People are always looking for the single magic bullet that will totally change everything. There is no single magic bullet. – Temple Grandin
Last Wednesday, my son’s former therapist was sentenced to prison for 3 years for dealing marijuana to his clients. I have always known that I would probably write about this, but I don’t think I was ready until now. It’s a story that I want you to hear, and it’s a story that I sincerely hope you will never relate to.
When my son was first diagnosed with ADHD, we were adamant about finding the right doctor, the right therapist, the right teacher, the right medication combination. We limped along for years, just trying to help our son figure out how to manage every day while living with ADHD. We had some good successes, but toward the end of his fifth grade year, we just weren’t seeing the overall improvement in our son that we had hoped. We wanted to make changes on a bigger level that would hopefully redirect the course of our son’s life as he entered his teenage years. We were searching for the magic bullet that would make it all okay. As Temple Grandin’s quote says, there is no magic bullet. But that doesn’t stop you from wanting it.
In March of last year, we thought we finally found THE magic bullet we had been waiting for. We heard about a social skills group for kids with ADHD, run by a great therapist (we’ll call him Fred). We did our research, and found that the group had a solid 13-year track record. We met with Fred, and felt an instant connection to him. Our son also felt an instant connection to him. Fred had a gift for relating to kids and speaking to them in a way that helped them feel respected and understood. The plan was for my son to attend the group twice a week and see Fred in individual sessions as well. Fred was very invested in having our family participate in the sessions too, which was encouraging to me, because I’m a family therapist. I strongly believe that working with the family is an essential component in the treatment of ADHD.
The group was a huge home run for my son. For the first time in years, he had a place where he really fit in. A place where no one judged him for his behavior. A place where he was encouraged to learn from his mistakes and be accountable to himself and to others. A place where he felt safe. A place where other parents understood what we were going through. Most importantly, it was a place where we finally learned to have HOPE that he really was going to grow up and be okay. There were kids ranging from age 9 to 17 in the group, so it was a wonderful mix of people he could learn from. During the ten months my son was working with Fred and participating in this group, we saw more growth and improvement in him than we had seen in six years. I grew to respect this therapist as a blessing in my family’s life, but also as a colleague who worked so well with a population that desperately needed someone like him. Magic Bullet City, Sweetheart.
On December 17, we were scheduled to go to the last running group before Christmas break. I decided to catch up with a few things on the computer before we got in the car. While perusing the current news headlines, this caught my eye: “Area Psychotherapist Charged With Distributing Pot.” I clicked on it, wondering if I knew who it was. When I saw that it was Fred, the feelings of shock, betrayal and violation just overwhelmed me. I have felt shock before. I have felt betrayal before. I have felt violated before. This was right up there with the worst of those experiences, except this time my son was going to be hurt too.
My husband and I took two days to process this together. We talked about how confused, angry and hurt we were feeling. We carefully planned out how (and what) we were going to tell our son. We spent time figuring out how we were going to support him through the tough days to come. That Sunday, we sat him down and told him the truth, with all of us ending up in tears. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, because I wanted to lie to him. I didn’t want him to know that the person he looked up to and trusted so much had made choices that put him in jail. I didn’t want him to know that Fred sold marijuana to clients. Heck, I didn’t even want him to know what marijuana was yet! However, I knew that if he found out the truth from someone other than me, that would be yet another huge breach of trust.
My son was devastated. At first, he was angry with us because he thought we were making it up, and he defended Fred. As it sank in, he began to feel the loss of not just his therapist, but of his friends in the social group. It was hard to watch, and it was hard to go through. We did our best to let him know that we were here for him, that we wanted him to talk about his feelings, and that his feelings were valid and real.
I struggle on many levels with what happened. As a parent, I am angry that Fred took advantage of the children and parents who put their trust in him. I am hurt that Fred’s poor judgment has left so many kids without a resource that could have changed their lives for the better. I’m FURIOUS that my son was hurt. As a therapist, I am embarrassed that another therapist would abuse their power and behave so unethically. I’m also angry that his actions could make it harder for people to trust therapists in general. And, I’m mad at myself that I didn’t pick up on the fact that something wasn’t right.
I’m not writing this so you’ll say “I’m sorry this happened to you.” I’m writing it because I want you to be aware of the tremendous power and influence therapists can have over their clients. I want you to know that we are bound by a code of ethics that requires us to behave in a way that treats that power and influence with the utmost respect. When a therapist behaves unethically, it hurts innocent people and it hurts my profession.
I certainly don’t want you worrying that you can’t trust therapists. 99.9999999% of us take our role and our codes of ethics very, very seriously. However, here is a link to a great article that can help you ask questions about your therapist’s behavior: http://www.survivingtherapistabuse.com/treatment-abuse-checklist/
. If your child is seeing a therapist (or if you are), refer to this article to make sure that boundaries are appropriate.
What do you do if you believe your therapist is behaving unethically toward you or your child? First, report the therapist to their respective regulatory board. Every mental health profession has a state regulatory board to make sure that members are licensed and behaving in an ethical manner. Reporting unethical behavior from a professional you trust can be one of the most difficult things to do, partly because it can be very subtle and you may not recognize it (or want to believe it). The big things are easier to report, but it’s the small stuff that can be slippery. Reporting also means you are losing the beloved magic bullet you searched so hard for. Second, make sure you talk to someone about it. Keeping it inside will only delay your healing process. Find a trusted friend or family member who is going to really listen and attempt to understand what you are feeling. I had someone say to me, “Well, at least he didn’t sexually abuse the kids.” While this may be true, emotional violation is painful too. There may be people who don’t fully understand the magnitude of what has happened, and that’s understandable. Unless it’s happened to you, it really is difficult to comprehend what it feels like.
If your child is involved, make sure they are able to come to you and talk about how they are feeling. Don’t trivialize what has happened or sweep it under the rug – even if it is uncomfortable for you. Validate and empathize with what they are going through, and make sure you are a soft place for them to land when they are feeling hurt. Check back in with them every now and then to let them know that you are still here to talk if they feel like it. Just because they’re not talking about it anymore doesn’t mean they’re not hurting.
Therapists who violate trust and betray their clients really are in the super-small minority. If it happens to you, you’ll probably feel strange about seeing another therapist for awhile. When and if you’re ready to try again, you deserve to ask hard questions of your new therapist, and make sure that they are a good fit for you. Give yourself (and your child) time to heal and build trust again slowly.
The good things Fred brought to our lives are not erased by his mistakes, because we live the good things every day. Losing the magic bullet was painful, but ultimately the healing that followed helped us to finally let ADHD settle into the fabric of our lives, instead of treating it like it was a stain that needed washing out. And that is a huge blessing.
Related posts: counseling, Kara Thompson, treatment