On Being Forced Out in the Clinical Psychology Field

36
3330

Borderline personality disorder is a highly stigmatized diagnosis. Although I do not identify with it and do not consent to this diagnostic assignment, it was given to me as a teenager. I experienced multiple levels of ongoing abuse, neglect, and self-harm. These experiences spilled over onto my psychiatric treatment. This diagnosis, along with a comorbid Bipolar Type 2 diagnosis were the drivers of many years of mistreatment that I had experienced from mental health professionals, peers and family members.

My prognosis was almost apocalyptic. My family was told to prepare to sustain me financially and emotionally for the rest of my life.  They were told I would be in and out of hospitals, continually attempt suicide, and not be able to have meaningful interpersonal relationships with others. Independence, higher education, healthy friendships, romantic relationships, and family life were out of the question for me.

My subjectivity became reduced to that of a label with complete disregard to the trauma and abuse I was being subjected to everyday by my caregivers, peers and mental health professionals. My adolescence was spent being highly sedated but somehow powering through; there are years I still cannot remember. After finally forcefully and autonomously distancing myself from abusive family members, shedding the BPD and BD labels, and tapering off the cocktail of pills I had been on since I was 13, I finally found myself in trauma treatment.

For all those years, I had been denied humanizing and adequate mental health treatment. Due to these many mistreatments and constant dismissal of my experience within the psychiatric community, I now consider myself a recovered psychiatric and trauma survivor.

These experiences led me to aspire to a career in clinical psychology and to want to reform the mental health field. From the start of my higher education studies, I was aware that the road to get to where I wanted would be a constant uphill battle, both professionally and personally. Overall, I knew the experience would most likely be re-traumatizing and triggering in many ways, but I had hope that I would find allies, which I have.

For my graduate school interviews, I wore long sleeves to cover my scars and I steered away from any disclosure of my mental health history throughout the process. Although getting into graduate school definitely felt like a huge professional and personal accomplishment, I know that it is just a steppingstone into my ongoing fight for a truly worthy mental health system.

As clinical psychologists, we are trained to practice five principal ethical principles: benevolence and nonmaleficence, fidelity and responsibility, integrity, justice, and respect for people’s rights and dignity. Yet, through my doctoral training, I have heard many horrifying things about people with borderline personality disorder. The most common label is that “borderlines” are manipulative, needy, irrational, difficult, clingy liars and incapable of completing graduate school or even undergraduate. Another misconception is that people with self-harm scars must have borderline personality disorder.

Diagnoses are reductionist labels. Although for many people they provide an answer to their troubles, for many others they add to their troubles.

The first few years of my graduate training as a clinical psychologist were an unending nightmare. I was “outed” as a person with a borderline personality disorder by an angry classmate, whom I had trusted with this information. In the clinical psychology world, this can destroy your career. What happens, then, to a clinical psychologist-in-training who outs you as a person who has been given a highly stigmatized mental health diagnosis? Nothing.

After what I thought was a minor disagreement, a colleague who has dealt with mental illness themselves, and currently works with therapy clients, shared my mental health history and other personal information with other colleagues. Initially, I attempted to have an open discussion with this colleague. After several attempts at confronting this person, they became increasingly abusive. This colleague has since pushed me in the school building, consistently rolled their eyes when I speak in class, shut me out of conversations, and given me the silent treatment. Furthermore, they have isolated me and ruined my professional relationship with others in the program. In short, I am being bullied.  I was “outed” without consent.

My colleague who disclosed is well-liked amongst our colleagues, and a hardworking individual with their own personal struggles. This does not excuse their actions or their inability to hold themselves accountable for the damage they have caused.

During the break after the previous semester ended, my stress grew over the impending start of the next semester and I decided to reach out to one of the psychologists who is available to speak to students about these sorts of issues related to school. I reached out to this school-appointed psychologist for support before the semester started; they told me to “suck it up,” and that there was not anything I could do but wait for this other person to get over whatever they needed to get over.

I had done that for many months, wanting to respect this person’s need to be angry and tolerating their continued abuse. Instead of offering a supportive and validating stance or resource, this psychologist basically offered support for the actions of the other person, which made me feel dismissed, disregarded, small, and even “crazy,” creating even more internal turmoil.

At this point, I had not said their name to anyone or spoken in detail about what had happened. I have tried to suck it up, but the hostile treatment continues, and even one of my clinical supervisors knew of my mental health history from others.

After six months, I finally got fed up and told my advisor what was happening. They advised taking meaningful action against this person. Only one other colleague knew, but they remained close with the other colleague and informed me of the continued disclosure of my personal information. I met with someone from the administration, but there was not much they could do due to lack of evidence, and I did not want to disclose further details regarding my mental health history, partly for fear of additional stigmatization.

I have enough going on as it is in the clinical psychology field. I am a Latinx woman with little U.S. connection and Spanish as a first language. In addition, I have scars, the result of violence, abuse, self-harm, and more. My scars can be seen and judged by anybody who pays close attention, which psychologists are trained to do.

For the last year and a half, I have felt powerless. Some colleagues have recognized the hostility, but besides offering moral support have not done anything proactive to help stop the bullying colleague or be an ally.

Some colleagues have expressed that they do not want to fall at odds or be shunned by others and basically end in the position I am in. But what worries me is not only myself, but our patients. They are being put in these positions as well, dehumanized by the very professionals charged with helping them.

The clinical psychology field seems to have an us (the healthy ones) versus them (the mentally ill) perspective. The field feeds and exists on the ideal that clinical psychology helps others heal, but in reality, they look suspiciously at those who have been able to heal, survived the system, and have a desire to do the same for others.

The field exists within the same authoritarian hierarchy as many other systems that perpetrate injustices. At one point, a PhD student who disclosed their given diagnosis was told that by sharing that information they had created a “burden” for their colleagues. They mentioned how their mentor and colleagues had joked about their given diagnosis and how they felt the need to disclose their given diagnosis in order to make them stop. In addition, a historic lack of all expressions of diversity, race, gender, cultures, economics, languages, sexual orientation, and psychological experiences permeates the field to the detriment of the patients.

These experiences brought me to this field, as I wondered how many others there are like me out there? How many others have experienced coercion, abuse, and have had their lived experiences of mental illness used as weapons against them by mental health professionals?

The ethical principles that rule clinical psychology are practiced as long as providers are the “sane/normal” ones and the patients are “crazy” and “incapable.” This has been further demonstrated by research on mental health provider stigma which may also take the form of prejudice and discrimination.

For the last few years, I have felt isolated, betrayed, powerless, and for the most part, defeated. I considered dropping out on multiple occasions. A quick Google search showed that there are not many clinical psychologists with lived experiences who are “out.” This made me wonder how many of us are living in the shadows, quietly listening to others in our field making deprecating comments about people like us and being marginalized and bullied.

Additionally, I wonder how “out” I actually am, how many people know, and how the labeling will ultimately affect my career. These thoughts kept me up at night and I debated many times whether or not to “officially” be out, and at least regain my narrative and speak out.

Within our field it seems that labels or given diagnoses place the person within a box, and context, circumstance, and the person’s personal experience are most often discredited and dismissed. One thing they could say if I “come out” is “Here she goes, the decompensated manipulative needy woman, needing attention,” as psychologists have previously said about individuals with a given diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.

These are the same beliefs that maintain the status quo and create systematic barriers for individuals with lived experiences to speak out, get help and recover. These are the same mechanisms that perpetuate abuse within our mental health system. The field needs to change, and clinical psychologists need to be held accountable for their role in keeping the status quo, and maintaining inequalities.

In my opinion, clinical psychologists need to be challenged from the minute training starts, any training. That can be a psychology class in high school, an undergrad pursuing a psychology major and so on.

Individuals with lived experience in mental illness should be at the forefront of this change and leading these conversations. We are the ones who have been through the system. Even if our perspectives of how the mental health system should be revolutionized digress, they matter. Instead, the field of clinical psychology, which often promotes healing and recovery, ironically keeps us marginalized as being “unable to recover.”

Moreover, from what I know, many schools do not ask that clinical psychologists attend therapy themselves and, for that reason, many have never been in the patient’s role. Is this not hypocritical and counterintuitive?

I am calling my field out for its hypocrisy and continued dismissal of minoritized voices. The field already exists within a Westernized, White, and developed bubble and it is time to put a stop to all of this. Simultaneously, I am calling out my colleagues and future clinical psychologists for their continued participation in these practices.

As it is, the clinical psychology field continues to promote and monetize the dehumanization of mentally ill people. When will the dehumanization of people with lived experiences in mental illness stop?

***

Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

36 COMMENTS

    • Sorry, but there is “nothing going on”.

      They are ALL “wastebasket” “diagnosis”.

      This label is given to people to get rid of them. Period.

      And it appears it’s not “medical diagnosis”, so I’m not sure it should be given by a “Dr”.
      And it would also have no meaning. in fact psychiatry should be embarrassed to give unmedical titles
      to people.
      Better to stick with the old Bi-polar which can be helped by those chemicals they have for that.

    • The BPD and bipolar labels are most often given to cover up child abuse. Given the fact that, “the prevalence of childhood trauma exposure within borderline personality disorder patients has been evidenced to be as high as 92% (Yen et al., 2002). Within individuals diagnosed with psychotic or affective disorders, it reaches 82% (Larsson et al., 2012).”

      And all this systemic child abuse covering up is by DSM design, since no “mental health” worker may ever bill any insurance company for ever helping any child abuse survivor, unless they first misdiagnose them, with one of the billable, but “invalid” DSM disorders.

      https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-child-does-not-have-bipolar-disorder/201402/dsm-5-and-child-neglect-and-abuse-1
      https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/directors/thomas-insel/blog/2013/transforming-diagnosis.shtml

      And the psychological and therapy industries have been, and still are, functioning as the child abuse covering up “partners” of my former paternalistic religion; but not likely only that religion, for seemingly over a century, if not much longer. They’ve even turned the bishops of my childhood religion into systemic child abuse cover uppers, which a sad, but true, thing to have to say about my former religion. An ethical pastor of a different religion did call this systemic “conspiracy” to be, “the dirty little secret of the two original educated professions.”

      https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2019/01/23/18820633.php?fbclid=IwAR2-cgZPcEvbz7yFqMuUwneIuaqGleGiOzackY4N2sPeVXolwmEga5iKxdo
      https://books.google.com/books?id=xI01AlxH1uAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

      “But what worries me is not only myself, but our patients. They are being put in these positions as well, dehumanized by the very professionals charged with helping them.” Absolutely, the hypocrisy and downright criminality of the two Lutheran psychologists, who attacked me, is quite staggering.

      The first one attacked me, based upon lies and gossip from pedophiles and a Spiritual child abusing pastor, according to that psychologist’s medical records. Prior to my personally understanding of, then eventual handing over of, the medical proof that my child had been sexually assaulted by, that pastor’s best friend.

      The second psychologist who attacked me, did so merely because I gave his pastor Whitaker’s book, “Anatomy of an Epidemic,” out of concern for the millions of children being misdiagnosed. Thankfully, I was able to embarrass the second psychologist, since I’d done my homework, and he had not. But make no mistake, I did try to stop him from embarrassing himself, yet he did not listen to me. And he did hand over written legal proof, that his goal was to embarrass and steal all profits from my work, and all my money, from me. Which, of course, was an “art manager” contract, I had no interest in signing.

      And I agree, Laura, those idiot American psychologists – who are harassing you – and want to “maintain the status quo,” are idiots. Let’s hope and pray for real systemic change, within the entire “mental health” system. Maybe this little bit of information, from my decades of research, might help embarrass them, and help you to fight your bullies. Or at least help direct you in your own research, into the historic and continuing, systemic crimes of your industry. Crimes that really do need to end.

      Especially now that we all now live in a “pedophile empire,” largely thanks to the systemic child abuse covering up crimes of all the DSM “bible” billers. Since, of course, systemically covering up child abuse, does also function to aid, abet, and empower the child abusers, which is illegal, and morally wrong.

      https://www.amazon.com/Pedophilia-Empire-Chapter-Introduction-Disorder-ebook/dp/B0773QHGPT

      By the way, in my research, I did find the medical proof of the likely iatrogenic etiology of even “the sacred symbol of psychiatry.” Since I found the medical evidence that all the doctors were taught in medical school that both the antidepressants and antipsychotics can create “psychosis” and “hallucinations,” via anticholinergic toxidrome. And the antipsychotics (aka neuroleptics) can also create the negative symptoms of “schizophrenia,” via neuroleptic induced deficit syndrome.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxidrome
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroleptic-induced_deficit_syndrome

      Yet both these highly relevant syndrome are conveniently, financially, for both the systemic child abuse covering up psychological and psychiatric industries, not mentioned in their DSM billing code “bible.” Please do what you can to embarrass your bullies, and help to bring about a more ethical and humane “helping” community.

      • Someone Else, I just want to say I admire you for your courageous battle to rid the world of child abuse.
        Sadly, the pedophiles of the future will not be the easy soft target of professionals who are adults but will be all children. In the future children will be the ones having underage sex with other children. Children who are already immersed in pornhub culture are going to be tomorrows rapists. But when a little kid is such a monster…what then do you do? Do you abolish “children” like one might abolish psychiatry? Obviously people have to heal all the millions of horrifically disturbed children who get a taste for underage sex from the bile that is the internet. Who is going to do that?
        I like what your campaign is doing. I just feel it would be more effective if rather than waste time embarrassing aged shrinks and retiring priests, throwbacks to a former epoch, you could instead embarrass pornhub for feeding children underage sex. There is a massive problem with such children. It is easy to castigate a consultant psychaitrist who dismisses the fact of institutional sexual abuse, it is going to require much more courage to look a nine year old rapist in the eye and tell them to stop what they do. What do people tell them? Do people tell the crying mixed up kid they are a monster who only deserves to be flung out of society and never let back in, or worse? Do people do that with all their local children, or their city’s children, their countries children, their own children? You see, I am not interested in what psychiatry is getting up to beyond the fact they will add to the problem by medicating such mixed up children and the child victims of those ferral children, and the medications will undoubtely make things much much worse. I am more interested in how we may further the construction of a loving, normal world that puts an end to the acceptance of the violent depravity in the pornhub internet.
        But don’t get me started on that subject. It makes me feel ill. I just wanted to thank you for airing the topic. That’s all I want to say.
        Conversation closed.

  1. Have you tried looking the person in the eye and saying that “I AM HERE TO STAY SO FORGET YOUR GAMES”.
    And remind them that they are being quite manipulative by spreading garbage.

    You do understand that labels are garbage and that there is not ONE person who does not have one 🙂 They were just not given one.

    This is NOT a matter of coming out as labeled. Why would you do that? You are in a cult where everyone wants desperately to look “normal” and so, you will NEVER win that race.

    Forget the race, it’s fucked up. You were labeled by perverts, not doctors.

    And I see you used the word “triggered”.

    I guess triggered in the way the pervert was who decided to give another female grief. That is all it was. Some perv who got a licence to use it for garbage. And it’s still working.
    The admin could care less about it.

    Do not let it crush you, and please forget about the garbage you are learning and don’t try to heal others through your path.
    Theirs is not yours.

    And btw, NO ONE wants ANY labels, despite some might have told you that it helped them. Ask them 10 years later.
    It takes years to see the crock of crap.

  2. Hi Laura,

    Thanks for this. The best Psychologists are those with experience of Life.

    I don’t exactly know what Borderline Personality Disorder is, but I think its ‘not as serious’ as below:-

    But you still might be in the wrong country.

    https://www.bps.org.uk/what-psychology/understanding-psychosis-and-schizophrenia

    “…Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia

    The problems we think of as ‘psychosis’ – hearing voices, believing things that others find strange, or appearing out of touch with reality – can be understood in the same way as other psychological problems such as anxiety or shyness…”

    If the British Psychologists are this Sure of themselves – then all the other Psychologists could be wasting their time.

  3. “As it is, the clinical psychology field continues to promote and monetize the dehumanization of mentally ill people. When will the dehumanization of people with lived experiences in mental illness stop?”

    Confused by this, but I guess you are still on the “stigma” propaganda.
    As you can see, the “stigma” is not “stigma” at all, but rather persecution and prosecution.
    AND it does NOT come from your next door neighbour, it is part and parcel of those that hand out the labels.

    The “STIGMA” which is really just messed up prejudice was there LONG before the names were invented.

    Hmm, what do I call this person? I know, I can say their personality is “disordered”
    And if I call it a “disorder”, it sounds like a professional thing.

  4. Dear Laura,

    Your free choice to study psychology and endeavour to help people that way is your free choice. I would even say that to a psychiatrist.

    As for the diagnosis of BPD you can take it as someone attempting to call you a slur for having such perfectly normal qualities, and you can complain about that slur, and refute or hide those perfectly normal qualities, or you can let the slur bounce off you, like it has come from a kiddy or a school bully, and you can triumph in your perfectly normal qualities, or you can wrestle the slur from the person who gave it to you and enjoy it as a memento or trophy. All of these free choices are yours.

    If it were me I would enjoy being “more” of what they snub BPD as being. I would delight in going back to classes and being “more” manipulative, “more” sneaky, “more” volatile, just to piss off the control freaks.

    When women were rounded up in the millions during the Spanish Inquisition it was because they were “ordinary”, by that I mean they had the smartness in that era to be manipulative, and the cleverness to be sneaky, and the liberating courage to be volatile. They were forced, on pain of torture, to promise never to be smart or clever or courageous again. All the qualities that society calls mad are the very qualities that make life worth living. So I personally prefer to jettison society and love my madness. But that is just me. I am different. And this is my free choice.

  5. I have had the Borderline Personality Diagnosis before, but, then I have had the Bipolar Diagnosis, the Schizo-affective Disorder Diagnosis, the OCD Diagnosis… I have happily lost track of all the various lies made up about me. The Borderline Personality Diagnosis, though, is usually reserved for when you do harm to yourself. Some call it “cutting” Much of the time this usually results from the effects of the drugs. In college, I confess I tried to do it to get my parents or the residence hall director to listen to me. No one listened to me. I got lectures instead. At the time, I signed a contract with a student counselor in the Counseling and Guidance program until I stopped. However, usually, it is a response to the drugs. Sometimes, I think, it might have to do with hormone fluctuations especially in young women. But, why not just give the person a useless diagnosis so they can justify prescribing dangerous drugs and therapies like CBT with “mindfulness” and further wreck the individual’s life. I am sorry for what happened to the author of this article, but, please forgive, me maybe “being shunned” is like a “nudge from heaven” that there might be better places for her to use her remarkable talents in a more legitimate field. Thank you.

  6. I’ve had many friends, colleagues and relatives who’ve gone into the system to reform it from within. The ‘system’ has variously been politics, academia, journalism, the police, the military, school teaching, various medical fields including psychology and prison health, among others.

    Those like yourself who were abused and bullied by the system were the lucky ones. Mostly they were driven out, scarred and traumatised but capable of carrying on in other fields, sometimes criticising the system from the outside. A very few butted their heads against the wall over careers spanning decades, eventually retiring with the conviction their professional lives were largely wasted. Far more were worn down by the system sooner or later, becoming well fitted cogs in its smoothly whirring machinery of abuse.

    The system is the people trying to reform it from within. Even E Fuller Torrey was a dissident once.

  7. The problem with psychiatry/psychology is that so much boils down to crappy projections of entitled people which serve them to accomodate the reality to their needs (the crazy people versus the healthy people is such a comfortable bullshit).
    Vulnerable people become the ultimate defenseless scape goat onto which people in power reject murky and childish salf hatred.

    This system is a maddening machine of power with a problem with humanity.
    If only we chose to embrace ourselves and others fully, things woud start to head for the better.

  8. This is an interesting article for me, as I know a young woman in a very similar position who is considering to go back to school to study yet more – psychology.

    I never cease to be amazed at our ability to give other people the benefit of the doubt. Even though it is obvious to most of us now that these fields (psychiatry, psychology) tend to attract the criminally insane, so many continue to hold out hope that they can be “reformed.” In some ultimate sense, they may be right. But I would never set foot in an environment like that now without the knowledge that I gained outside of that environment. And I would know that I was entering into what is basically a traumatizing (we call it suppressive) environment for the purposes of studying it as I would any other dysfunctional group, and with no hope of getting any useful information from it, or even a degree.

    But I think a better use of my time would probably consist of walking away and see if I could find a calling or profession that is actually acting like it still cares about people and is helping others for real.

  9. If what’s written is true, I am absolutely appalled by the way in which you have been treated, but it’s not unexpected at all. Please know, you have the support of many of us, even if we cannot physically be around you. The fact that you have boldly faced these people and entered as a professional into the very system that traumatised you is such an incredible feat and you must have to put on a fake smile and hide your pain just to get through the day everyday.

    I have always said “personality disorders” are state sanctioned defamation irrespective of the behaviour of the labelled or whatever precursors that lead to that behaviour, which can be stated as is. Other people vehemently stand by it because they profit off of it in some way, either because they set up clinics or are “personality disorder experts” or because they are people looking to understand the behaviour of someone they do not like or someone who finds use in using such labels to keep someone under check/control. Hopefully, in the future, it will be seen in the same light as “drapetomania”.

    This is one of the EXACT reasons I avoid the mental health system like the plague. I know the risk of further labelling given I’ve already been labelled in the past (not with a personality disorder, though who knows if they’ll even label me with that in the future).

  10. There are some positives in my life which are allowing me to sustain myself without falling prey to the mental health system. Without it, I would have a fate worse than death. They would surely have turned me into a confrontational disheveled beggar at the mercy and charity of doctors. I don’t know how I’ve even made it this far in life.

    When I read people’s experiences of this nature, a part of me feels like it’s happening to me, and I feel sick inside. Like the author of this article, I have faced bullying, insults and have also been severely stigmatised, insulted and gaslighted because of psych labels. I have had nasty lies and manipulations spread about me by a socially and financially powerful “parent”/father. From a decent person (which I still am fundamentally), I have turned into a person who has breakdowns when such things happen and end up in screaming and shouting matches with my mother about why she didn’t leave him for so many years and put both our lives in danger. Not something I like at all, but like flesh to flame, it is almost impossible to not react to the pain. I avoid doctors even for ordinary medical problems. Of course, all this makes me look mad and lacking in civility. Some people would not like being around someone like me and might probably think I should be drugged and made to keep shut. But actually, that would make me even worse. What would make be better is justice and safety. But easier to do the former than the latter.

  11. Thank you so much Laura for so beautifully articulating the more seedier interpersonal and banished-from-view inner workings of of the mental health industrial complex. Kind of makes one feel like taking a shower after 50 minutes with their “psychotherapist”.

    With regard to the BPD diagnosis; as psychiatrist Irvin Yalom quipped. the “BPD diagnosis is an insult” What Yalom ‘likely’ failed to recognize is that the insult was actually more aptly an insult to psychiatry and the rest of the mental health industry. Personally I think that the BPD diagnosis is-whatever otherwise flimsy or reckless heuristic attributions, far more manifest developmental trauma than anything else. But, then, since few adults have gleaned an adequate narrative from their childhood abuse-what critically happened and critically “didn’t happen” (to borrow from Winnicott), and since the adult therapist is likely working from multiple flawed material and disease paradigms, there’s really little opportunity to fix what got broken, save leaving therapy little more than the better “therapized actor” so as to get and go along in life as well as possible.

    I’m afraid your a wounded healer Laura, at least as your chosen vocation and life experience has fated you. Unfortunately that healing will be yours and your patients-as they choose- alone, and not the mental health fields writ large and small. It kind of makes me chuckle to think that 20 or 30 years from now that the mental health industry might just be mostly populated by former users like Laura and others, and as a result, a far saner corner of the world than previously inhabited. I wish you well on your journey Laura, your on your way now…

  12. I can definitely relate. Now that I’m a few years removed from the field, I recognize that I was sicker in my ‘recovery’ than I ever was in my addiction or mental illness. The culture in mental health is so dysfunctional and now that I am free, I can practice what I preached and set healthy boundaries. I now get paid enough to care for my family, have a work-life balance that actually allows me to engage in self-care, get entirely employer sponsored insurance, and I get fantastic benefits like gym memberships and reimbursements for anything that helps me stay fit. My employer doesn’t petition the government to keep the minimum wage low, demand that I read books like Man’s Search For Meaning on my unpaid time off, require overtime or work on holidays like the residential programs I worked at, encourage Medicaid billing fraud, or force me to lie to patients and say that drug testing holds you accountable, or addiction is a disease or that antipsychotics work. I no longer work for a company that pays below a living wage or gives just the legally mandated amount of vacation. I got 12 weeks of paid parental leave at the start of the COVID lockdowns to transition my son to the online schooling. I get to set my schedule and can work from wherever I want. I no longer work for a company that won’t adopt an EHR but won’t pay for printer ink and I don’t feel obligated to buy candy or cupcakes with my $18/hr salary for a patients graduation because the company won’t do anything to celebrate the achievement. I no longer stay late to write notes or write them for free because they’re not ‘billable hours’. I’m able to take my vacation because I don’t feel bad about my patients going weeks without anything cause the company won’t do anything when I’m gone or they’ll overload another counselor with an already ballooning caseload. I don’t have to dearth with insurance agencies that would rather patients die than pay out or probation officers that don’t care. My name is Brice, and I’m in recovery from addictions counseling, not addictions to substances.

    • Brice,

      Very interesting. I have slowly influenced my clinical psychologist to use the word ‘client’ rather than ‘patient’. He knows why, but he was in the years of habit. Same for a local state mental health program director and his meetings, except he used ‘consumer’ (most staff still does). I’d prefer they, at least behind their self-interested masks of love and care, largely de-professionalize their customary roles and their needs for ‘clients’ who directly or indirectly pay the ‘clinician’s-provider’s’/administrator’s bills, and use ‘person’ when possible, even ‘citizen’, but it’s a start. Maybe you could consider this on your adventure of counselor-mental health/sickness transformation.

  13. I was surprised that hearsay from a fellow student or anyone was taken as fact. I should not have been.
    Is there a culture of malfeasance in Psychotherapy?

    I do know that crime or any bad acts are customarily backed up by colleagues once colleague-status is attained. Until that point, you are fair game.

    You are disappointed, but do you really want to work within that kind of system? Could your laudable goals have survived that system? Hey, how about law? Your commitment to good shouldn’t be wasted.

  14. Laura,

    Thank you for writing this article. I am a recent psych undergrad, emerging from the pandemic more disillusioned than ever about our mental health “system.” I wanted to study psychiatry because I wanted to understand why people like myself, my parents, my loved ones, were being abused and misused on their “treatment” journeys.

    The things I’ve heard professors say about not only the things I’ve been diagnosed with, but others (especially personality disorders) makes me glad I’m far away from my place of learning. I could go on about how our experiences are similar, but I do have a question.

    I am afraid of going to clinical grad school for the exact reasons you’ve outlined here. I have 25k in debt, and due to COVID, no counseling on what or where I should go next. My college did not have a social work program, but the longer I studied psychology, the longer I understood that actually helping people enmass from within the field wouldn’t be viable. When I brought this up to my professors for guidance, most shrugged and said it was outside their area of expertise, and couldn’t recommend any social workers to me.

    Would you, or any other commenters, suggest social work, or another field? I currently work for a dollar above minimum wage in a nursing related field and I’m at my breaking point. I’m young, but it doesn’t feel like there’s much left for me. I spent my early 20s nearly killing myself to get high marks and produce undergrad research. Without further direction, it feels like that was for nothing. Sorry for ranting.

    • This is a very perceptive comment on the state of the (mental) healing arts in academia!

      There are several pathways you could follow that are not part of traditional academia. I don’t recommend social work, as it was in the process of being taken over by academic psychology 60-plus years ago when my father got into it! That said, there are many of us who would like to spend at least some part of our lives doing “social work.”

      There is still a lot going on today in the “alternative” healing arts. They range from extremely spiritually-oriented practices to more traditional approaches that simply use different models for how people lose their health and alternative (usually non-drug) therapies.

      If you would prefer to become an activist in the field, there are some people and organizations doing that work, but that’s about all the information I have. I am a member of one such group, and there are others, but I am not that well-informed about them.

      I urge you remain wary of the various “easy” or “sure” paths that may be presented to you. These days, to live with truth, do the right thing, and learn and practice effective help is NOT easy. That doesn’t mean it’s not rewarding!

      • I agree with all the points l_e_cox makes.

        I’d add that the most meaningful, fulfilling and useful work done to support those facing emotional, behavioural and psychological difficulties is very rarely well paid. You’re probably going to have to find a balance between monetary and less tangible rewards and think hard about how much you’re prepared to compromise one for the other.

        If you’re doing this right – with empathy, compassion and rapport with those you’re trying to help – it’s likely to result in considerable acute and chronic stress upon you. This field has the tendency to either burn-out or dehumanise those working in it. When committing to a career – or just short term voluntary work – be sure to check out what support is offered to workers, especially in terms of time off, relief and transfer of casework, leave entitlements and peer counseling. Also look into how much overtime and on-call work is expected – both official and unpaid. Martyrdom can have romantic appeal but it rarely helps anyone.

        • Cabrogal,

          I agree 100%. Often times I feel like I’m burning out and I’m only in my early 20s. Though, I suppose constantly working to attain some goal of supporting myself with no real direction will do that. I am seeking some form of employment where I can make even small changed in indivduals lives that doesn’t require me to do back breaking work (my home health aide job, for example). Not sure if I need a degree to do so, or not. I admit the method I am currently using steers towards sacrificing myself.

      • Thank you for responding.

        My main goal, like many others (I’d assume), is to support myself financially while doing something I find meaningful. Activism and public education has always been very meaningful to me. I was told by my professors that my degree would be useless unless I also went for my masters (which I suppose is true, since they assumed I wanted to do clinical work). Since I’ve been told that, I’ve been paranoid that I’m doing the *wrong* thing financially by holding off on masters school.

        What kinds of organizations do you suggest looking for? I am not familiar with the sort that could actually pay me for working there.

        • My first thought for a very traditional but non-medical healing art is chiropractic. There are also schools that teach Naturopathy, and some centers that practice “functional medicine.” In the pattern of traditional psychotherapy, but drugless (and I hear quite effective), is the work Kelly Brogan is doing. Numerous others have carved out “life coach” sorts of practices along similar lines.

          The traditional spiritual healing practice that I am most aware of is Reiki. There are other centers, usually concentrated in certain geographic areas where more potential customers live, that provide various therapies that are more spiritually-based.

          I personally volunteered to work for my church, and did so for 26 years. But that’s not a normal life by a long ways. However, if you really want to help your fellow human beings, don’t expected to be treated as “normal” (even though you would expect that such an urge is normal). In spite of lip service to the contrary, corporate culture has taken over most mainstream healing practices and by long experience (if not blatant admission) the one being “helped” does not come first in those people’s minds.

    • How long will it take to dismantle psychiatry? A decade? A week? Suppose there was a closure of all psychiarty establishments and hospitals overnight, like bars were shut overnight in lockdown. Where would all the geriatric patients go tomorrow. There are enough to fill a soccer stadium in every city. Many need memory tests by psychiatrists to assess the degree of their cognitive decline, as I recently found out with my demented mother. Are they all to instantly hurl themselves into nightmare withdrawal symptoms that even young healthy people cannot survive? What about all the bread knife weilding people who have a giddy blend of many ills going on and are also bedazzeled on crystal meth? Where do they get help? Maybe the little old ladies and aged gentlemen who are withdrawing from meds can talk them down from their violent acute psychosis, or maybe the knife weilders can help change the incontinence diapers of the demented. Where do the bone thin anorexic gals and guys go? Where do the alcoholics go who cannot hold the glass from shaking? Maybe they are on a last hope detox program, do they have to pack their pyjamas and leave tomorrow? Society comes at a cost of making people broken. So, society will always need good people to bind up the lacerations of the wounded. Throughout history even the good can become broken, and turn against the wounded they feel burdened with helping and oppress them. As has happened in psychiatry. That becomes a tricky problem. Once identified, there is an overwhelming impulse by other good people, such as activists, to free those oppressed wounded people, but in the stampede to carry out that mass evacuation from hospitals and so on, there can sometimes be a negligence about just what to do with the geriatric, the demented, the knife glinting barracaders in a kindergarten, the anorexics wasting away to the point of weighing lighter than the wreaths on their casket, and the alcoholics who have no memory of what you said five minutes ago about how to quit medication safely. Who is going to look after them all? Is it you? or you? or you? All the society broken…and all the broken from being badly looked after before…who? Who? Are we to take them on a picnic? Chill there fingers with lovely singing bowls? Yap about nutrients they cannot afford?

      Here comes Johnny, nine years old. His loving and concerned folks say he smashes anything three dimensional in house and that he broke the tail of the family dog by deliberately slamming a door on it. They are too poor to afford the singing bowl, wigwam, retreat which costs the same price as their house. Where do they go?

      They go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist appointment. There they will meet Evil Doctor PillD’eath, or they will meet lovely sensitive, knowing, Doctor Laura, dog earing her copy of “Anatomy of an Epidemic”….or they may meet wise, caring Doctor Astra, listening to MIA podcasts. Two women who will have met other covert “knowers” in the same clinic or hospital, their numbers growing every day. People who can help manage the slow decline of psychiatry in such a way that “from the inside” it stops handing out pills tomorrow. Or at least quicken the moment when the parents can be guided, by the Doctor Lauras and Doctor Astras in how to help little Johnny come off the noxious pills that an Evil Doctor PillD’eath put him on.
      Where angels fear to tread is a psychiatric hospital, and that is why they are needed there.

      We could say….nah…nah….abolish the lot….shut the hospital and there would be no more fear. Like shutting down a drug dealer overnight.

      A. Abolishing psychiatry would not happen overnight. It would probably take decades. That is not to say do not have that as a goal. But in the meantime….what? Given that its not going to be boarded up overnight?. Another way to look at it is that it is like a high speed passenger train that needs slowing down, and as it slows, the people stuck inside it can be helped off it, chucked onto the soft grass, the abundant free wigwams and survivor blankets. But if there is no Doctor Laura or Doctor Astra on board, or all the other lovely doctors hiding behind the covers of “Anatomy of an Epidemic”, then the train will just empty of “shamed and villified doctors” to the point where it is only full of Evil Doctor PillD’eaths. And we all know how many more deaths that will cause. Probably a lot lot more than one single nine year old called Johnny.

      But heh! What does Johnny matter? He is just one inconvenient mixed up soul.

      (and if he ever touches a dog’s tail again I will throw him in a dungeon)

    • Hi Astra,
      No advice here, just a couple observations:

      It might be helpful to find a more humanistic oriented graduate program like Goddard College (for example)? Do some research on the more progressive programs and contact one of the advisors or instructors with a few of your concerns and objectives. Find a program that adequately responds to your questions and concerns. There has been, for example, some very excellent and-for me, anyway-inspiring articles and interviews from university teachers right here on this website! Here’s the most recent, for example: https://www.madinamerica.com/2021/03/feminism-psychoanalysis-critical-psychology-interview-bethany-morris/

      I hope this helps some Astra.

      • Thank you, Kevin!

        I have been trying to research schools during my time off from my job. It’s difficult trying to find time to interview with my full time job… But I suppose the point of higher education is to eventually get a higher paying hope. Again, thank you for the resource.

  15. Hi Laura,

    I’m also currently completing my doctorate in Clinical Psychology (in the U.K.). I’m so sorry to hear of your experience with your colleagues and your programme but I can’t say I’m surprised either. I think you’re absolutely fantastic to be working in the field as what we desperately need is people like you.

    I’ve recently experienced a close bereavement and I’ve been so shocked at the attitude of “get on with it” that I’ve seen among the teaching staff on my program. You’ve hit the nail on the head there where you pick up on the “us” and “them” mentality. I’ve been made to feel that my grief response is Pathological. What’s more disturbing is that I can clearly notice how disconnected a lot of psychologists are from their feelings and therefore the feelings of others. I think they are desensitised to the suffering and pain of others because this is what the system demands of them (us). I know personally, I don’t think I’m going to be able to work in the mental health system due to serious conflicts it has with my moral compass. But the people who do stick it out don’t seem to have a critical bone in their body, nor the ability to speak out for vulnerable others, as you e seen with the lack of support you’ve received from your colleagues. I also think that the job breeds inaction in people. All day we hear about terrible things but we are often completely powerless to change people’s circumstances.

    I think all we can do is keep speaking about our experiences and push for change and to keep looking at things around us critically. Best of luck with your studies, if you continue to pursue them, it sounds like you have an awful lot to offer the field.

  16. ” I think they are desensitised to the suffering and pain of others because this is what the system demands of them (us).”

    The system demands nothing from adults who keep abusing kids by drugging and pathologizing them. The adults CHOOSE to do so, because they don’t give a fuck. It’s not their kid and that kid makes no difference in their life, except the pay the adult gets for drugging that child.

    Any shrink over the age of 35 should have realized that they are not even being ethical. But by this point, they have everything to lose.

    • People don’t get into working in mental health because they ‘don’t give a fuck’ – quite the opposite, most people get into it because they are particularly moved by the suffering of others.

      Then when you enter you find that the system is set up in such a way that psychiatry is in charge, they have the final say, and their understanding of mental health problems leads them to treat them in a certain way.

      People who work on mental health (Outside psychiatry) are often paid very poorly so you certainly don’t get into it for money. There is little to no recognition of the vicarious trauma that can happen to a person who for 40 hours a week listens to stories of trauma and abuse, while having to exist in a system which inheritantly pathologises human suffering and insists on medication being best practice.

      I think a lot of clinicians couldn’t possibly be fully present to the reality because it’s too distressing, but for many they might stay because if they leave then who is left? A lot of clinical psychologists are very critical of the system we have in place. A lot try to offer alternative understanding of difficulties. I was guided to this website in a class! If we all left then there would be no one in the system to challenge things or to offer alternative, less pathologising, understandings to people so I think for a lot of people their hands are tied.

      • Perhaps if every single MH worker appealed to governments and said it’s not working? Just like prison systems are not working.

        I’m sorry but there are literally millions of kids being drugged and where are all those people who do give a fuck.

        Kids who choose a career often at 18 years of age or even sooner, I’m sorry but they are not at all informed by life or varying information so are only receiving the ‘training’ about the mental illness paradigm.

        This then would be the reason they find those jobs frustrating.

        Again, work in a psych ward and you either go along with it all, or you’re on your own. No shrink will take your side.
        Most one gets will be lip service, but the client will still walk around with their branding.

        Of course it’s distressing to many, but trust me, there are many that do not get distressed.

        Just like the wailing of a dog, which many of my friends would not be bothered by, but I am AND I take action.

        I do not just say, “oh it’s so sad that the dog is wailing”

        Just depends on one’s personality. Psychiatrists are capable of pretty awful stuff.

  17. Just want to send you a big message of support as a fellow clin psych with lived experience, who is out and proud. It’s a serious problem with this profession and the training process. Your classmate’s behaviour is an example of this. Over here in NZ a bunch of us started a group called Aotearoa Therapists with Lived Experience Network (ATLEN) and there is a similar group called In2gr8 Mental Health in the UK. IMH managed to get the BPS to create a position statement on the value of lived experience in our profession and me and the ATLEN crew are slowly working on getting something like that in place here. I could write a book on my rages about this topic. Either our experiences and insights are dismissed with a “everyone has mental health struggles” kind of white washing or framed as shameful secrets that can never ever be spoken of. I refuse to sit in a room with my clients and pretend to be an expert, infallible human. I come to this work from the service user movement, and I am not going to suddenly begin perpetuating stigma like that now. There’s a poem on here I wrote about this experience, statistics for the social sciences. I have a feeling you might relate. https://www.madinamerica.com/2018/08/statistics-social-sciences-miriam-barr/

    It was worth the battle though. I spent five years in public services and ultimately decided they are treatment resistant (to turn their own terminology on them). Now I have broken free and I’ve got my own teeny weeny service-user led psychology practice.

    All the very best with the formal process. I’m cheering for you from here.

LEAVE A REPLY