I’m a big believer in confronting one’s demons. Sometimes, however, success in this quarter means one has to get beyond his or her own perspective. That usually means we access supposed experts. However, I admit: Finding one who’s professional, knowledgeable, and skilled is not always easy (Just look to Dr. Conrad Murray of the Michael Jackson case for proof.)
That’s when one discovers: the cure might be worse than the affliction.
In the end, therapists are flawed characters, by virtue of their being human. They have their own issues, and occasionally those bump up against yours, but for the most part, you’ll have clear signs that someone’s got no business giving you advice on the torturous aspects of life–especially if they’re stuck–thick–in muck of their own.
Case in point: My first therapist (yes, I’ve had a few). Dr. Baumgartner was a psychiatrist with strong German leanings and a thick German accent, a tall, handsome man, who wore all things leather. That’s right–leather vest…leather pants…leather boots (only thing missing was his riding crop.)
Why’d I seek him out? For a period of weeks, in the midst of my divorce, my legs had been giving out on me and I suffered bouts where they’d shake, uncontrollably. When doctors determined I didn’t have a brain tumor or any other discernible neurological cause, they suggested there might be a psychological reason.
They advised I see a psychiatrist.
Each Friday, at 4:00 PM, I reported for my appointment, meaning I was this doctor’s last patient of the day. I knew that detail because he told me…I’d know it, later, for another reason.
Each week I’d sit in the inner chamber of his 8′ X 10′ office suite, spilling out my guts, trying to get a handle on where my life went wrong–the abuse…the divorce…now my raising a young child by myself. I remember his first question of me: “Why are you coming to me?” That’s when I admitted: “Because of the weakness in my legs… I fear it’s a psychological reaction. There’s the divorce. I worry I can’t go forward and I might want to get married again.”
His answer: “Now, Colleen, why would you want to do that?” (as I thought: “Who’s jaded now?)
I recall thinking: “Whatever happened to older, Freudian types who merely took in what the patient said and nodded, all the while taking copious notes?” Dr. Baumgartner most assuredly wasn’t in that school.
We’d sit in his office, both of us chain-smoking, lighting up over and over til the room was a thick haze of blue smoke where our two voices somehow found each other. Oh, I wasn’t on a couch (tho’ it’d be leather if I were); instead, we sat across from one another.
Each session went longer, despite the fact I’d gather my things and make movement to leave, after 45 minutes. That’s when he’d say, in his thick German accent: “Stay, Colleen, it’s not necessary to leave. We have time yet,” while I’d look down at my watch, noting the fact we we’d gone 10 minutes overtime, already.
On the fourth occasion of our weekly meetings, I noted the absence of his receptionist, a woman who’d always greeted me upon my arrival. And somewhere at the end of that fourth meeting, with my face all puffed up from crying and the kleenex wadded in my hand, he said: “Look…it’s almost dinnertime. Would you like to go and get something to eat?”
It was then I knew: I’d become entertainment for his sad life.
****That was my last appointment with this supposed ‘professional.’ I would find myself, over the next many years, in an abusive relationship with another so-called therapist that almost cost me my life and I’d interact with two more who saved me. Why do I share these stories? To provide hope to others and to warn, too, of predatory behavior by some, who prey when a person’s most vulnerable.
My advice to others? If a supposed therapy relationship feels wrong, follow your instincts and get out. There are many highly-trained individuals who can help you out of the quagmire of your life.
PS…Years later, I’d be properly diagnosed as having MS (diagnosistic equipment had become so much better); neurologists think I had it all along and it explained that first bout and ensuing ones years later. My problem wasn’t a “mind thing” after all…