To those who have ever been harmed in therapy, I am sorry.
To those who continue to ruminate over what happened and are unable to move past it, I can relate. We may never receive the answer we are looking for, but we can learn to be gentle with ourselves.
I wrote this letter after it was suggested to me by my new trauma therapist. As someone who has been ruminating and crying for the past year, I share it with you all in case there is someone out there going through a similar situation.
Writing your own letter, as if you were your therapist, may not fix how you’re feeling, but it can bring temporary relief. Nobody deserves this kind of treatment. But if this is your story, write yourself the letter you deserved: a letter acknowledging your humanness and the pain you are feeling.
No matter what some therapists believe, not setting down the clients they work with gently is unethical.
I have been thinking a lot about you, and while I know I have asked for no contact, I would like to reach out to say a few things.
As I said in one of my last emails to you, you’re an amazing person and did not do anything wrong. My decision about us no longer working together truly had nothing to do with you. Rather, there were mistakes that I made in working with you that make it difficult for our work to continue.
I enjoyed working with you very much, and as I said, “We had a special heart connection.” You still hold a special place in my heart, and you always will.
I know what happened between us is confusing, and I’m sorry for this. I didn’t hold the frame as I should of, and our relationship turned into more than a client-therapist one. As I said to you, you have been the only one I have ever allowed to engage in emailing me back and forth as you have. I want you to know that though I told you it was a mistake to have done this, it is no reflection of you or your behavior. The dual relationship was inappropriate and should not have occurred as it did.
I am sorry for confusing you and for not seeking supervision over the transference that was playing out. I am sorry for blurring the lines and allowing you to come to an event of mine outside of therapy. You have a way about you that draws people in to help, and while I was your therapist, I was not to have taken the role of your mom.
I also want to apologize for diagnosing you with Borderline Personality Disorder in your car during your lunch break. I realize this was an inappropriate time to discuss this diagnosis with you and can see that it greatly affected your ability to remain professional at work that day.
When I printed out your email in the next session and told you I would no longer read your emails, I saw that I had hurt you. I had a tart tone that was unnecessary, and felt awful as I watched you shake uncontrollably and cry. I didn’t handle this well, and I’m sorry. I encouraged you to read the book, Get Me Out of Here, thinking it could help you understand BPD, but I realize now that this label and pushing you down this path did not help you. I misunderstood your feelings of being suicidal as attention-seeking, and when you struggled to manage things in your life, I saw it as self-sabotaging rather than barely holding a plate that you’ve been trying to carry since you were young.
There was a lot that you never disclosed to me, and I became frustrated at trying to guess what was going on. I didn’t know your full history and checked boxes in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) rather than attempt to understand, the why. There was so much you never shared, and it frustrated me greatly that you were afraid to speak to me. I see now how dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) was not the right approach for you, and how more than anything, you came to therapy just wanting to be seen and cared about.
At the same time, it’s difficult as a therapist to give you what you really need and be ethical in my treatment. You deserve, as we all do, to be loved. I realize now that I didn’t have the expertise in developmental trauma and dissociation to work with you.
I also want to apologize for raising my voice at you on the phone, becoming angry at you when you continued to attempt to try and work with me, and for my coldness. It was inappropriate of me to address an email to your first name from Dr. X rather than my first name, as I always did in the past. This type of power dynamic should never be tolerated in a therapeutic setting, and I realize that I have only dismissed you and re-enacted your childhood. You’re bright and you deserve, as every client does, to have a chance to be heard. Rather than do this, I overpowered you and silenced you, like your abusers. This was not okay, and I am truly sorry.
While I am unable to continue working with you, I do hope to hear from you from time to time. As I said, clients can email me a short email once a year if they’d like. I’d be happy to hear how you’re doing. I know our relationship has been up and down, but I do care about you and hope that you continue to hold onto that rock I gave you.
You’re going places, and I want the world for you. Your previous therapist told you she loved you, and I am sure she meant it. We want you to flourish. I hope this email makes things easier to understand, and I hope one day that there’s a hop again in your step. I’m sorry for stomping on that beautiful heart of yours.
***Originally published on Elephant Journal.
Rebecca Donaldson is a confessional poet, a Speech-Language Pathologist, and a PhD student in Positive Developmental Psychology. Her research interests include adverse childhood experiences, resiliency, narrative identity, and personality development across the lifespan. She writes on topics pertaining to psychotherapy, Internal Family Systems, inequity, and the shamed soul with Borderline Personality Disorder. She believes therapy should be collaborative between client and therapist and writes to advocate for improved treatment for clients with BPD, complex PTSD, and DID. For her, writing is a medium of self-expression in which she can be open, honest, and reflective about the mud in her life and the flowers which grow from it. She attempts to be raw with the world as she is with her friends and disowns all labels of mental illness. She is a human being, a researcher, and a dancer of Brazilian Forrô.