By Rebecca Donaldson
“It’s in your mind that I am abandoning you,” were the last words my psychologist uttered on the phone to me before she did, in fact, abandon me. Four years later, and I am still attempting to smile again and move forward. I am not sure which was more traumatic: my childhood or experiencing iatrogenic harm at the hands of a psychologist I had trusted. I have tried to comfort the crying children inside me who were deeply hurt by what she did, but it is difficult to do. They sob, wondering what they did wrong, and I have no response for them because I, too, do not understand why this happened. I am not sure I ever will. I am a 30-year-old woman in a doctoral program with eight adverse childhood experiences, who grew up in a poor, working class family in the United States. I have desperately tried to make it in this world alone without parental support. When I sought mental health care, I was given a personality disorder label rather than trauma-informed care. There was no mention to me about systems of oppression. There was no discussion of my trauma. There was no talk of the internal working model of secure attachment that I missed out on forming. Instead, my psychologist just dropped me and ran, and with it, she took away my passion for life, something I had so much of.
Today, I tell people to never tell a mental health professional that they are suicidal. Those who have never sought mental health services find my suggestions nonsensical. Those who have experienced what happened to me understand. They get it and know how important it is to keep quiet.
After being abandoned by my psychologist, I looked everywhere for others with a similar experience to mine and found Facebook groups such as Clients Harmed by Therapy and Drop the Disorder. I later came across an advertisement for ADisorder4Everyone poetry event, and after attending my first reading and hearing lived experiences like mine, I knew I had found my people. I soon became friends with many individuals in Drop the Disorder, began performing my own poetry, and purchased a ukulele from Jo Watson, one of the founders of Drop the Disorder, so I could play and sing about my pain, in addition to writing.
Today, I am a contributing writer for Mad in America, The Psychologist, and the CPTSD Foundation and am working towards completing my PhD in Positive Developmental Psychology. I plan to write my dissertation on the harmful experiences of trauma survivors in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, who are often subjected to having their pain labeled as “problem behaviors” and experience irreverent responses from their therapists when they mention they are suicidal. It is my goal to conduct a studying using semi-structured interviews to give voice to the experts by experience: the clients labeled with ‘BPD.’
While I am soft-spoken, I plan to continue fighting the system with my lips unsealed and finding healing in communities outside of psychiatry and psychology, which includes continuing to perform poetry with ADisorder4Everyone, sharing chapters of my memoir with a loving community on Facebook called Internal Family Systems Community Group, and meditating at Mt. Baldy Zen Center in Southern California. It is in sharing my story and hearing the stories of others within community that has been most healing for me, along with working with a new mental health provider who speaks gently to my hurting parts and calls me sweetheart.
For me, the answer to well-being is not in psychiatry, abusive psychotherapy, or the DSM. It is feeling attached and secure within a loving community who does not pathologize me, but instead, accepts me with me with open arms. By being held by these gentle souls, who only have love in their hearts, I am beginning to experience my smile re-emerge.
Rebecca Donaldson, M.S., CCC-SLP
“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” – Maya Angelou