The Real Narrative of Life

Robert Berezin, MD
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Sometimes I get tired and frustrated writing these blogs about the wonderful world of psychiatry out here in the world. I do it because it has become urgent to do so. I much prefer to sit in my office with my patients doing the real work. It is such an honor to delve into the mystery with each individual, and find our way to face and deal with the pains of life together. The mystery of therapy proceeds through the special profound relationship between us. Without heart there is no therapy. Only through caring and trust can the explorations be real and transformative. No matter what, whether it’s sadness, anger, emptiness, feelings, no feeling, sexual fantasies, cruel thoughts, pain, obsession, closeness, distance, softness, emptiness, fears, hardness, or tenderness — there is an air of acceptance and safety. Trust does not come easily. It has to be earned and tested.

Every story is unique. But the path always leads back to one’s Authentic Being. Love is the sustenance, and authenticity is the fountain of our aliveness. Yes we are talking about psychiatry here. All of psychiatry flows from damage to our plays of consciousness. This damage comes from trauma, abuse and deprivation, in our formative years. Additional trauma can rewrite and darken our plays at any time for the rest of our lives. The interplay between our temperaments and problematic experience generates psychiatric struggle. This encompasses all of psychiatry, period. (see – “Psychotherapy is the Real Deal.”)

To have the experience of taking the journey of therapy with so many patients makes some things very clear. When we approach the heart of the mystery, it always revolves around the deprivation of love and presence of abuse. Once one has the experience of sitting with the profound struggle involved in opening up the heart and taking the leap of feeling, it fills one with awe and respect for the pain and resilience of the human spirit. From witnessing this, and being a part of it, both therapist and patient, one is changed forever. It seems so trivial and absurd to have to have these stupid arguments about ‘evidence-based psychiatry’ and psychiatric drugs, etc.

All these ‘experts’ have never even treated a patient. They don’t know the beauty and pain of the journey. I understand there has been a lot of bad therapy. But this shouldn’t diminish the real item. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to become a therapist. It is a human quest, no more, no less. It seems like a mysterious art to some. But it really is a form of uncommon, common sense in the context of caring. It proceeds through boundaries and love. It can be taught and learned. It doesn’t have to be for the wealthy. Therapists, of all walks of life, can and should be available for those who are struggling. It can happen and should happen. Yes it needs to be outside the medical model. It needs to be appreciated for what it really is on its own terms.

I don’t write about my patients because therapy is about their well-being and for no other reason. But to get a real feel for what truly goes on, only a real narrative will do. Otherwise the spirit of the enterprise cannot be captured. It cannot be convincing. I know you can’t just take my word for it. So I will use the character in my book, Eddie, to try to bring therapy to life.

Turning toward Eddie, seeing an end table with a weeping orchid in my peripheral vision, and a Chinese nightingale in song, on the wall behind his head… He said, ‘“Months after Cathy broke up with me, she called me out of the blue and said she had tickets to a Buckminster Fuller lecture. Did I want to go? She was up front and said that this was not a date. We would go as friends. I was thrilled. While we were there, it felt like the old days, and I was very happy. But then when the lecture was over, she just left. And that was it. She was gone again. I felt just like I had when we first broke up.”

“I think it was problematic for you to go.”

“Why? I like Buckminster Fuller and wanted to hear him speak.”

“Because it wasn’t really about the lecture; it was about Cathy. ‘Friends,’ in this context, is always bogus. You knew that, and so did she.”

“No, it’s not her fault. She was up front with me. I agreed to go on her terms, as ‘friends.’”

“I don’t even think she should have asked you. The pain that followed was 100 percent predictable.”

“No, it was me. I messed it up. You’re just taking my side because you’re my therapist.”

“That’s not true. Obviously, you played a major role, even though I don’t know how exactly, I think it was manipulative on her part.”

“You’re just blaming her because you don’t like her… Now you’re real angry at me!” As he spoke, the little finger of his left hand visibly twitched.

At this point I felt a tension in my chest and my arms, my resonance with denied and suppressed anger. I said, as I usually did when he was mistakenly certain that I was angry, “No, I’m not angry.”

Then he looked at me funny and said, “Maybe you’re not… I’m the one who’s angry! I’m really angry! I feel a rage!” The twitching stopped.

“You know she spanked me every day.”

“How’s that?”

“Actually, spanking was the family term. But it was more than that.”

“What do you mean?”

“It was a beating.”

“Tell me more.”

Okay, I must have been four. Margie and Clara had gone off to school, and my brother and I were looking out the window, watching them walk to the bus. He grabbed me, and I pushed him back. And he said, ‘I’m gonna tell on you.’

“So I said, ‘Go ahead,’ and knocked him over. He cried and screamed, ‘Eddie hit me!’ My mother stormed in with that look in her eye. She was yelling and hitting me wherever she could. ‘I told you to leave him alone!’ Her hits felt distant and didn’t bother me. They kept coming. When she was done, she grabbed me by the arm and dragged me to the corner. ‘You stand here ’til I say so!’

“‘No, I won’t!’ I said, and pulled away.

“She grabbed me and threw me back up against the wall, ‘What did I tell you?’

“I said in an even tone, ‘You said, “You stand here ’til I say so.”’ I was thinking, What an idiot. You don’t even know the stupid question you just asked?

“She got madder and hit me on my back. ‘Don’t you talk to me that way! You think you’re so smart.’ I pulled away again, and she slammed me back into the corner. This time, I stayed there. She continued, ‘You should be more like him. He’s such a good boy,’ and on and on. She went back to the window and continued to mumble under her breath. I stood there. And I stood there for what must have been a half hour. At this point, she was reading to him.

“She turned back to me and said, ‘What do you have to say for yourself?’ I didn’t answer. ‘I said, what do you have to say for yourself?’.

“‘Uhmm… He started it.’

“‘Okay, this is it. You apologize, or you’re going to reform school. What do you have to say?’

“‘I said, He started it.’

“‘Okay, wise guy, I’m calling right now.’

“She went to the phone and dialed what I thought was the reform school. I didn’t know what ‘reform school’ was, but I knew I didn’t want to be there. I assumed it was jail. I was sure I was going, and they were coming for me. So I panicked and started to cry. ‘Don’t send me to reform school. I’ll be good.’

“She waited for a while and then said, ‘Okay, I won’t send you—this time.’ And she picked up the phone again and told them not to come.

“When I was in first grade, my parents took a two-week trip to the Holy Land with our church. We stayed with my grandparents, my mother’s parents. Before they left, my mother said to my grandmother, in my presence, ‘Make a record of what he does while I’m gone.’

“It hadn’t been a bad time. I don’t remember much of my sisters or brother. I actually spent a lot of time alone, outside, up in the apple tree. I also worked with my grandmother in the garden, weeding. I remember sitting at the edge of the garden, snapping the snapdragons over and over—you know, between my forefinger and thumb..

“At some point, I felt super-homesick. I had this sick feeling in my stomach and really missed my parents. Where were they? My grandmother and I were in the den, and she asked me what was wrong. I broke down and cried, and told her, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ I was sobbing. ‘I know that I’m very bad, and my parents don’t love me.’

“She kept telling me, ‘That’s not true. They do love you. And you are a good boy.’

“‘No, I’m not, and you don’t understand. Mommy doesn’t love me.’ She kept trying to reassure me, but I knew what was true. Her protestations didn’t mean anything to me. I was inconsolable. The sobbing went on for a long time This was actually the last time I ever cried. Eventually, I got control back and wandered upstairs to my grandmother’s bedroom. I sat on the floor and traced the patterns in her Oriental rug with my finger.

“Later, the long-awaited day finally came that my parents were coming home. But I went into a panic. Now, I knew my grandmother had made a record of all the bad things I had done. Understand, I was sure this meant a record that you would put on a record player. So I had to find this record and smash it, so my mother wouldn’t be able to play it. I kinda thought the record-making machine was in the upstairs hall closet, so that was probably where I’d find the record. I combed through everything in the closet, but I couldn’t find anything. Feeling really desperate, I began searching the rest of the house for that damned record. But it wasn’t anyplace. So I resigned myself to the fact that I was really going to get it when they came home.”

In addition to the exploration and mourning of Eddie’s past, the most crucial arena in Eddie’s psychotherapy was about our relationship. This was interwoven with all the other explorations. It was only possible for Eddie to mourn his pain anew within the trustworthy emotional arms of our holding relationship. This made the exploration and digestion of his projected play beliefs about me so essential. The hovering personas of his sadomasochistic play had settled onto me as its projection screen. Eddie saw me as the sadistic judge who was judging him as bad, disgusting, and fraudulent and who rejected him on that basis.

While he thought he believed what he saw, unbeknownst to him, Eddie actually saw what he believed, through the projected scenario of his play. He was suspicious (i.e., certain) that I didn’t like him. He believed that he was boring me, that I was critical of him, that I was angry at him, and that I was exploiting him. His exploitation beliefs ranged from the idea I was feeding my ego at his expense and aggrandizing myself as a superior know-it-all, to putting him down as inferior and lacking, all the way to his fear and belief that I had sexual motives and was interested in molesting him.

Each time he addressed any of these out loud, he absolutely believed I was insulted and mad at him. We explored these beliefs over and over, as Eddie bumped into discrepancies between his projection of me and my actuality. These collisions were always bumpy. They were, however, the avenue by which Eddie ultimately tested his play beliefs for himself. The real establishment of trust wasn’t a one-time leap. It took place by increments as he faced and tested his actual beliefs about exploitation on his own terms, in his own way and in his own time. The heart of his therapy would turn on our evolving human relationship.

In conclusion; I’m sick and tired of addressing bad psychiatry on its own terms. It seems sometimes like endless folly. To paraphrase John Lennon in “God” (taking some liberties) “I don’t believe in chemical imbalance; I don’t believe in shock treatments; I don’t believe in pharmaceutical psychiatry; I don’t believe in genetic determinism; I don’t believe in lobotomies; I don’t believe in biological markers; I don’t believe in defenses; I don’t believe in psychiatric diseases; I don’t believe in the neurotransmitter myth; I don’t believe in bad science; I don’t believe in molecular psychiatry; I don’t believe in penis-envy; I don’t believe in nutritional psychiatry; I don’t believe in ADHD; I don’t believe in biological depression; I don’t believe in evidence-based psychiatry; I don’t believe in hallucinogens for depression; I just believe in me, Yoko and me.”

No, wait a minute, change ‘Yoko and me’ to ‘The play of Consciousness, good psychotherapy, and me.’ That’s all she wrote.

26 COMMENTS

  1. “Therapist s of all walks of life can and should be available for those who are struggling” implies that not only do we need to vigilantly seek alternatives outside the medical model, we must also seek alternatives outside the capitalist system, no? Every resource currently available in the mainstream mental health system mustc be ‘billable’. Nearly every service that our daughter has asked for has been denied because it is not ‘billable’ Her very liberty to walk outside and get fresh air, has been denied at times.

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head right there, madmom. They’ve got the monopoly. There are some caring and competent therapists out there, but they either get paid by you out-of-pocket, or they assign you a billing code (i.e. dx) in order to get paid through the system. Some check out of the economics of it completely by offering a sliding scale or barter, but they are such rare gems to find. And the support they can offer doing that tends to be inadequate to meet the needs of people who are actively in crisis. We have to divert the funding streams away from what harms, and find a way to channel it to those who do the real healing, or to improving the conditions in our society that are intolerable and drive us mad.

  2. I have a question, Dr. B. How would you recommend that a client discern between what will be a good therapist vs. a bad therapist, before they embark on that particular journey? I agree with you, I think there are competent and safe therapists out there. However, I also know that there are grossly incompetent and extremely unsafe therapists out there, a whole lot of them, from my experience. Downright abusive, intrusive, and outlandishly inappropriate. Many of us have called it “emotional rape,” and I feel this is not an exaggeration. All it takes is once to feel the trauma of it, even though it is more subtle.

    I’ve taken the journey of transformation with myself and I’ve taken it with clients of my own–not as a psychotherapist, but as a spiritual counselor and integral healer, including medical intuit, drawing from Chinese Medicine and body/organ vibration. I’ve seen a lot of healing and personal transformation happen, first for myself, and then for others.

    My concern with psychotherapy is often the relationship dynamic. When a vulnerable and wounded person seeking help sits in any kind of private 1:1 meeting, the person across from them–whomever they are and whatever they call themselves–has to be extremely centered, focused, and self-responsible, not inclined to pull a power play or gaslight when they get triggered by the client. It’s going to happen, these triggers, we’re all human. I’m sure you fall under the good category, as do some others, but still, we’ve called that a needle in a haystack around here, and I agree, I think it is, you are.

    So checking it out for a few weeks or months to see how it goes can already do tremendous harm to a client. I know this, trust me. I have story after story after story of the most horrifying responses made by therapists–things like, “I didn’t know he was out and out crazy!” regarding a fellow intern who was working through his issues in a supposedly safe training environment. And that’s just off the top of my head, I’ve heard all sorts of therapist responses to people that kind of make my hair stand on end.

    In my film is the topper of all time, my favorite therapist quote to show how they think, “Take your meds and don’t make waves.”

    I’ve heard ’em all, like a highly regarded psychologist, professor, and clinical director of an MFT training center, who told a fellow student who felt slighted by him about something, “You’re not mad at me, you’re mad at your mother.” I’m serious, he said exactly that. Talk about mind-bending, and totally irrelevant to present time.

    And then there’s the fellow who ran another training center, not part of my grad school, who told all of the young women that applied to this place that, “we should get the sexual transferences out of the way.” People talked about it, but they were desperate for internships (you know how competitive these places can be), so they swept this brand of sexual abuse under the rug. At least I saw it that way. I thought this guy was slimy from the get-go when I first met him, then I started hearing these stories, one after another.

    One of my psychiatrists, during my most suicidal period, as I just tapered from the psych drugs, kept telling me that it was ok to have the hots for him (which in no way no how did I) because I should know from my training that that’s what happens. He thought I was angry because he went on vacation, he felt I was mad at him because I could not have him sexually, he told me all of this. He said I lost my dreams, which is why I was depressed. I ended up finally trying to take my life because of what this bozo was repeating to me over and over. I was about 10% functional, my brain a mess from having come off of them, and he knew it. This is how we treated me, until I finally woke up and left him in the dust.

    I could go on and on. I was in a sea of therapists in grad school, internship, social services, as peer, colleague, student, and client, and I’d say most of them should be nowhere near people with sensitive and complex issues. I’m not sure the education and training system weeds out the bad stuff, seems that it’s getting in like a deluge.

    Every word of these quotes and what I describe is 100% true and accurate, and the context is the full picture, there is nothing vital missing here. I was discussing it with my partner along the way, we remember every word because we were totally confounded about all of this, and somewhat panicked, until I found that meditation and energy healing school which saved my mind, my health, and my life.

    I’m not trying to be melodramatic, I’m just wanting to be very clear and direct about this. Bad psychotherapy can traumatize people in a heartbeat. Thanks to living in an abusive society, seems a lot of people are not yet recognizing the abuse of gaslighting and power differentials. It’s torture, and it is all-too-common. It can heal, but I found it to be more tricky to heal than the effects of the drugs, and I’ve had plenty of experience with both. The post-traumatic stress from bad therapy can be overwhelming, and hard to detect. It’s insidious.

    So how do you think someone can tell, BEFORE they get traumatized by bad therapy. It really doesn’t take much to trigger a core wound and keep a person down in it, for the sake of their own business gain.

    Always with great respect for you, you know that.
    Alex.

    • Yup. I too have stories from my MSW training that made me really hope these folks don’t get the credentials that will allow them to harm the vulnerable people desperate for help. And horror stories of my own as a client. And then I had my perfect therapy support, Catherine. 17 years she was the person I could tell anything, show everything, without being pathologized. But she closed her practice last year, and I told her when she did that there wouldn’t be a next one so keep the referrals. It took me years to really trust her and be completely vulnerable. Years of her proving consistently that she was worthy of hearing the stories at the core of the damage, of her letting me read my file whenever I asked, years of dwelling in her unconditional positive regard for me 2 hours a week, is the path it took to get to where the healing could begin. Because my trust had been so very damaged, first by my family and the family doctor, then by teachers and classmates and religion, then by men, and then by the “mental health” system.

    • “It’s torture, and it is all-too-common. It can heal, but I found it to be more tricky to heal than the effects of the drugs, and I’ve had plenty of experience with both. The post-traumatic stress from bad therapy can be overwhelming, and hard to detect. It’s insidious.”

      Yep…this!

    • I managed to get myself invited to share a clip of Voices That Heal, along with a brief presentation, with a large group of psychotherapists in the public system, and I was talking about the problems I discovered as I went through the system–how official grievance were not taking at all seriously, and in fact, laughed at (I know this because I worked for a brief period of time working with the grievance manager at Community Health); how the drugs were backfiring and making people sick more than well (I was direct and honest, but still trying to be diplomatic and not alienate them, so they would listen); and how some therapists could “come across as somewhat bullying”–is how I put it–and pulled from specific examples, including what was in VTH.

      These are the responses I got: so what do you expect US to do about it?; the government will never fund that (talking about the all the different alternatives healing which worked for me); and, we tell clients to file grievances if they have a problem, but they don’t follow through. Those are the three comments that stick out.

      They knew I had been a client, knew I had withdrawn from 9 drugs, that I had healed from that, set up shop, and had made a film while doing public speaking. Not a single one of them said anything nice or encouraging. At first, they “approved” of my accomplishment, I could see the smiles as I gave the thumbnail of my healing story.

      But the moment I began to express my opinion after having gone through all of this, the smiles turned to glares, I kid you not. Never did anyone say to me, “Wow, congratulations, job well done. How on Earth did you get off nine medications?”

      One senior staff therapist very visibly rolled her eyes at me and walked out. When I asked the therapist who had invited me, he said, “Her feelings were hurt.” When I asked what his colleagues thought about what I had said (for an hour), he literally would not disclose, simply said they found it all “interesting.” I got miffed, and he said, “Alex if you get angry, I’m only going to distance myself.”

      This is San Francisco public mental health system, where the homeless and “mentally ill/disabled” population is soooooo over the top.

      I’m sorry but all I can say is wtf is wrong with these people???

        • This therapist was my last case manager, and I went to him with the very clearly stated goal of transitioning form disability, once and for all, after doing all this grandiose healing. It’s in my notes, I have them.

          I had a healing practice, based on what worked to bring me healing and clarity, and I had this zero-budget feature-length film I made from within the system, where 6 of us tell our stories and speak out about stigma and discrimination in the system, for the sake of SHIFTING it. He let me speak to the staff, who were rude and disrespectful, but would not let me near clients. I just stopped going at all, this was obviously a waste of my time.

          When I wrote him to tell him how disappointed I was, his response was, “You’re welcome for having helped you get out of the system.” Utterly avoidant, in denial, and downright delusional. He insisted on it, regardless of anything at all I would say–anything. Period. Rabbit hole.

          I made the film at a local advocacy agency, with their knowledge and permission to use their platform, and even though the assistant director, with whom I’d been working closely, claimed to love it, given that I spoke critically against the system, I apparently insulted their board members (psychiatrist being the top gun), so they totally threw me under the bus in the worst way, dangling carrots and leading me on, all a lie to keep me and my film at bay.

          My film was eventually picked up by Dept of Health & Human Services in another county, by some advocates to whom I had sent it and I had a highly successful screening and all day workshop as a result. Given how well-received it had been, I wanted to do more workshops, feeling that perhaps this would be my opportunity to generate income, and they said yes, even with enthusiasm, so I moved from the city.

          When I got here, I was told the grant was written specifically to hire training from one of their staple agencies (and then apparently, from what I understand, that grant-writer took off and quit, without warning, that’s what I was told, it was a bit “mysterious”), and that I could be a “peer” if I wanted.

          Of course, I told them where they could put that. I’d already been out of the system, working on my own, and making films, as well as doing theater. I had “graduated” from peer, this was my profession.

          When I told the advocate that who had told me the problem about the grant, and who gave me the option to be a “peer” that this was my job, it is my profession, her response was, “I see everyone here as a professional, you’re asking me to see you above them.” Made me want to scream, after all that.

          Two of the advocates/staff members to whom I turned for support in transition from disability said to me, “I’m so grateful I have a well paying job.’ One even said, “I make the big bucks.” That was his response to my seeking support with transition from disability.

          Do you really want to know why people experience prolonged disability when it is “mental health” related? It’s not the psych drugs, I’ve been long past that. It’s this insidious and sinister attitude on the part of those running the system, the gatekeepers. They’re insufferable, incompetent, and downright mean. This is the reason for the high disability rates.

  3. I was very hurt by bad therapy, more than once and almost committed suicide over it. After telling another person so many of my inner struggles and issues, I was laughed at, treated like I’m a horrible person=gaslighting, had my issues discussed with other staff without my knowledge or consent and was lied to about this. I tried standing up for myself and made complaints in a appropriate manner to some of the management at the mental health clinic I was going to but nothing was ever done, I didn’t even get so much as a phone call and of course no apology what so ever. It took me a lot of courage to go to this place and open up to someone I didn’t really know, it was a big risk to trust and I was taken advantage of, as Alex says in his post I felt I was emotionally raped.

    After so many years of struggle and loneliness I wanted to believe this person really cared and they got it, that they didn’t judge me and knew just as I do that I am good person but who has been abused as a child and that is what made me the way I am today but unfortunately in the end it all turned to be a lie, it almost felt like abuse I had experienced as a child, being bullied, taken advantage of, treated by my family like I’m worst person to ever have walked the face of the earth. Even though I’m a man I’ve always been extremely sensitive and have a very tender heart but for some reason people have never treated me very well, it could be my looks I’m not sure but what this intern did along with other staff at this mental health clinic was abuse and as far as I can’t tell they don’t care one bit about the pain they caused and take no responsibility for their actions. Their excuse seems to be that everyone they see is mentally ill and when that person is hurt it’s never their fault.

    After everything I’ve gone through with the mental health system, I’m doubting myself, I feel worthless, unlovable, and don’t really feel I have much hope for a better future. I finally managed to get a job but it’s difficult maintaining employment when I feel so hopeless and I don’t really want to be around people.

    • Right. What you describe here is what happens at many so-called “mental health clinics”. Most of them should be closed down and the money given to them should be distributed to alternative programs that might actually help people in attaining wholeness, health, and healing.

      I too tried to get some therapy at my “community mental health clinic”. I knew more about how to do therapy than the psychology intern assigned to my case. I actually had a young psychiatrist who attempted to do therapy but I ended up doing therapy for him. He curled up in his chair one day with his legs drawn up under him and began crying. Being a former chaplain I sat quietly with him and we investigated what brought on the crying and tears. These places are no help to us.

      Just remember one thing. You are the only individual of your kind in the entire Universe. there never has been another person like you in the past and there will never be another person like you in the future. You are unique and special and one-of-a-kind. You are precious and a treasure beyond imagining simply because you are you. Hold onto this and never forget it, ever.

      • “Just remember one thing. You are the only individual of your kind in the entire Universe. there never has been another person like you in the past and there will never be another person like you in the future. You are unique and special and one-of-a-kind. You are precious and a treasure beyond imagining simply because you are you. Hold onto this and never forget it, ever.”

        Thanks for that, after being hurt like this it can be really easy to forget those things and allow it to destroy your already damaged self-esteem.

    • “had my issues discussed with other staff without my knowledge or consent and was lied to about this.”

      Yes, it’s a vicious gossip mill. Are therapists aware that people really can tell that they’re being talked about? Anyone can feel this, it’s in the energy. They’ll do it, say you’re paranoid, and ta-daah, gaslighting is born.

      I was told I was paranoid when trying to get support for my discrimination suit, and then found an non-profit attorney who got what I was saying and saw the evidence of it. I won, because I was right, not in the slightest paranoid, but more like, astute. Bad, bad stuff going on here.

      • Alex, how you able to bring a lawsuit against the mental health facility you were going? I was thinking about doing the same thing but I’m at a total loss of were to start. This isn’t just about me but other people that I know are being hurt, abandoned, and neglected. From what I understand it’s extremely difficult to prove abuse in a court of law by mental health facilities or practitioners simply because the courts will believe them over the client. In many ways there experts at gas-lighting.

        • My lawsuit was against a vocational rehabilitation agency at which I had been a client, and they ended up recruiting me for staff. After a spectacular and very successful start with clients, I noticed they started acting weird toward me, and they started threatening me with write ups and reprimands for really stupid stuff. Instead of doing their jobs as “rehabilitators,” they were more like judges and punishers, that was their idea of “rehabilitation.”

          They were clever in their own way, but really, not terribly bright. Didn’t know too much about mental health, either. I’d been a therapist and I was trained, but these were all business people, this was a business to them, not a social service. Even thought we say “non-profit” don’t believe that, it’s a misnomer.

          And, they were seriously abusive through control and intimidation, Dickensian-like. So I called them on it, and after a series of very unpleasant meetings, where I was heavily gaslighted and insulted me, threatened me in all sorts of ways, and it was confusing as all get out, they fired me. But it was just firing, they were tortuous about it. Even my co-workers noticed this, and they all liked me quite a bit, I’d become friends with a few of them, outside of work.

          But no one would stand up for or advocate for me, they were totally scared of these bosses, and their jobs were more important to them than justice. These weren’t client-to-staff, either, they had not been through the system, as I had been. That’s how oppressive these people were and how intimidated the staff was.

          Can you believe this is a non-profit who were supposedly dedicated to helping people with “mental disabilities?” Well, I guess by now we’ve all gotten used to how this goes, but I don’t want to lose my feeling of being stunned by it, I think it’s important to not get used to it, even though it is that way, it is obvious that it should NOT be that way, and we should not allow it, it is unacceptable in a decent society.

          It was over the top, as if no one had noticed this before I was hired. When I was a client, they were fine, I was humble and did my classes, I was only focused on working again, that was my only goal. I was not an activist at this time, but this is where that all started.

          After they fired me, I knew that they were so in the wrong, and had blatantly discriminated against me, and lied through their teeth about all sorts of things. I knew they were Trouble, note the capital “T.”

          I went all over the city looking for an attorney, which is not easy when you’re on disability. dazed and angry from something like this, and with no job! That was a hard process, but I didn’t give up. I was led to contact a non-profit employment law student training center, and I connected with an amazing attorney who got my story and knew I’d been wronged.

          I’d been an employer myself before I went through all of this, so I knew the law, and I knew they had broken several of them. I also got my notes from them, since I’d been a client-turned-staff, they had kept a record of our meetings, etc. That was in my favor, the whole story was there.

          So we took them to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), I told my story, the mediator could see I made sense and was reasonable, and I had the evidence. Plus, their responses made them look foolish, they just wanted to attack me, she could see that clearly, and that they were not very nice people, and that, indeed, they broke the law with me. So she ruled in my favor. Didn’t cost me anything.

          That’s how I did it. It’s a very difficult process, and I had to be ok with being triggered over and over and over again. Was doing a lot of healing at the same time, working with energy healers.

          They were horrible every step of the way, delaying the mediation 3 times (which was legal) and by the time we got there, the CEO had resigned, and the president had fled to the state. Program director had also quit. Only my direct boss and the board were left, with a new CEO. Pretty obvious, huh?

          They eventually closed, that was their choice, rather than making the appropriate changes. They could just not fathom how to operate justly, not in their reality.

          I don’t recommend this, unless you’re ready to fight and take a lot of shit. I’ve had plenty of other opportunities to make it legal, but I did not because it is more than it’s worth. Although it did help to have my voice validated this time, that was a first in all of this. It’s a conundrum, though, because the legal system can be just as horrific and unjust as the “mental health” system, maddening as all get out. I got very, very lucky, astute lawyer and astute mediator.

          • Just to add–this did separate me from the system pretty much altogether. But after having established myself as a healing practitioner, teacher, and actor, I went back to be an advocate, to do public speaking with an advocacy agency, one of those anti-stigma campaigns. To my story, it fit like a glove, “stigma” was the core cause of my grief with the system at that time, how it had failed me the most. I made my film, Voices That Heal, from this premise, it worked for me.

            THEN, I discovered the hypocrisy of advocacy, and how these anti-stigma campaigns work, and all that “peer” stuff, and true what many say, it’s used as marketing, to drum up business, keep things under the thumb of the system, at all cost.

            These places are as stigmatizing and discriminating as anyone, and they have no clue of ADA law, because like you say, who would believe a “crazy person” anyway? ADA worked in my lawsuit, it was very clear: reasonable accommodation for reasonable request. I’d say that is probably one of the most violated laws in the land, intuitively, on a daily basis, and mostly in the “mental health” world. Their goal is to make one feel powerless, or so it seems, not to honor requests, but to deny them.

            I’ve been layer by layer by layer, all the way to activism. It doesn’t stop. The gaslighting thing is truly insidious, it’s the word I keep using, because I think that best describes it. Makes it hard to tell fact from fiction, and who is being honest and who is lying through their teeth, masterfully.

            This is what I truly hope is getting clearer and clearer for people to be able to tell the difference. I always tell people–trust your gut, trust your heart, trust your intuition, DON’T trust a naysayer, invaliditater, or shamer, we know the difference.

            If you know you’re being gaslighted, you’re awake, good for you! Walk away from it, as fast as you can, and trust that process. There’s the journey to freedom, but you have to trust, because it’s what it is. Things will change if you keep going, you’ll have help along the way, trust that. When we’ve been where we’ve been, any step forward in awareness feels relieving. Keep following that.

            Many a time I have said this, referencing the video below, but in reality, I’m not done until this particular thing comes to light, how this abuse happens and how it affects all of us, this horrible systemic stigma…

            To make a point, with amusement–

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYcSqIuqkz4

  4. All providers of mental health services, and that includes Primary Care, need to establish an “air of acceptance and safety.” That “trust does not come easily. It has to be earned and tested…. the path always leads back to one’s Authentic Being. Love is the sustenance, and authenticity is the fountain of our aliveness.” Absolutely. And what’s missing in our sick-care system of care in the USA is a lack of continuity and integration of primary care with behavioral health. The client should be encouraged to trust the team, who collaborate to form a safety net around them, when they are sinking into depression, until we can give them back their voice and ability to navigate the world on their own again. To make this happen, we must being trusting each other, rather than operate within our ‘silos’ to protect our incomes. Do you teach this concept at Harvard, Dr. Berezin? I suspect we are soul-mates and would make a great team by being Patient-centered and Family-focused.