Whilst on the face of it the opportunity to spend a year receiving intensive psychotherapeutic treatment should have helped me it did not.
The approach was based on punishing aberrant behaviour and collective mob rule rather than an individualised and sensitive understanding of childhood trauma. There was only group therapy with no opportunity to speak to an individual professional or a named professional to coordinate my treatment and provide me with someone to develop a secure and consistent attachment to.
I appreciate that group therapy can be enormously helpful but for me, I will always decide that other’s difficulties are more serious than my own and hence how I feel is unjustified. I am still left with distressing memories of listening to other people’s explicit descriptions of abuse whilst feeling unable to describe any of my own.
Unhealthy behaviour was managed largely by the whole community taking a public vote as to whether the individual would be allowed to stay or made to leave. Following the one incident of self-harm, I engaged in during my time there I was deeply hurt when a member of staff I liked abstained during the vote on whether I should stay or go. I was not allowed to have any private discussion with him as to his reasons for this.
The model of allowing the whole community to manage an individual’s distress meant that I was put in a position of helping others that I felt neither mental well enough or skilled to do particularly at the age of nineteen.
They also offered no assistance with accessing any support that might be useful after leaving or even any practical help as to where you might live or what to do with your life next. This partly felt like an arrogant proclamation that upon leaving you will have been cured and be free to continue the rest of your life in a happy, problem-free and unsupported way.
Following leaving the therapeutic community, I returned to University, graduated and worked for several years. During this time whilst I continued to intermittently access the mental health system in different forms, I managed to live my life in a relatively productive and healthy way.
At the age of twenty-six, I began to experience significant difficulties again and was admitted to an acute psychiatric ward. My experience of acute mental health treatment was very like before with a very confusing and polarised approach to managing risk, a punitive approach to behaviour and an emphasis on medicalising distress.
I have had many experiences of being left crying in distress with no one talking to me. This was sometimes because I wasn’t allowed to have the staff’s attention because I had been ‘bad’ or self-harmed. It is cruel to meter out attention as either as a punishment or reward based on how distressed someone is. This is how my mother punished me for being upset and rewarded me for attending to her needs.
During this time, I was also prescribed increasing quantities of medication.
The over-reliance on pharmacological intervention rather than psychological interventions does nothing to repair trauma. At best, it masks it and at worst it further distances the user from being able to confront their past and riddles them with troubling side effects.
Continued in Part 6.
Written by Anonymous