PSYCHOTHERAPY….it doesn’t work…does it?

When Cathy had her baby, anyone who’d done Psych 101 recognised a text book case of Post Partum Depression.  But as Cathy had full health coverage, her ob-gyn advised her to see a psychotherapist.

After her first session she seemed more of a mess than before and told us that ‘things had to get worse before they got better’.  Worse they got.

Tim, her husband, who had been ‘hands-on’ throughout the pregnancy, delivery and first days of care felt supplanted, and began staying out later and later.

Cathy, on a twice a week schedule with the therapist was more nervous and had a number of stupid, in our opinion, mantras she would tell herself.

After two months, when things were even worse, we called her mother, who marched in, took the baby and sent Cathy and Tim away for a weekend, leaving on Thursday night.

On Sunday night, Cathy called to find out if it was okay for her and Tim to spend an extra few days, and her mother agreed.

When the therapist rang up, as Cathy had missed her appointment, the mother said many unprintable things to him, canceled her daughter’s further appointments, and said that she would be dispensing all therapy
from now on.

When Cathy and Tim returned they were as they had been before the baby’s birth, and we all blamed the therapist for nearly destroying Cathy and the marriage.

Cathy’s story is not unique.  There are hundreds of stories like it, where a simple intervention by a relative or friend solves the problem.  There are also hundreds of stories like Harriet’s.

Harriet was too young to really understand what had happened. All her life she felt as if she didn’t belong, as if her family was not ‘real’.  This is because when she was nine months old she was entrusted to an Aunt for
nearly two years, then returned to her birth parents without much effort of socialisation.

At first just insecure, then dependant, afraid she would be abandoned or given away, Harriet grew into a very bland child.  She always did what her older sister wanted, always clung to her mother, and made friends in a kind of absorption.

When she was fifteen she was involved in an accident.  There was no question about it being an accident; not by the police, nor the psychiatrists, nor the medical doctors, nor anyone remotely aware of the events.

When she was nineteen Harriet decided that she had tried to commit suicide. She told her older sister that it was ‘her’ fault.  Her older sister not particularly into Harriet, never bothered to dissuade her, and went on with her life.

At the age of thirty one, Harriet sought psychotherapy.  It was determined that Harriet was an abused child.

As the mother and father were not useful abusers, the older sister, the one who had caused the suicide attempt, (and was now living in another country making very little contact) was the culprit.

So certain was the therapist of her findings that she cautioned Harriet not to try to get her sister to ‘confess’ nor expect her parents to corroborate what she ‘knew’.

“I know what I know,” was Harriet’s mantra.

For the next TWENTY FIVE YEARS Harriet lived in her ‘I know what I know” fantasy world.

She remembered how she she had opened the window, climbed out on the ledge and looked at the sky before jumping.

Then she saw a Google Street View.  There was no ledge.
For Twenty Five years Harriet had believed a delusion. A lie.  And if that memory was false, what about all the other memories? What about the fact that she was still attending therapy?

The ‘saving’ of Harriet’s delusion was that it didn’t destroy other lives. Her sister had shrugged it off, for Harriet was never important to her. Her parents had listened, and when forced to acquiesce, did so, with a sense of

Had she claimed her father abused her, this might have led to a complete breakdown of the family, as it had in so many cases which resulted in successful lawsuits against the therapist.

Only Harriet’s life was ruined by the delusion.

Many of you, reading this, may be attending therapy.  Ask yourself if it is really helping, or if, like a hairdresser appointment, has become a weekly ritual.  

Ask yourself, if people need to attend a therapist for twenty five years, is it helping them?

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