One devastatingly poisonous tendency of conspiracy therapists is their willingness to ignore narratives and client outcomes that do not match their preconceived notions. Whether blind or willfully ignorant, they are content to look the other way — even while they peer into the eyes of their clients as they deteriorate. These casualties do not reflect mere minor mistakes in clinical judgement, but rather they show the cacophony of psychological (and often physical) deterioration, psychological abuse and destruction brought about by conspiracy therapists.
Reading through the answers, disturbing parallels appear which seem far too close to be coincidental. The accounts of victims who escape conspiracy therapy do not match entirely; rather, they rhyme, reflecting the extensive damage this malpractice can cause. The victim’s life is upended; their personal history distorted into a disturbing and impossible conspiracy. One gets the sense that the stories’ paths reflect a snowball effect — or possibly a runaway train.
The repercussions of such therapy are undeniable within the stories of those who have survived it. It is an honour to hold and hear these stories reflected within the responses of our interview questions.
If you are a survivor of conspiracy therapy and would like to share your story or otherwise get in touch with us, you may contact us here.
What first brought you into therapy? What was the presenting issue?
Casey: I was in the middle of a bad break-up with a partner who blamed issues in our relationship on childhood abuse I had suffered. In retrospect, those issues were not the problem.
Maaike: Migraines, overwhelmed at work. My doctor suspected sexual abuse, but I denied it. Years later I was depressed, anxious, panicky and suffered from anorexia nervosa, that brought me to the psychologist that diagnosed me with DID.
Carol: I first went into therapy when I was seeking a divorce. Then I was diagnosed with clinical depression.
Roberta: There were a lot of different issues, and I had a long history of mental health problems in my life as well as in my family history. There were issues with past abuse, hallucinations, panic attacks, severe depressive episodes and issues with substance abuse. It all came to a head one year and I really deteriorated and stopped working after a traumatic event. It was at that point that I realized I needed some serious help. I wanted answers and I wanted badly to get better.
Cindy: I initially sought therapy to help with social and performance anxiety that was hindering my ability to advance in my profession.
Frederick: Before entering into therapy with the psychologist who harmed me, I was seeing a psychologist whom I had seen intermittently over the course of 10 years. The previous psychologist had diagnosed me with PTSD and maintained that my symptoms were all trauma-related. While this psychologist and I had done a lot of good work to treat my symptoms, I was still experiencing a few symptoms that were treatment-resistant. In March of 2020, I was once again having nightmares, flashbacks, and somatic symptoms – specifically unrelenting pain in the calves of both of my legs. I made multiple hospital visits for the pain in my legs for which no physical cause could be found. The psychologist tried some therapeutic techniques to try and give me relief without success. After consulting with colleagues of his, he recommended I try hypnosis to address my pain. Since he wasn’t trained in hypnosis, he referred me to another therapist.
Poppy: I first entered therapy at the age of thirty, I met my husband at 17 years of age, we had children and married, so I hadn’t seen much of life. I feel I was very naïve. I had been anorexic at 15 years of age while I was doing O-levels at school, then on a trip to London I was drugged and sexually assaulted at 17. Shortly after [I] had an abortion. I think all these things contributed to me ending up in therapy. Also while having my second child I had an operation and I was awake during the procedure and I should have been asleep, this is when the panic attacks started getting worse with time. I was awake for the whole operation.
Many people find that within this therapy that they are diagnosed with a dissociative disorder like Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) or Other Specified Dissociative Disorder (OSDD-1A/OSDD-1B) – were you?
Casey: I don’t know if it was ever put into my medical record. She diagnosed me with PTSD (she specified verbally that I had “C-PTSD”) and major depressive disorder, but she also said she thought I had DDNOS [now called OSDD], which I understand is no longer used as a term.
Maaike: Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Carol: Within 6 months of being hospitalized with clinical depression, I was diagnosed MPD/poly-fragmented and a bunch of other diagnoses, e.g. anorexia-NOS.
Roberta: Yes, I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder within 2 sessions.
Cindy: I was diagnosed with PTSD (despite not meeting criteria) and DDNOS, which was revised to OSDD in the most recent DSM.
Frederick: Yes. After two hypnosis sessions my therapist concluded that I had DID and diagnosed me as such.
Poppy: I was diagnosed with MPD [Multiple Personality Disorder] as it was known in the 90s, that’s when I was in therapy. [In] 1991 I went into therapy.
What was your reaction to receiving this diagnosis?
Casey: I had a lot of shame about being a fucked up person, and I really felt like it was just another fucked up thing about the fucked up person I was. So resignation and shame, I guess.
Maaike: I never realized I had the diagnosis, my therapist was talking with ‘parts’, they were telling him about abuse by family members and in a satanic cult. I found out when a friend gave me an article. I realized then that I had the diagnosis MPD/DID.
Carol: Disbelief. But I was being treated by the world-wide experts in MPD, therefore, the diagnosis must be correct. Why would he ever misdiagnose me with something so horrendous?
Roberta: At the time, it came as a relief. I think I just wanted an answer to why I felt the way I did and I didn’t care what form that answer took. It seemed to fit perfectly with what I already felt about myself and I accepted the diagnosis without much too much question. I didn’t know much about psychology or the fact that that diagnosis was controversial but I did know a little bit about the diagnosis.
Cindy: “Man, I am more messed up than I even realized. I guess it makes sense? But, man.”
Frederick: I was apprehensive to believe it at first and I approached it with caution and curiosity. The therapist seemed confident though – she identified herself as a DID expert, told me that my symptoms could all be explained by DID, told me about other clients of hers who presented with similar issues and had experienced relief because of treatment for DID. She recommended I read the book “Dissociative Identity Disorder Sourcebook” by Deborah Bray Haddock. That book vaguely described some of the things I experienced. Because of these things, it seemed plausible that I might have DID. With some encouragement from my therapist, I eventually accepted the diagnosis.
Poppy: I believed it, by this time I was well under the therapists spell, she knew everything so I never questioned it.
How was this diagnosis confirmed by your therapist? Did you do any diagnostic tests? Were any other diagnoses considered?
Casey: I think she felt that her gut feelings trumped anything else. No diagnostic tests. Just how she felt about things.
Maaike: Not with my first therapist, my second therapist did a whole lot of tests and concluded that the first therapist was right.
Carol: I don’t remember any specific diagnostic tests. However, I took the MMPI, Rorschach, TAT, Beck depression inventory plus other psychiatric evaluation tests that I don’t remember at this point. I took the above tests several times.
Roberta: I’m not sure of the method (if any) my therapist used to confirm the diagnosis. She did ask me some weird questions, such as if my handwriting ever changed or if I ever noticed that I heard voices inside my head. I answered both of those questions in the affirmative. She presented herself as an expert in DID and told me that she’d been diagnosing it for so long that she already had the way to diagnose this disorder memorized. I was a bit skeptical of that, but she’d presented herself as very experienced so I didn’t feel as though it was my place to question her opinions.
Cindy: To my knowledge, no other diagnoses were considered to include the Social Anxiety Disorder that I thought I had when presenting for treatment. I was diagnosed with PTSD, DDNOS, and MDD despite not meeting criteria for any of these diagnoses in retrospect. It was explained to me at the time that MDD was being added so I would qualify for additional benefits through my insurance, but my real problem was the dissociation. The therapist took my reported history of rather mild and isolated instances of inappropriate touching as a child, the anxiety I presented with, and symptoms she observed and I ended up with DDNOS. Those observed behaviors were:
- An exaggerated startle response
- Difficulty with maintaining eye contact
- Unusual verbal utterances
- Unusual hand movements
- The appearance of zoning out or adopting unusual, odd, or inappropriate facial expressions.
- The fact that as an adult in my late 20s, I had never managed to successfully initiate or maintain a romantic relationship despite desperately wanting one
In retrospect, what I actually had and have to this day is mild autism.
Frederick: After my therapist put me in hypnotic trance, she took [me] to a place in my mind that she referred to as the “Gathering Place”. Once I had envisioned myself there (the dining room in my childhood home), she asked me to look around and report what I saw. I told her the surroundings. She asked me if I saw any other people in the room. I said yes. She told me that those “people” I was seeing were my other “alters” or “parts” and she insisted that this was confirmation that I did, in fact, have DID. She maintained that if I didn’t have DID, I would not have seen other people in the gathering place. I did not do any diagnostic tests. No other diagnoses were considered that I’m aware of.
Poppy: My therapist was a psychologist. She just said one day she thought I was MPD, everything pointed to it. I was handed The Courage To Heal which I read and believed every word. If you thought you had been abused you had, even if you had no memories, you had. No one had ever discovered they had not after having that feeling.
Did you develop alters or additional alters? If yes, what do you feel led you to believe that you had these alters? What was that process like?
Casey: I didn’t have alters, but I did have a sense of chaos in my own head that wasn’t present before I started therapy with her. I also kept wondering if I had more distinct parts of self that I wasn’t fully aware of.
Maaike: My therapist talked with ‘others’, I knew that I wasn’t doing it, so it had to be alters. Later in the process I started noticing different feelings, different thoughts, different voices in my head, and realized they must be alters.
Carol: Yes, I developed alters. I was told I was poly-fragmented. Any time I felt something different or thought something different, I was told it must be an alter.
Roberta: I did. The process of developing alters felt very spiritual, almost religious in a sense. It involved a ton of self-hypnosis and work with trance states. I would do things like automatic writing, get myself worked up into a trance using the methods my therapist taught me and just let my hand go and write things. I was very naive and I really believed that doing this was letting me contact my alters who were really writing to me. A lot of it involved this process, which I did constantly. I also sometimes hear voices, and this was presented as proof of my alter personalities, which I believed as well. The longer I focused on all of this, the more intense and real everything became. The more and more I did these things, the more automatic it became until I ended up really feeling that I could not control the “switching” of the alters.
Cindy: Yes. The first time happened when we were processing chronic muscular tension. While doing so, she announced, “There is someone living in your muscles!” To which my response was to be startled, but again I am non-confrontational and I didn’t argue. She said, “Go inside and ask the person causing the muscle tension how old she is and take the first answer that comes.” Well, if you are asked to think up a number, you will think up a number. And the number I came up with was 5. She then told me that a trauma had occurred at this age and that this “part” was holding it and I needed to let her speak and develop a relationship with her. Somehow this “child” came to have a name and my therapist would request to speak with her by name. My therapist encouraged me to develop other alters in similar fashion and to let these alters “out” on my own time and develop relationships with them to work towards “co-consciousness”. She explained that when they trusted me enough they would “share the memories they were holding.”
Frederick: Continuing from my response to the last question, during my second session with the therapist, she led me to believe that I had a handful of alters because of their existence in the gathering place. Initially, she would just put me in trance and have me observe what I was seeing – describing the appearance of the alters, and assigning names, ages, and genders to all of them. Soon after, she started teaching me to “switch” between these various parts. She would place me in trance, have me envision myself switching places with one of these alters, and then she would bring me back up out of trance and greet me as if I was someone she had never met before (acting surprised to see me, saying “hi there!”, “Nice to meet you!”, and asking me questions like “What’s your name?”, “How old are you?”, and “What is your role in the system?”). This process was unfamiliar and uncomfortable. I often felt hesitant and unsure. My therapist would always give me encouragement and reassurance that I was doing things right and making progress.
Poppy: Groups of therapy I think helped me to create the imaginary alters inside me.
If yes, how real did the alters feel to you?
Maaike: Very very real… They were all part of me.
Carol: The alters felt real.
Roberta: In the beginning I really thought that I was full of shit. I thought I was making it all up. But as I said above, the more I focused on all of these activities, the more real everything became. I hesitate to say that in the thick of it I was delusional, but looking back that is a pretty apt description of the state of my mind during that time. They felt real and separate from myself, out of my control.
Cindy: Like pretending. Always totally pretending. They were always me just making shit up. If I told her that, I was invalidating them and how could I expect them to ever trust me?
Frederick: Initially, I felt like I may have been doing something wrong (unintentionally, of course). When I would “switch”, I didn’t notice any vocal changes or changes in my posture. I expressed these doubts to my therapist to which she always responded that I wasn’t doing anything wrong, that it would take time for my alters to feel more comfortable in my body but eventually they would develop their own vocal patterns, mannerisms, behaviors, etc. Eventually, the alters felt extremely real to me. My voice did change, my body posture did change, and all of these things seemed to happen unconsciously and were completely out of my control.
Poppy: I had a picture inside me of these alters – I believed I had three, one girl, one boy and one who did not know what sex they were.
Amnesia is one of the criteria for DID, if you were diagnosed with DID did you ever have time loss?
Casey: I did, but I attribute that more to ADHD (diagnosed).
Maaike: Yes, a lot. Also before the diagnosis.
Carol: Never had time loss. If I couldn’t remember when something terrible happened, I was told it was because I had lost time.
Roberta: Maybe lapses in memory. I never had a week or month of missing time or anything like that.
Cindy: No. Never. My therapist insisted I was someone else for a month and that I needed to talk with that part to remember what I did . . . But I knew what I had done. I had stood up for myself and tried to break away from her. This was treatment resistance again. She and the psychiatrist she worked with threatened to hospitalize me against my will and I broke and went along with it again. Which was framed as me, the “host”, achieving consciousness and “fronting”. It was always me the whole time.
Frederick: So, my therapist initially asked me if I ever lost time (during our first or second session). I told her that oftentimes, especially when driving, I would sort of “wake up” or “come to” and realize that I had been driving for quite some time and not paid attention, so I hadn’t remembered travelling as far as I had. Much later on, in the course of my treatment with her, I started experiencing larger gaps in my memory. Sometimes I would leave my therapy session and wouldn’t have much memory of the session. Sometimes I would be in extreme emotional distress and later wouldn’t be able recall certain events from that stressful period. (Now, my belief is that these gaps in memory were caused by the traumatic nature of therapy with her even though I wasn’t aware of that at the time. This is mostly speculation though. These gaps in everyday memory were uncharacteristic for me, however, and did not happen before entering into therapy).
Poppy: No, I never had time loss. I can remember in one of the groups the therapist saying “Poppy is dissociating, she cannot hear us”, but I could, I was just doing what she wanted me to, I could hear her.
Was it explained to you what type of therapy was being used? Was it explained to you exactly what was happening?
Casey: Much of it wasn’t explained. She did talk quite a bit about trauma and body memories and all of that, but nothing ever seemed concrete.
Maaike: No, it was pragmatic, no real plan.
Carol: I don’t recall anyone ever explicitly explaining the type of therapy. I suppose because I was in [an] inpatient unit from the very beginning of the initial diagnosis of MPD, I just knew about the various treatment modalities in addition to the pharmaceutical treatment.
Roberta: No, not really. I remember asking her constantly what the point of certain things were… everything was really vague though.
Cindy: Yes. My therapist used EMDR and Brainspotting primarily. We had to use “body oriented” therapies because [to her] trauma is stored in the body and “regular talk therapy” can’t access it. Through these modalities, I was accessing ego states who held the trauma that I was not consciously privy to. By developing co-consciousness with them, I would then come to access and process those traumatic memories and somehow this would solve all my problems. We also did some work with Internal Family Systems therapy and I was encouraged to read books by Peter Levine and Bessel van der Kolk.
Frederick: No. As far as a treatment modality, my therapist only ever used hypnosis. I participated in a group therapy that was led by her which used DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) skills, but she seldom utilized DBT techniques in our individual sessions. When I would ask her about her treatment plan or course of action, she never had an answer as to what we were doing or what direction we were headed in. She would almost exclusively respond by saying “We’re just gathering information right now”. There was one time she told me that there was an exact correlation between uncovering repressed memories and experiencing symptom relief. That was right before we started doing “memory work”.
Poppy: No, I was never explained nothing [sic] about the therapy I was having or group therapy. I would say it was recovered memory therapy now.
Was recovering memories a part of your therapy? If yes, how was this achieved in therapy? What techniques were used to recover these memories? If no techniques were explicitly used, how were your memories recovered?
Casey: It was never really phrased as such, but yes. She placed a lot of emphasis on letting memories come to me. We replayed memories I did have over and over and over and OVER. She would get so hung up on little details until I felt exasperated and exhausted. She would constantly ask me for the minutest impressions and fixate on them, trying to build them into a memory. She also pressured me to journal and recommended that I try writing with my non-dominant hand to see what “parts” and memories emerged. She would ask me where I felt pain or discomfort in my body and place her hands and apply pressure on those places and ask me what sensations and memories this brought up. I felt so much pressure to come up with things, and I often would blurt out anything that came to mind. She considered anything and everything to be significant.
Maaike: Yes. If anything happened, anything triggered me, my therapist would ask in general that the alter who knew the story behind the trigger would tell him. Then a story was told and I had to believe that it really happened. Sometimes I’d have amnesia and I had to listen to the tapes at home.
Carol: Recovered memories were definitely a part of therapy. Various techniques to recover memories were art, journal writing, hypnosis, sodium brevital or amytal sessions, play therapy, individual therapy sessions. Throw in the abreactive sessions to hone those memories.
Roberta: There was no blatant recovering of memories in terms of her hypnotizing me for the intent of recovering memories, but I was told that the alter personalities held the most horrible memories and that when the alters felt that it was time for me to learn about them that I could expect that they would come in the form of dreams, flashbacks, bodily sensations…et cetera.. and so they did. I think the expectancy effect has a lot to do with it. The hypnosis part of it was used to “transfer” recovered memories from one alter to another, but this really just served to increase my confidence in false recovered memories that weren’t true by providing a strong visual to them.
Cindy: It was a stated goal of the therapy, but I never actually did. This was framed as my being treatment resistant, uncooperative, and not gaining the trust of my alters.
Frederick: Recovering memories was a part of my therapy. My therapist would place me in hypnotic trance, have me switch to a different alter, then have that alter envision a long hallway with big doors on either side of the hallway. Each door was supposed to contain a repressed traumatic memory. We would look behind each door, one by one, and she would ask me (the alter) what I saw. At first, the memories seemed mundane or very vague. Slowly they became very extreme and very detailed. She would give some covert suggestions but they were never forceful. Most of the time she would prompt me in the form of leading questions (e.g., “Was your Dad there?”, “How many people hurt you?”, “Did they program you?”, “Do you remember what they did to you?”, etc.). After hearing these questions, my mind would sort of “fill in the blanks” so to speak and the rest of the memories seemed to develop organically. When I would reveal initial details of a new memory, she would press me for more details.
Poppy: Yes, it was a big part of the therapy to recover memories even when there wasn’t any there, leading questions [were] used, also a technique [where] I was told to imagine I was walking down a flight of stairs inside myself to retrieve the memories, I think it was a form of self hypnosis. At the end of a session the therapist would tell me what I had said – sometimes I couldn’t remember saying what she said sometimes. I also believed that any thought you had was real, you had that thought because it had happened to you, [this] I was told by the therapist.
How much confidence did you have in your recovered memories?
Casey: I didn’t have full-blown recovered memories, but more like embellishment, false elaboration, and re-contextualization of them. And I was fairly confident for a time that it was a huge sign of progress.
Maaike: At first a lot, I bought it hook, line, and sinker. Later I started doubting, but I knew I wasn’t making this stuff up, so I had to believe them.
Carol: While I questioned how these “memories” could be true, I accepted that they must be true because I had believed the world- renown expert(s) treating me.
Roberta: At first I believed them 100%. I was absolutely horrified and shocked. Eventually I started to have doubts and then finally I realized all of the recovered memories were false.
Frederick: Not much at all. Some of my first memories were of my Dad abusing me. These caused the most internal turmoil for me. I was extremely resistant to accept them as fact because I vehemently denied that my Dad had actually abused me. I was hesitant to believe some of my other recovered memories as well simply because they weren’t plausible (e.g., Memories of being burned all over my body, memories of extremely physical abuse/torture, memories of being kidnapped and held for days). I could prove that none of these things happened. I don’t have burn scars, and my parents saw me every single day so I could never have been kidnapped and I could never have been bruised because my parents would have seen the bruises.
Poppy: I believed they were true for a long time, 20 plus years, but when the seed of doubt was sown they all collapsed, even the alters.
How did you realize your recovered memories were false or confabulatory?
Casey: When my therapist died and I was no longer subjected to the constant pressure and obsession over memory, it began to fade. The nail in the coffin was when I spoke with my mother, who my therapist had pushed me to think was complicit in my abuse. She wasn’t. At all.
Maaike: The timeline didn’t add up.
Carol: Realizing that my recovered memories were false was a slow process. The more I became independent again and out in the real world, the less the memories had a hold over me.
Roberta: I read about memory, hypnosis and I met other people who had been through similar experiences in therapy. Getting away from my therapist helped me find my right mind again, too.
Frederick: After leaving therapy with my therapist, I started doing tons of research online about DID and memories because I wanted to figure out why I was feeling so bad and why I would remember these things if they didn’t actually happen. Somehow, I stumbled upon an article about “Jeanette Bartha” and her experience was so similar to mine that it sparked some curiosity about what I had been through with my therapist. A little while later, I searched Jeanette Bartha’s name again and found an article written about her on Grey Faction’s website. I kept reading material on Grey Faction’s website which ultimately helped me realize that what happened to me in therapy was wrong, that I likely didn’t have DID, and that most of my recovered memories were likely false. I now believe that all of my recovered memories are false.
Poppy: I did not until many years later… doubt this therapist. She was the expert, she knew everything.
When did you first notice that therapy was hurting you?
Casey: I didn’t see it that way until well after the fact. I thought therapy was the responsible, healthy thing to do, and there was so much “you have to get worse to get better” rhetoric.
Maaike: After 9 months, I was feeling worse and worse and attempted suicide. I asked for a second opinion then and got confirmed.
Carol: Again, that was a slow process. I reconnected with my family and slowly realized the damage of recovered memory therapy.
Roberta: I don’t think I realized until after I left that I had deteriorated so much. There was so much of that idea where you need to get worse, so much worse, and only then you can heal from your trauma basically. Eventually I was hospitalized. After I got out of the hospital I really stood back and assessed the damage and my entire life had been upended. It took getting away from the therapist to realize how far I’d fallen from where I was when I started therapy.
Cindy: My life fell apart. “It has to get worse before it gets better.” I was encouraged not to trust my family who were almost assuredly complicit in the severe abuse that I could not access. I went from a weight in the 150s to just over 200 lbs and developed type 2 diabetes. An alter was doing that, of course. But maybe it was actually the Depakote? My therapist violated boundaries with me; had me over for dinner, had me do various odd jobs for her, and talked about going into business together one day when I was “better.” So I knew . . . I always knew that this was wrong. But she was charismatic, confident, and manipulative. She said she loved me and understood me in a way that no one else could. That I actually wasn’t a terribly great person, but that she would always love and forgive me. Most people wouldn’t. She isolated me from the people who could have told me different. Ultimately, it was a realization that when I listened to her, nothing else in the world made sense. But when I discounted her, however hard and scary that was, things snapped back into place again.
Frederick: Very early on. I can’t give you an exact date, but I would say within my first two months of seeing my therapist. I told my family, friends, my first therapist, and even my current therapist that I felt like I was getting worse. My family and friends encouraged me not to give up on therapy and to keep seeing my current therapist and trust what she was doing. She told me not to say that she was making me worse because it hurt her feelings when I said that. She made me sign a written agreement that I would not say I was getting worse.
Poppy: I started to doubt my false memories after 20 plus years of believing. My husband became ill with cancer, I was not coping. I went to see a counsellor who helped me to see that the bits and snippets of so-called memories were not true. This is when it all fell away and I believed I had been given false memories. It was a major shift in me.
Did you ever attempt to confront or outwardly doubt your therapist? What was the reaction?
Casey: Not really. I tried to push back a bit about some things that were discussed in group therapy, but the response was a very firm “We believe and support survivors!”
Maaike: They told me I was in denial. I had to work through all this. They knew what was best for me.
Carol: I never confronted the psychiatrist who initially diagnosed me or the psychologist who I also saw as part of that treatment.
Roberta: I did, but she became very hostile so I backed down. After that I never went back. I often told her it wasn’t true [the DID] but she told me I was in denial. I also told her I felt like the alters were fake, and she told me that DID “feels like that.”
Cindy: Yes. And when that happened it was framed as: treatment resistance, me being a bad person, or an ego state who was out to harm and discredit my therapist personally. Despite never experiencing suicidal ideation, I was threatened with involuntary psychiatric hospitalization. My therapist told me that she would lie about me being suicidal and that they would believe her over me. I folded.
Frederick: I expressed lots of doubt throughout the course of my treatment, both about the veracity of the memories I was having and about my DID diagnosis. My therapist was always adamant that I did have DID and that all of my memories of abuse were true. One day, I very firmly told her that I don’t believe my Dad abused me. She admitted that she did believe my Dad had abused me (and my sister). I told her it wasn’t fair that she didn’t believe me. She said the reason I didn’t remember my Dad abusing me is because some other alters were the ones who experienced the abuse and the ones who subsequently hold on to the memories of that abuse, and it’s their job to protect me from that knowledge.
Poppy: Yes, I did a complaint about the therapist but nothing came of it, I was not well at the time [so] I am not surprised it failed. I also confronted her on the phone and she offered me therapy to help to correct my memories.
Were the presenting problems you brought into therapy in the beginning ever addressed?
Casey: Yes, but in a negative way. They were distorted, elaborated upon, twisted. I came out of it far worse off than I entered it.
Maaike: Nope, it was all about the abuse.
Carol: Yes, I was treated for clinical depression. And I did have an eating disorder which was addressed.
Roberta: I think a little bit, but any benefit that I could have taken away from therapy is unfortunately overshadowed by the negative impact it had upon my life.
Frederick: No. Not only did we never address my leg pain (in fact, it got worse), I was also seeking help for domestic violence, legitimate childhood sexual abuse, and recovery from drug addiction. None of these issues was ever addressed.
Poppy: No, the presenting issues were never addressed at all, I kept telling her about the operation and other things that happened to me but they were ignored.
What was the effect of the therapy on your life?
Casey: It made my depression so much worse. It also made me doubt myself and my perceptions and memory. I also had horrible, crushing feelings of being a freak. There was an unshakeable weight of “I am so fucked up and will never get any better.” I felt weird sensations of doom, like self-destruction was inevitable. I wasn’t suicidal, at least not actively, but maybe that inevitable feeling was on that path. I never had that before therapy. I also felt like a victim constantly. It was like victimhood was my rigid and unwavering position. I was able to hold down my job, but that was mostly it. I felt like a total fucking mess in every other area of my life.
Another thing that happened was that I would go blank in therapy. Utterly blank. It would be very difficult for me to speak at all, or even move. I couldn’t even formulate a coherent thought. Just total blankness and paralysis. I sometimes had that kind of response to intense negative emotion before I started therapy, but it seems to me like therapy cemented that reaction. It still happens to me more frequently and intensely than it ever did before therapy.
Maaike: Extreme PTSD due to ‘flashbacks’. Panic attacks, phobias. Suicide attempts.
Carol: My life was, as I put it, interrupted for 10-plus years. I was estranged from my entire family and friends at the insistence of the psychiatrist and therapists treating me. I went from being a fully independent, self-supporting adult to being unable to support myself at the same level I was pre-MPD diagnosis. In my opinion, the extensive and unnecessary medication I received affected my learning capability. I went from being someone who found learning extremely easy to having a learning disability, which became most apparent when I continued my undergraduate and graduate education. I was fortunate that my family and friends were very understanding and accepted me unconditionally when I returned to reality.
Roberta: I lost so much time to being basically dysfunctional. I spent a ton of money on the therapy. I felt so unstable all of the time back then and put a huge burden on my partner. I lost all of my confidence and a lot of my independence while I was still getting better from the effects of the therapy. I left therapy a complete basket case, unsure of who I was and what was real. I developed agoraphobia. I have flashbacks of therapy and nightmares of my therapist.
Cindy: I lost friendships. I became estranged from family whom I was told were complicit in abuse I could not remember. I self-injured, which had never been an issue for me previously. I learned that my own intuition was faulty and could not be trusted. But you know . . . it has to get worse before it gets better.
Frederick: Therapy left me completely disabled. I was in constant severe emotional distress. I developed extreme rage that led to outbursts at my boyfriend and my parents. I had homicidal ideations as well as suicidal ideations. I was not able to drive. I was terrified to leave the apartment. I quit eating for days at a time, didn’t leave my bed for days at a time. I could not take care of my hygiene. I could not exercise. I could not work. I didn’t speak for months at a time. I experienced unbearable pain, both physical and emotional. I developed frequent and intense migraines during therapy as well as gastrointestinal upset.
Poppy: It destroyed a big part of my life, lucky my family stood by me, but it took my ability to work, to interact with people, I was frightened a lot of the time.
Do you have any residual effects from the therapy?
Casey: For a few years after therapy, I had a deep sense of self-doubt and self-distrust. I entered into an intensely destructive abusive relationship in the last few months of therapy. I remember feeling uneasy with some of the things my partner said and did, but I didn’t trust my own perceptions at all. In fact, I was sure that it was just some kind of trauma-related self-sabotage.
Maaike: Yes, PTSD.
Carol: I think the residual effects of the recovered have dissipated and/or disappeared completely at this point some 30-plus years later. My “real” memories no longer cloaked in a fog. My learning ability has returned.
Roberta: Not as much as I did, but for a few months afterwards I really felt like I had no sense of self, that it had been deeply fragmented and toyed with in therapy. I honestly felt like I was nobody and had no identity and that who I was before had been absolutely destroyed. I was still automatically switching into alters even though I knew it wasn’t real. It was really strange and hard to get through. Today, I would say that I still suffer from symptoms of PTSD when I am reminded of the experience – freezing, dissociation, anger, things like that.
Cindy: Prior to realizing that I was likely autistic, I still had no explanation for the odd behaviors described above except for dissociation. So there was always this lingering nagging fear that maybe my therapist had been right. And while I never had PTSD before, I now am triggered any time trauma, dissociation, or body oriented therapies come up. Which is a shame because trauma is actually really important and has been under-recognized. The last thing I want to do is invalidate anyone’s lived experience, but the language around it these days is personally triggering for me. Not to mention . . . Have you tried getting life or disability insurance with these types of diagnoses in your past? You can’t.
Frederick: I have nightmares about my therapists, sometimes I will still inadvertently switch to an age regressed state and have outbursts of rage. I am still gaining back my physical health. I still experience lots of gastrointestinal discomfort from the constant stress my body was under last year. I still haven’t been able to return to work.
Poppy: The residual effects are horrific, they stay with me, the therapy stays with me, every bit, plus nobody knows how to help so you end up on your own.
What helped you the most after leaving therapy?
Casey: Honestly, the absence of therapy was the most helpful. Part of my therapy was group therapy, and it was very good to get away from that group. Every week or every other week, depending on how things were scheduled, I’d sit in a room with eight other women and listen to graphic, hideous, and frankly unbelievable stories. Satanic Ritual Abuse in which they were forced to give birth as breeders for the shadowy, nebulous “cult,” for example. One woman had memories of being hunted in the woods while holding her infant and of smothering the baby so the cult wouldn’t do something worse to it. She had a lifelong phobia of babies, she claimed. Not having to listen to ever-evolving lists of graphic atrocities was certainly helpful. Now, years later, reading the work of reputable scholars about memory and therapy and pseudoscience has been very helpful towards understanding what happened to me. It feels deeply ironic, how much my therapy emphasized that I must know what really happened to me to get better, and how that is kind of true in a way they never meant it. Knowing that my therapist was, at best, wildly inappropriate and incompetent has helped me feel better. It has gone very far towards alleviating the humiliation and shame of being duped.
Maaike: Living ‘normal’, doing ‘normal’ stuff, like finding a hobby, studying, going to restaurants, going on holidays. But also educating myself on therapy, psychology, hypnosis, memory.
Carol: I never left therapy. I was seeing my current psychiatrist as I was returning to the real world. The focus was on the here and now aspects of my life and not on digging up memories.
Roberta: Being followed by a multitude of mental health care providers who didn’t feed the DID stuff to me… and just time. Meeting others who have been through this experience also helped me massively in not feeling alone and ashamed.
Cindy: In the end, my therapist precipitously and rather suddenly pronounced me cured. She did so because she wanted to go into business together, but it left me rather hanging. She mentioned two other therapists I could see to “tie up loose ends”. One she recommended highly and one she seemed rather halfhearted about. I saw the one she didn’t like. This one supported me while I processed through what had happened and validated that it was wrong. And thankfully, my ex therapist and I never went into business together. What a disaster that would have been. Ultimately, I moved across the country from where this took place and that helped, too.
Frederick: Talking with the director of Grey Faction and talking with [other retractors] who had experienced similar things as me. Beginning to exercise again has helped me a lot too.
Poppy: What helped me most was my family, friends and my dogs, exercising, also talking about what happened to me. I will never be quite the same.
How do you feel about seeking therapy now?
Casey: Mostly negative, honestly. I don’t have any trust for therapists at all. It doesn’t help that so many of them spout absurd pseudoscience. My son’s court-ordered therapist during a custody battle would make bizarre, clearly pseudoscientific dietary recommendations for managing my child’s ADHD. I think therapists are just as susceptible to logical fallacy as anyone else, and tend to operate in an echo chamber that reinforces their faulty, self-serving ideas.
Maaike: Not sure I understand the question. I never want therapy again, I’m too scared I will get fooled again. And if I can do it all over, I’d be very very careful to not give anyone power like that, ever again.
Carol: I began seeing my current psychiatrist during one of my in-patient hospital stays when the psychiatrist who made the initial diagnosis passed me off to someone else (probably because I was on Medicare). I now see my psychiatrist on an as-needed basis, mainly to stay on top of my clinical depression.
Roberta: I feel more confident that I could identify red flags now. I was very lucky to have a really good therapist right after the bad therapy who helped me a lot. I think there are excellent clinicians out there, but there are a lot of bad ones too. Overall I am cautious about therapy, but I haven’t written it off completely.
Cindy: All kinds of nope. I’ve tried . . . I sabotage it and run after a few sessions. And I cannot tolerate the mention of any type of body oriented psychotherapy and they seem to be all the rage these days. And Van der Kolk. People love that guy. Hard pass. It’s a shame because it would be helpful as a newly realized likely autistic person to have a therapist process through all of that. But if I want to find a therapist who believes in the social model of disability and sees neurodiversity as a normal human variant . . . well, they all seem to do Brainspotting for some reason. Why even is that?
Frederick: Very apprehensive and distrustful.
Poppy: How do I feel about seeing therapy now… very nervous, I would never go back to therapy. I have seen counsellors, but never therapy.
What is your opinion of the diagnosis of DID/OSDD now?
Casey: Hahahaha no. It makes for a great narrative device, and I think people will always be fascinated with it. But what works well in fiction doesn’t necessarily translate to real life.
Maaike: I don’t believe it is a thing, it’s developed in therapy or even by friends/spouses, who try to be helpful. The idea is planted in someone’s head that their problems look like DID (the picture they have from the movies, a book, the internet, someone else with DID). It can even start in someone’s own mind, thinking they might have it.
Carol: I don’t think that “nobody” has DID. However, I think it is extremely rare and way over-diagnosed.
Roberta: I don’t think the diagnosis is helpful. I think a lot, maybe most of the cases of DID are created and shaped by clinicians. I also think there are people who experience symptoms or think they do, but the way it is treated by some clinicians as if the experience is objectively real and not a coping mechanism or delusion inside the person’s head is very dangerous in my opinion. I’ve seen a lot of people’s lives messed up by the therapy and the diagnosis. It is just as irresponsible and damaging as diagnosing someone with “demon possession” in my opinion.
Cindy: They are iatrogenic diagnoses created by true believer conspiracy minded therapists who fit everything into their preconceived notions of “it’s all trauma and everyone is dissociative.” They prey on an already vulnerable population and it makes me sick.
Frederick: I don’t believe that I have DID. Honestly, I don’t believe that anyone develops DID naturally but that’s just my personal opinion.
Poppy: My opinion of DID is I believe in it but I think it is very rare, I think some therapists diagnose it when it is not present, I think they are very misled. I was in a group of 6 people diagnosed with MPD [Now DID]. I think that is very questionable, even then I think it should have been questioned. Would it be today? I don’t know.