A Victim’s Statement to the Court
Your honor: I stand here today to tell you how the accused hurt me, abused me, exploited me for his own gratification, and to describe to you what his actions have done to my life.
Regardless of how he has rationalized and justified his sick behavior, this was no affair. This was abuse of the most base kind: This was abuse of a therapist’s powerful position over someone wounded and at risk. He abused his responsibility to protect the psychologically vulnerable and to above all “do no harm.”
He complains that he is the victim here, saying on the stand that this hurt him. How exactly was he hurt? When he was abusing me, it wasn’t hurting him at all. He was getting sex, money, power, control, an ego boost, and someone to take care of him and fix him and try to make him “all better.” He was not hurting at all as he lay on the therapy couch in his office, without his clothes on, while I listened to his problems. How sick. How insane. But, I do believe he is hurting now, not because of what he did but because he got caught, because someone had the courage to stand up to him and call him out on what he did.
I don’t know which is worse, what he did or the pathetic and desperate attempt he made to defend his behavior. There is no defense for his actions. There is no excuse. There are no “two sides” to this story. There is only one unethical and negligent and destructive “professional” responsible for this. We were not “equals.” We had a totally imbalanced relationship: My consent to what took place was impossible.
When I met him, I was in my weakest and most vulnerable state. I had relapsed badly from earlier trauma and was very ill. I sought counseling because I was very sick, damaged, and looking for help. I am a sexual abuse survivor, an alcoholic, a bulimic, and a child of an addict. I grew up in chaos and dysfunction. He knew all of these things about me, all of my pain, and all of my darkest deepest secrets. He is a “professional” with over 20 years of experience who knows the mind of an addict and who knew better than to do what he did.
I did not “lure” him. He lured me with his seductive, sick, twisted, perverse, illegal, and unethical behavior. Nobody lured him to the bank with the checks he was receiving from me after abusing me during my sessions. That was my money: The money I asked for him to give back was mine and not his. He did not earn that money.
While I was being abused, I tried to stop him. I went to him and said that I was like his daughter. He showed zero emotion. I told him that I was scared, that I felt, as usual, that I was taking care of everyone, and no one was protecting me or helping me. It didn’t phase him. Why didn’t he stop at that point? How could he not know that what he was doing would damage me in a life altering way?
I wanted to make him proud of me. I wanted to fix his pain. I did what I thought would gain his approval and please him. My heart broke at the abusive childhood he told me he had to endure. He knew that I had a problem with feeling like it was my job to fix and take care of wounded men, men like my father. Instead of treating my problem, he chose to exploit it. I know now that it was never my job to fix him, yet he chose to make the focus of my “therapy” about him.
I have been hurt beyond comprehension by his violations. Every problem I went to him for got worse. I became emotionally violent, full of rage, depressed, anxiety-ridden, and self destructive in a way more extreme than any of my past addictive behaviors. I hated the person I had become. I did things I still can’t explain. I was so confused and filled with self-hatred. I can’t believe that I trusted him and confided in him. He was the first person I told about my rape
I hit bottom after I ended his abuse of me. I ended up in the ER with a 0.324 blood alcohol level. My husband and son carried me into the hospital where I lay in a pool of my own blood, vomit and urine in front of a packed waiting room of people, my four-year-old boy looking at me with fear in his eyes, wondering if his mommy would be okay.
I was humiliated and in pain over what he did and his complete lack of remorse. As they put me on IVs, it was his name that I said over and over as I went in and out of consciousness while my chin was being sewn up with a dozen stitches. The doctor handed my husband AA pamphlets. The pain he caused me pushed me to near suicide. Behind my smile was a little girl with a lot of pain and hurt, feeling worthless and betrayed over what he did.
I am not saying I am not responsible for my actions. I am far from perfect. I am an addict who fights her demons every day and whose self-destructive actions and rage have hurt many people. I cannot and will not go through life blaming this abusive therapist for my actions. But I am not responsible for what he did to me. Not even a little bit. I stand here today knowing the truth, knowing I did nothing to provoke or cause this. He is the one who has hurt so many people. He cared only for himself. He failed me.
He never tried to offer help after I confronted him and when he knew I had started drinking again. He was concerned only about himself, telling me all the ways it was going to screw up his life if I told.
The day I confronted him was the most empowering day of my life. I ended it. I was the one who terminated the relationship, not him, not the professional with all of the addiction expertise and experience. I had to end it because he never wanted it to end. I ended this not because I was a woman scorned or a vindictive person and not because I wanted his money. I ended it because what he did was and is wrong and dangerous and horrible and abusive.
I am here today because I have fought for me, the person this abuser had forgotten about because everything was about him. I finally know that I am worth fighting for and defending. My life, regardless of how he or anyone else views it, matters. I matter.
A Treating Therapist’s Statement to the Court
Thank you, Your Honor, for allowing me time to speak. I am a psychologist in private practice. I have been treating the victim in this case for four years.
When I first met the victim, she was in a highly traumatized state and reported symptoms that included flashbacks, insomnia, fearfulness, guilt and self-blame, panic attacks, confusion, grief, and shock. At times in our sessions she would shake and sob; at other times, she would stare blankly, going into a numbed-out, dissociative state. She said that she had been having an “affair" with her previous therapist and that when she tried to end it, he refused, telling her "it will never be over."
The victim told me that she became more and more frightened as he texted and called her repeatedly, followed her around town, confronted her at her workplace, and even sat in his car outside her home. She said she was scared, given his increasingly bizarre behavior, that he might try to harm her or her family. Finally, she felt forced to report him, even though she felt terrible doing this, believing that she had betrayed him and blaming herself for possibly ending his career.
For at least the first 12 months of treatment, the victim's emotional functioning would often drop so low that our main therapy task was to keep her from killing herself by finding reasons for her to go on living. This always ended up being her children. Most of her symptoms were typical reactions experienced by patients whose therapists initiated sex with them, from guilt and remorse to confusion and lack of trust. Not only was she emotionally overwhelmed by this experience, but the therapy gains she had made in treatment with the previous therapist were undone.
She said she had sought help from the accused to deal with anguish and fear after discovering that an older man who had previously abused her was re-entering her life. She reported being very open and honest in therapy with the accused, revealing how men in positions of power and authority had used this dynamic to abuse her in the past. She said she did not expect the pattern to be repeated by the accused.
Over several years, we were able to explore what happened to her, why it was definitely not an “affair,” and how instead, sadly, the accused misused the therapy relationship dynamics and led her to believe that the two of them were in love. He exploited the intense feelings that are often generated in patients when painful and traumatic issues are explored in therapy.
Making treatment even harder was the lack of understanding of others who mistakenly believed that the victim and the accused had had an “affair.” Not being familiar with how therapy dynamics work and with how much power and influence a therapist can have over a patient, other people misunderstood the situation. They believed it was consensual sex between consenting adults. Thus part of our treatment involved educating the victim about how therapy works and how ethical therapists are supposed to handle intense feelings in their patients and themselves.
Therapists who treat sexual abuse survivors are well acquainted with how extraordinarily vulnerable these patients are since they have had their boundaries violated in such an extreme way. Their recovery from such a betrayal of trust needs to occur within a safe and therapeutic environment. Bringing sex into the therapeutic relationship when treating a sexual abuse survivor is an exceedingly harmful repetition of past abuse.
As therapists treating sexual abuse survivors, we are trained to be aware of “transference,” a patient's intense feelings towards us, usually from unresolved feelings for other important people from their past. Our job as therapists is to help a patient understand and work through what it means and how to heal from past hurtful experiences.
As therapists, we are also taught to be alert for “countertransference,” the therapist's own intense feelings towards the patient based on the therapist's unresolved feelings from past relationships. When as therapists we experience powerful feelings towards our patients, whether attraction or anger or fear, we are trained to recognize those feelings and take steps to resolve them so that our unresolved issues do not harm our patients. We are taught not to ignore countertransference or to mistake it for something it is not and act on it.
We have several options available to us for dealing with countertransference: getting consultation from a colleague, paying for supervision from an expert, going into personal therapy ourselves to work through our issues, or even to referring the patient to another mental health professional. These options allow us to maintain or recover a professional and ethical perspective in providing treatment.
When a therapist brings sex into a therapeutic relationship, it is possible that he or she is an "impaired therapist," i.e., mentally or emotionally compromised, possibly in a time of personal crisis such as a divorce or the death of a loved one. Such "impaired therapists" do not deal professionally with transference or countertransference.
It is also possible that the therapist who brings sex into the therapeutic relationship is a sexual predator, going after the easy prey of his or her traumatized and highly vulnerable patients. Previously sexually abused patients would be particularly easy targets for this type of predator. These patients have difficulty protecting themselves in relationships, tend to idealize people to whom they become attached, and unconsciously comply with authority figures.
In either case, the "impaired therapist" or the predator therapist, bringing sex into the therapy relationship is incredibly injurious to the patient who is seeking help from a trusted professional. The results are the same, i.e., additional pain and trauma to a patient who came seeking help, leaving the patient in a worse situation than where he or she started, fearful and untrusting of health professionals, and even more damaged and in need of treatment.
As part of the healing process, a patient is supposed to have what we call "positive transference" or feelings of trust, respect, and admiration for the therapist. These are natural feelings and are part of the healing relationship in therapy. Unfortunately, in therapy, those positive transference feelings can be misunderstood by patients who might think they are in love with us. It is our job as therapists to educate our patients about what is going on, to explain transference, and to explore what it might mean. It is our responsibility to help our patients, not to use these transference feelings for our own gratification.
The therapy relationship is inherently not consensual. On one side, you have an emotionally distressed individual seeking help. On the other side, you have a highly trained professional who has gone to school for years, has passed rigorous licensure exams, and regularly continues to complete hours of required continuing education. During the course of treatment, the therapist also becomes aware of intimate details of a patient's life, including the patient's psychological strengths and weaknesses, adding to the power imbalance in the relationship.
Although it may appear to the untrained eye that therapy is a relationship between two adults, nothing about the therapy relationship is equal. We therapists possess tremendous power and influence over our patients. It is our responsibility to use our training and our understanding of the patient’s life for the patient's healing process, not to meet our own needs.
In psychotherapy, the gold standard for evaluating therapeutic interventions is to ask, "Is this in the best interest of the patient?" I cannot imagine a single situation in which a psychotherapist having sex with a patient would be in the patient's best interest.
Ethics codes for every mental health profession and laws in at least 23 states in the U.S. specifically prohibit therapist-patient sex due to the clearly acknowledged harm it causes to patients. Statistics show that as many as 14 percent of patients who are sexually involved with a therapist will make at least one suicide attempt, and about one percent will succeed in killing themselves. And those are only the cases that were reported.
I hope these explanations help to clarify why the victim was so deeply traumatized by the accused’s decision to initiate a sexual relationship with her. It is my hope that she will continue to heal from this abusive experience and become stronger and more protective of her own boundaries. Her courage in these circumstances is not to be underestimated.
S. Kim, Ph.D.
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