A great therapist is someone who will help to change your life, sometimes in ways you did not realize until much later. As I mention quite frequently, a good therapist can not be one unless they have gone deep within their own psyche. My first therapist changed my life though I would not understand how until many years later. I write about this experience to help explain how a wounded person can get help even though it seems so little at the time.
Sheila Franks was a psychotherapist (MFT) in San Diego, CA back in 1981 when I met her. At that time I was 19 years old and still on Champus (USN) insurance since my divorce had only just started. Another Navy wife who was also going through a divorce referred her to me because she liked her very much.
Sheila was a feminist, although at the time I did not understand this. I had been raised on a farm in Ohio and had lived a very sheltered life. Women I grew up with did not go to college. Instead, they were completely dependent on men and did not work. They were housewives who raised kids and kept clean houses. They did not talk back or stand up for what they believed in. I found Sheila fascinating because she was very blunt and spoke her mind. “I hate attorney’s,” I recall her saying when I spoke about the one I was working with. I did not know you could hate professionals as I was raised to think you should trust someone who worked behind a desk and looked intimidating.
I remember Sheila dressed in a carefree style, long skirts with Keds sneakers. Somehow as I absorbed myself in this unique person I intuitively knew I would become just like her when I was an older woman. At the time my dream was to get into fashion, yet on some level I saw myself doing what she did and being a very similiar therapist. I dismissed it at the time because it was far in the future and I had no idea what it meant. I had intuitive thoughts all the time but they were passing whims with no explanations so I really did not know what to do with them. I never talked about them either because I couldn’t imagine someone would understand. They seemed no different than dreams which at the time I did not realize held answers as well.
After several sessions with me, Sheila met my ex-husband out of curiosity I suppose. She wanted to see us together. We were discussing child custody and the divorce. I was shocked that she said loudly neither of us was fit to raise a child because we were very immature and self-centered. I did not understand why she was going against me because I thought she would yell at him for being a bad man. However, at the time I was not in my body and therefore completely unaware of life. I just existed each day waiting to see what would happen. She was right. I was not any better than him on an emotional level but I had reasoned that since I was not abusive I was a good person. She wasn’t trying to hurt me but to wake up my consciousness.
Later she taught me that I should surround myself with positive people as this was the only way I would grow as a person. She sent me to see Terry Cole-Whittaker a female minister who had a huge congregation downtown. I had never known a woman could be a spiritual leader and was intrigued. By this time I was in a new relationship with a man who respected me. I was beginning to respect myself as well. One Sunday was all it took and we were hooked on her philosophy. I never saw Sheila again because my insurance had been cut off and I no longer had any. My wages were barely sufficient for me to live on, so I couldn’t even consider paying for a therapist. But now I had Terry and was on a path toward spiritual awakening. I would never be alone again.
When I look back on that time of my life, it is difficult to remember and often seems like another life. I know now that I was suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder after having 19 years of child abuse and then domestic violence. The fog or out of body experience was dissociation. I had left my husband after my boss, another woman, had told me that a man should not hit his wife. This was my first time to hear this. My first time to have someone even care that I was being abused. I just took it for granted. Meeting Sheila did not give me all the answers at that moment but put me on a very positive new path. I needed someone to give me a new street to go down as I had no clue how to even get started. Terry Cole-Whittaker opened my eyes and I began to feel my body. The whole process of surviving abuse would continue to occur through several other therapists that I would meet along the way later on in life, whenever I had the opportunity financially. Little by little, I began to educate myself spiritually, emotionally, physically, and psychologically to the point where I would realize my sense of self and no longer deal with the symptoms of PTSD.
Nothing happens over night because the abuse that children suffer is not a one time moment. 356 days of the year for each year they are with their abuser, they can receive some form of emotional, physical and even sexual abuse. I would say that emotional abuse occurs more often than the other two and is worse than physical but of course sexual is the most traumatizing of all. If you are hearing daily how stupid and insignificant you are, given no boundaries or no rights to grow as a person it is difficult for one to gain a sense of self. Since the child’s brain is still developing until they are 18, all this emotional damage becomes a special need that stunts a child’s growth physically as well as psychologically. A good therapist is the only one who can pull this being back into their body and begin to help repair the damage. If only to provide a place for the victim to begin using their voice and start to see what it is like to hear themselves speak without condemnation. Someone who gives them a voice of reason from a place of love and nurturing.
When I hear victims begin to take on the role of survivor and start on a path of discovery, it is the most beautiful sounds coming out of someones mouth. It is as if their soul is emerging as it begins to awaken and their feet touch the ground for the first time. The smile is greater and more honest then it has ever been expressed. Like a flower opening up its petals to feel the sun warm its belly.
- Finding a Trauma Therapist (drkathleenyoung.wordpress.com)