(c) Jaye D. Bartha
author, Orphan of the Memory Debate
Prolonged and emotionally charged psychotherapy with a psychiatrist considered a repressed memory expert blurred, and then redefined, our roles as doctor/patient. He lost professional decorum; I lost myself.
It is common to desire perfect parents. Like most, I yearned for all knowing, protective, caring, nurturing Mommy and Daddy to shower me with unconditional love. This unrealistic desire was much like feeling warm fuzzies at the mere thought of Santa Claus as a child. Santa's round belly, puffy pink cheeks, soft white beard, and contagious chuckle came close to the ideal father. Dr. Stratford, my new psychiatrist, resembled Santa Claus and had the same charming disposition.
My role as a psychiatric patient began with the naïve idea that unyielding depression would be alleviated if I followed Dr. Stratford's treatment regime. Desperate for relief, I failed to ask questions regarding his specialty, professional credentials, clinical experience, success rate, and treatment plan.
Unbeknownst to me, Dr. Stratford was considered an expert in repressed memory therapy and in the diagnosis of multiple personality disorder, which has since been redefined and renamed dissociative identity disorder. Dr. Stratford's area of expertise led him to believe my depression was caused by buried memories of child sexual abuse. I, therefore, had unwittingly become a patient of repressed memory therapy after agreeing to a short hospital stay under his care.
Treatment plucked me from home and sequestered me in a psychiatric hospital in a large city an hour away. My lucrative job as an administrator was placed on hold; my social life and friends in community theater were avoided, and graduate school ended. My relationship to family methodically began to fold after Dr. Stratford explained that buried memories could not surface unless I was free of family influence. When he claimed depression was caused by events I could not remember his theory made sense because medication and talk therapy had been unsuccessful. Dr. Stratford's novel approach to a very old problem seemed logical.
Disconnected from everything I loved and held dear, I was seduced by lavish attention from my charming doctor who was accessible twenty-four hours a day. Nurses and attendants became mommies and siblings of sorts. The hospital was home and a skewed sense of family was created after I assumed the role of dependent, little-girl patient.
It was 1986, and it was fashionable to seek psychotherapy. The counseling environment offered an opportunity to find an external source to blame for personal difficulties, incompetency, failure and fear while basking in the warmth of a loving psychotherapist. Dr. Stratford and I embarked on a course of treatment that focused on this blame game which I practiced with abandon. I based the cause of depression on sexual torture rather than faulty biochemistry. By this time, I had been sequestered for months, separated from family and friends, was high on narcotics, lacked sleep, ate poorly, was isolated on a locked unit from the general patient population, and often tied to a bed by leather restraints as a means to deal with horrific memories.
Dr. Stratford oversaw treatment in a gentle, kind, loving, and devoted manner. When restraints and narcotics were ordered to help me cope with the bizarre content of new memories, I viewed the act as a display of concern and affection. I trusted Dr. Stratford with my life and the goal was to have faith in the process of therapy so I could triumph over depression.
Old memories of the father, who raised me by working hard five days a week to provide for our family, quickly receded. My Father, who had sent me to church camp, who had provided piano and dance lessons, who mowed the lawn and cleaned the swimming pool in the heat of summer, who taught me to drive and paid for my college education, was accused of nefarious acts. The content of newly recovered memories became paramount while facts that countered them were disregarded. Dr. Stratford eagerly stepped in as the emotional Daddy he believed I needed.
As years passed I became totally dependent upon Daddy Stratford and my hospital family. It was not until insurance monies ran out, and I was discharged immediately, that I understood the truth of my role as psychiatric patient. I had been the source of income for many mental health professionals - nothing more. When I was destitute and in poor health due to the severity of treatment, no one from the hospital came to rescue me, no one helped me find a new apartment, no one called by telephone to ask how I was, and no one came to visit. With a mind clear of narcotics, I was alone with the realization that my true family had not abused me and my hospital family, on the other hand, had used, and then discarded me.
Daddy Stratford returned to Dr. Stratford. My Father carried on as my Father - which is the way it should have been all along.
* Dr. Stratford is a pseudonym.