An Intimate Betrayal
A Review of A Shining Affliction: A Story of Harm and Healing in Psychotherapy by Annie G. Rogers, Ph.D., Penguin Books, 1995, 322 pp., $12.95, paperback.
Annie G. Rogers, author of A Shining Affliction, was beginning a one-year clinical internship as a psychotherapist when she started doing play therapy with Ben, an emotionally disturbed five-year-old boy. Traumatized by the loss of his mother in a fire, Ben struggles constantly with his feelings about being abandoned, not quite allowing himself to remember the event that changed his life. Then slowly, tentatively, he begins to play out his abandonment, forming an attachment to Annie that gives him an opportunity to heal.
Abandonment is a powerful theme for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and I am no exception. As I read A Shining Affliction, I empathized with Ben's loss and was rocked to the core when Annie, in the midst of recovering her own memories of abuse, was abandoned by her personal therapist. The same thing happened to me. As a result, this article is going to be part book review and part personal history. I am writing it this way to continue to heal myself. I hope both parts will speak to you.
Today is my former therapist's birthday and almost two years from the day she told me she was retiring from practice, closing her office, canceling her insurance and letting her license lapse. I felt abandoned, and I was. As I later found out, B. (as I will call her) had already accepted employment as a therapist elsewhere in our local area. She kept up her insurance and renewed her license.
Two days ago, I packed up all the Christmas gifts she'd ever given me (nine sweaters, one for each year) and took them to the consignment shop. Some of my inside kids still cry deep-down wrenching tears. They have named these tears for her, because they have never cried this deeply for any other loss.
But only reading Annie Rogers' beautiful book has allowed our adult personalities to cry for the loss of the woman who was my helper and my hope for nearly a decade.
I have no words for how it was when B. left me. I believed her story and was sorry that I was so bad, so untreatable that she had to leave her profession to get away from me. And that was how I felt before I found out the truth of B.'s betrayal. I remember telling B., during our work together, "I'm afraid you'll leave me," and she would say, "I will decide that." All I can say is that she did.
Two years (including a year of therapy) later, I found Annie G. Rogers' book on the shelf and learned that she, too, was abandoned by her therapist. I wanted to read her book I knew it would help me heal, even though it meant taking the profound risk of traveling back through my own pain as I read about someone else's. Annie put her pain into words, and I worried that I wouldn't be able to bear reading about it. But I could. And then I wrote a book review about it as I still floated on the poetry of this other woman's words.
" It is evening," she writes," my work with the children over for the day. I sit at my desk in a little circle of light, painting and listening to music far into the night, unable to sleep. I begin to paint a flaming bird, red against blue, like Ben's bird. I paint over it in black, swiftly as he did.
"'This same bird has dealt me some blow, a blow to my right temple, surprisingly hard, and left me stunned so that I can't meet myself, can't or won't make the necessary connections between Ben's bird and mine. Red against blue, my mind blackens it out. A girl is dragged by her father across a parking lot to see a doctor, my mind blackens it out. "
Annie uses her work with Ben to show us her work with her inner self(s). We see the interplay between Ben's world and Annie's. We also see how Annie's world conflicts with that of her therapist of six years, Melanie, who does not see Annie as she is and, indeed, never has. This itself constitutes abandonment as far as I'm concerned, but when Annie, tormented by her memories and her inability to be heard, falls apart and brings a toy gun to therapy, Melanie abandons her literally. She refuses to see Annie anymore.
Annie is so profoundly disturbed by her therapist's actions that she becomes unable even to speak. She stops seeing clients, including young Ben. After making a little improvement during a brief hospitalization, Annie meets Blumenfeld, the therapist who will lead her through her own healing, to an attempted resolution of her relationship with Melanie, back to Ben, and on to being a therapist herself.
Annie paints a misty and eloquent picture of her own dissociation and returning memories (including the sexualized trauma of enema abuse by her mother), projecting her own story onto a stage peopled with the other characters in her book: the courageous Ben, the creative and very solid Blumenfeld, and a fascinating and nurturing clinical supervisor, the elderly psychoanalyst she calls Rachel.
The message the reader will walk away with is that when we are hurt in a relationship, we will have to heal in one. This is a beautiful exploration of one woman and her therapeutic relationships. It should be read by every therapist and by anyone who seeks to heal through therapy. The only caution I offer is that the book is emotionally intense and some of us will need support in dealing with the betrayal and loss described here.
originally published under a different title in The Healing Woman, May-June 1998, Volume 7, Issue 1