Dear Fellow Victims of Therapy Abuse — with Recommendations for my Psychotherapy and Psychoanalytic Colleagues:
I am sad to say that as a therapist who has been abused by my therapist, my “training-psychoanalyst,” I know more than I wish to about how many well-meaning professionals just Do Not Get It.
For the record, I was held captive by the infamous multiple perpetrator Edward M. Daniels MD, a training and supervising psychoanalyst at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute and a Clinical Professor at Harvard University. Ten years elapsed before I could get myself to leave him to take the horrifically long and painful path to regain my life. If some of his other victims had not come forward, I have no idea how much longer it would have taken me to leave.
I will always remember when I learned, one day while I worked toward understanding what had happened to me, that my abuser's psychoanalytic colleagues had known he was an abuser for about two years before I stepped foot into his dangerous office. Later, in shock, I asked his colleagues, who are also my colleagues, "Why didn't you do anything to stop him?" The answer was, "He threatened to sue us if we took action against him. What would you have had us do?" I could not say a word. I could not really register that my colleagues knew and did nothing because no one, individually or as a group, had the decency or the courage to stop him.
About 12 years after his colleagues learned of his first victim, other victims came forward — at their own risk. By then, he had long held me and many others captive.
I have seen many decent psychoanalytic colleagues and other therapists struggle to Get It. I also have seen too many missteps by those who were unable to face the truly horrifying nature of this abuse.
A lot of my colleagues are active in their professional organizations, organizations that have more than adequate ethics regulations. Some of their missteps have taken the form of colleagues, individually and organizationally, expressing sympathy for the abuser while failing to reach out with true concern for and help to the victim.
I remember my horror at a meeting when a prominent psychoanalytic colleague announced proudly that he had facilitated mediation between an abuser and his victim so that the abuser could listen to and understand the victim. He was pleased that the abuser had offered to refund the victim’s fees. He went on to say, "Perhaps some of you will say that he should not have given back the fees,” suggesting that doing so was a major feat of "truth and reconciliation" on the part of the abuser. He added that the abuser was doing well in his subsequent analytic treatment and practice. He said nothing about the victim's outcome.
I remember my belated appreciation of the only psychoanalyst, out of the many who knew that I had been in a training analysis with my abuser but did not know that he had abused me, who called to see how I was doing when the institute’s ethics committee found my abuser guilty of abusing patients and was about expel him. And I remember my later shock at her reaction when I told her that this multiple perpetrator had abused me for years. Stunned, she said, "I never dreamed he would do this to one of us." This woman almost Got It, but even she could not take in the full horror. I could not respond to her comment at that time, because I could not believe my ears. Sad to say, I am no longer shocked by such compartmentalization.
I remember when I told my helpful former psychoanalyst, whom I had seen for therapy before I was abused, about what had happened: His first response was "I am so sorry: You must be angry at me for sending you to him." Actually, having known that my former psychoanalyst therapist had also known my abuser, I did not hold him at all responsible for that referral because I knew by then that he, too, had been conned. I was only sad that he immediately spoke about his own guilt, wondering how I felt about him instead of more simply saying, "I wish I had known not to send you to him." I was, however, upset with this former therapist when he said, during my malpractice suit, that I had difficulty with my father, as if to imply that had something to do with my having been abused.
I remember when a prominent psychoanalytic colleague told me he was pleased to hear that I was not angry when I asked him for help in arranging a mediation between me and my first subsequent treating psychoanalyst who had not disclosed his serious conflict of interest when he took me on as a patient—as if I should not be angry at any of my colleagues, even at one who had hurt me a great deal, second only to my abuser. I was able to smile to myself by then because I knew, of course, that I was very angry, but I also knew that to achieve my goal, I must and could contain that anger when talking to this well-meaning person. If my bad subsequent analyst had not agreed to the mediation, I would have gone to the ethics committee: He would have been in danger of an adverse judgment and of being reported to the licensing board. I rose above my anger and thus was purposeful in dealing with my well-meaning colleague.
I could not have made this journey to regain my life and build a new one without the help of my loving family and friends, The Therapy Exploitation Link Line, those brave victims of my abuser who came forward, my excellent lawyers, some excellent investigators at the Massachusetts Board of Medicine, my excellent subsequent psychoanalytic supervisor, some of my good psychoanalytic colleagues, and last, but far from least, my excellent subsequent psychoanalyst, all of whom really did GET IT.
Courage to all of you victim/survivors in your long and arduous travel to take back your lives.
And to my therapist colleagues and to my psychoanalytic colleagues, I say:
Please be humble.
Please do not call this an affair or imply in any way that this abuse was about love.
Please do not in any way hold us responsible for our abuse.
Please do not tell us that our past histories have made us vulnerable to this abuse.
Please let us take the lead in exploring questions of vulnerability.
When we explore questions of vulnerability, please be certain that we absolutely understand that it was always solely the responsibility of the professional to set and to maintain safe and therapeutic boundaries.
Please put away all of your theories and books, and listen to us.
Please listen very carefully to those of us who come to tell you how we have been abused.
Please validate our experiences.
Please help us name our feelings and bring light to what has happened to us.
Please work hard to understand that each of us has been absolutely helpless to prevent this from occurring.
Please know that if you listen openly to us, you will also feel our agony.
Please do not attempt to foreclose our agony or forestall our halting words in any way.
Please be prepared to be available to us for emergency contact between appointments.
Please suppress your desire to take action, and let us take the lead in choosing what we want to do.
Please be prepared to support our actions when we choose to hold our abusers accountable, including, but not limited to, writing concise and clear letters about the harm perpetrated upon us by him or her and being deposed in the course of a malpractice suit we may choose to file.
Please do not assume that you know what has happened to us until you have really listened and really taken in the soul murder that results from this abuse.
You cannot help us until you truly and deeply understand.
Wanda S. Needleman, M.D.
For information on this author's perpetrator and an illustration of a case in which a licensing board took a case seriously and acted to protect the public, see: >www.certworthy.com/daniels.htm<
To return to the list of Essays, click here.