When someone experiences trauma in their life, they often find themselves using tools like therapy to help them process and heal. Therapy can be a wonderful, healthy, and healing outlet for many people. However, a program survivor’s relationship with therapy can often be complicated due to our unique experiences from the program. For many of us, our trauma is tied the idea of “therapy” and “treatment” as that is what the program advertised they were providing us.
In theory, therapy is intended to be a safe place for clients. Therapists should protect the client’s safety, trust, and confidentiality at all costs. Certain emotional and physical boundaries should exist to protect both the client and the therapist. Clients can insist on verifying the therapist’s credentials and licenses at any time. Therapists should hold a safe space free of judgment or punishment. The client should have the agency to decide what they would like the work on in therapy. While subtle power imbalances do naturally exist in the therapist-client relationship, the client should have the free agency to decide if a therapeutic relationship is working for them or not.
Therapists within programs can have a large power imbalance over the child. They turn the idea of “therapy” on its head. Their priority is not to create a safe space for the client: They may have control over how long the child will stay in the program, the ability to dole out punishments, can require the child to work on what the therapists deems an issue, they share what is said in therapy with outside parties (staff, parents, and others), etc. Many survivors have reported that their program therapists engaged in inappropriate emotional or physical contact with them or others. Often, program therapists are not licensed or interns. The child has no free agency to choose another therapist if the therapeutic relationship is not working for them or does not feel safe. In the program, therapy can feel forced, punitive, and potentially create life-long trauma.
Due to our experiences in the program, many of us find the idea of therapy extremely triggering. It took me over 18 years to finally make the decision to try therapy on my own terms. I was scared that it would be like Provo Canyon School. I was scared I would somehow lose my freedom. I was scared I would come out more scarred than before. Thankfully, that was not the case and I was able to find someone who could help me.
If you are a survivor who is considering going to therapy, here are some tips that I hope are helpful to you:
- There are different therapeutic practices that might work