It was July 2014 when I escaped from an abusive psychiatrist. I recall my initial thoughts—I will not get through this. I must be the only person who has ever been duped like this. I’m such a loser. And finally, I will take this to my grave. My abuse was almost ten yeas ago so I can tell you that you can get through this and you can get past it. I am living proof that it is possible, and in this article I will attempt to show you how to survive and thrive after therapist abuse.
The first thing I want you to hear is this—YOU ARE NOT ALONE. The second thing is this—IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT! If you think you were a willing participant, IT IS STILL NOT YOUR FAULT! The power imbalance between you and the professional makes it impossible for you to provide consent. Any misconduct is always the responsibility of the professional. Period.
I needed to know I wasn’t alone.
What I needed in those early days, weeks and months after I stopped going to the therapist were people who could listen and relate, trusted women I could talk to who had been through a similar experience and who had come out on the other side. I wanted to know that I was not the only one in the universe this had happened to. If others had fallen victim, then maybe it wasn’t my fault. Maybe there was nothing wrong with me.
There is a group of women at T.E.L.L (Therapy Exploitation Link Line) who do that very thing—provide support and guidance to victims of therapist/clergy abuse. They are from all walks of life and are located around the world. To reach them, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. One or more women will respond to you immediately and will continue an email (or phone sometimes) relationship for as long as you need. Because it’s via email, you can reach out to them day or night. This proved invaluable to me in those early days.
I am also willing to be a listening ear to anyone who needs it. You can contact me through my website anytime at: https://amynordhues.com/contacts/. I would be honored to hear from you, to provide support and guidance and lead you in the best way I can. I cannot emphasize enough—you need to believe that you are not the only victim of this kind of abuse. Sadly, it is more common than you would think.
I needed to understand what happened.
I realized later, as I compared stories with other survivors, that what I was really seeking was to understand the trauma. What just happened to me and how did it happen? Did I allow it? Was I at fault? Why did I stay so long? Why did I allow someone to hurt me? I needed that insight to begin to forgive myself.
Another beneficial way I found to do this was through books. I read everything I could get my hands on that related to therapist or clergy abuse. I especially loved the true accounts—it was healing to see myself in other victims’ stories. If I could see that they were not to blame, I could begin to see myself in a gentler light as well. For a list of books I found helpful click here: https://amynordhues.com/resources/suggested-reading-list/.
I also found journaling beneficial. Writing down every detail I could recall helped me to see how I became trapped, and it also revealed some of the tactics the doctor used to capture me. I eventually turned these notes into a memoir about my abuse, but one certainly does not need to write a book in order to recover. But I do highly recommend journaling. Write about it until you can see the patterns unfold on the page. In time, you will begin to see more clearly the hows and whys…
I needed to work with an ethical therapist.
Seeking help through an ethical therapist trained in sexual abuse can be useful, but many will be too afraid to go back. I had a few disappointments along the way but eventually found a therapist I could trust. I still see him, just not as often. For more on my experiences of seeking a therapist to help me recover from therapist abuse, see my blog post: https://amynordhues.com/who-can-help-you-recover-from-therapist-abuse/.
The abuse will lessen in intensity, but it won’t ever disappear and there will be triggers. Having a therapist you can call on is very helpful during those times. Friends and family can offer support but because they are not educated in this complex type of abuse, I would not count on them to be your sole source of guidance.
I needed to know it wasn’t my fault.
This one was a tough one for me and I would bet other adult victims struggled with it as well. I heard others’ stories and I could see how they were not to blame. Somehow, I always concluded that my situation was different. It stemmed from my faulty childhood belief that I was damaged goods. A normal person could be victimized, but a defective person might have brought it on themselves somehow?
For me, scripture provided the greatest dose of healing in this area. I needed to see myself as Jesus saw me. I read passages over and over that reminded me that I was His “perfect creation” and then I turned them into love letters. In my writings, I spoke to myself as I thought a loving, Heavenly Father would given what I’d been through. I didn’t necessarily think I deserved the outpouring of love I saw on the page, but I kept writing anyway.
God’s word says: “Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.” Col 1:22 (NLT) You read that correctly—blameless without a single fault.
When I held it up to the light of scripture, my theory that I was damaged goods began to crumble. Trusting God’s word as the ultimate authority, I knew the two theories could not co-exist. Therefore, the more fully I accepted my role as a daughter of the king, the more I trusted that my inherent defects did not bring on or warrant the abuse.
I needed to be patient with myself.
You need to be easy on yourself and realize that everyone heals at a different pace and in a different way. I remember emailing the T.E.L.L. responders and telling them that my healing was taking too long and I was certain I should be feeling better by now. I don’t know what timetable I was using exactly, but if there was such thing as a “normal healing timeline,” I believed I was behind.
They gently reminded me, as I am telling you now, there is no right or wrong healing formula. It will take as long as it takes. We all have different personalities, experiences, life histories, and faiths making each of our stories unique. As a result, our healing paths will also be unique. So do not fall into the trap of comparison.
I needed to be gentle with myself.
The early days became a matter of survival. I did the best I could to take care of my family. In this stage of recovery, it is about doing the best you can. One thing I learned along the way was to look for the “just noticeable difference” in each day. It sounds simple, but I clung to that phrase in those painful early days. I looked for little victories like taking a shower, cooking dinner, completing a household chore. Maybe your victory today is getting out of bed. Look for the tiny increments of improvement over the days or weeks prior and celebrate those. You won’t stay in this stage forever. I promise you.
So have patience, don’t compare your journey with others, and notice the little things that are improving. It is really important to let go of the anger and forgive. This one is a tough one, but the bitterness and unforgiveness will hold you back. It will stall your recovery.
I needed to forgive my abuser.
Yes, I said the “f” word. But hear me out…
I was listening to a girl share her testimony at a local Celebrate Recovery meeting, and she told the story of how her brother molested her. She said she could never imagine forgiving him but sensed that God wanted her to pray for her brother’s salvation. She did, and soon after, she was able to forgive him.
Yeah right, I grumbled. God, if you want me to pray for my abuser’s salvation you are crazy because one, he doesn’t deserve to go to Heaven and two, I don’t want to run into him when I’m there. Besides, if I begin praying for his salvation you will know I don’t mean it. I tried to let it go, but this idea of praying for the doctor’s salvation kept returning.
So I did what I do best. I analyzed it to death. If God created my abuser, he would’ve had to be a good person to start out with, right? God doesn’t make evil. If the doctor receives God’s forgiveness and gets to go to Heaven, God will restore him to his original perfect condition first. The doctor won’t enter Heaven as a sexual predator. I trusted that I would love any creature God designed and if that was the person I would encounter in Heaven then I was ok with that. I might even like that person.
So it began—I started praying that my abuser would repent and receive God’s forgiveness so that he could one day return to the beautifully designed person God made him to be. In time, my heart softened and my anger began to subside. I actually started to pity him. Eventually, I realized I had accomplished the impossible. I had forgiven my attacker.
I needed to forgive all who were involved in my betrayal.
Interestingly enough, I had a tougher time forgiving the close friends who didn’t believe me while it was happening. One friend in particular knew a lot of what was going on and still sided with the abuser and turned her back on me. That anger took longer to heal because she and I were so close.
For me, the betrayal was multifaceted. For all victims, I think there are layers of betrayal. Friends who turn a blind eye or flat out ignore our cries for help. The doctor’s secretary, who watched me walk out of that office day after day, surely noticed something was off. Early on, I always smiled at her and made small talk on my way out. In the end, I walked out silent, head down, flooded with shame, sometimes not even bothering to filter my cries.
After I got away from the doctor, there was gossip throughout the church. One rumor going around was…”Did you know that the girl that reported the doctor had done this to tons of other doctors.” It devastated me, but I had to remind myself that it was simply gossip—lies likely started by the abuser or his wife or his friends. I had to remember that he’d done a great job at grooming those around him so I imagine it was quite a shock when this news broke. It always hurts though. It’s hard to remain quiet and hear others blaspheme your character and not let it bother you. Again, I clung to scripture. “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Ex 14:14 ESV
I needed to take action.
When I began to heal enough that I felt I had my footing, I looked into reporting the doctor to the medical board as I discuss in more detail in a previous post. I also filed a malpractice lawsuit. Both of these action steps provided additional healing for me. It gave me the chance to stick up for myself and to do the right and just thing.
The main scripture on my website states: “Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.” Eph 5:11 NLT I hadn’t been able to speak up as the abuse was occurring, but I could do so now. As victims, we couldn’t control what happened to us, but we do have all the power in the world to affect its outcome.
I needed to lean on my faith in God.
I can’t discuss how I survived this trauma without touching on my faith. God was my lifeline during this entire ordeal. He helped me to get away from the abuser, and He guided me after I got out. He is still my rock and is the reason I have healed as much as I have. I couldn’t have accomplished this much without Him.
We all come from different faith walks, but for me, my relationship with Jesus Christ has sustained me and brought me to where I am today, an author and speaker and advocate for adult sexual abuse by therapist/clergy. He picked me up in my broken state and has pieced me back together into a stronger and more equipped individual.
My memoir concludes with this scripture: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Gen 50:20 (NIV). Only a loving God can take ashes such as these and use them to bring good to the world.