So I received an email from a mental health professional who'd signed up to the ZHUCHI newsletter. She was making a formal complaint about the Chump Lady Masterclass promo material. Apparently it was “offensive”, and ZHUCHI (ie ME), as only a "promoter of events" had no “qualification” to be critiquing the capacity of therapists working in the field of therapy for those experiencing infidelity. Seems that implying there is room for improvement in the counselling modalities available to those navigating this mindfuck is not allowed. Proffering up an alternative view; no, URGING professionals to consider an alternative to the existing approaches is “lecturing people about being outdated” and apparently has me “coming of (sic) as a bitter and twisted dumped ex.” OK. Game on.ZHUCHI is a legitimate and mostly anonymous platform for me to share my ideas and beliefs, and contribute to the discussions around mental illness, mental health and wellbeing. However, for the first time in almost four years, this comment from a mental health professional, lacking in finesse, respect, diplomacy or context, has moved me to break my personal silence and share the motivations behind my efforts to participate on the mental health stage. Disclaimer: This is, and always will be, my opinion and experience. These are not facts of YOUR reality, only facts of mine. I do not intend to cause offence, but if my comments do, then please find a way to manage what is arising for you in a way that is safe and productive for you, and for me :)Firstly I will get the Chump Lady issue out the way. Yes, I have experienced infidelity. My marriage recently ended because of it. I discovered my husband's affair. There were probably more, I only know for certain about one. Discovery was followed by 18 months of hellish, false reconciliation (at his pleading). We did the whole kit and caboodle in terms of counselling with a couples counsellor and an individual counsellor each. I’ve worked out the household spend for post-infidelity therapy was in the region of $9K. We discharged ourselves from couples counselling because we’d hit a progress wall. The therapist wrote us off as a “success”. We had separated within three weeks of our final appointment. What followed was the further hell which I navigated solely due and in deep gratitude to the analytical chops of Tracy Schorn AKA Chump Lady. A fellow infidelity survivor and blogger. Chump Lady’s blog and the nation of blog followers and commentators (known as Chump Nation) did MORE in a few weeks to guide and snap me out of an 18 month bubble of doomed inertia than all that counselling and several hundred dollars worth of literature written by the experts (Perel, Gottman, Weiner-Davis etc) did. I owe Chump Lady my sanity, I owe her my fair property settlement, I owe her so, so much.So in terms of qualifications around what counsellors do and don’t do right during infidelity counselling, I am pretty qualified. In terms of what it is like to experience the abuse of infidelity, I am an expert with an un-submitted PhD.This leads me to the greater point of the voice of lived experience being the EXPERT voice. The voice we should all be listening to - whatever the mental/emotional health issue. This is the voice that should be informing all treatment, all service and all health care design and delivery if we truly want to get our interventions right. This voice can do more for other people’s healing and recovery than “professional” experts can even imagine. I am almost 43. I was born in to a family of violence, abuse and chronic terror. It was very well hidden in my politely middle class world and most people had no awareness of what was happening. Consequently I have repeated patterns of abuse in my adult relationships, have made two attempts at suicide, experienced two significant sexual assaults, battle with addiction and can genuinely say I do not know what a sustained feeling of wellbeing, safety and peace feels like. As a result of all of this I have been a consumer of psychiatric interventions of one kind or another since I was 14. In 29 years I have seen 19 therapists from a variety of disciplines, and taken large doses of prescribed (and non-prescribed) medications for many of these years.However, in my lifetime of accessing psychiatric service providers, I have come away from most exchanges with health professionals and treatment options feeling disappointed and frustrated at their limitations in being able to help me overcome my past. It is my opinion that the primary problem with therapy is that regardless of the attempts made by the individual therapist to eliminate a sense of power imbalance, there IS one and always will be as long as professionals are viewed as the “experts” in mental illness. We are culturally conditioned in a paternalistic world to revere the patriarchal medical hierarchy.“Insert health worker knows best. They went to university. This gave them all the skills and wisdom to solve my problems. If I am in doubt over what they are saying or suggesting, I will keep quiet because I need help and insert health worker is the expert and knows best.” There are centuries of belief system at play here - it is virtually genetic and when we enter the room of a health professional, whether we are conscious of it or not, there is an imbalance of power. To challenge this takes work, effort, education, the self-belief to back your own expertise about YOU and finally, it takes COURAGE. Have you ever tried to stand up to your GP, health professional or specialist and challenge their professional opinion? It’s rarely met with a round of applause.This dynamic is not conducive to healing. I believe all mental illness is played out on a backdrop of traumatic experience and in many instances, poor attachment to primary care givers. Mental Illness is the mind and body’s inability to integrate and resolve the terror of that trauma. It’s the trauma continuing to breathe and have life long after it initially occurred. Traumatic experience is like a perpetual echo in the soul. In more cases than not, the trauma occurs at the hands of a person, someone we have a relationship or connection with - significant or fleeting. So, if relationships and our perceptions of people make us sick, then it stands to reason that relationships and our perceptions of people will be what will makes us well again. This is why the nature of the relationship we have with professionals needs to be one of absolute trust, integrity, no judgement, quiet support, equality, humility, the courage to be a mirror and the willingness to acknowledge our respective flaws and limitations. EQUALLY. Any relationship where there is a perceived imbalance of power no matter how small or well intentioned will rarely facilitate healing. IN my own past experience this imbalance results in me “performing” for the therapist - the way I do for a boss or a teacher or a parent. I temper the truth to make it more palatable to the person receiving it. I temper the truth because I have in the past felt judged for being me. And why wouldn’t I? Therapists are HUMAN, they have foibles, failures, their own shit going on. Of course this humanity will slip through. It is inevitable. But this is rarely acknowledged or confessed and rarely have I as a “client” called them on their humanity… that’s not what you do to the professional! It is a flawed system.Additionally, the talking treatment offered to people in mental health crisis usually has its origins in some kind of therapeutic model. 99.9999999999% of the time these are some kind of acronym e.g. CBT, ACT, IPT, DBT, FAP, MBCBT. Most of these models are launched as THE solution to all mental health problems, most have serious limitations, most have their moment in the sun, then ALL eventually find their way to the place where therapy goes to die. In my experience most therapists have a favourite that forms the foundation for all that they do. In my experience, these are clung to in lieu of knowing how to talk from the heart to me as my equal.
My very worst therapeutic experiences, have seen models and approaches deployed without prudent consideration of my traumatic backdrop. One example that immediately springs to mind is the time I was encouraged to go through a guided and grounding body scan meditation when in a particularly heightened state of anxiety and waking flashback. Great in theory. Problem was, trying to close my eyes (UNSAFE), with my chair’s back to an open french door (FUCKING UNSAFE), in room at the back of an old, large house, a loooooong way from the road, was awful. But I did it, felt awful, dissociated and shut down a bit but never said anything because that is what I learned to do as a child and I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the therapist or draw their attention to a practice deficit!?? The success I have had in therapy is as a result of the nature of the relationship I’ve established with the individual. Their body language, smile, aura and million little imperceptible responses to me have combined to give me a sense of their genuine positive regard and respect. But that is not a result of Therapy or anything they have learned while studying to be a professional, it is because of who they are inherently as a human. They could have been a janitor and still had the same impact on me. The truth is that MOST of my break-through, profound and really life altering exchanges have been as a result of the army of people trudging the planet who live with and declare their own lived-experience of trauma and mental illness. The janitors, the painters and decorators, the taxi drivers, the shop assistants, the dog groomers, the people I have talked with as a consumer advocate in a public mental health service, the consumers and carers I work with in consumer participation activities. I salute and thank THEM…. Sober for 18 years, my painter decorator sponsor with his own sobriety and lived experience helped me to turn my life around in ways no other person from D&A or MH Services ever could. His gritty stories of drinking that put mine to shame but his subsequent recovery and place in the world inspired me to follow all of his suggestions for success. Off medication for depression and anxiety for five years now, with no relapse of major note, my thanks goes to the community of people with lived experience who have taken the brave step of following the anti psychiatry movement led by the likes of Peter Breggin, Julia Ross, Peter Gotzsche et al toward a chemical-free mental health management plan. Those empowered and pioneering folk who dared to try a cocktail of brain-healing foods, supplements, amino acids, vitamins and probiotics in place of the cocktail of poison peddled by Big Pharma and its shareholders. The educated and empowered people are willing to leave no stone unturned in the quest to heal themselves and who lead me to the garden, the earth, the animals that all do more to soothe my soul than anything I have ever known.And then there is just me, and who I am - reasonably bright, self motivated and with a king size dose of resilience that is both innate and learned, and an ability to back my own instinct that leads to solutions that work. For me. A drive that has made me consumer the works of people like Bessel Van Der Kolk, Peter Levine, Christine Courtois and implement a psycho/physical program for healing trauma. But most of all it has been through the stories and support of fellow soldiers in the trenches who have, like me, recognised the value in community and sharing our experience, strength and hope with each other to get through dark, dark times. The people who have been brave enough to share an extract of their story that has churned my stomach but at the same time has lifted me up with the knowledge that if they can do it, so can I. My well-being, my life, my WILL to keep going with life (even though I find it harder than you can possibly imagine), is attributable almost solely to my peers in lived experience. When I set up ZHUCHI by remortgaging my house, my agenda was clear... What is new out there? What are the PEOPLE saying works for them? What is healing the lives of those born in to trauma; those whose lives have been forever changed by going to a party and having too much to drink; those whose lives were stolen by the schools they were sent to; those who married a sleight of hand. Survivors. What is changing the experience of survivors? THAT’S what has driven my choice to invite different speakers and program topics for training and education.In a very long arc I have finally arrived at my response to the therapist offended by my Chump Lady promo material and the final chapter of my “coming out”.Dear Lady
My decision to bring Chump Lady to Australia was based on all I have written above and a little bit more…Once again, I was pulled from the black hole and reality and truth and light was breathed back in to me by my peers in the trenches, led by the one person on the planet (not a “clinical” expert) who is trying to publicly and bravely change the cultural narrative around infidelity. Chump Lady was the person I stumbled across with the SANEST point of view. A point of view that helped me to understand why couples therapy had left me so often hurt, impotent, invalidated, vilified, blamed, outraged and dismayed - and I wasn’t the one who cheated. Everything I read or heard from the mouths of the experts was full of blame-the-victim messages - things I had done that had failed to meet his needs. Judgement over being devastated by his “act of exuberant defiance” around the "monogamy trap" he found himself in (I never held a gun to his head when he proposed to me). Sermons that I could have a stronger marriage as a result of this as long as I was prepared to act like the Marriage Police and “trust but verify” everything he said and did. Insanity. And without a doubt one of the most mindfucking and traumatic experiences once can live through.No one wants to admit they’ve been chumped and cheated on. It’s a hard thing to rally behind. It’s humiliating. And therapy for it humiliated me even more and compounded the trauma on a fortnightly basis.We are all entitled to our views and you laid yours down with a great deal of judgement. The Chump Lady masterclass content has been compiled on the back of five years of feedback from thousands of survivors of infidelity sharing their experiences. The marketing material is directed at therapists’ PROFESSIONAL capacity. Your response to me, however, was deeply personal, thoughtless and cruel. So from my full height and with my recovering self-respect and self esteem I say No, I am not bitter or twisted. I am yet again, thanks to your gracelessness, a survivor. See you at Chump Lady, Newcastle 25 May, 2018
Chump Lady says…
Thanks Liz for the opportunity to speak in Newcastle. I just wanted to say to any therapists out there wondering why they’d want to spend a day with me — I’m not here to trash you. (Who’d want to spend a day with that?) I’m about changing the narrative around infidelity — so if you treat people who’ve been cheated on or have cheated, this may be of interest to you.
Whatever you think of me or my message — I hit a BIG nerve. The blog odometer just flipped 18 million. (That translates into about 3 million unique viewers). Three million people aren’t going to sit on your sofa. That’s one hell of a random sample, for you science-minded folks. What my numbers are telling me is that peer support is essential going through this.
That shouldn’t be shocking. Veterans, addicts, the bereaved all benefit from peer support.
Where I’m trying to change the narrative is just common sense (with some snark, F bombs, and cartoons… I am after all a writer…) We don’t make people do things. We don’t compel others to abuse us. We might actually suck, but we do not MAKE others cheat on us.
99.9 percent of the narrative out there is that we do. That our inadequacies drove cheaters to cheat on us. We weren’t meeting their needs. We were controlling, sexless, unkind. And if we just strive to improve ourselves, we can win back our marriages!
The DEFAULT setting on infidelity assumes reconciliation. I challenge that. With reason and experience… and the voice of millions of others who tried the given advice and therapy models, and were sadly worse off for it. (My advice is more along the lines of immediate self protection and not making yourself vulnerable to people who’ve proven themselves not to be acting in your best interests.)
Anyway, I’m not some bitter harridan who wants to rap your knuckles. ("BAD THERAPIST! BAD!) I’m kind of ordinary, and witty in a quirky way. I endeavor to give you your money’s worth. And I look forward to your challenging questions and hearing about your experiences!
Liz, don’t let this one bitter bunny ruin what promises to be a great event!
Tracy Schorn aka Chump Lady
on February 04, 2018
Rich Thorpe says…
Thankyou so much for your courage in sharing your story here. I am grateful for your enterprise in launching Zhuchi, and would never have been exposed to NeuroPsychotherapy had you not promoted it in Newcastle. Keep doing what you are doing. Rich
on January 29, 2018
Martina Zangger says…
Thank you for so bravely and vulnerably sharing the pain and wisdom of your lived experience.
As a friend and therapist, I am grateful to be be given the opportunity to hear and honor your moving story.
Dr. Martina Zangger
on January 28, 2018
Kate Munro says…
Wow -I am so sad that a ‘professional’ felt offended but what a gift they have given the rest of us -your truth so elequently spoken (written) Love your work ???
As a mental health professional myself i see my role as someone who does not only value the relationships i build and the sense of safety i can bring to people in highest regard, but I also believe being open minded and psychologically flexible of high importance as well. in hearing others journeys and perspectives, to respect their choices and acknowledge that the models of therapy we use are not a one size fits all. I think its incredibly brave to tell us your story in great detail, but to also stand up for the power of human experience and strength is amazing. If only that therapist couldnt be willing to look within themselves and see where her own comments were coming from, before shooting down someone elses.
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