H had a psychology degree, so when he began to help me with my rape trauma, I thought I was lucky. He became my own personal flashback tour guide, sending me deeper and deeper into the hell of my history. This was called “exposure therapy”. Rape survivors should relive every moment of their rapes as many times as it took to become unaffected by it.
Every time he pushed me to recount the details, my trauma intensified, but he said that was completely normal. All rape survivors got worse before they got better.
Years went by. I got no better. I cried. I got no better. I blamed myself for my failure to heal. I got no better. I became convinced that I would never recover. I’d done all that work and there I was, still not getting better.
One day, I took an overdose, severed an artery, and waited to die. If I lacked the secret ingredient needed to get past my rape, I didn’t want to live anymore. H was furious with me, so he left me that year–suicidal, traumatised, and without any therapeutic support. The next two years broke me over and over until I picked up yet another blade.
I got help that day: real help.
My therapist spent three months talking through my self-blame. Then she told me to stop reliving every moment of the rape because my dissociation made my PTSD different than most. Taking myself back there would always retraumatise me, and I’d done all the work needed to reframe the assault healthily, so reliving it wasn’t necessary.
And she was right. I got better.
My history with H taught me a few things:
- A decade or more of study and year upon year of full-time experience gave my therapist the nuanced view needed to guide me towards recovery. No lay person has all that knowledge, so they can trap a patient in their mental illness, and we often blame ourselves for our stasis. The results? Suicide. Job loss. The breakdown of key relationships. A world of pain.
- Therapists don’t have personal relationships with their patients because love stories fail, friendships end, and the patient is left without support at a time when grief compounds their illness. The psychic injuries that result make recovery a hundred times more difficult.
- Psychologists are held to their ethics by a field of norms, rules, and accreditation. Without those things, they could behave unethically without consequence. They’re saving and risking lives, so oversight is critical.
- Psychologists are supported by peers, doctors, and hospitals so that their patients can be hospitalised or medicated when crisis strikes. No lay person has that support structure, but if they did, they wouldn’t know when or how to use it.
- We must recover for ourselves, not our families, lovers, or friends. That’s one of many reasons therapists work to minimise the power they have over their patients’ lives. This way, we can navigate our recovery without pushing ourselves out of shape to satisfy a therapy-dom who’s personally invested in our improvement.
- When therapy isn’t working, we know to seek out different help. When that failed guidance is coming from a partner or friend, that simple structure, with its inbuilt emergency exit, is missing.
H’s inexperience almost led to my death, and the end of my relationship with him saved my life.