THE WARNING SIGNS OF ABUSE AND MANIPULATION YOUR THERAPIST COULD BE EXERCISING ON YOU.
BY AUBREY LAWRENCE
He was a small man. Standing around 5'7 and slight of frame. He walked in long strides and pushed his shoulders back as if to compensate for his build. His jeans were belted too high and his red dress shirt tucked in too tight, yet he held himself with a confidence that shrilled, "I'm better than you." His dark hair was cut close to his head and his face was carved with lines that suggested a previous life of hard living. His voice was powerful, strong, masculine. His dark eyes pierced through me as he waited for an answer.
"Um," I looked down at my hands which I was nervously rubbing together. On noticing this, I dropped them into my lap and held them there tightly.
"I can see you have a lot of anxiety," he said, "I can help you with that."
"I think she would prefer to see a woman," my husband, who was sitting next to me on a stained beige couch, interjected. "We were hoping you could give us a referral."
"I am a man," he said, puffing out his chest, "but that doesn't mean that I can't help you. I have many female clients. I used to have anxiety myself, but I have learned how to handle it, I can teach you those skills."
I looked over at my husband, wishing that he could read my mind. No. Tell him no.
"Everything will stay strictly confidential," he said. "I will not discuss anything that we have talked about in here with your husband or vice versa."
That was my first meeting with Dr. X. Though I left his office feeling more nervous than I had when I walked into the room, I knew he was a good psychologist. My husband had been seeing him for the past year and the results emanated through our home. The thought of seeing a male therapist had never crossed my mind. I hadn't approached Dr. X to be treated for anxiety, but rather for postpartum depression. Could a man really help me with that?
"What do you want to feel?"
Our first session was scheduled for the following Monday. I sat nervously in his waiting room, doing that thing with my hands, forcing myself to stop when I noticed and then rubbing them together again subconsciously. He was 15 minutes late. I dug through my purse to find my phone and called my husband.
"Are you sure he knows I'm coming?" I asked.
"Let me call you right back." He hung up.
When my husband called me back, he explained to me that Dr. X had forgotten our appointment and would be there as soon as possible. I waited for another fifteen minutes and wondered if this was some kind of test for anxiety. How much build up could I handle? Would I wait, or give up and walk out the door? When he appeared, it was obvious that this was not so. He was genuinely apologetic as he held the door of his office open for me.
Upon telling me to sit, he did something that he hadn't done the first time we met. He looked me up and down in a lewd manner. I watched as a look of disgust crossed his face. I became very aware of my weight and my ill fitting clothes. I was at that place where my maternity clothes were too big and my pre-pregnancy clothes too small. He would come to look at me this way at each of our sessions until finally his disgust turned to raised eyebrows of approval.
"Do whatever it takes to lose the weight," he told me in our first session, "just don't do meth."
I had not wanted to discuss my weight with him, but he seemed eager to talk about it. I had gained 60lbs in my pregnancy and was indeed ashamed of my body, though I was not ready to discuss my physical appearance. Especially not with a male. When he kept pushing the issue of my weight I finally broke down in tears.
"I don't recognize the person I see in the mirror," I sobbed.
I told myself to get it together, my god, I didn't even know this man and here I was bawling on his couch. I had never had an issue with my body before my pregnancy. Scratch that. I had tons of issues with my body before my pregnancy, but those were issues that most women had. I could pick myself apart in the mirror with the best of them, but I had never had trouble attracting men. The look of disgust on Dr. X's face was a sharp, burning reality check. I resolved myself to follow his advice and do whatever it took. I began skipping meals and lost 70lbs in the span of 5 months. This is not a healthy form of weight loss, nor do I suggest it, but I do like the way it feels in bed at night when I run my fingers across my ribcage.
After talking about my weight for what seemed like an eternity, he then proceeded to hypnotize me, with my consent. The hypnosis was meant to help me relax and satiate my need to smoke. I should mention that was one of the main reasons my husband brought me to Dr. X. He was concerned that my postpartum depression had driven me to smoke again.
I left our first session feeling relaxed and comfortable. I walked into the parking lot and lit a cigarette.
"Look into my dreamy eyes and tell me you like being hypnotized by me."
"I like being hypnotized by you."
In our next session we opened with the subject of anxiety.
"Uncross your legs," he told me, trying to get me to relax, "and unfold your arms."
We talked on about anxiety. How I needed to relax. I shouldn't care about what others think of me. And then...
"Take for example, your sexual desires. Your deepest fetishes. Things that you keep only to yourself," he began.
"I don't like to talk about that stuff," I interjected, face flushing. I crossed my legs and folded my arms.
"Exactly," he said, "and you don't have to. I'm just trying to show you an example. I have as much business knowing your thoughts about sex as you have knowing what I or others think about you."
I relaxed. I realize now that I had made a mistake. By telling him that I didn't want to talk about sex, I became a challenge. He hypnotized me. I left his office and smoked a cigarette in the parking lot.
Our sessions went on like this in the following weeks. We would talk, he would hypnotize me and I would leave. Sometimes he wouldn't hypnotize me at all and we would just talk. It wasn't long until my alcoholism was revealed. I explained to him that I had seen a therapist in my early 20's for alcohol abuse. He encouraged me to attend AA meetings, but I wasn't willing to give in. I wasn't ready to stop drinking.
At one of our sessions, I arrived with tear stained eyes. My husband and I had gotten into a huge blowout the night before which carried on into the next morning. I had been drinking the previous day, which I denied at the time to my husband, and accused him of being gay through an essay which I had drunkenly written and handed him to read. The next morning, my husband found my stash of vodka and demanded that I stop drinking.
"Isn't it possible that he is bi?" Dr. X asked me. "People always seem to forget that possibility."
"I am aware of that possibility," I explained, "I am bi."
"Really?" he said, moving forward in his seat, eyebrows raised.
He got me. We discussed sex for the first time.
We ended that session with him suggesting that I go to an AA meeting every day. At the time, a meeting a day seemed absurd to me. Who has time for that? I went to one that week. I was terrified and anxious but the people were warm and welcoming.
"You're obedient, aren't you?"
At this point, I was beginning to feel attracted to Dr. X. His small stature grew taller in my mind. His tired eyes, which he'd often refer to as dreamy in hypnosis, were actually becoming dreamy. His smile was gorgeous, it pulled back to one side provocatively to reveal perfectly straight, white teeth. Moreover, he understood me. He was the first person I had been able to fully open up to. I could talk about my emotions and actually understand what I was feeling.
"So how are the meetings going?" Dr. X asked me in one of our sessions.
"Good, I found one that I really like," I explained. "I'm still a little nervous around the people but I'm starting to talk more."
Dr. X knew of the meeting I had been attending and suggested that I come to his meeting instead. Yes, he was also a recovering alcoholic. He told me that the people in his meeting had "first world" problems and were easier to relate to. I attended his meeting twice that week, only nodding at him slightly when I walked through the door.
Something felt off. I shouldn't be doing this. I shouldn't being seeing him outside of the office when I was developing feelings for him. I knew that it was normal. Transference is common when seeing a therapist of the opposite sex, still, I felt I needed to share my feelings with him before we continued to attend the same AA meeting.
"So what did you think of the morning group?" he asked me in our next session.
"It's great, but," I trailed off and looked down to my lap.
"What?" he asked, dipping his head to refocus contact with my eyes.
"I think I may be experiencing transference," I said.
"I don't know what that is," he said.
Oh my god! He was going to make me say it. Of course he knew what transference was. He was a PsyD after all. He just wanted to hear it from my mouth. Looking back, it may have been possible that he didn't know what transference was. I now realize that over half of his methods were made up in his own sociopathic mind.
I shielded my eyes from his with my shaky hand as if from a blazing sun.
"I'm starting to feel attracted to you," I blurted out.
"Look at me."
I looked up to see that perfect side smile.
"It's ok. I'm attracted to many of my clients, especially when they respond so well to my treatment," he said, gesturing his hand toward me. "We can't have sex with each other."
No shit! I was humiliated. I wasn't asking to have sex with him. I was a married woman whose husband happened to be one of his other clients. I listened to him prattle on about why so many women were attracted to him and why it was only natural. I left his office feeling confused. I smoked a cigarette.
"Tell me you like being trained by me."
"I like being trained by you."
Our sessions became more sexualized after that conversation. He would suggest things to try at home with my husband in such a way that led me to believe that my husband had discussed these desires with him. He would tell me things that turned him on and what turned his girlfriend on. He asked me if I used toys. He suggest that I masturbate daily and explained that three times a day wasn't too much, that’s what he did after all. He suggested not to hide these activities from my husband, but to encourage him to join me. I followed his suggestions.
"How would you feel if I told you that I was going to go into the other room, close the door and have some fun with myself?" he asked me in one of our sessions. "What if I told you to join me."
"I know how I would react if my husband said that to me," I responded feeling a bit abashed. We had just been talking about my husband's reaction to one of Dr. X's sexual suggestions.
"I only use myself as an example," he said, "because it might seem a little scary and a little fun. That may have been what your husband was feeling."
I never gave him an answer but rather changed the subject.
He stopped telling me when he was going to use hypnosis. We would be speaking and the next thing I knew, my eyes were closed and I was telling him I liked being hypnotized by him. I began to recognize when this was going to happen. His sentences became jumbled and he would repeat phrases in altered ways. There were some sessions where I left uncertain as to whether I had been hypnotized or not. I felt relaxed and weightless as if hypnosis had occurred, though we had just been talking.
In another session, I explained to him that something strange was happening. My sex life was improving, yet no matter how much sex my husband and I were having, I always wanted more. I told him that in my early 20's, before I met with my previous therapist, I hadn't known whether I was a an alcoholic or a sex addict. In my past, alcohol and sex always seemed to go hand in hand. He told me that sex addiction wasn't real. That sex was healthy and natural, a basic need. I agreed with him.
"You're…What's the word I'm looking for," he began, "every man's fantasy, except for your husband's. A nymphomaniac." He broke into that side smile and laughed. Some joke.
That was not the first time he said something unsettling about my husband. He told me once that if my husband were to leave me, I could do much better than that "ball of anger." This bothered me. My Husband had come to Dr. X for help with his anger, and as far as I could see it was improving. Dr. X seemed to be judging my husband for the very thing he was supposed to be helping him with.
I began to frequent the same AA meeting as Dr. X. I liked that meeting. I met my sponsor there. I should have told my sponsor that I was a client of Dr. X. I should have told her how strange our sessions had been, but I didn't. I kept it a secret. It became harder to ignore Dr. X at the meetings. He would peacock himself in such a way, that no matter where I sat, I would have a good view of him. He would tilt his chair back and look at me out of the corner of his eye, or gesture to the person sitting next to me in an exaggerated way as to catch my attention. Surely this wasn't the same tall, handsome man who I held with such high regard. No, this man was small and irritable. If his views were questioned, he was snappy. If he didn't like the person speaking, he made it very apparent by rolling his eyes and whispering to the person next to him. This was not the same understanding, open man that I had come to know as my guru. Nevertheless, when the door to his office closed, his demeanor in the AA meetings was forgotten.
"I want you to close your eyes," Dr. X told me in one of our sessions, "tell me you like being hypnotized by me."
"I like being hypnotized by you," I repeated.
"Feel my voice penetrating your mind. Feel me penetrating you."
Had I heard that correctly? No, or at least, he didn't mean it like that. My breathing hastened.
"Feel how wonderful it feels in that warm place. That warm, wet place. Wetter and wetter."
Wait what? I definitely wasn't hearing him correctly. Or what he was trying to convey wasn't coming across right. We had talked about sex plenty of times in his office. Probably a bit more than we should have. Ok, a lot more than we should have, but he had never done something like this. My breathing became even faster, heavier.
"Stop cumming and relax."
Ok there is NO WAY he said that. Whatever he said was so quick and muffled that I couldn't be certain.
"As I count back from three, open your eyes. Three, two, becoming more aware. One."
I opened my eyes and cleared my throat. I left feeling, yet again, confused. No way that actually happened. I clearly interpreted that wrong. I smoked a cigarette. What was going on here? Was he actually helping me? I knew that AA was helping me, but that wasn't him, that was the group. He wasn't even the one that discovered my alcoholism. I had given him so much credit for that, but I was the one that told him I had a drinking problem. I decided to let it go. I probably had heard him wrong, and if that was the case, it would be far too embarrassing to ask him about it.
He visited my dreams that night. And the following night. And the following.
He did not hypnotize me in our next session. I told himthat I was beginning to think about him at home. I felt that all of our talk about sex led me to associate sex with him. I told him that this made me feel guilty. I loved my husband and did not want to be thinking about another man. He told me that it was ok to fantasize about him and that sometimes he fantasized about me. Fantasies couldn't harm anyone.
He hypnotized me in our following session.
"Feel me fucking you," he said.
Yes, he did say it. I hadn't heard him wrong, he actually said it. He said it over and over again, and he said other things. Explicit things. Things that I will not write for fear of this coming across as erotica. Things that made my body writhe and make noises I never intended this man to hear. He told me to feel tingling in different parts of my body which he described in vulgar ways. He took dirty talk to a completely different level.
"Show me," he said.
I felt my hand sliding up my leg.
I stopped myself and held my hand firmly against my thigh. At least I think I stopped myself. I hope I did.
"When I tap you on your knee, you will have the strongest orgasm you have ever felt in your life," he said. "Do you want me to tap your knee?"
"Yes," I whispered.
He twirled his finger in the air and moved from his leather chair to the ottoman directly in front of me, that side smile splitting his face. He tapped my knee.
"Cum for me," he said.
I didn't stop myself. I had multiple orgasms. Right there, in Dr. X's office, on his stained beige couch with him sitting directly across from me. When the hypnosis was finished he told me how special I was to him. He told me that I could do amazing things with my mind. As I left, he put my coat on me, something he had never done before. I left feeling ecstatic. I had never felt that way in my life, it was incredible. I smoked a cigarette.
Later that day, still in a haze, I met with my sister to do some last minute Christmas shopping. I told her everything.
She was horrified.
"No, no, no, you don't understand," I explained. "He's helping me."
As the day progressed, my feelings started to change. I looked at the contents of my shopping cart. Christmas ornaments that I intended to hang on the tree that evening with my husband. My husband who tried so hard to make me happy. My husband who had no clue of my feelings for Dr. X. My husband who brought me to Dr. X because he was concerned for me, because he loved me.
"It's hitting you now, isn't it?" my sister asked as I stared blankly into nothing.
"Yes," I whispered.
I saw Dr. X later that week at an AA meeting. He looked at me in a way that would make even the most seasoned prostitute blush. He leered at me as I watched the clock. He looked at me that way for the entire hour. I left that meeting in a hurry.
I intended to confront him about my feelings in our next session, but hypnosis started almost immediately. More or less the same thing. Multiple orgasms. Only this time, when the hypnosis was over, I felt ashamed and exposed.
"Wait, I wanted to talk with you about something," I said, head still foggy. "I wasn't trying to offer you anything. I don't want to offer you anything." I wasn't making any sense, but he seemed to catch my drift.
"We can experience each other this way," he explained, "and you can take these feelings home to your husband."
He did not put my coat on me this time. I left feeling violated. I smoked a cigarette.
That day I called my sponsor and told her everything. She was horrified.
"That's not therapy, that's abuse," she said. "He's molesting you."
She told me that he had approached other women in the meeting and offered them free counseling. I thought of his teenage clients. I was sick. She told me I needed to go home immediately and tell my husband. I did. He was horrified. He explained to me that he had never talked with Dr. X about our sex life. The subject never came up. I thought of all of the things I had done with my husband in bed, certain that these were the things he wanted because Dr. X led me to believe so. I had become a puppet.
Still, I was experiencing cognitive dissonance. I knew what was happening in our sessions was wrong, I had known that for a long time, but he was helping me, right? The more I thought about this, the less I was able to come up with anything he had actually helped me with. We had never discussed my postpartum depression. He had helped introduced me to alcoholics anonymous, but the program was responsible for my recovery. He would read AA literature from time to time but spin it in such a way that a cult leader spins the bible. Nothing he said actually made any sense. Had I been brainwashed? I felt completely lost.
That night, I contemplated suicide.
Had I been a weaker person, or perhaps stronger, I may have done it. Had I been mentally unstable (the type of person that seeks help from a psychologist), I may have done it. I did not try to commit suicide, but it did make me realize how completely dangerous this type of "therapy" had been.
My husband and I went to our separately scheduled sessions the following week and confronted him about the hypnosis. My husband spoke less timidly than I did. I know this because we recorded our sessions. Dr. X told my husband that he didn't expect me to have the response that I did and that it was strange for him to witness. Dr. X told me that he wanted me to be connected to my inner self. He wanted me to feel wonderful and couldn't think of anything that felt better than an orgasm.
Everything he said was a lie. This was about power for him. He had played the puppet master of my life for the seven months that built up to those last hypnosis sessions. He was addicted. I was addicted. He wanted to see how far he could go and so did I. This was a game he had probably played with countless other women. It needed to stop.
My husband, sponsor and I reported him to the licensing board. Weeks went by and I heard nothing. I began to think that I had made a mistake. Clearly the licensing board didn't find this to be an issue. Should I have kept seeing him? Was I being dramatic by no longer attending his AA meeting? Was Ieven actually an alcoholic. What was real?
I relapsed and proved to myself, yet again, that I am indeed an alcoholic. Days after my relapse, I was contacted by the licensing board. When I told the investigator my story, she was horrified. Ok, I had done the right thing.
The investigation is still going on. Apparently these things take time. For now, however, Dr. X is no longer allowed to see any female clients. He is no longer allowed to use hypnosis in any form.
I'd like to say this is a victory, but it's doubtful. He will surely lose his license, but only in this state. I believe that he will continue to maltreat and objectify women in one form or another until the day he dies. That is his burden, his sickness. Unfortunately, his disease is contagious and I can only hope that if another woman catches it, she is brave enough to speak out.
Unfortunately he has smudged my life in a way that is difficult to clean. I opened myself up entirely to him. I trusted him completely. I told him things that I have never shared with anyone. He may have taught me to open up for a short time, but now I am more guarded than ever. I have hope that one day I will learn to trust again but for now I have repossessed my armor and am fortifying it. My armor is strong and my garrison is tall, but he still sneaks into my dreams at night, no matter how often I beg him to go away.
Born in 1985, Aubrey Lawrence is a native to Portland, Oregon. When she isn't writing, she is reading. When she isn't reading, she is listening to music. When she isn't listening to music, she is playing it. When she isn't doing any of these things, she is probably up to no good.