Therapists must stop peddling “Recovery” as a Holy Grail

Dear Friends

Do you sometimes feel frustrated with your Therapist? I’m sorry to say that, in a selfish way, I hope you can relate to this little story.

I’m looking for a new therapist and I had an initial phone call with a woman who presented on the internet as experienced and wise. I explained that I was 57 and that my father began the sexual abuse when I was 6. I was inviting her to recognise that I had survived for over half a century. I explained that I had experienced numerous therapists; and that I had made progress with them in working through different aspects of my life.  I explained to this wise woman that I do best when I have a long-term relationship with a therapist with whom I can do pieces of work whenever the need arises. I explained that I generally do okay but at 57 have a good insight into what I need.

Truth be told I am quite proud of myself for coming this far and being able to work out for myself what I need and to be able to ask for it. But the wise woman’s response blew me away:

She invited me to consider that the issue I had with my abuse was one of attachment. And that if we could resolve that then I could heal or recover.

That lit the touch-paper for me. Don’t get me wrong: I know that I have issues with attachment, but that was not what I was asking to discuss. I was asking to be able to have sessions to manage aspects of my life that risked becoming unmanageable. And I doubt that each issue I present leads to attachment theory.

So, if there are any therapists reading this: please don’t assume that all Survivors (or victims) of childhood abuse will be healed or expect to be healed.

Therapists must not assume that

  • We are all after the holy grail of Recovery and Healing
  • Survivors and Victims are a homogeneous group
  • We want to be told how to think and feel

I don’t know about you but I spent a life-time (yes a lifetime) being told

  1. How to think
  2. What is best for me
  3. What to feel
  4. What not to feel

And now I’m learning to undo all of this and, at the ripe old age of 57, I’m learning to think for myself!

So, to return to the Holy Grail of Recovery. I have wounds that will not heal. (I do not have scars.) I have wounds that break open and ooze their poisonous filth unexpectedly. For sure, I am better than I was in my 20’s but I still suffer horribly. I still get flashbacks, weird out-of-body experiences, sudden inexplicable terrors, mysterious illnesses, fears, rages, moments of seemingly intolerable sadness. And yes, I do have a constant fear of abandonment. But much of the time the struggle is manageable IF I get support. That’s how I manage and that’s how I seek to be understood.

I am the expert in my own condition—indeed in my own human condition and my own brokenness. I am still angry that this wise woman somehow thought, after a few moments’ conversation, that she could put me together again where countless others have “failed”. Most of all I was angry that this therapist wanted me to fit into a box of Survival and Recovery that was her own construct. Not mine.

It’s so important, isn’t it, to recognise that we Survivors or Victims are not all conforming to some well-researched model of Recovery. Yes, we have similar symptoms or clusters of symptoms and behaviours that by degrees help us to cope with life, as we know it. Yes, we all make progress and then fall back. And then there are those to whom I also pay tribute: the Victims I know who took their own lives and have never had a shot at making progress that felt meaningful or significant.

To Therapists I say this: we are not a homogeneous group. And to you my friends I would add that, it’s the similarities that we share, together with the differences, shades and nuances that we feel safe to disclose, that make blogging like this so validating and so valuable.

Thank you, my friends: because I can be sure that you “Get it.”

PS Tell me: are you seeking Recovery?

PPS: The photograph was taken on holiday in Pembrokeshire, Wales.