This weekend I finally felt the edge of hope for the first time in a long while. Take note, clinicians: it’s not because of medication, a therapeutic approach, or a hospitalization. It seems that the answer all along was incredibly simple: people. I’ve needed to connect with people, in particular, people that understand dissociative identity disorder. Yesterday I met a handful of women with DID, and I’m buoyed beyond words by the experience.
I mentioned my ever constant and present experience of losing time at home, and spending as little time as possible at home because I lose time. I spoke to a woman with the exact same experience. It’s not lost on me that coming out of the isolation with this meant that another person had to have this same experience. I wanted to throw my arms around her as she conveyed her experience to me.
Here’s a note to clinicians that I wish could be delivered to every single one out there: All the talk therapy, theoretical approaches, medications, hospitalizations and case management will do nothing to alleviate the loneliness of mental illness. Group therapy is a regular part of any hospitalization, but once you’re launched back into the real world, group therapy is surprisingly difficult to locate for non-veterans with PTSD or DID. Beyond group therapy, support groups for non-veterans with PTSD or DID are just as difficult to locate as therapy groups. The result is that such individuals find themselves isolated with no peers to connect with. Even the best therapist is no replacement for peer connections. Please do what you can to create therapy groups and support groups for people with PTSD or DID. Many researchers are spinning out trying to find the PTSD cure. Perhaps the answer is not in the cure, but in the connections. Together we can endure a lot if we feel the balm of support. Can the answer be as simple as connections with others? Maybe. This is where we can learn from Alcoholics Anonymous. We all know I’m ambivalent about AA, but they certainly get the people part of contributing to success with continued sobriety. We can’t cure each other of our PTSD or DID, but we can feel less alone in this fight. And some days, that connection may be the very thing we need to get the next day.
The most important thing a clinician can do is seek to create opportunities for peers to connect with each other. Ask your clients if they know anyone else with their mental illness. If you start noticing a trend in that few, if any, of your clients have peer connections start talking with your colleagues. Look for groups. If you come up empty, your clients have likely come up empty as well. Did you know that aftercare from inpatient hospitalization or intensive outpatient treatment always includes a recommendation for group therapy? Most of the time that recommendation is for a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) group, which is different from what I’m recommending. But here’s the rub: outpatient DBT groups are also few and far between outside of major metropolitan areas such as Boston or Washington D.C. Let’s work to create communities of support so that no one with PTSD or DID is ever without the connection of another peer. With all the intellect, resources and energy out there this should be a mission that we can make a reality. It’s not an expensive venture, far from it. Tomorrow I’m going to start to be a pain in the ass on this, and I’m going to start asking every mental health professional I come into contact with if we have such groups. I don’t think we do because I’ve done my own looking in my community, but I feel compelled to turn over every rock. Someone needs to ask “Do we have groups for people with PTSD or DID?” “Why not?” “Has anyone ever tried to create such groups?” “Who would know anything about this?”
If I can be a pain in the ass in my own job with my knack for asking annoying investigative questions, surely I can put that skill to use here.
I implore that we all ask our therapists or our colleagues if such resources exist in our areas. Then we need to ask why, and look to rectify the gap. Humans were meant to connect with other humans. Everyone should feel the edge of hope from the understanding of another peer.