I’ve been to a few therapists before and have always had a good experience. This was before I knew to label myself as having borderline personality disorder, however. Since then, I’ve been to one therapist, Dr. Deville, whose treatment confused me. I’m just joking when I call it a “fail,” but it was a decidedly poor experience.
I’ve tried to see two more who developed mysterious monthlong vacations upon learning I had borderline personality disorder. I’m unfortunately not kidding. Who knows — maybe these ladies really were going on vacation. But I’m beginning to feel like I forgot to put on my deodorant or something.
As I continue my search for a therapist (without the borderline label, given my experiences thus far), I thought I’d share with you what caused my discomfort about Dr. Deville. I don’t know about you, but having BPD has led me to doubt every thought and feeling that comes through my head. And so if you’re wondering if your therapist just isn’t a good fit or if it’s just you, I’d like to be able to encourage you to follow your instincts. Here’s what happened to me:
Dr. Deville called John and asked him to drive 3 hours to our city to come to my appointment with me, something I really appreciated him doing. I thought she wanted to bring John in to explain what was happening in my brain and talk to us both about how to communicate and cope more effectively, but what actually happened is she seemed to sympathize with John, ally with him, and try to make me understand how hard it was to deal with me (trust me… I know?), and then recommended I go to the psychiatric ER (I did not say anything about being suicidal or intending to hurt myself at the appointment). Thankfully, John seemed to think this was as weird and out-of-nowhere as I did. For several appointments prior, I’d been a model patient: going above and beyond practicing DBT, humbly accepting that I must be willing to radically change, etc.
So that was obviously hard. I obviously did later go to the emergency room in a different situation, but I didn’t need to during this appointment. I just left feeling like she’d put on kid gloves and delicately led me, patronizing all the way, to crazytown! Thank GOD John actually felt the same way so I didn’t have to go through the agony of feeling like maybe it was just me, maybe I really AM crazy, etc. It was just hard to be an intelligent, adult woman sitting there having things explained to me like a toddler (“how would you feel if someone told you they were going to kill themselves?” uh . . . sad? concerned? are you asking this to say that I shouldn’t tell anyone that? what should I do exactly, because I’d love to have a better plan?)
I think she thinks I say that to John (she even asked if this was the case) to make him feel as distressed as I feel. That is emphatically NOT the case. I have told John I felt suicidal ONLY in situations where I just felt absolutely lost and had no idea what to do besides flail desperately for help. She also then said maybe he should call the police (something I’m not totally against in and of itself because, again, this does happen only in emergencies, though I hate for it to get that far). But she said maybe he should call the police because hospitalization “teaches a valuable lesson.” Sorry, again, but I’m an ADULT sitting right here? You’re trying to punish me out of reaching out for help if I’m suicidal? Maybe I’m doing it wrong, for sure, because I have no idea — but I am frantically trying all the “correct” tools I’ve been given, including the other day calling a suicide hotline (which was not helpful for me, but might help you!) — but I don’t think the right thing to do is “teach me a lesson.” Why would she say it like that?
Later on I mentioned that I told my mom about my therapy and stuff and I mentioned she wants to go to dinner with me because she’s worried. This was huge for me because I’m very secretive about my troubles — I don’t tell anyone except John, much less my family! Dr. Deville didn’t know that, though, and she said, “Eventually you’ll also realize people don’t have to worry about you to show they care about you.” That was SUCH a punch in the gut, because I have such a huge issue about compartmentalizing my life and revealing NOTHING of my troubles to any friends or family members. I don’t EVER TRY to make people worry about me and I definitely don’t think that’s the only way someone could show me they cared about me. But of course I felt like arguing at that point just looked like the crazy lady getting defensive. I do want to know John’s investing in my health and cares for me and understands what’s going on, but I don’t want him to WORRY. In fact, I’d love it if he could just have fun with me. That just requires a security I don’t have right now (and that I’d love help finding!)
Anyway, therapy has never been like this before. I think with John here she felt okay just kind of outright trying to partner with him to tell me I was nuts. There was also something at that visit that John noticed that I hadn’t thought much about before: she doesn’t listen. She listens to half of what I say and then gives me handouts and goes into skills. In previous appointments, I just thought it was because I really needed those skills, STAT. But there are really things I need to explain about my life right now that she didn’t seem to want to hear. When I did try to explain, I got the distinct impression that the kid gloves were on: the “Oh, uh-huh. I see,” kind of patronizing thing. John told me he’s actually heard therapists trained in DBT aren’t supposed to pay that much attention to the stories behind the emotions, but just focus on the coping skills. That’s not going to work for me. My thoughts and feelings are valid. Yes, I know I do need coping mechanisms for regulating my emotions, but I also know there are real problems here and I need to know HOW to express my needs appropriately, how to TRUST that I do need what I need, how to know what’s reasonable to expect in John’s response, etc. I need to figure out how to apply the coping skills to my real situation.
I finally realized she wasn’t giving me that. She didn’t think my “needs” were the issue, which, since I was doing fine before all this, seems clearly not true to me. And also, of course, with BPD it’s not that your needs are invalid, it’s just that they might be expressed in an inappropriate way due to your anxiety and tendency to swing different ways.
At any rate, with John’s support and that of my friends, I did a quick and simple therapist divorce (“I’m going to explore other avenues. Thank you!”) and am currently looking for another therapist. I now recognize the importance of getting back on the horse immediately — I know I need support right now!