Bad therapy is a subject seldom spoken about when it comes to recovery from anxiety and depression. I want to share my experience with you.
Up until 1999 age 25 I felt alive, was full of zest, loved a good laugh and NOTHING phased me. I dreamed big and loved life. Back then, I didn’t even know what depression was, let alone what it meant. I was always out either playing football, partying in Ibiza, traveling to America and Mexico and generally living life.
The 1990’s for the most part were an amazing time, I left school in 1990 age 16 and cracked on. During those years, mental health was never discussed.
So what happened?
Towards the end of 1997 age 23, whilst in the early days of my design career, I took a part-time job with FedEx as a courier. Within a few short weeks of working there I met a guy who I became good mates with.
Once a week we’d meet up after work and go for a few beers – those days were good, we’d start work around 6am and be back at the yard by 11am!. We’d share stories of our life so far and have a good laugh. After a few weeks he invited me to his place for a ’smoke’.
Now despite being part of the so-called chemical generation, I was never one for dabbling in the use of recreational drugs.
Back then, for me, it was all about playing football, watching Spurs with my dad, art and comedy. Nice and simple.
Anyways, I start having the odd blast on a joint every time I meet with this guy. Naturally, this stuff opens the mind up (something I didn’t realise at the time) and he starts talking deep dark stuff about the physical abuse he was subject to as a kid by his dad.
So between 1997-2000, I meet regularly with him and his girlfriend, we hang out, I’m now playing football less and getting more into my music. We’d sit up late, trance music on, chatting away.
Around 1999 I started to notice dark thoughts creeping into my mind. Something I’d never experienced before.
Fast forward to spring 2000 I was under heavy pressure at work. The thoughts began to increase and in May 2000 I broke, I remember bursting into a flood of tears in a cemetery walking back from my local. I didn’t know what the hell was happening to me.
I booked an appointment with my doctor and was sent to see a therapist. Nothing really major came out at this stage but within a few weeks I felt OK enough to return to work. Little did I know at the time, but the summer of 2000 was going to be the last time I see life clearly, and the last time I had a good relationship with my dad.
THE BIG BANG
It’s now late 2000 and I’m coming home from work and my head is spinning everyday, the anxiety is through the roof and the FEAR is immense. It’s like a million demons crept into my mind at once, filling my head with all sorts of nasty stuff. Cold sweats, suicidal thoughts, real genuine horrible stuff. I manage to get myself together and jump on my bike and rush to St Anns Psychiatric Hospital in Tottenham.
It’s there that after discussing my family history and my current symptoms that I’m diagnosed with clinical depression. I’m put on Largactil, Cipramil and sleeping pills. The next day I get a home visit from Dr.Lucas from the Edmonton Mental Health unit.
I was offered to come into a day unit 5 days a week to help get me out the house and begin what I hoped would be a speedy recovery.
The reason I fell into this dark place was that I was getting flashbacks to early life trauma and my mind began to regress.
In a year I’d regressed from a gregarious fun loving guy into severely depressed and anxious state. Although I was now 26 coming on 27 years of age at the start of 2001 I felt like a kid again – frozen in time.
From January to July of 2001 I would go to this day unit – my stuff aside, there were some interesting people in there. We had a former head chef of a well known London Hotel who used to cook for all the A-list Hollywood brigade, a chippy who worked on Star Wars and many other people who’d been through a variety of tough times from early life trauma to divorce, life changing accidents and so on.
As much as this place was great for me – the care team had never dealt with the issues I had.
The end of 2001 leading into early 2002 was tough but I’d been battling with my illness now for well over a year.
What happened next I thought would be the answer – little did I know at the time, I was about to have my entire inner world, perception, mind-set and emotions totally turned inside out over by a therapist who meant well but clearly wasn’t capable of doing her job well and seemed overly desperate to impose her own world views onto me.
In short, I went to see her for one issue that was plaguing my mind and she uncovered all these other events from my past that I simply did not have the capacity to deal with at the time.
Why the ‘Perceptionist’? – well in my opinion, life is how we see it, and if your natural gratitude and curiosity is replaced with confusion, indoctrinated rage and loss of identity by someone else’s dogma, then your entire perception has shifted to a negative state. This is what happened to me.
Now this isn’t me bashing therapy as a whole. I’ve since worked with someone who really knows his stuff (He’s a Doctor and will hopefully be contributing to this site) and he’s helped me see the damage for what it was.
Here’s how it went. In March 2002 I get a phone call from a therapist who was referred to me. We meet and at our first session she starts asking deep and highly probing questions about my past. At last! I think, someone who gets it.
At this stage I was desperate for answers and was willing to do or think ANYTHING to stop the internal noise. What happened over the next few months of 2002 changed my life entirely.
I was already in a regressed mind-set and last thing I needed was a complete review of my entire childhood. This woman haphazardly insisted I was angry and that I’m holding it all in. I genuinely didn’t feel any anger at all, just needed answers. But in my desperation to get better I took onboard her narrative. Even when I didn’t get angry it seemed to unsettle her.
The next minute she had me stabbing pillows with a kitchen knife, offering to take me to the woods so I can smash a tree with a claw hammer and shout out my rage. Total madness!
She had me digging into my earliest memories, constantly looking for evidence of how my both my parents neglected me. This of course lead to more rage against my parents. Although I never had a fantastic relationship with my mother, I had a strong bond with my dad.
Pre-‘Therapy’ I had a great relationship with him – yes my family was pretty messed up but to impose her version and her meaning of my life onto my mind was uncalled for and dangerous! I just simply wasn’t in the position to absorb all of that.
My relationship with my dad was completely destroyed, I disconnected from my friends and my life was re-written.
Every single idiosyncrasy of my personality now seemed to serve as evidence of my new found pathological state I had been changed from a person who was once positive and upbeat and adopted this new mindset of of a victim that needed to take vengeance on the world for the wrongdoing. I was willing to do anything and take on board any information that this therapist would give￼￼.
Almost in an instant I became hostile and dangerous in my thoughts. Under her instruction I was sent to group therapy sessions with other people that have been subject to the same circumstances I had been. It was set up so I had to “play the victim” for things to work.￼ Group sessions have a demand characteristic and this is the pressure I was under – to abandon my upbeat spirit and conform to the victim doctrine.
Both the “The Therapist” and her group used the transactional analysis model of Parent, Adult, and Child to explain (indoctrinate me) my life and my choices to me.
This created further damage to my mindset as I was now encouraged to talk to this so-called Inner child￼. Crazy making stuff!
I would then return to the single therapy sessions with this woman as the damage continued, all the while I was under the illusion I had to do this crap and if it didn’t work then something must be wrong with me.
I was bitter and enraged, I became aloof and disconnected from everything else… and now very dependent on this woman.
She unpacked on the harsh all the bad I was subject to and rubbished all the good things in life I had. She left me totally unbalanced.
My mates did not understand what the hell was going on with me…I was told that at the end of her treatment ‘I’ll be who I was meant to be’.
I felt like I had been brainwashed with therapy cult jargon, I would then use this newfound language to pathologise and judge other people. “Oh the reason you do that is because during your early years you must have experienced XYZ” My natural energy had changed to one of overbearing sociably inept bore.
Whilst it’s true I had a lot of negative experiences as a child, I never viewed my parents them in such disdainful ways. My dad was orphaned as a child, he never mentioned it, but I was aware of that and it was one of the many reasons I had a lot of respect for him. Despite his suffering, he always worked to put food on the table, was always laughing and joking and did his best with what he had.
Disconnected from Dad
The sad thing is I never got to rebuild the relationship with my dad as the years rolled by. I lost all compassion, love and respect for him and I hardly visited – we became total strangers to each other.
I was trained in this psychotherapy to blame my dad for not being there for me as a child and that being the reason why I was subject to some nasty experiences. Not the fact he was out working 6 days a week to pay the bills!
By the time I got round to speaking to my dad in July 2008 to repair our relationship he had fallen seriously ill and was rushed to hospital – a few days later he was dead. At this stage I was just coming out of the depression (After 6 years of dealing with the initial issue), buy with dogma around my parents that separated me from them was still in play, I was numb and I plummeted back into a darker place than before.
The more I tried to get better, the worse things seemed to get.
Over the coming years between the years of 2008 and 2016 I watched as my mother and mothers health slowly declined to her death November 2016.
Now both my parents are in the grave and I’m left with this unresolved pain, created by the shift in perception towards them .
My early life experiences exaggerated and changed by a therapist meant well but actually created far more damage than any of these experiences ever did￼￼.￼
Ever since this experience I have seen a few incidents where people are falling into depression and shortly after begin in the therapeutic process have sadly taken their own lives. Questions need to seriously be asked about the contacts of certain therapists and certain practices certainly need to be reviewed before being deployed in the therapeutic setting.￼
What made me question therapy?
After years of soul searching and driving myself and others mad I came across a book by Yvonne Bates called ‘Shouldn’t I be feeling better by now” (on Amazon)
In her book, Yvonne asks some serious and pressing questions regarding the whole process. Here’s some excerpts from the book which really did have an impact on my overall view of my experience.
Are practitioners inadvertently encouraged to stick unhelpful and unfitting labels on their clients, pathologising rather than improving their self-image?
On losing sight of reality
The relationship between therapist and client is one in which, potentially, everything is called into question, everything is up for grabs. Our feelings are put under a magnifying glass. Our psychological and emotional complexities can be emphasised to a point where, if we are not careful, the head begins to swim. We collude in the construction of misleading and damaging reinventions of ourselves.
Heightened emotions of the client
- What is the cause of the heightened emotions clients often experience in therapy, sometimes termed ‘transference’?
- Is it right that some therapists deliberately encourage these heightened emotions
- Is it right that clients note forewarned of their often ‘unpleasant, humiliating and torturous’ effects before starting therapy?
- Is it acknowledged that they occur frequently even if the therapist does not belong to a school that recognises or works with ‘transference’ (eg., cognitive-behavioural, humanistic)? What are the implications?
- Therapists claim that most of the time, such emotions work themselves through to a positive outcome. But how many times do they not? What is an acceptable level of risk? Do the ends justify the means?
- Do psychoanalytic/psychodynamic therapists allow enough room for the possibility that some feelings may originate and belong in the present? Under what circumstances might a client’s feelings for a therapist be judged as something other than transference.?
- Should therapists indiscriminately encourage the expressions of anger – that is, might it be detrimental to the health, safety and/or relationship of some clients?
Dependence of client on therapist
- Is the dependence which many clients feel towards their therapist sufficiently understood?
- How much research (as opposed to speculation) has been undertaken to ascertain why such feelings manifest themselves so readily in the peculiar setting of the therapeutic relationship?
- It is accepted that there is a strong possibility of client dependence upon the therapist irrespective of the form of therapy employed and of attempts to minimise it?
- Are the destructive effects such dependency can have on a clients life sufficiently acknowledged by the therapeutic community?
- Is enough done by therapists to discourage such dependency? What can be done to avoid or minimise it?
- Is there sufficient distinction made by therapists between dependency and strong emotional responses often refereed to as ‘transference?
- Dependency can cause a ‘sense of disconnectedness for outside the consulting room ’ – should therapy professional in more accountable and take more responsibility for the disruption that this causes ?
- How much evidence is there that dependence is desirable in promoting a successful outcome ?
- How much are new clients made aware of the potential extent of dependence ? Is there any evidence that such a warning might make a successful outcome more or less likely ?
- How much research has been done on possible tools / information with which clients could be equipped , so that they could protect themselves from the onset of a ‘ crippling dependency ?
- Do therapists take sufficiently seriously the fact that friendships and familial relationships can be more difficult to maintain during therapy and that clients can become isolated , and is it acknowledged that this increases the issue of dependence on therapist?
- Given the potentially ‘ addictive ‘ nature of therapy, can it create an economic bondage of oppressive financial obligation? What can be done about this ?
The distortion of the client’s reality
- Can the artificial nature of the therapeutic relationship particularly the psychoanalytic , but also other schools ) cause the client lose a sense of normality ?
- Is it acknowledged that when (particularly psychoanalytic ) therapists unnaturally blur the boundaries between reality, hopes, wishes and fantasies, this may lead the client towards a confused sense of who she really is and how the world is around her ?
- Might many forms of therapy cause the client to question herself to such an extent that she loses sight of who she is , loses confidence in herself and in her own judgement ?
- Does the absence of normal language protocols in therapy unnecessarily disorient and disempower the client ?
- What evidence is are that this is conducive to a successful outcome?
- Is it not reasonable to imagine that a client might modify their behaviour based upon a therapist’s modelling of ‘aloofness and non – responsiveness’ , thereby alienating her from her friends and family ?
- Might there be a brainwashing element to therapy , or cult – like quality , which may override clients ‘ normal judgement and autonomy?
- Therapy’s pathologising tendency
- As the client ‘s role in therapy is ‘ to be inadequate ‘, can this in itself encourage a belief in her own mental incompleteness / illness ?
- Can therapeutic approaches which tend to lock us into the past and into despair be to our detriment ?
- Should there not be a greater focus upon present and future , and upon happiness , success and strengths ?
- Does the language of ill-health which is prevalent in many forms of therapy actually serve to reinforce in the client a conviction of her own inadequacy?
- How much evidence is there that talking is always beneficial ?
- Are therapists alert to the possibility that talking may not be beneficial for particular clients , or can therapists be guilty of ‘ mindless adherence to dogma ‘ ?
- In some types of therapy , it is very difficult for a client to avoid having most , if not all, of her behaviour interpreted as a pathological re-enactment of childhood events . Are such interpretations unnecessarily indiscriminate ?
- Can some interpretations , or other types of interpretations, or other types of intervention, be destructive or abusive ? What accountability is in place for this ?
NOW FOR THE POSITIVE STUFF!
Ok so above reads hard BUT I never gave up! Despite all of the above, the upside of my suffering has meant I can now connect with people on a variety of levels. It also meant I was able to finally get my career moving in the right direction.
During these years, despite walking around like a punch drunk bear I have:
* Started my own design business
* Designed for Hollywood movies
* Designed for high profile sports personalities
* Got married
* Become a dad (never thought that would happen)
* Had music I’ve written, played in the some of the biggest clubs in Ibiza and on national radio
* Won player of the year (football)
* Taken up martial arts
* Won design awards
* Had my art sold in Hamleys toy store London
* Acted on stage
* Launched NutNav!
Take from this what you will BUT in short, if you’re new to anxiety & depression there are millions of us out there who have had many years dealing with it and grown in the face of it all. You’re not alone. Please do reach out. We all have these areas of our mind that are largely untapped. In my experience, pain is a signal that something needs to change.
For me, life is about moving forward, limping in pain maybe, but MOVING FORWARDS but making sure I’m on the right road, looking to re-establish my previous way positive way of thinking but with lessons learned. As my dad has written on his grave stone “Always look on the bright side of life”
That old way of living by taking action and enjoying life. Placing experience over ‘knowledge’, people over things, and no longer overthinking in pseudo-intellectual cult jargon terms.
Whatever your depression is about, I wish you every strength in working with it. Move, bob, slide, switch it up, depression loves a sitting duck, firing you with stories of ‘I told you so’.
Prove it wrong, challenge it with action and doing good to others, even when you feel like crap. Depression is a clear sign you need to change what you do – your job is to find what that is and do it! Good luck and keep going!
A final word from Ricky Grover
“If you walk into a hair salon it’s not the prestigious reputation of the chain you should be concentrating on but the actual stylist who cuts your hair… that same rule applies to therapy… whether it be Cognitive, NLP, Gestalt, Psychodynamic etc. The big concern should be has this person got what it takes to help me?
Plus it’s so surprisingly easy to go on a quick NLP course for example and start up as a practitioner, therapist.
There are some amazing therapists out there who are very capable and change peoples lives in a positive way but there are also some terrible charlatans out there, both qualified and under-qualified, don’t be fooled by the certificates on the wall! Tread carefully it’s Your Life they’re playing with.”