to struggle more and more with my relationships, my health, and just about everything else in my life. I needed help. That was when I met Dr. T.
Dr. T was a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Oakland, California. My boyfriend and I were in couples counseling at the time and Dr. T’s name was one of two that my couples therapist gave me when I told her I wanted to go back into individual counseling. She described Dr. T as “spiritual” (the quotation marks being evident in her tone), which at the time sounded like a good thing to me. My relationship with God or any other higher power left something to be desired (losing your mom at a young age will do that to you), and I thought maybe Dr. T could help me with that. I set up an appointment to meet him.
Dr. T turned out to be a pretty cool guy. He appeared to be in his early 40s, wore jeans to the office, and had a great sense of humor and easy-going nature that appealed to me. I wasn’t particularly attracted to him but he was decent-looking and, I assumed, married, since he wore a ring on his left ring finger. I felt comfortable with him and found him relatively easy to talk to. More importantly, he listened to me, wanted to hear what I had to say, and seemed to really understand me. To a woman who had often felt unseen and unheard in her relationships, Dr. T was like a dream come true.
Although I continued to go to couples therapy, Dr. T quickly won all of my loyalty. Whenever I’d complain about something my couples therapist had said, Dr. T came to my defense. His assessments of my issues were generally kinder and much more flattering than hers, and his confidence in his diagnostic skills left me feeling safe and reassured. Clearly, he knew and understood me far better than my couples therapist did. I loved having him on my side.
For about a year, my therapy seemed to go fairly well. I saw Dr. T once a week and enjoyed our sessions, which were often injected with humor and spirituality. (Dr. T was a devotee of Siddha Yoga, a Hindu-based spiritual practice, and the philosophy informed much of our therapeutic conversation.) He seemed to have all the answers to life, love and the universe. I’d developed a deep respect for him and looked up to him as my teacher, spiritual guide, and the older brother I’d always wanted but never had—someone who would guide me, advise me, protect me, and defend my honor.
THE GROOMING PROCESS
When my boyfriend and I decided to end our relationship a year into my therapy, Dr. T was supportive and encouraging. He’d met my boyfriend once and thought I could do better. During the breakup, he even suggested that I “transfer my attachment” from my boyfriend onto him. I thought that comment odd and wondered if Dr. T knew what he was saying, but I trusted and respected him and believed he had my best interests at heart. Why would I ever question him?
Within about a week of my breakup, Dr. T introduced physical contact into my therapy. We’d been discussing what might support me in going deeper into my emotions and the subject of physical contact came up. It was through nurturing physical contact that I’d felt loved and comforted when I was a kid, and I’d lost much of that kind of support when my mom died. Dr. T suggested that we could hug at the beginning or end of our sessions as a way of fostering that type of emotional support for me. Perhaps it would help me go more deeply into my issues. Although therapists weren’t really supposed to have physical contact with their patients, he thought that, in my case, we could make an exception and see how it went. And if it worked out all right, then, down the road, maybe we could even spend some session time with him holding me as a form of emotional nurturing and a means of supporting me during grief work. I was thrilled at the prospect. That he would do this for me, for my benefit, felt like an amazing gift of grace. That day, at the end of our session, Dr. T hugged me. I floated out of his office as if I were on Cloud Nine.
After that, we always began or ended our sessions with a hug. Sometimes we did both. After a few months, the hugs got a bit longer, and he even started giving me little kisses—at first on the top of my head, then on my temple, then on my cheek. I felt special, cared for, loved. And I grew more and more attached to Dr. T. Then he decided to try holding me during our sessions. He let me pick the position. We’d sit on the floor against the couch, with him behind me, his arms wrapped around me. It was bliss. I didn’t even mind when his hands would accidentally touch my breasts.
I was thinking about him all the time—not sexually, just as someone who played a big role in my life, a friend I depended on and wanted to see every week. Sometimes, after I’d left him an emotionally distraught voicemail message, he’d call me saying, “Hey, Kansas City”—his nickname for me—“it’s your buddy, Johnny.” He’d tell me what he was up to and joke around with me until I felt better. Often, I’d hang up the phone feeling “lit up.” I was so happy to hear his voice and be deserving of a phone call.
Our contact during my sessions gradually became more intimate, more sexualized, and highly charged. He progressed from “accidentally” touching my breasts to intentionally trying to get me turned on, though he always kept his hands above the waist. Occasionally, he’d experiment with different ways of holding me, some of which were based, apparently, in tantric sex. The positions were beneficial, he said, for moving energy through the system and clearing any blockages. Since I suffered from low back pain, I thought that sounded pretty good.
While some of the things he did felt nice, at other times I found myself spacing out or not feeling anything at all. This often happened when we were sitting on the floor with me straddling him, our pelvises close together (one of his “recommended” positions). I felt confused about the fact that I didn’t feel anything—it seemed like I should—but I felt too embarrassed and uncomfortable to say anything about it. He was doing this for my benefit, and I was worried about saying something that he might regard as negative or ungrateful. I really didn’t want to lose this special attention, and I was careful not to give him any reason to withdraw it.
From time to time he’d remind me that he intended our physical contact to be primarily for therapeutic purposes, not just for pleasure. He didn’t want me to take it for granted. Sometimes he accused me, playfully, of “junking on the hugs.” I loved having him hold me, and the contact was so addictive that I’d become attached to getting my weekly “fix.” But I felt guilty at the thought that I might be taking anything for granted. If he sensed I wasn’t fully appreciating the contact, would he take it away? I felt uncertain about how I should be reacting to all of this.
Often, he’d encourage me to really take in the feeling of his hands on me (whether he was simply holding me or trying to get me turned on) and allow it to sustain me between visits. As he said during one session, “Isn’t it better to walk around feeling aroused than to feel needy and depressed all the time?”
He approached all our contact with nonchalance and calm control. He made all the decisions, judging what was okay, what not, where we could touch, where not, for how long, and how often. There seemed to be no reason for concern. He told me that he loved me and trusted me, and that he wanted me to be happy and feel good. I deserved that, he said, and he wanted to give that to me.
As the contact increased, Dr. T also introduced new themes and topics into our conversations. He’d make flattering comments about my body, compliment my appearance, ask me about my boyfriends and my sexual history, even make off-handed remarks about things we could be doing if not for the therapeutic restrictions. These remarks usually started with “If you and I were to have sex…” and always took me by surprise. I’d stare at him, trying to figure out if he were joking or serious, but I could never read him—his poker face was just too good. So I dismissed the comments and tried not to think about them, even as they kept ringing in my mind.
As things progressed, he tried to get me to take a more active role in our contact. Once he asked me why I didn’t test the limits. Was I afraid of making a mistake? Well, of course I was! I was shy, uncertain, and scared to death that I would fall in love with my therapist. I wanted to know that whatever we did, I’d be safe. Dr. T assured me that he was there for me, that it would be okay for me to push the envelope, let go, surrender to whatever feelings I might be having. Of course there would be a net to catch me if I fell. Besides, what could be wrong with feelings of love? Why not just enjoy them?
Dr. T did want me to understand that, whatever we chose to do, we would never date or have an outside relationship. And since he was breaking the rules and could lose his license if anyone found out what we were doing, we had to be careful. He hoped that he was making the right decision and that I would benefit from this approach he was taking. Should it turn out that I couldn’t handle the parameters of the more intimate relationship, we’d simply go back to a “normal” (i.e. contact-free) therapeutic relationship. But as long as I could deal with it, why not let ourselves have this gift?
That he would go so far for me and take these risks on my behalf made me feel very grateful and very loyal. I wanted to protect him and prove my worthiness, and I happily took on the responsibility of safeguarding our relationship. That included being careful about my own emotional responses. I couldn’t bear to lose this intimacy, this privilege—I needed to show him that I could handle whatever we did, no matter what happened.
It took him about six and a half months to progress from simple hugs to sexual intercourse. Because of the way he gradually introduced more and more contact over time, progressing to the next step never seemed like much of a leap. Often, it felt easy, natural. Between the physical contact, which I’d become addicted to, and my adoration of him, I was willing to do pretty much anything he suggested. I was hooked. I loved him. And even though I refused to think about sex, I was desperate to kiss him. So, when one Thursday he asked me (as he held me in his arms) what I wanted, I told him I wanted to kiss. Really kiss. So we did. And we spent the rest of the session making out. Then he left town for the weekend. And I freaked out at home.
Imagine that you’ve just made out with your therapist, whom you’re desperately trying not to fall in love with. And he leaves town and you have no one to talk to. After all, I couldn’t tell—that was forbidden! I had to somehow deal with this on my own. I spent the weekend feeling alternately high and absolutely panicked. What the heck was going to happen at our next session?? Would we kiss again? Would he say it had been a mistake? I felt like my life (and my sanity) was completely on hold until he returned. But one thing had shifted for me. Despite my refusal to think about sex or take his sexual suggestions seriously, that the two of us would, in fact, have sex now seemed inevitable.
Due to his out-of-town trip, our next session was scheduled not for my usual Monday mid-afternoon time but for early Tuesday evening—his last appointment of the day. I knew something was going to happen. We’d kissed and— Well, that was a big deal. I tried to prepare myself for whatever the evening would hold.
When I arrived, we basically picked up where we’d left off the week before. There was no therapy. There was only kissing and him saying he wanted to see me and me taking off my clothes and lots of rolling around on the floor. And then he asked if he could be inside of me.
I remember turning my face away because I didn’t want to answer him. Even after all that had happened, I did not want to have sex with my therapist. I knew it would change everything. I knew that if we had sex I’d fall totally in love with him and I was terrified of that. Not only was the man my therapist, he was married. Even though he claimed that he and his wife had “an arrangement,” he and I could never be together. What would become of me if I fell in love with him? I didn’t want to have sex with him. But I didn’t know how to say no. And I didn’t want to have to say no. After all he’d done for me, I felt so grateful to him. I loved him. I wanted him to be happy. How could I refuse him the one thing he asked of me?
Instead of answering, I shied away and tried to communicate with body language what I couldn’t say with words. I desperately hoped he’d take the hint. He seemed to, for a while, and we continued kissing and rolling around. And then he asked again if he could be inside me. Just for a little while, he said. If I didn’t like it he’d stop. He’d do whatever I wanted if he could please be inside of me.
Oh my god, he’d asked again! Now I’d have to say something. My brain got fuzzy and I started to feel panicked. I couldn’t think what to do.
I don’t remember whether I whispered yes or nodded inarticulately, but I didn’t say no. I didn’t know how to.
I did hope that he’d pull out a condom. He didn’t. I made some garbled attempt to say something about being safe, and he laughed and said that he’d been in a monogamous relationship not having sex and I was six months out of a monogamous relationship not having sex, so that seemed safe enough to him.
I don’t remember what the sex felt like. I don’t think I was actually in my body at the time. I just know that we didn’t do it for very long. Maybe he could tell I was freaked out and decided to stop. Maybe he looked at the time and realized he needed to get home to his wife and kids.
I left his office feeling completely spaced out, with a funny energy coursing through my body. I felt like I’d been given an incredible gift. This man whom I adored had chosen me. I felt a new sense of loyalty and responsibility toward him I hadn’t felt before.
And so it began.
SEX AND THE THERAPEUTIC RELATIONSHIP
For the next few years we had regular sexual contact, about once a week unless he was out of town. We had sex at his office during paid therapy sessions, at my home, eventually at his home, and also during a couple of out-of-town trips. The sex tapered off after about three years, but still occurred on a semi-regular basis, always at his prompting.
He took full payment for every therapy session, even when we spent the better part of the time engaged in sexual activity. He even took payment for “house calls,” when he’d come to my home during an extended break in his work schedule, for maybe half an hour of “talk therapy” followed by sex. He told me that our sexual relationship could be helpful as a vehicle for my working through issues such as grief and abandonment and could benefit me physically by helping to release those areas of tension and bound energy. He also claimed that he could transmit spiritual energy (shakti) through sex, and that our sexual activity could be spiritually empowering—primarily for him but also for me, according to his particular beliefs.
Despite our sexual relationship, Dr. T continually reminded me that he was, first and foremost, my therapist, and anything else was secondary to that. We would never date or have an outside, public relationship. He fully expected me to bring any issues about what he called our “extracurricular relationship” into therapy for discussion; that was part of the idea. He advised me that if he thought that I couldn’t handle this special relationship, his inclination would be to discontinue the sexual contact and return to simply being therapist and (not-so-special) patient.
He was very clear that what he was doing was a violation of the rules and the code of ethics. His position seemed to be that since the professional code of ethics had been determined by a group of people who had no relationship to him or his practice and did not share his values and belief system, why should he be bound by it? Wasn’t he in a better position to judge what would and would not work for his patients? Shouldn’t he be able to create his own rules according to his own personal ethics and values? As Dr. T liked to quote to me from a poem by Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
By making sure that I understood the risks he was taking for my benefit, Dr. T entrusted me with the safety and security of the relationship. I felt so completely loyal to him that I never considered betraying his trust. I was incredibly grateful to him for allowing me to have this “gift,” and all I wanted to do was make him happy and give him whatever he wanted. I was absolutely content to be his loyal and devoted servant. I could never do anything to hurt him. I literally prayed that no one would be harmed as a result of our involvement, and that if harm were to come to anyone, it should come to me. Since I believed he was doing this for my benefit, I thought I should be the one to bear any burdens.
Despite my love and adoration of Dr. T, my experience of the sex itself was far from magical. I had expected that having sex with him would be amazing, since I had such strong feelings for him and our connection had what I believed to be spiritual component. But Dr. T was not exactly a “tender” lover. In fact, he was a bit more aggressive than I was used to and preferred positions that often left me feeling emotionally disconnected. He also liked to “talk dirty” during sex, which left me feeling uncomfortable and even more confused. I couldn’t understand it; he spoke with such reverence about love and spirituality—I was expecting his “lovemaking” to have a much more loving and spiritual quality to it. Instead, it was very raw. In fact, sometimes he seemed rather angry—almost like he was taking something out on me. I kept hoping that if I showed him all the love and care I could and gave him everything he wanted, he would respond in kind. He didn’t. And whenever I dared to question his intent, he insisted that the sex was truly about love and acted as if I’d hurt his feelings by suggesting otherwise. So I learned to simply accept the way he treated me, whatever he did or said. I wanted to believe him and didn’t feel comfortable questioning him. I had become completely attached to him and was desperate to preserve the connection. I couldn’t risk his displeasure or disapproval.
During sex, I tuned out of myself and into him. I wanted to please him, and I was far more plugged into whatever experience he seemed to be having than my own. I didn’t care about my own pleasure; everything was about him. If he was happy, I was happy. If he was turned on, I was turned on. I started to think of myself as “the king’s consort,” whose primary role was to attend to his pleasure—and I was thrilled to do that for him.
The only time I felt any sense of power and control in our relationship was when we were having sex. I knew what turned him on, what he liked, and that gave me a reasonably assured way of making him happy and gaining his approval. This provided the only real sense of security I had in our relationship, aside from paying him for sessions. But even there I sought his permission. I never felt comfortable initiating sexual contact. I didn’t want to be wrong or make a mistake. I was too afraid of being rejected or making a fool of myself. I could offer myself to him, but it was up to him to choose whether he wanted me or not. I always deferred to him and let him take the lead.
After any sexual contact, I usually felt spaced out and “floaty.” At the time, I simply thought I was “blissed out” on our lovemaking. It never occurred to me I might be dissociating. My out-of-body state masked any feelings of pain, discomfort, or distress so that everything looked perfectly rosy, no matter what happened, no matter what he did.
Although for the next few years we spent many evenings engaged in sexual activity, we rarely spent the whole night together. That was a good thing. On the few occasions we did (mostly on out-of-town trips), I found it impossible to sleep. When I lay next to him, my whole body buzzed with energy—I felt like a live wire. No matter what I did, I simply could not settle down and go to sleep. I was aware not only of all the energy coursing through my body but also of every little sound or movement in my environment. Despite the “privilege” of having Dr. T with me for the entire night, I inevitably paid the price in sleep.
THE ROLE REVERSAL – TAKING CARE OF MY THERAPIST’S NEEDS
Sex was not the only “service” I provided for Dr. T. A couple of months into our sexual relationship, Dr. T suggested that he come and get a massage from me. I had become certified in Swedish/Esalen massage the year before and Dr. T knew I was interested in starting a practice. I said yes, of course, even though the thought of giving him a massage was terrifying. I didn’t have much experience and I really wanted to be able to do a good job. What would I do if he didn’t like it?! I’d feel mortified! So when he came over, I did everything I could to give him a good massage—and completely drained myself in the process. But it worked—he liked it. And for the next few years Dr. T became a regular massage “client.” He’d come to my home, pay me my low “friends and family rate” for a one-hour massage, and I’d work on him for 1¼ to 1½ hours, doing whatever I could to please him. (That usually included providing sex, too, either before or after the massage.) Often, after the massage (and the sex), Dr. T would ask to use my phone to call his wife and let her know when he would be coming home. I felt strange that he was calling his wife from my home, but at the same time I felt like his caretaker, so I indulged him in whatever he wanted.
Dr. T also extended my massage services to his family and friends, referring them to me when they were in town or gifting them with massages. He never introduced me by my given name (my middle name, which I’ve gone by since birth), since he was concerned about people finding out I was his patient. Instead, he introduced me by my first name—a name I’ve never used or particularly cared for. I hated that he didn’t ask me whether it was all right for him to call me by that name. I thought that he could at least have let me come up with my own alias, something I liked. But I never challenged him on that and simply went along with his program, letting people think I was someone other than who I was.
I did other work for Dr. T as well. I helped him with the billing for his insurance clients for a couple of months, and later on (in 2004) I started doing some research for him for a book he wanted to write. Around the end of 2004, he hit on the idea of having me help him draft psychological reports for his INS (Insurance and Naturalization Service) clients. He proposed that this could be a very lucrative endeavor for the both of us. He was paid a lot of money for the reports, and he thought that with my help he would be able to do a lot more of them. He saw this as a possible long-term business venture for the two of us.
Dr. T even paid me to take some online courses for him for the continuing education units he needed for his 2005 license renewal. His renewal deadline was only a few weeks away and he did not have the required number of CEUs. He’d found an online provider that offered short, simple, online classes, and he offered to pay me for doing this easy work for him. One of these classes happened to be the then mandatory Ethics course. He seemed particularly interested in my taking that class for him—as if he wanted me to fully understand that our relationship was a violation of the ethics code and that he was risking a lot by being involved with me. I felt hurt by his reminder of the therapist-patient relationship; it was as if he were putting me in my place, reminding me of my “less-than” status. I did my best to block this out of my mind and to focus instead on helping him out. Of course, I would be happy to do whatever he needed. Although most of the classes he had chosen were very easy for me, one of them needed to be completed by someone who had actual training in psychology. (Imagine!) When I told Dr. T that my understanding of the material was insufficient for me to be able to complete that class for him, he got angry at me for “backing out” of our arrangement, since it meant that now he’d have to take the time to do it himself.
In addition to the paid work, I provided a variety of personal services for Dr. T as well. I chauffeured him around quite a bit, often giving him rides to and from the airport, and provided companionship when he needed it. The few out-of-town trips we took were generally centered around his personal needs, and the arrangement usually went something like this: He’d mention to me that he was “going on retreat” and extend to me an invitation to join him—with the understanding that this was his time to get what he needed. If that was okay with me, then I could come along. Of course, I was thrilled to be asked at all, so I always said yes to whatever he wanted. Often, this involved being his driver. For the first trip we took, to a hot springs a couple of hours away, the arrangement was that if I drove and brought my massage table and gave him a massage every day, he would cover the costs. (This proved to be primarily the cost of meals and gas, since he paid for a room for one person and then snuck me in.) He also made it clear that if we ran into anyone he knew, I would need to make myself scarce —we could not be perceived as being there together. Similar arrangements applied to our other trips as well. For our last trip together, which was for New Years, he wanted me to drive separately to our destination (over two hours away); that way we could spend New Years Eve together, and then I would leave, allowing him to spend the rest of the time alone for his personal retreat. (Seems fair, doesn’t it?)
In the last year of our involvement, Dr. T relaxed the boundaries even further by enlisting me to help him with his two young children. Dr. T and his wife were recently divorced (for reasons not related to his involvement with me, to the best of my knowledge), and due to their shared custody, he was needing to manage a few days a week of single parenthood. One day he asked if I would watch his youngest so that he could go to the gym. Of course I said yes. And so, when he needed a babysitter or some help with the kids, he called me. I very much enjoyed spending time with his children. But again, due to his concern that one of them might use my name with someone who could identify me as a patient (like his now ex-wife), he decided I should go by an alias. At least this time he allowed me to choose my own.
Sometimes, after inviting me over to help with the kids, he’d put them to bed, pretend that I’d left, and then sneak me into his bedroom for sex. I always felt incredibly nervous about being there with his kids asleep down the hall. What would happen if one of them walked in? This never seemed to bother him at all. As always, I simply went along with his wishes and tried not to think about possible consequences. (Although I understand that Dr. T is fully responsible for his actions, I deeply regret that I took part in his betrayal of his family and friends. Because I was unable to say no to him, I ended up doing many things for him for which I now feel great remorse.)
For the most part, whenever Dr. T asked me to do something for him, I’d say yes. Mostly because I wanted to please him and make him happy, but also because it was very difficult to say no to him. He certainly didn’t make it easy. It seemed that in his thinking, if I were available at all, then I should be available to him. Whenever I claimed to have other plans, he would grill me about them, trying to find an opening that would allow me to attend to his needs. If I tried to say no, he did his best to make me feel guilty for not being available to him, for not putting his needs before mine. He could be very dismissive and belittling of my plans and needs. Clearly if I could take care of him I should. Whenever there was something I didn’t want to do for him, I would go out of my way to avoid talking to him since he was just so good at manipulating our conversations.
SPIRITUALITY AND SIDDHA YOGA
Spirituality played a big part in my relationship with Dr. T, who was a devotee of Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, the guru and spiritual leader of Siddha Yoga. He often used teachings from Siddha Yoga and Eastern philosophy in our therapy, responding to my depression and existential angst with pithy remarks that left me feeling like I should be much more enlightened and evolved than I actually was. He regularly recommended books by Gurumayi and Swami Muktananda (her predecessor) and by more “new age” teachers such as Caroline Myss. He was big on subjects that had to do with taking responsibility for one’s choices, letting go of “toxic” emotions, and thinking happy thoughts. (As he said, “Why would you want to think anything that didn’t make you feel good?”) He made it all sound easy—which made me feel that much worse for feeling bad or depressed. I remember him saying to me once, “No one wants to be around someone who’s depressed,” as if I had the power to simply turn off my depression and be happy.
He spoke reverently of Gurumayi, saying that he owed her his life. I had never known anyone with that kind of devotion before and it was both intriguing and attractive. Dr. T seemed to be plugged into a mystical realm where a transmission of energy from the Guru (called shaktipat) could turn your life around and heal whatever ailed you. I looked up to Dr. T and thought that maybe what worked for him would work for me, too. So I gradually became more and more involved with Siddha Yoga. I chanted the mantra he taught me, prayed to the Guru, did seva (“selfless service”) by volunteering in the bookstore/gift shop at the local ashram, attended expensive meditation retreats, and purchased many Siddha Yoga books, CDs, and videos as well as pricey gemstone malas and prayer beads. (I guess I thought it would all help me become more “spiritual.”) Occasionally, Dr. T took advantage of my role at the bookstore by having me purchase things for him, including gifts for his wife. While I felt really strange buying things for him to give to his wife, I reassured myself that I was helping him out and that it was the “loving” thing to do.
Occasionally, Dr. T would tell me about his experiences with Gurumayi, whom he referred to as a “wish-fulfilling tree.” I got the impression that he had a genuine connection with her—that he was somehow “favored.” Because of this, I imagined that she knew (in some spiritually omniscient way) about our “union” and sanctioned it. Surely our relationship was meant to be. Even though we would never be together in the traditional boyfriend-girlfriend sense, what we had was different, special, spiritual. I felt very privileged. I wondered if I, too, might be able to have a connection with the Guru. I longed for a divine presence in my life. I was suffering emotionally, psychologically and physically, and I wanted to feel that I was being watched over and cared for. But while I firmly believed that Gurumayi would take care of Dr. T, whether or not she would extend her grace to me was another question. I prayed fervently to her for healing and relief, yet nothing seemed to change. Maybe Dr. T was simply more deserving than I was—or maybe my reluctance to fully embrace Siddha Yoga (since I actually felt a bit “on the fence” about committing to it as a spiritual practice) meant that I wasn’t worthy of having my wishes fulfilled. I felt sad and disappointed and wished I were as important as Dr. T apparently was, but I decided I would try to accept my situation and be okay with things as they were. That was the loving and spiritual thing to do, wasn’t it?
COPING WITH THE ABUSE – HOW IT AFFECTED MY MIND, BODY AND SPIRIT
I spent those years with Dr. T feeling like I was on an emotional rollercoaster. The emotional and physical bonding that occurred when we had sex was intense and would leave me feeling really high and really connected to him; but once that wore off, I would sometimes start to panic. I was afraid of losing the connection, losing him. I had no sense of security outside his office or the bedroom; I had no hold on him. Even though we had this sexual relationship, I was still only a patient. It wasn’t okay for me to call him at home—I could only leave messages on his voicemail and hope that he would call me back. But I never knew when or if I’d hear from him. I just had to wait—and hope.
I was constantly experiencing cycles of intense bonding followed by extreme instability and insecurity, emotional and physical attachment alternating with a deep fear of loss and abandonment. I felt very depressed, very anxious, and blamed myself for the state of my life. Since Dr. T did not take any genuine responsibility for his actions or the impact they had on me, I came to believe that I alone was responsible for my misery. He did everything he could to reinforce this belief and often used spiritual philosophies (about self-responsibility, gratitude, “negative” or “toxic” emotions, etc.) to back up his position. Any problems I had regarding our relationship were apparently my problems, not his, and therefore it was my responsibility to deal with them. Whenever I complained in any way about our relationship, he would tell me that I should be grateful for what we had and to stop focusing so much on what was missing. When I got angry, he would withdraw and not speak to me—even during therapy sessions. His attitude was that I should deal with any negative feelings myself, let them go, and not direct them toward him. He certainly did not deserve them. This treatment left me feeling confused and ashamed. I found myself caught up a cycle of punishment and reward that had me constantly on edge, wanting to please the “parent” and avoid any possibility of rejection and abandonment. Even though I was trying very hard to be a strong, empowered adult, my need to maintain my bond with him and protect our connection had me constantly giving up my sense of self and personal power.
The first year of our sexual involvement was the worst. About two months after the sex started, I began to lose my sense of both emotional and physical stability. My moods were all over the place—up, down, all around. I felt anxious all the time, since I never knew what was going to happen or how he was going to treat me. Then my body started to “destabilize” as well. Although I’d had minor back trouble for several years, suddenly I found myself unable to hold my alignment. My pelvis was constantly shifting around, as if the muscles, tendons and ligaments could no longer hold me in place. I felt like there was nothing for me to hang onto, emotionally or physically.
Things got steadily worse for a couple of months and during the holiday season, I hit bottom. I had lost all sense of personal power and had very little sense of self. I loved Dr. T so much and wanted to mean something to him, but the man had a wife, a family. I had no place in his life except as a patient. I had no right to anything. The only value I had was in what I gave to him. Otherwise, I was completely worthless. I felt so much despair, confusion and pain that I really didn’t want to be alive. I couldn’t understand why God didn’t just take me and put me out of my misery. I prayed for answers and relief, but none seemed to come. I was not actively suicidal, since in order to take your own life you have to have some measure of personal power—and at the time I didn’t even have that. But I was in so much emotional pain that I couldn’t imagine how I could still be alive. I could not take it.
So I taught myself to disconnect from my body and my emotions so that I wouldn’t feel the pain. I tried to make everything not matter. In order to survive, I had to make it all “okay.” I stuffed my feelings deeper inside and tried to accept everything that was happening.
Still, I knew something was wrong with me, physically and emotionally. During the next few years, I launched a desperate search for healing, trying to figure out what was wrong and get it fixed. I saw myself very much as a problem to be solved. I had sessions with dozens of healing practitioners who seemed stymied by my condition and were unable to provide any lasting relief. No one could figure out what was going on. Eventually I did regain some sense of physical stability, but the search for emotional, physical and spiritual healing continued for a long time.
I spent those years feeling lost, confused, and constantly struggling trying to make things work. My life, which hadn’t exactly been on track prior to my involvement with Dr. T, remained without focus. Despite my attempts to find direction through career counseling, coaching and various self-help practices, nothing seemed to be working. I found it impossible to create any forward movement and felt completely stuck. Although I wanted to meet a partner and start a family, I found that whenever I considered the prospect of dating, thoughts of Dr. T would interfere. As much as I wanted a partner, I was afraid that even if I met someone and got into a steady relationship, Dr. T would still want to have sex with me—and that I wouldn’t be able to refuse him. How could I do that to a partner? Although I sometimes felt fine when Dr. T wasn’t around—more myself, more separate and independent—whenever we had sex I’d feel completely bonded to him again, like I belonged to him and would always belong to him. I couldn’t imagine how it could work if I met someone else. So I simply stopped thinking it. Maybe I didn’t need a partner after all.
That was the solution to a lot of my pain: To simply stop thinking about the future. There was often a timeless quality whenever I was with Dr. T, as if nothing else really mattered. And I just went with it. It was easy to stay “in the moment” and forget about the future. But every so often I’d realize that my life was going nowhere and I’d panic. Then for a while I’d try harder to make things happen—do visualizations, affirmations, write lists of things I wanted, try to follow the suggestions of various self-help and new age teachers. But no matter what I did, I simply couldn’t seem to make anything happen in my life. Detaching from my future—and my present—made things easier.
The more deeply involved I got with Dr. T, the more isolated I became. I couldn’t tell anyone what was going on, since that would have been a betrayal of his trust. And it’s pretty hard to have a close relationship with anyone if you can’t tell them the truth. Keeping secrets takes a lot of work, and this one was binding a lot of my energy. So I simply withdrew from close friendships and kept people at an emotional distance. It wasn’t easy keeping the secret—I so wanted to be able to share what was going on, mainly because I felt so privileged, so lucky. I couldn’t share with others the part of my life that meant the most to me. So I stopped talking about myself and let friends and family drive our conversations even more than usual.
My therapy, of course, completely changed. It became about us. Dr. T wanted me to bring my issues with our relationship into therapy, and that’s exactly what happened. I didn’t really have a choice, since he rarely made himself available for that type of conversation outside of our session time. Although I would call him and leave a message on his voicemail whenever I was upset about something that had happened between us, he rarely called me back. Often, when I left an emotional message for him, he’d give me a “cooling off” period and not call me back until the next week, sometimes not even contacting me before our next session. This pissed me off. Given our relationship, I thought it was unfair that I had to sit on my feelings and not have the opportunity to address issues in a timely manner. I thought people in relationships were supposed to talk about their problems. Instead, his “waiting period” gave me the impression that I was supposed to let everything go and just not be upset. And, more often than not, by the time the next session rolled around and an opportunity for discussion was at hand, I was far more interested in securing our connection and allaying my fears of rejection and abandonment than I was in raising a week-old issue that might create conflict between us.
I started to have more and more anxiety before our sessions. I never knew what was going to happen or which aspect of Dr. T I’d be dealing with. Sometimes when I arrived he’d be very caring and “affectionate,” other times he’d be coolly detached, distant. Even though we were having sex regularly, he would still sometimes show up very much as the boundaried therapist. This kept me feeling really insecure and hyper-protective of our connection, and ready to please him in any way I could, just to get my “buddy” back in the room.
Still, the longer our relationship continued, the less I saw him as an authority figure. As time went on, I found myself taking him less and less seriously as my therapist. After all, I’d been having sex with him. I knew what he was like underneath that therapist exterior. I wanted to get out of the power imbalance, be on equal footing. I was tired of being treated as an inferior and I chafed when he spoke to me with his air of “superior” intelligence. But I still lacked a real sense of personal power in our relationship—I needed him to grant it to me. I thought that maybe things would be easier if I left therapy. Maybe then he’d treat me more like an equal. But every time I brought up the possibility of my leaving therapy, he would look pained. He’d tell me how much he loved me, how important I was to him. It would be so difficult for him if I were wanting to move on because of our “extracurricular” relationship; he didn’t want it to have gotten in the way of therapy and would deeply regret it if it had. Of course he had my best interests at heart and hoped he’d done the right thing in allowing our sexual involvement. Then he would make a point of emphasizing just how busy he was and tell me that the only way I would truly be guaranteed of seeing him would be to make an appointment. Basically, he let me know that if I left therapy, I would likely lose the whole connection.
As much as I wanted out of the therapeutic relationship, I couldn’t bear the idea of losing him. I believed I loved him deeply and I wanted him to remain part of my life. So, inevitably I’d back down from any thoughts of leaving and decide to stay. Besides, if I valued therapy, shouldn’t I stay in the process? This was my opportunity to learn how to work through difficulties, both in my own life and in my relationship with him. Wouldn’t it be a mistake to leave?
So I stayed until he determined it was time for a change. I felt very relieved when that day came.
HOW IT ENDED
It was shortly after involving me more fully with his children and beginning our INS report “collaboration” that we terminated therapy, at his suggestion (of course). I’m not sure what finally made him change his mind; perhaps he’d become more concerned that, since I was spending more time with his children, there was a higher risk that someone would find out I was his patient and he wanted to sever that bond.
The ending came about nine months after we stopped the therapy sessions. Things were different between us. Although at the beginning of the year we were spending more time together since I was helping with the kids and doing more work with him, as the year went on our contact became more intermittent. This was partly because I was trying to avoid having sex with him, which was easier now that I no longer saw him every week. I was scared of my attachment to him. Every time we had sex I’d start to feel bonded and “in love” with him again, and I just couldn’t take it. It was confusing. Even though I knew deep down that we weren’t compatible as partners, I still had these feelings for him that were overwhelming, beyond my control. There was a part of me that wanted us to be together—and wanted him to want us to be together. And yet logically, I knew it would never work. It felt hopeless—and crazy-making.
I had also become a little afraid of him. Since we’d discontinued therapy, he’d been acting increasingly volatile, less in control of his emotions, and I’d become more of a target for his anger and blame. Though he’d never yelled at me when I was his patient, we’d started having arguments on the phone that left me feeling scared and confused. I found myself walking on eggshells around him more and more and trying to appease him whenever he was upset. Part of me still felt desperate to preserve the connection, while another part of me wanted to cut the cord.
It all started to come apart one night in October 2005. He’d called me up and invited me to dinner, saying he missed me and wanted to see me. I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks and I couldn’t resist his invitation, which had me glowing with pleasure. After dinner, we went to my place and had sex, and of course, I started feeling re-bonded and in love with him. Then, he casually revealed to me that he’d started dating and had been sleeping with other women. I was stunned. I’d asked him to tell me when he started having sex with anyone else, and he hadn’t. And he’d just had unprotected sex with me. My brain started to get foggy and thick. I couldn’t understand why he would have done this. It took about 24 hours for the news to really sink in. First I started to panic, and then I started to feel (at long, long last) betrayed.
That he would have unprotected sex with me after having, I assumed, unprotected sex with others, meant that he wasn’t really concerned with my well-being and didn’t have my best interests at heart, despite his claims to the contrary. By not telling me what was going on, he’d denied me the right to make my own choice or protect myself.
Though I didn’t want to admit it, I was also terrified that this meant my status with him had changed: I was no longer special. I was still in love with him, but he didn’t need me anymore—I’d been replaced. Even though this was perhaps for the best, the disruption to our connection had me in a panic.
I needed to talk to him; somehow we needed to straighten this out. After leaving him several messages, I finally heard back from him. The only time he had available to see me in person was during a canceled appointment—at his office. So I went.
He was absolutely horrible to me. He had an answer to everything, of course. He laughed at me, mocked me, and completely diminished the importance of our relationship. I felt completely helpless as I sat there, staring up at this man I adored, as he crushed me and my love for him into utter insignificance. In all those years, he had never treated me so badly. Our connection was crumbling and there was nothing I could do to hold it together. I left his office shaking, feeling completely worthless, like a piece of garbage. This was unimaginable. I felt like my world was imploding. Did I really mean nothing to him? Could it be over? My sense of loss and betrayal was so overwhelming that my loyalty to him started to crack. I could no longer contain the secrets I’d kept so long.
The next day, I finally broke my vow of silence and told someone that I’d been having a sexual relationship with my therapist. The second I told the secret, everything started to blow apart. My confidant understood, without a shadow of doubt, that I’d been seriously violated and told me that Dr. T should be reported. At first, I couldn’t conceive of what she was saying. It didn’t make any sense. Surely what we’d had was real; surely he was a good person… But some part of me understood that what she was saying was true. The illusion of the past several years of my life began to break apart. What I’d thought was beautiful and filled with light was in fact a horrible nightmare. I returned home in a state of shock. My world had abruptly shifted 180 degrees, and my new perspective was horrifying.
I proceeded to break off all contact with Dr. T. Now I was really afraid of him, and I didn’t want to let him know what I was starting to understand about our years together. I called him and left a message, saying I needed space. I told him I would mail back his files (for the INS report I was working on), requested the payment he owed me for the work, and asked him to return CDs that he’d borrowed from me. In his angry voicemail reply he accused me of reneging on our business agreement, saying he shouldn’t have to pay me, and told me that if he didn’t get my CDs back to me as soon as I liked I was free to pursue the matter in small claims court! (He actually did pay me what was due and dropped my stack of CDs through my mail slot a few weeks later.) Fortunately, that horrible afternoon at his office was the last time I had to deal with him in person.
Now that I understood that Dr. T had betrayed me, I no longer felt any loyalty to him. I started revealing the secrets of the past few years. I told my closest friends and family members what had been going on and went to see the therapist who had initially referred me to Dr. T. Although I was terrified she wouldn’t believe me, she did. She referred me to a new therapist for care, suggested I speak with an attorney, and encouraged me to consider filing a civil lawsuit.
I also proceeded to break all my ties to Siddha Yoga, and not simply because I associated it with Dr. T. I’d discovered several accounts alleging that Swami Muktananda (Gurumayi’s predecessor) and others who claimed to be celibate had engaged in sexually abusive relationships with devotees and that this had been covered up, the victims carefully silenced. I could not stomach this information and wanted nothing more to do with Siddha Yoga. I’d had quite enough of lies and manipulation in the name of spirituality.
THE AFTERMATH: PTSD, LEGAL ACTION, AND RECOVERY
Despite joking to people I’d told about Dr. T that I’d “just dropped 180 pounds of dead weight” and felt great, I had a new problem to contend with: PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). It’s common for abuse victims to experience PTSD and that was certainly the case for me. After a couple of weeks feeling oddly giddy after breaking off contact with him, I then started to experience major anxiety, hypervigilance, brain fog and light-headedness when I talked about what had happened, intrusive memories, flashbacks—the works. I also became even more scared of Dr. T. I felt just like a kid who had done something bad (in this case, telling the parent’s secrets) and was deathly afraid of being found out and punished. Although I thought that everything would be fine now that I was out and away from him, in fact, things got worse. I had to contend with all the reminders of him that were triggering my PTSD responses, the repressed feelings that were now making themselves known, and the near-daily realizations about what had actually been going on all that time. I also had to deal with the loss of the fantasy I’d been so sure was real. The disillusionment was traumatic, and the fact that I’d believed his lies left me feeling very ashamed.
The decision to file a civil lawsuit was a fairly easy one to make. Several people had suggested that it would be a way for me to “get my power back,” and that sounded good to me. I was very much aware that Dr. T had taken money from me for therapy sessions spent having sex; and if it was possible to get that money back, that sounded good to me. I met with an attorney over the holidays and we began the process of filing first a civil complaint and then a licensing complaint with the Board of Psychology. The lawsuit settled out of court after about one year (in February 2007), with a settlement from Dr. T’s insurance company. The licensing complaint took an astonishing two years, apparently due to a backlog of medical board complaints and a shortage of investigators, but it was finally resolved in 2009. Dr. T surrendered his license to practice, admitting to the charges against him and giving up his right to a hearing. After three years, he will be eligible to petition for reinstatement.
Recovery is neither a short-term nor a finite process. Healing from an experience like this, which took place over such an extended period of time, is like shedding skin. Layer after layer of denial come off, exposing difficult memories and feelings that had been kept well hidden. Bit by bit, I crawl back into my body, reclaim it as mine, and allow sensation to return. Over time, my perspective on what happened—and why it happened—shifts and changes as I reach deeper and deeper levels of awareness and understanding. While part of me enjoys this process, it can leave me feeling raw, vulnerable, hurt, and angry. Angry at Dr. T for what he did, and angry at myself for turning an abusive relationship into a fantasy.
Such a big part of healing is accepting oneself and one’s reality. I can’t undo the past—this will always be part of my life. But I can learn to accept it. To wish I could have done something different would be to wish I had been different. The person I was could not have responded to the situation in any other way. I did the best I could; I did the only thing I knew how to do. It’s up to me to accept myself and offer myself my own forgiveness and compassion. I can also learn to accept Dr. T and his actions. Not excuse—accept. In my opinion, what he did was unconscionable, but I can’t change who he was and what he chose to do. Struggling with reality simply keeps me in pain and prevents me from moving forward. Instead, I’m learning to accept myself, my feelings and my experience. That is the way to healing and to peace.
I feel very grateful for the support of my friends and family as well as the subsequent therapists and healthcare practitioners who have helped me during my recovery process. Among the trauma therapies I’ve found particularly invaluable are EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which helped alleviate many PTSD symptoms, and Somatic Experiencing (developed by Peter Levine).
© 2009–2011 by Kristi Coombs