Finding the right therapist was a bit like Goldilocks and the three bears. I became very unwell about 15 years ago, when I was in my 40s. I’d struggled with episodic depression all my life, but it wasn’t until I was admitted to psychiatric hospital and the psychiatrist diagnosed severe recurrent depression, anxiety disorder and dissociative identity disorder (DID), that, with hindsight, it all made sense.
The psychiatrist suggested I might find long-term psychotherapy helpful. I felt that I couldn’t work with a female therapist, because of my history of relationships with women, but the psychiatrist said that was a very good reason to try it. The one I chose was very traditionally psychodynamic – a blank page, no emotional connection at all. We worked together for a couple of years, but, although I learned a lot of stuff, she didn’t seem interested in any expression of my inner world. I just got more and more emotionally isolated.
So, I decided to try another modality and again followed the advice to work with a woman. She was the total opposite – very person-centred, very integrative. She’d greet me with a hug; her room was full of toys and arts materials, which was great for the younger parts, but after a year or so I found it too suffocating.
By now I’d met a lot of people who were experienced in treating DID and I knew much more about it and that one of the key factors is the depth of connection with the therapist. I was recommended a male therapist with lots of experience in DID and I’ve been working with him ever since, for about 11 years.
He is attachment-based and psychoanalytic. It’s hard to pin down what has made the difference but it is, I think, connection, consistency and constancy. There was a connection between us from very early on. When I told him things from my past, it might rock my boat but never his. I use the phrase ‘stirred but not shaken’ to describe it. He’s accepting of whatever I throw at him, consistent and reliable; I feel totally confident that nothing I tell him can destabilise him. That is where the healing comes from.
When I think about our relationship, I see an image of a kite and he is holding the end of my string. I know, even if he goes away physically and we have to miss sessions, he won’t ever let go of it.
Knowing that, and being able to trust in it, has built something internally in me – a sense of solidity, of inner ballast, of me as a person, that I didn’t get from the people around me in my childhood. They say therapy is a journey, not a destination, and I can see that from this gradual consolidating process. Therapy has given me the skills and wherewithal to look after all the parts, to make sure everyone has a place, is taken care of and connected.
All my life I have been living as though I’m surrounded by horror movies, just at the periphery of my vision. I had to work so hard not to look. Through therapy, the horror movies have changed from 4D to 3D to 2D – from me living in constant terror that I would find myself in them, in the moment, reliving them, to them becoming part of my history, posters on the wall. They will never go away; I’ll never be as if these horrible things never happened to me, but they are part of my past, not my present. That for me is the most significant change. They will never be nothing, but I can look at them and not be emotionally engulfed any more. I feel sadness and grief for the store of goodness I was never able to create as a child, but I have learned to laugh and play and build my own store with my own children and grandchildren now.
The writer prefers to be anonymous.
The UK Network of the European Society for Trauma and Dissociation has launched a new programme of online training courses on complex trauma and dissociation, especially dissociative identity disorder.