I have been working for many years in the same county in my state. I also live in this particular county. Since the summer however, I picked up some per-diem work in a nearby county and have been since introduced to fostercare system dysfunction at a whole new level. Who knew that not half an hour from my home was a county who trigger happily takes kids from their biological parents, then treats the parents like dog sh*t, where case workers won't return even the treating psychologist's phone calls and where a psychologist will get subpoenaed to court as the System wants to remove the patient's children after reunifying them in May. This is, without even communicating with said psychologist (me) to tell me that they had concerns regarding her progress so I could even know to address them in therapy.
In the particular case I am venting about today, my understanding is that the workers never liked the decision the previous judge made to reunify the family. After today, being on the witness stand for over an hour, I believe that I was not hired to actually help my patient grow, I was hired as a spy and witness to how awful she really is. And let me tell you, the way the DAG tried to manipulate and twist my words because she did not like that I was reporting progress in therapy and a belief that there is reason to be optimistic . . .when I reported on the positive experience I had when I had an opportunity to have a session with my patient and her toddler, well, let's just say it was one of the more awful experiences I have had as a psychologist.
As a therapist, communications between patient and therapist are supposed to be privileged. In therapy we do not judge our patients. We build rapport, we work together to build on strengths, develop better coping mechanisms, develop better problem solving skills and make wiser decisions in relationships. We DO NOT treat our patients with the intent of sharing the intimate details of their lives in a court of law. We DO NOT feel it is in the best interest of a patient to subject her to listening to her therapist, in a court of law, explain her diagnosis and her limitations. In all my years, even including the probably more than 100 evaluations I have written for the courts, I have only been subpoenaed one other time. That case was in 2005. It was a last ditch attempt of a defense attorney to prevent a 15 year-old from being tried as an adult in a felony manslaughter case.
It was horrible. I told the truth and nothing but the truth. My patient teared up many times. The workers on the other side got smug when I said something in line with their case and I felt like punching them knowing what their adversarial style is doing to my patient and now our therapeutic relationship. I hated that the DAG could just shut me down mid-sentence, even when I wanted to make sure I said something with enough clarity and the judge allowed it. I hated it all.
In therapy, nothing is black and white. People are not all good or all bad. There are no saints and no one spends their time attacking another for their sins. We build relationships, we work together. It is about growth and healing. Court is about playing debate team and seeing just how well you can decimate the other team. Except in this case there is no "team." It is a human being sitting right in front of you, in my case, a woman I have grown to care about as she is my PATIENT, being torn to shreds. It is attorneys knowing they did a good job if they sufficiently convinced a judge that a human being is beyond redemption. No empathy, no kindness, no room for grays.
I will be resigning from doing this kind of work in the future. I will not subject myself to being anywhere near a witness stand ever again. I became a psychologist for a reason. And it sure as hell wasn't to do what I did today.
A version of this column originally appeared in www.lukesarmy.com.