People talk about their experiences with Christian counselors, while I try to block out, refusing to discuss, my own experience with an Episcopalian psychologist, recommended by the church. Rose was not technically a Christian counselor, but a psychologist who was also an Episcopalian and the last therapist I spoke to until recently. I saw her briefly, about eleven years ago, when I was between marriages and a few years after I saw a prior counselor. The prior one only worked with me concerning my relationship with my bio-father, but very little with my other issues, yet admitted that my relatives religious beliefs had a lot to do with my issues and what happened to me.
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I would not call seeing the Episcopalian psychologist a bad experience and I certainly do not hate her, but it was not exactly a beneficial experience. It was definitely a learning experience though, as well as a Rose, not just in my description of her, but her name too, and while she seemed to know her stuff, for some reason she just would not address the issues with me, especially the HUGE elephant in the room with us, which I think eventually nearly smothered us both. It was about a year of some good, mixed with hell, but I point out the problems with my case and her personal issues/struggles/conflicts, with compassion and empathy for The Rose. The truth is, it was not all her fault, if any of it was. In this case, I think we both had one foot in hell (Church/religion) and the other on the banana peel (parishioners/friends/lay ministers/personal issues and conflicts).
Rose prescribed Zoloft for me, through my doctor, also an Episcopalian, because psychologists cannot prescribe medication in Missouri. Only doctors and psychiatrists can do that. She was originally from Texas and seemed to take issue that in Texas, according to her, a psychologist could prescribe medication, but she could not here. She apparently found it to be “a pain in the ass”, a well used saying by her, to go through yet another type doctor. Regardless of this complaint concerning Missouri and aside from finding a medication that helped somewhat, with no side effects for me, the experience was not helpful and before it was over, I was up to 200 mg of Zoloft, the highest dose for an adult, which she felt was “a good maintenance dose” for me.
Now that I look back on it all, I realize I was stuck in a 'clique' filled with priests, lay ministers, and professionals at this historical Episcopal Church. All of us knew each other and worked together, in some fashion, in and out of church. The mutual priest friend, that I recently had a falling out with because I became a Humanist, referred me to Rose, a self-employed psychologist. My doctor attended the same church and was glad I was seeing Rose and even the pharmacist, also glad, went to the same church... and we all served together in the Church too. So, it was no secret as to who I was seeing as my doctor, therapist, or even pharmacist for that matter. Not even what I was taking for what ailed me, much less the priest who was involved, was “confidential”. Basically, everyone in my particular 'clique' was involved, right down to the priest. There was absolutely no privacy in my particular case, at least not in the Church. Everyone I associated with seemed to know and it became a nightmare.
This counselor admitted to me she was also doing 150 mg Zoloft as her 'maintenance dose' and had been taking it for as long as it had been out on the market and expected to take it for the rest of her life. I did not find it strange that a psychologist suffered from depression. Getting an education in psychology and working in the field even as a psych tech and support worker, I have met a few mental health workers with depression and bipolar disorder, even anorexia. So that was nothing new to me, even then when I had just graduated with a Bachelor in Psychology and was just starting. They are human and as humans they suffer from some of the same things many other people do, but what I did find strange, given the “drug interactions”, was that she also drank occasionally and even helped the priest finish off the Communion wine after serving the Eucharist, while taking the medication. The exact statement in “The Pill Book” is “alcohol may increase tiredness and other depressant effects of SSRIs”. When I asked her with concern about that, she said, “It's OK. It's not like I do it all the time. Once in a while is OK.” It was a “WTF?” moment, for me, but I said nothing more. At the time and still to this day, I could and can overlook a psychologist having her own struggles with depression, but I cannot for the life of me, figure out why I did not see other potential problems sooner than what I did. Maybe I was that deluded and controlled by the Episcopal Church. I don't know.
A woman in her fifties at the time, Rose had quite a few divorces herself. More than I have had, but exactly how many divorces she had I cannot recall, just that they were amazingly more than I ever dreamed one should have before they say, “there's a problem here”. However, the man Rose was married to when I was seeing her as a client, she married within two weeks and the last I knew, it was her longest marriage thus far. Believe it or not, she told me that she divorced a man for killing an elephant for ivory, adding, “That is illegal and if he could do that, what else could he do?” My chin dropped when she said that and in the end, she could not kill the one elephant that should have been killed.
She was also a lay minister, but mostly did that on Thursday nights, because she did not like attending other times, especially on Sundays. The reason had something to do with the people. Regardless, we served together occasionally because we were both lay ministers, who assisted the priest during various services and other occasions. Besides possibly a control freak, Rose was also a perfectionist, far worse than I think I ever was, a workaholic to the extreme, and even said she was going to have an early death. Talk of my relatives was basically forbidden, except for her to say, "Yeah, I know. My Fundamentalist relatives believe I have one foot in hell and the other on a banana peel" because she was Episcopalian. Other than her sharing that commonality about her relatives with me, that was basically it concerning anything else in that area. Not only that, she believed work, as in the Christian work ethic, cured depression, saying that "people were put on this earth to work", with an unspoken "and to serve God". Given that she was a perfectionist and a workaholic, among other things, you would have thought I would have had more “WTF?” moments, but I did not.
Her religious devotion was extremely strong in church and you should have seen her as a lay minister during Holy Eucharist. It was almost like two different people, because she was all pious and alike during those times, almost angelic, and in her office, she would often say a few choice words, especially in anger or frustration. It was really crazy how she could be that different outside of and within church. Not only that, she ate the same thing every day for breakfast and lunch (cottage cheese and fruit, if I remember right) for years, as well as worked out several times a week, and was “still the same weight I was in high school”. She was admirably thin, especially for a woman in her fifties. There might have been some sort of eating disorder on top her depression and other attributes. Who knows, but she was obsessive about many things. Needless to say, our relationship as psychologist and patient was short lived. I lost more weight during that time and it was not just during the first few weeks on Zoloft either, because there was a short time that my emotional state improved and I gained some weight. Rose even said I was looking physically healthier.
However, the priest was none too happy with me, because I was not “working hard enough” to recover and I started to lose weight again. Eventually, the misery I felt in the church started to become worse and was even stronger, as I worked harder to be a good lay minister, even if it was just going through motions and rituals alone. When Lent hit, I was back to fasting 24/7 again, only imbibing cappuccinos, lattes, diet coke, tea with artificial sweetener, water, and Holy Eucharist, as my rants about religion in the priest's office intensified. One of the worst rants may have been after The Stations of the Cross, which I had assisted her with. Her response to my diatribe was, as if she did not know the answer already, “Are you still seeing Dr. Rose?”
The thing is, what was The Rose treating? That is, she worked out a treatment plan, but what were the issues she was working on with me, besides self-esteem, a chronic eating disorder, and crap like that? She dismissed virtually everything I thought I needed to work on in favour of an agenda she thought was better, which was treating the symptoms and not the issues. I am not saying she was a bad counselor, she just was not addressing the issues that brought me there, at the recommendation of our mutual priest friend. Rather the issues were intensified because they were avoided in favour of the symptoms. For example, I asked Rose once, “My eating disorder is not the issue, why have it down?” Her response was basically, “You already know that food is not the issue, but we still have to address it.” It was a seemingly total contradiction and I did not get a real answer as to why. We avoided any discussion of my relatives, barely touched on my relationships with men, and religion... Well, what can I say? It eventually was so bad, I attempted to harm myself, without saying a word to anyone, not even her or the priest, but obviously it was a failed attempt, because I am still here. To this day, no one, not even Rose or the priest, knows what I had done. I never confessed it, until now.
Not only that, Rose and the priest, as noted above, obviously had two different agendas as to what should be addressed. The priest's agenda was obviously Religious/Spiritual problems, in favour of the Church, of course. Rose's agenda- depression and eating disorder? Both of which were ongoing and at this point, chronic, because I had both since I was at least eleven years old and I was 33 by this time. I actually think she might have been unable or afraid to address the issues, or both. Maybe, with the Church involved, it was such a mess that her hands were not only tied, but she was having her own issues with the case. I don't know. My agenda? I did not know anymore.
Religion was not the direct focus all the time, but it was there like an elephant, underlying everything as we danced around it. Not only that, just like the Church, she was also encouraging me to give up my younger son, who was eight then. She wanted me to send this son to The Boys' Ranch, slightly different than some St. Francis Episcopal children's home in Kansas, but not by much. I refused to do that, even though she insisted he was part of my problem with recovery. From what? Why was I there if we weren't addressing the REAL issues?
The second to last session, she was extremely upset because I was not "getting with the program", treatment plan wise. I wonder why? Gee... Could it be that religion WAS part of the problem and it was being ignored? I listened to her lecture me for the whole thirty minutes that day. When she was finished and sent me home, with a friendly, “Will I see you at church Thursday?”, until the following week. I wanted to cry and die, as well as say, “no”, but I could not. The elephant was still alive and well, but I did not feel like I was.
It occurred to me in the short time afterwards, that she had her own "demons" she had not dealt with. The counseling was so worthless to me, that I do not even count it as therapy, but rather a learning experience. Her saying about “one foot in hell and the other on the banana peel” was about the only thing I took with me from that experience. That and sometimes psychologists can have their own issues, including religious, that they have not dealt with. I have totally forgotten almost everything else about that experience, except that religion, especially Episcopalian views, were prominent.
After she expressed her frustration and why, which included some of the mess, I went home and thought about it all. I had no clue anymore why I was spending $90 for a half-hour session, when it seemed working with her, not only in her office, but at church too, was not at all helpful. Although she did not say this in her lecture, the lines between church and her office had become so blurred, that I was not sure who she was or even who I was in that relationship. Was she my therapist, mother figure, a concerned friend, or a fellow parishioner who I worked with in the lay ministry? There was something very wrong and it had to end.
A little side note, which may clear a few more things, especially the elephant in the room with us: Technically, all but $28 of the $90/sessions the Church helped to pay, and when Rose tried to push them all out, especially the priest, and she did try... Well, they did not get pushed out so easily, not even with compromises or even when she requested that they did not assist with the cost, but she did admit to making several attempts to get them out of it. So, while some may feel I should fault her, I cannot and do not, because I look back and wonder just how many issues she may have had with the Church and religion also, as well as who was really pulling the strings in my therapy sessions. I do know the priest would call Rose to inquire about me. Rose insisted she did not give the priest any information, but that alone says the priest had her hands in the situation and may have had some imposing influence.
I am fairly certain Rose had some problems she never dealt with, even with religion, and the last becomes more obvious the farther removed I am from that situation. Like I have been saying, there was a HUGE elephant in the room, with almost every session, and she herself appeared to have some issues similar to mine, in which I can empathize. Regardless, the blame for the blurring of lines, does not lay solely at her feet. It was all of us.
The next week, we talked more as friends, rather than therapist and patient. We parted in her office agreeably and as friends, with no guilt or shame imposed by either of us, and I must admit, when I heard the song “Kissed From A Rose”, I thought of Rose. To this day, even though I would not see her again, I still think of her when I hear that song, only with a few small adaptations in thought to it and parts of it, such as 'grave' and 'graving', as I have always heard it due to my hearing loss, but seems fitting and I will explain:
There used to be a graving tower alone on the sea.
You became the light on the dark side of me.
Religion remained a drug that's the high and not the pill.
But did you know,
That when it snows,
My eyes became large and,
The light that you shined can be seen.
I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the grave.
The more I get of you,
Stranger it feels, yeah.
And now that your rose is in bloom.
A light hits the gloom on the grave.
There is so much I can tell you
So much inside.
My power, my pleasure, my pain,
To me faith's like a growing addiction that can't be denied.
Since I left the church, I have no idea as to how Rose is doing, but I know she is still working, at the same place, right down the street from the church we once shared. Even so, she was also part of my journey out of religion, except she does not know it. Not to mention, at the time, she was part of the power that kept me under the control of religion and the Church, as well as encouraged the overwhelmingly addicting sense of transcendence during worship, and, I believe unintentionally, contributed to my pain, yet she attempted to fight for me also when she tried to push the others out of the mess. So at the same time, we were both fighting against it while working with it, but I was still dying in many ways from religion while seeing her as a psychologist.
While it was part of the dark side of my journey, I was beginning to see a light, the size of a star, in the far distance, after my distorted and blurred relationship ended with her. To this day, I do not know if Rose ever realized that I sometimes felt like I was dying even more during that time, regardless of that much Zoloft in my system. She may have, given that our parting in her office, as psychologist and patient, went without any animosity. In fact, we gave each other a hug when we parted.
To this day, I do not hate her and I see no reason to accuse her of any malpractice or breach of ethics either. In fact, I still have an appreciation for her and the more I understand the more I see some similarities between us, but I think something really got messed up within the mix of church and therapeutic relationship. I do not know if things would have turned out differently had the Church not been involved, but I do know that because of it, it would seem we were both staring some of our “demons” straight in the face, even fighting against them, and having a very difficult time doing it. I think she was just as affected by it all as I was, given that she kept telling me that she tried get them out of it, especially the priest.
For all I know, we may have both been controlled, but knowing her, she probably would not admit to such a thing and insist that she had control of what went on her office, even with the Church's involvement. If she did, why the continuous effort to push everyone out, especially the priest? I would say the moment she began needing to push people out, was the moment she lost control. Why did she even echo a couple of the priests if she had control? Then there was the money to help pay for the sessions, which was still over our heads, even after my insurance kicked in. Humm... Seems to me that was definitely when we both lost control and the Church controlled the reins, which was at the start of it all, but it was not obvious until things started to fall apart. Makes one wonder, but it seems clear to me, that neither of us had control and she had some issues with religion too. I also think we were too close to the situation and in social life, which is not good for therapy. Thus, mistakes were made on many people's parts, so it truly was not all her fault, if any of it ever was.
Regardless, it was partly due to this bizarre therapist/parishioner, lay minister and patient/parishioner, lay minister relationship that a light did start to shine, albeit small, like a distant star, at the time. I do not believe for a moment that she meant to do me harm, because if she did, I do not think my decision to end seeing her as a therapist would have gone as well as it did and when she occasionally saw me in church after that, she did give me a friendly smile. I just feel that she had some issues of her own that she had never dealt with, including religion, and often wonder if she realized any of the mistakes and problems in my case.
Once it was over, the star that began to shine in the far distance started to grow and I eventually left the Church about four years later. So, I guess in that respect, she did help me and it really was not a bad experience between us, but the whole relationship was one hell of a mess that was not at all therapeutic and one I try hard to forget. The only one left in my life now, from that particular 'clique', is my doctor, who often wonders why I left the Church, yet she sees a vast improvement in my physical health. I sometimes wonder if The Rose knows.