This post will be another one that comes under the heading of something that is hard to write because it lays bare some of my own deeply personal story. As a starting point, you might want to read Sleep Through the Pain — Suicide, Part 4. After the events I describe, I was in a position of not working and having no health insurance, needing to transition from female to male, and still suffering from severe depression.
I sought out therapy from a well-known non-profit organization in the Washington, DC, area that provided therapy on a sliding scale. Because the clinic was over-booked, I was assigned an intern-therapist, AP, who was doing her field placement at the institution, and had not yet finished her degree, nor was she yet licensed to practice. She was supposed to be supervised by CR.
Quite immediately in therapy, I dived into my story. And quite immediately there came the typical psychopath ploys, which I was not yet familiar with. As I talked about my need to transition from female to male, explaining my childhood realizations, AP said something along the lines of, “Yeah, I used to think I was a boy when I was young, too.” When I talked about problems I’d had with my mother, AP recounted similar experiences. And as I delved into the difficulties I was having in my relationship with my partner, Kim, AP related the troubles she was having in her own lesbian relationship. She said that her partner had been caring for her terminally ill mother and had become cold and distant to her. She told me she had been married before the lesbian relationship, but that in the divorce, her husband had gotten custody of their two children.
One of the verboten rules in therapy is that a therapist should not share too much personal information, unless it is somehow relevant to therapy and meant to help the one receiving therapy, but very soon, I was feeling like *I* was AP’s therapist. She began to hint that we could have a “friendship” outside of therapy, and that was dangled in front of me. She kept offering to give me her email address, which never materialized, but hung there like a carrot waiting to be picked.
Next, AP began to tell me that I was “special.” From there, it escalated. The office where therapy was held was arranged such that AP sat in a chair, and I sat in a sofa across from her. To exit the room, the only path to exit the door was past AP’s chair. I was already being love-bombed, yet I was still taken aback and surprised the first time she hugged me. AP planted herself in my pathway to exit the office and put her arms around me. It wasn’t a “friendly” hug. No, AP was taller than me and i found my face pulled by her toward her breasts.
The above is a drawing I did in colored pencils after this first “hug” incident. I called it “Therapy.”
I began to panic. I loved Kim, and did not want to lose my relationship with her, and I’d never cheated on a partner in my life (and never have). Yet all the love-bombing was having an effect, messing with my mind. Thereafter, AP continued to “hug” me at the end of every session. When I went to our weekly meetings, I would find AP waiting eagerly for me on the front steps of the old building. She would linger and keep me in the office longer that the hour designated for the sessions. While all this was going on, I was attending a group for abuse survivors led by AP’s supervisor, CR.
One day, AP said to me, “I have a surprise for you!” She knew I was interested in Buddhism and meditation. She said, “I’ve gotten permission from CR to take you on an outing to the Washington Monument where we’ll do some meditation. We’ll do it next week.”
So that next week, giddy, I rushed to my appointment. AP gathered an ice chest, a blanket, and led me to her car parked in front of the old building. She spread out the blanket in the grassy area in front of the monument. She laid on her side on the blanket, and offered me a Coke from the cooler, while I sat cross-legged beside her. We didn’t meditate; we talked. And as we talked, she took my hand in hers and held it softly. It felt more like a “date” than like therapy. There we sat for about 3 hours, just talking, with her holding my hand.
When AP announced it was time to leave, I’d been sitting cross-legged so long that my feet had fallen asleep and I was wobbly as I rose. AP stood behind me to steady me. AP put her hands on my hips and instructed me to bend my knees and relax my hips. From behind, she placed her cheek next to mine so that I could feel her breath against my skin, and I thought she was going to kiss me, but she didn’t.
This incident left me utterly confused. I felt that if AP persisted in her “come-ons,” that I was vulnerable to breaking my commitment to Kim. The last thing I wanted t do. I thought about trying to talk to Kim about what was happening, but I didn’t know how to find the words, and I didn’t want to worsen our already-rocky relationship. How do you say to someone you love, “I feel you’ve been distant to me lately, and my therapist is telling me how special I am, and I’m afraid if something doesn’t change then not-good things are going to happen”?
So I decided to ask Kim to pick me up after one of my sessions, hoping she’d notice the unusual tension between me and AP, and she might question me, and I might then find the words to tell her. Or hoping that seeing Kim would discourage AP from her love-bombing campaign. But I couldn’t get Kim to come to the old building to pick me up.
So instead, I confided in my close friend, Robyn, what was going on. Robyn agreed that things weren’t “right” and she agreed to meet me at the old building after one of my sessions. AP cornered me for the usual hug and walked me down the stairs to the lobby where Robyn was waiting. I introduced the two of them, AP gave me another hug (a little more tame), and told Robyn how special I was. Now I had a witness, as things continued to escalate.
AP kept holding out the promise of giving me her email address, but would never quite get around to doing it. Keeping in mind that I was in a very vulnerable place when I had started therapy, and I was also at the cusp of transitioning, the confusion couldn’t have been worse. There was no other therapist available to me, with lack of health insurance. I felt trapped in a horrible dilemma.
The stress was so much, I engaged in self-injury for the first time in my life:
The upper left photo in the top montage was the first instance, I believe. It says, “KIM,” which I etched on my arm with razor blades. The others came later in the saga and, I’m sorry, reveal AP’s first name.
The sequence gets a bit fuzzy here, but I’ll try to get it right. I was trying to find a way to release the emotional pain that had no outlet except in physical pain. I was trying to mark myself with the name of the woman I loved. I wore long sleeves to therapy even though it was still summer, and I don’t think AP or CR ever saw the first cutting. Of course, Kim saw, but still had no clue what was going on or why I would do such a thing.
Now a subtext of this whole business was that AP would be graduating with her master’s degree at the end of the semester, and she and her partner were planning to move to California. She had begun to tell me that she would give me her email address at the end of the semester. I started to suspect I was being played. I knew for sure that she was violating her ethical and professional code of conduct. But I didn’t know what to do about it…. I somehow wanted to be friends with her, but I surely wasn’t after an affair or a relationship. And I desperately needed the therapy.
One day, I arrived for a session, and found AP and CR alone in the building, standing quite close together in a doorway at the top of the stairs. They hadn’t heard me come in, and it looked to me, and i sensed, that they might have been about to kiss. Just a guess… But they were definitely surprised to see me, and quickly backed away from each other and AP hurried me into her office. I now began to suspect that AP was not just playing me, but CR also. More confusion…
Which then led to the second cutting in the above photographs. I was still wearing long-sleeved shirts in the summer. But at my next session, the sleeve on my right arm slipped up a little bit and the cut was close enough to my wrist that AP saw it. She gently raised the sleeve to my shirt and looked at what I’d done. Her eyes got wide and she jumped up from her chair and said, “I’m going to get CR.” I begged her not to, but she did anyway.
CR came into the office to take a look and then she … SCREAMED at me, “How could you do this to AP!!!!” How could *I* do this to *AP*? What were her priorities? CR carried on screaming at me until I was in a fetal position on the floor, and then she left the room, and nothing further was ever said or done about it. No questions, no change in therapists, nada.
The semester was coming to a close, and still the ever-promised email address was not given. Finally, I confronted AP. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on. Either we are friends or we are therapist / client… This isn’t therapy.” I wanted answers. I ticked off what had happened. AP looked stunned and said she would think about it. We’d talk about it the following week, which would be my next-to-last session with her.
I arrived on time and AP ushered me into the office and closed the door. She sat tense and rigid in her chair. I waited. She said she’d thought about it and I was right. We were not therapist and client, we were friends. But this was delivered with such a robotic tone, no sincerity, and I knew she was lying to me. AP says, “So, what do you want to do now?” I reply, “Well, I guess we should just talk like friends…” The rest of the session was very awkward, and I asked her about the email address again, since we’d established that we were “friends.” She said she’d give it to me next session, which would be my last with her. I definitely smelled a rat.
I was now beginning to feel floridly suicidal again. When I went home, I broke down and told Kim what had been happening, and was now able to explain the cuttings. I don’t remember exactly what she said because I was too shell-shocked, but Kim was sympathetic, though she had no advice to offer. I dreaded the last appointment, because it would unveil the final truth — either AP would give me her email address and we would be real friends and I’d be okay with that, or she would not give me her email address, in which case, I’d know she had been playing me all along, toying with me, duping me.
I hardly remember the content of that last session, except that the email address was not given. At the end of the hour, unlike previous sessions when AP tried to make me linger, she said, “It’s time for you to go.” She certainly didn’t hug me, and nearly shoved me out of the office and closed the door.
I sat on the stairs for a few minutes. I knew another suicide attempt would be in the wake if i didn’t do something. So I summoned up my courage and knocked on AP’s door. “What is it?” she said coldly. I replied, “I don’t feel safe,” as close as I could get to saying I felt suicidal and needed help. AP said, “The session is over, you have to leave.” I said, “You promised to give me your email address and you haven’t. We need to talk about this.” I said, “Please, let’s go to a cafe down the street and talk about this.” She insisted I had to leave. I wasn’t going to be left hanging with all this damage as she went off to California and pursued her career as a therapist, and she wasn’t going to budge either. Impasse.
This appointment was at the end of the work day, and no one was in the building except for me and AP. CR was at a meeting in another building in the complex. Seeing that I was not going to be dissuaded or go away peacefully, AP said, “Just a minute.” She shoved me out of the doorway and closed the door, turned on the machine that made white noise as I waited in the hallway. AP had a slight hearing impairment and was talking loudly. I could hear what she was saying on the phone to CR. It had clearly all been pre-arranged, in AP’s mind at least. She was summoning CR.
When AP opened the door, I again begged her to just go and talk it through with me, but she refused, and CR was there in a flash, demanding to know what was going on. AP and I stared at each other. I’d thought ahead enough to bring a packet of evidence I’d managed to collect. I’m not certain exactly what I said, but it was something along the lines of, “Can we talk about this, AP? Or are you going to tell CR what’s been going on, or do I have to?” Stunned silence all around, mere seconds stretching into eons.
Finally, I turned to CR and blurted out as much as I could. CR’s eyes got wide like saucers. She started frantically running around the upstairs offices, saying if I had a complaint, I was going to have to file a grievance, and she was looking for the official grievance forms. She was in no way concerned about my well-being. I hadn’t known if CR would be friend of foe, but I’d expected foe given the intimate moment I’d witnessed between her and AP. In addition to grasping what AP had done to me, I think she was also glimpsing that she’d been played as well.
I wasn’t particularly wanting the grievance form — I was wanting to be heard and for wrong things to be set right. I was reluctant to leave. So CR said, “I’m calling my supervisor, X.” I said, “I’m not going to be here 3 against 1. I’m calling Kim, then.” I quickly called Kim at work and asked her to rush over, which she did. After agonizing minutes, AP, CR, X, Kim, and I were seated in another office. X was completely unaware of all of this. AP was asked to leave, and so it was then just the four of us.
I began to try to explain to X what had transpired over the past few months and pulled out my packet of evidence. X stopped me in mid-sentence, “This sounds like a lawsuit to me. You have to leave.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The supervisor of the supervisor not even wanting to listen to what I had to say?? Not even concerned about my well-being?? I was so upset that I jumped up, stumbled down the stairs, and was running down the street toward the closest subway station, intending to throw myself in front of a train. Thankfully, Kim came running after me, grabbed my arm, guided me back to our car where she’d parked, and got me home. Kim and Robyn kept a 24/7 suicide watch over me the whole weekend. I will be forever grateful.
One of us — either me or Kim — had managed to leave with the official grievance form. Over the weekend, I completed the form and began to research therapist abuse on the Internet. A major blessing, by Monday morning, I was able to find a therapist in the DC area who specialized in helping victims of therapist abuse. But she was retiring, was not accepting new clients, and I could not have afforded her fee. But she kindly talked to me on the phone a good hour, and she gave me some resources to check out. The single most wonderful thing she said to me was, “You need to know — it’s not your fault.”
So I filed the official grievance with the large non-profit organization AP interned for, and there began several months of hell. The first piece of hell was that the stress triggered a gall bladder attack, and within a week, I was in the hospital having my gall bladder removed on an emergency basis.
The grievance procedure stretched out over several months, with many meetings. The grievance team consisted of two high-level managers, a psychologist who was supposed to be independent, but who was later found to be a paid consultant of the non-profit organization, and there was me, and Kim had also attended the meetings. Robyn (bless her heart!) wrote and signed an affidavit as to what she had witnessed, and we got it notarized. Interviews were held with AP, who had already moved to California, with CR, and with me.
At long last, the facts were gathered, and the results were delivered in a final meeting. As I wrote in a previous post (you’ll have to dig to find it, because I don’t remember the one offhand), all I really wanted was an apology and for things to be set right. The summation of months of waiting was, to the effect of, “We don’t find that any wrong-doing has occurred, but in good faith for you bringing this matter to our attention, we are offering you $4,000.” I was incensed. Who offers money when only an apology has been requested??? Guilty parties, methinks. I rejected the offer point blank.
What to do? By now, I had already begun transitioning from female to male. I talked to people, tapped resources, did my research, and finally contacted an attorney who handled cases like mine. Frankly, I thought he’d refuse me, as I was in mid-transition, and hardly a sympathetic case. But he listened to the story with kindness, and represented me on a contingency basis. Had he thought the case was not winnable or the evidence insufficient, I’m sure he would have turned me down on the spot.
So the lawsuit was filed, and there would be two years of misery before all was concluded. The first hurdle was figuring out where in California AP had moved to so she could be a party in the lawsuit. My Internet sleuthing solved that one. There were depositions to be taken, and discovery. AP’s deposition was taken by a video link-up. The clinic had their psychiatrist and I was interviewed by her. My attorney hired a forensic psychiatrist, and I was also interviewed by him.
In the discovery process, it was found that AP had failed to write and file clinical notes for most of our sessions, which seemed to have gone unnoticed by her supervisor, CR. Then, suddenly, for the last two sessions, there were voluminous clinical notes attempting to paint blame on me. CR claimed in her deposition that she did not know about and had not approved of the outing to the Washington Monument — which was a *clear* violation of professional and ethical guidelines on AP’s part. (I don’t know whether CR was telling the truth or whether AP was telling the truth, but their versions conflicted, and I suspect CR truly didn’t know about the outing.)
Most stunning of all, my own investigation uncovered the fact that CR had let her license to practice expire, and so she was supervising CR without license. And not only that — she was running the group for abuse survivors without having had any special training in that subfield. While supervising someone who was guilty of abusing a client under her nose…
After two years of tears, sweat, worry, and waiting, a court date was set. It was then that opposing counsel finally made me an offer to settle out of court. I really didn’t want to accept the offer. I was more concerned with truth and apologies than money. I’d promised myself that I would not settle no matter what. All the facts were on my side, or no offer would have been given at all. The non-profit organization had already lost similar cases. But my attorney reminded me how grueling it would be on the witness stand, and I was well aware that a jury might not be sympathetic to a transgendered person. And I was worn down by the delay tactics. So I decided to accept the offer to settle out of court, for a fairly hefty sum, 50% of which went to my attorney.
BUT, I modified the settlement agreement to force the institution to make substantive changes in their organizational structure and in their mental health practices and procedures, which they signed off on. From what I hear, it’s now a healthier environment for employees and clientele. While I would have preferred to have my day in court and let the facts see the light of day, I now consider the settlement to be my vindication. I am happy that I stood strong and fought the good fight. There are a few things I wished had turned out differently. One of them is that AP is still practicing in California, and no doubt harming the clients who have come through her door. I don’t know what happened to CR, except that she was fired. I have not named names nor specified the institution because that was part of the agreement i signed.
I have sometimes been a victim, but by God, when I’m backed into a corner, I will fight.
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