Inside/Outside

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Shame

“I love you,” Melanie says, looking downward.
Twenty-five year old Melanie has been my patient for two years, a lovely young woman struggling with anxiety and depression.  One of six children raised on a farm by parents who saw their offspring as laborers, rather than cherished beings, Melanie has come to rely on me as one of the few people who is consistently in her corner. Professing her love for me doesn’t take me by surprise.
“Thank you, Melanie,” I say, “that’s a lovely gift.”
“No,” she replies. “It’s much more complicated.”
I wait, unsure what she means.
“I said that to my last therapist,” she says hesitantly. “You know, I’ve talked to you about Dr. Hopkins. I saw him for a couple of years before you.”
I nod.
“But I never told you what happened, why I left.” She pauses. “We had an affair.”
I’m shocked. Not that I’ve never heard of therapists inappropriately crossing sexual boundaries, but I’m surprised Melanie never told me something of such significance.
“I’m so sorry, Melanie. How come you never told me before?”
“I was too ashamed.”
The victim blaming herself. Not unusual I think to myself. “Do you realize that Dr. Hopkins abused you?”
“No. It wasn’t like that,” she protests. “I told you, I loved him. And he loved me back. That was the most wonderful surprise of my life. Someone I so looked up to and admired actually loved me!”
“Melanie, how did your therapy with Dr. Hopkins end?”
“Well, for a while we saw each on the outside and I continued to have my regular therapy sessions. Dr. Hopkins was very clear that we couldn’t do anything sexual in the office, that we had to remain professional during our sessions.”
I am beyond furious at this so-called therapist, but hope that I am successful at concealing my feelings.
“But then Dr. Hopkins told me he didn’t think I needed therapy anymore. So I quit and just saw him on the outside.”
Still seething, I wonder if Dr. Hopkins thought his prowess as a lover had “cured” Melanie or whether he just found it too difficult to keeps his hands off her during their sessions.
“But then one day,” she continues, “he said that we couldn’t see each other anymore. He told me his wife was sick and that he felt too guilty being with me. I was devastated. I mean, I knew he was married. I knew it wasn’t like we’d be together forever and ever. But I loved him so much. And I thought he loved me. So how could he just walk away?”
“When you say you thought he loved you, are you now questioning that?”
Melanie starts to cry. “I was a fool. I know I was a fool. Did I really think a smart, educated man more than twice my age would be in love with me? He wanted my body. But I just wanted so much for him to love me, that I deluded myself into thinking he did. That’s what I’m ashamed of, being such a fool.”
“There’s an awful lot to deal with here, Melanie, and I’m sure we’ll return to this many times, but I want to come back to us before the session ends. So what did it mean to you to tell me you loved me? And what response did you hope for – or fear?”
“I’m not sure. I know I don’t want to sleep with you, but I do want you to love me. I guess I want to crawl into your lap and have you stroke my hair and tell me you love me, just as you’d tell your own daughter. Is that wrong?”
“No, Melanie, what you wish for can never be wrong. But acting on that wish is different. You wanted Dr. Hopkins to love you, which really meant you wanted him to care about you, to cherish you and to act in your best interest, not his. He did abuse you, Melanie. He took advantage of your need, of your vulnerability and crossed what should have been an unbreakable boundary. As for us, the wish to crawl into my lap and be my daughter is a more than understandable wish for someone who was so neglected as a child. But if I were to act on that wish I would not be acting in your best interest, because I would be giving you the false hope that you can go back to being a child and get from me what you couldn’t get from either of your parents.”
“That makes me sad.”

“I’m sure it does. Mourning what you never got and never can get, is always sad.”

7 comments:

Rosemary Bergin said...

I wish more would be done to stop the Abuse by therapist...it happens more often then we think... and it can be devesating! How come no one ever wants to discuss this... how come ?

Linda Sherby said...


Hi Rosemary,

Sexual abuse by therapists is indeed devastating and unfortunately too common.
It is not my experience, however, that people - especially therapists - are unwilling to talk about it. And quite a lot has been written about sexual boundary abuse. Although it's not new Kenneth Pope did a very comprehensive study on the frequency of sexual abuse.
But if patients are unwilling to talk about it, that may be for exactly the reason in my blog, shame. Not unusual for any type of sexual abuse victim to blame themselves.
Thanks for your interest,
Linda

Rosemary Bergin said...

Hi, I am more then willing to talk about it...my experience almost took me out of this world... literally! I guess what I'm trying to say is you don't see or hear about as we should any other abuse by professionals or clergy...I have yet to find an interested party to sit and discuss the devasating affect this has on patients...we put our trust in this person... we share our deepest darkest secrets... previous abuse...and then they in turn do the unthinkable! Thank you for responding to my comment !

Linda Sherby said...


I am so sorry Rosemary that you were subjected to this horrible abuse.

I also applaud you for your bravery in speaking out. I certainly have had patients who wee abused by their therapist and I have been more than willing to talk with them about it. I have also spoken to colleagues who have worked with women who have been sexual abuse victims.

I'm glad that you did indeed survive and hope that you're able to find some peace.

Best,
Linda

Rosemary Bergin said...

Hi, Would you be willing to pass on some names of therapist who aren't afraid to talk about it? I can e-mail my e-mail if that's acceptable.... if not I understand !
Rosemary

Linda Sherby said...


Hi Rosemary,
I'm sorry that it's taken me so long to get back to you.
Would you be comfortable telling me why you would like the names of these therapists. Are you looking for colleagues to converse with or for a therapist?
Perhaps you could send me your email and I could pass your name and email onto these therapists once I know what you're looking for. It also might be helpful if you let me know what city you live in.
Thanks.
Linda

Linda Sherby said...


Rosemary,

You can send it to me at linda@lindasherbyphd.com.

And, again, please let me know for what purpose you'd like the therapists' names.

Take care.

Linda