Review of Sheppard Pratt’s Trauma Disorder Unit

In some ways, Sheppard Pratt resembles a college campus instead of the typical scary hospital.

Clearly, this is only one person’s experience with Sheppard Pratt’s TDU. Everyone is likely to have a different experience, but I think information is important, so I hope you find this helpful while also realizing it is only my point of view.

Admission Process

Perhaps the worst thing about Sheppard Pratt is its current admission process. I can start by saying the current person running their admission process is not exactly friendly or compassionate, and I’ll leave it that they can do much better.

The SP TDU admission process is designed to disempower clients as they have the unrealistic expectation that your private therapist is going to do all the work to get you admitted. In fact, they don’t want to speak with you at all and only want to speak to your therapist (in my case, this means dragging the admission referral process out as my therapist is short on time and administrative tasks are not her strong point). Even after the initial referral process was done, the admission coordinator requested my therapist get discharge summaries from past hospitalizations before they would approve me on their waiting list. More wait time as my therapist is too busy to chase paperwork from previous hospitalizations, and I wasn’t in the best of shape to assist her. Eventually we persisted.

Unfortunately, Sheppard Pratt will not hospitalize you if you do not have a referring therapist and psychiatrist. I am not sure where this leaves people who don’t have one for whatever reason.

My request for hospitalization at Sheppard Pratt was not to do work or get a diagnosis, I was in a severe suicidal crisis. Initially, we were told it would likely be a 1-2 week wait. After many phone calls from my therapist and me, we were told it would be another 1-2 weeks. Although the Admission Coordinator verbalized her understanding of how dire my situation was, she really didn’t seem to care.

At more than one point we asked if we could be admitted into their general psych unit and we were told “no” and that they would not tolerate us “gaming the system.” We were not clear as to this response as it says on their website that in emergencies, it is possible to be admitted to the general psych unit, but transfer to the trauma unit was not promised. We were ok with not being transferred as our safety was very poor and we simply wanted to go to a safe inpatient unit. Again, we were denied that option.

In the end, it took me 6 weeks to gain an emergency admission into Sheppard Pratt’s program. There was no priority given to those in crisis versus those coming in for diagnosis or to do some work. I was also told I had 24 hours to enter the hospital if I wanted the admission spot. This came with no pre-warning that an opening was coming up, but for fear of losing our place on the list we took the spot which took a lot of shuffling since I was coming from out of state. Surprisingly, when I arrived at the Trauma Unit, there were a few open rooms that remained open. Perhaps they don’t have enough staff to handle more?

The Program

I would say their program is highly individualized. They have groups and individual sessions. I was only allowed to attend the boring educational groups because the staff felt I was too unstable to hold it together for the deeper groups. I won’t get my feelings hurt about this since there were many of us not allowed to go to those groups.

The therapists they have there are often therapists who are training to be top trauma therapists. I’ll be honest, my therapist was shitty. Every session felt strained and awkward. I didn’t benefit from her at all. The upside to that was I didn’t have any transference with her, which is usually something difficult for me to manage.

My psychiatrist was someone I saw 5 days a week, and he was exceptional. We got off to a rocky start as he was triggering as hell, but fortunately, this doctor’s ego was intact enough that he was willing to change his behavior that was so triggering to me. A nice thing about the psychiatrist was that he actually did therapy with me instead of the typical medication management. I grew to have a strong appreciation for this man’s competency with DID.

The real heroes of this unit are the mental health workers from every shift. Sheppard Pratt really did something right when they decided to hire and train top notch people who could sit down and talk to you just about whenever you needed it. These sessions were key to the success of my treatment there. I’d go so far to say that these people had a higher skill level than the therapist I worked with.

While in the program, you can expect to learn a lot of skills to manage your DID. People take it quite seriously, so it was helpful.

The Unit

The nicest thing about the unit is that it feels completely safe, and has very little chaos going on.

The food was below average, but you can survive on it. Unfortunately, the TDU is not allowed to go to a cafeteria to pick out the food, so food can be disappointing, which caused more than a few freak outs amongst the patients. Keep in mind that the unit does allow you to keep a snack drawer where you can have things brought or sent to you. Most importantly, this space can hold sodas, well, at least when I was there.

Each person has their own bedroom, which is quite the luxury for a psychiatric hospital, but a real necessity for trauma patients.

The bathrooms are on the hall, and though you mostly have privacy, it is not uncommon for someone doing checks to knock on the door while you are in there to make sure you are ok.

There is a lot of unsafe behavior that has happened on this unit in the past, so they have very strict rules about what you can bring and not bring. This makes it hard to stay there for long. For me, not having access to a hair dryer was emotionally hard for me to deal with on a day-to-day basis as my hair is wild without it. Nothing I could do about it except avoid mirrors and dissociate my appearance.

It has been a year since I went into the program there, and I have actually stayed out for an entire year now, which has not been something I have been able to accomplish after leaving other treatment programs.

There is no doubt about it, I got help while I was there. It was hard being there for so long, but it turns out it was worth it in the end.

My opinion is this: I have experienced what is out there for people with DID over the past few years, and Sheppard Pratt is hands down the best available.

The main issue they need to resolve is helping people with DID who are in a suicidal crisis get into their general psych unit until a bed becomes open on the trauma unit. I know the hospital has such a good reputation that even the general psych unit doesn’t have empty beds. Still, Sheppard Pratt is in the position where they are mostly alone in helping people with DID around the world, which is a staggering responsibility. I hope they will look to figure out a way to create more bandwidth for their program to help more people.

I have to wonder how many people end their lives because they are unable to access help there. I know I almost didn’t make it.

If you have DID and can wait to get in, the program gets my highest recommendation. A strategy I suggest to everyone is to get on their waiting list if you are even thinking about going into the program. You can always say no-thank you when your number comes up.

Is healing from Dissociative Identity Disorder possible?

I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) in my early twenties. I was in my Senior year of college when I suddenly started having significant psychiatric problems I hadn’t experienced before. Even though my life was actually going very well in the world, my internal experience was crumbling as I had my first Major Depressive episode, panic attacks, and suicidal ideation seemingly coming from nowhere.

I didn’t know what was happening, so I quietly went to the campus mental health center, where the psychiatrist gave me a bottle of Xanax to help me deal with whatever was happening.

It completely consumed my life rather quickly. The pills helped a little, but I was seriously suicidal for unknown reasons.

By some miracle, I had the wherewithal to find a therapist off campus. And then a psychiatrist, and quite quickly, I ended up inpatient at the local psychiatric facility for about six months.

During my time in the hospital, I was trying really hard to understand what was happening to me. I was a mystery to my treatment team, too, as I had so much going for me, why was I doing so poorly?

I started having outrageous transference with my therapist. I felt as though I couldn’t live without her. I would start to get better and approach discharge, and then my therapist would go out of town and I would find myself plotting to kill myself at the hospital. I never had feelings like this about anyone before.

I can remember sitting in a chair thinking in my head that I didn’t understand what was happening. And then I realized there were voices in my head commenting on things or expressing their despair about the therapist. I had always had these voices commenting in my head, but I realized for the first time it was like they were different people with different thoughts. I knew I was going crazy.

I started feeling like I wasn’t in control of my thoughts or behaviors sometimes. I tried to speak about it some to my primary treatment team members, but they didn’t take it too seriously as they knew I was not psychotic.

Back then, I didn’t have the words to properly express my experience of what I now know to be Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

When I finally discharged from the hospital, I had a crazy sexually abusive relationship with a counselor from the hospital, and then abruptly decided to get a job at another psychiatric hospital as I was suddenly interested in helping people (and ignored the fact that another part of me had already accepted a job offer from a big corporation).

While I was working at the hospital, I was still trying to figure out me, and would read every patient history, study the DSM, talk to clinicians, sit in on clinical meetings. During my research, I discovered a therapist who specialized in dissociative disorders and trauma therapy.

While still seeing my old therapist back in my college town, I decided to go see the therapist who specialized in dissociation and trauma, and asked her to help me figure out if I had DID.

In case you are wondering, my therapist who I adored and my psychiatrist did not believe in DID.

It is still common today, you have the believers and nonbelievers in the mental health community. It sucks for those of us afflicted.

But I knew I had these strange forces acting within me that I could not explain. I didn’t know anyone with DID back then, so I was really just doing research and grasping at straws to understand what was happening.

It is a blur, but my consultation with the dissociative disorder psychologist led me to a fairly quick diagnosis of DID, and I transferred to her to help me with therapy.

It was a balancing act. I would be in terrible shape during my therapy sessions talking about childhood trauma, and she would also see me as a high functioning successful person at the local hospital when she would come in to see her patients.

What I have found for myself is that if I am around someone who knows I have DID, my parts are more likely to show themselves. My parts found a safe place for them to be “out” and to express their feelings and traumas with the psychologist.

It was a lot. Coming to terms with the truth about my childhood, and learning about all these parts of me.

I managed for a few years to work at the hospital and do intensive outpatient therapy three times a week. Then, the train started coming off the track, and I began a journey of hospital-hopping and instability for the next decade. Sadly, I was so dissociative during this period that I have very little memory of it, so it saddens me to know I lost an entire decade of my life to this illness.

Quite honestly, this was in the 1990s, when there were treatment centers that specialized in DID, but in retrospect, they did not know what they were doing in their attempts to help people with DID. Still, they were important because they were places that understood who we were and what was happening to us, which is not an understanding we could find anywhere else in the world.

As my life was in chaos, and I wasn’t making any progress in therapy, I had a shift in my internal world out of anger toward one of my therapists at the time. This part of me who had enrolled in graduate school to get an MSW had decided that she had enough of the mental health system and the craziness going on in our life.

After ten years of chaos and suicide attempts and more hospitalizations than I can count, with a simple, but determined decision, this part was able to put away the chaos of our lives (the endless number of parts), and we were suddenly living with only 5 parts.

This was manageable.

We had 5 parts who cooperated with one another and didn’t even need therapy or hospitals. The depression, anxiety, and suicidality was suddenly completely gone. We still were not able to sleep without medication, but found doctors to prescribe it for us. Other than that, no mental health care was required.

Our only symptom that we worked to hide every day was our amnesia. We couldn’t remember things that were current (and past important life events), like our neighbor’s first name, or how long it had been since we last spoke to our boss, but we were otherwise doing well.

I don’t want to make light of the amnesia we dealt with during this period as it created enormous anxiety in us everyday that we would be found out that we had a mental illness. But, we knew the skilled clinicians couldn’t help us with this problem, so we did what we do best, we hid our truth.

We lasted about 12-13 years in this fully-functioning (except for the amnesia) period of our life where we were successful in multiple careers, got married, adopted children, bought homes and lived what looked like a “normal” life.

Then my dad got sick with cancer. My family required me to come home to take care of him. It was an extremely messy situation that ended with his death (I am leaving out a tremendous amount of trauma that came with this experience).

While he was dying, voices started showing up again.

About 2 weeks after his death when I returned home, I started experiencing PTSD symptoms. Within weeks of that starting, I went to see a therapist to try to prevent myself from getting really sick again. The therapist had no idea I had DID as it wasn’t something I told people, as I certainly didn’t want to ruin the successful and public career I had at the time.

The therapist was a grief specialist, and was actually really good. Since she didn’t know about my trauma background, she didn’t know that her sitting down beside me on a couch in a therapy session would send me into a mute dissociative state.

It was the first time something like this had happened in over a decade. And the therapist recognized it as something significant, and would only work with me if I went to see a DID specialist and got cleared to see her. I reluctantly agreed, having a sense it was a bad idea for me.

Sure enough, I went to see the therapist in early 2015, and my system of parts exploded open with more parts than I even had before. I struggled mightily to hold onto my life and my career.

By 2017, I wasn’t able to work, and was in and out of hospitals with rageful suicidal ideation, debilitating amnesia, depression, anxiety attacks, and off the charts PTSD. My life was splintered into a zillion pieces again.

Now, it is 2019, and I have been working hard the past 3 years with a therapist who understands severe trauma. I am fortunate to have a therapist who takes clients that other therapists throw away.

I am coming to terms with the abuse I endured. I have just barely made it a full year without being in the hospital. I am still suicidal off and on rather frequently, but manage to get through these times a little better. Working on accepting my truth causes a lot of switching between parts on a daily basis, which in turn means I can’t remember easy things that I should remember.

My brain feels like a jumbled mess just about every day. It is frustrating. I accept my diagnosis and don’t hate or even dislike my parts. I accept my childhood abuse as true, but still, I am mentally incapacitated with amnesia and confusion.

I have come to wonder whether healing is actually possible. Maybe it is for some folks, but not for me? I don’t say that in a derogatory way, but maybe the truth is my mind is just too damaged?

These are the questions I am facing these days. It saddens me to think I might not be able to recover my mind the way it was intended to work.

The wreckage from my childhood may be a permanent part of my life. It doesn’t seem fair, but I for one should know life is not fair. 😔

When my Dissociation makes me feel lost

It has been a long time since I have written anything. I have been doing some better, but struggling more than ever with feeling lost.

There are moments when I forget about my Dissociative Disorder, and then I am talking to a good friend about his son and I can’t remember his son’s name.

These moments of amnesia make me afraid to pose as normal to the world. I have thought about trying to go back to work, then I feel this inner flooding of anxiety.

I ask inside to my other parts what we are so afraid of about going back to work. Apparently, they just don’t think we can do it.

It is possibly true. I know I may seem like I am ok sometimes, but then I look back on my day and realize I only accomplished 1-2 things. On an intense day, I might have struggled to get a 3rd thing done.

I am not sure why I can’t get more done in a day, except for this damn amnesia and feeling confused and lost so much.

I have been trying my best to be present for my children as they both have issues going on and need me. Some moments I am good about that, other days I feel inner parts distance themselves from the children and contemplate suicide.

The therapy is a struggle lately. My child parts are so hurt and don’t understand why we are seeing the T less often. Our insurance would rather pay for hospitalization than outpatient care. Brilliant business people.

The therapist wants us to trust her, but the younger parts feel like she doesn’t care about us. The T struggles with this because she says she doesn’t understand what she can do to show parts she cares about them.

Then, the parts reveal that because she is not abusing us, she doesn’t care about us.

She says she is never going to abuse us, so she is never going to care about us?

Then there are older parts who say we should just stop going to therapy. This doesn’t go far because the Little’s surface and put us in a Little hurt state of mind.

Anyway, like I said, I am feeling lost. Don’t know what to do about much. Contemplating giving up my career and going to work for a low paying job or no job at all. Can’t seem to make any decision about that or anything else.

Lost. That is me.

Facing the truth of our childhood

Where do you belong in the world when you were raised as nothing or no one that mattered by your family of origin?

I find that lots of people try to tell me that this history doesn’t matter—that I am still someone–no matter how horribly I was treated. I find these well intentioned people have one thing in common: they were all raised by at least one parent who thought they mattered and cared about their wellbeing.

I keep coming back to the metaphor of a house to explain my thoughts. In order for a house to be strong, sturdy, and even to stay standing, it must have a solid foundation. When it doesn’t, people can keep throwing money at the house to try to repair the faulty foundation or build around it, but they never end up with the strong home they long for unless they tear it completely down and rebuild it.

My start in life was bad. Both of my parents were alcoholics, and my mother was hitting her peak of alcoholism when she was pregnant with me and during my early years.

My parent’s alcoholism didn’t just affect them. It affected my entire family system.

For reasons I may never clearly understand, my parents were involved with some sick and on the fringe behavior and people.

I have two older brothers, but my parents wanted a girl, so they tried one last time. I had always thought they wanted a girl for the normal reasons one might want a girl after having two boys.

I was wrong. My mom hated me for as long as I can remember, and possibly from the moment I was born. I was never good enough for her, and she criticized me daily about who I was.

What has become clearer to me recently is that both of my parents treated me in ways that no child should be treated.

From a very early age, my value in my family was to meet the sexual, sadistic, and financial needs of the family.

My entire family sexually abused me on a regular basis. I tried to deny it as long as I could, but my dissociative barriers started really breaking down, and my childhood amnesia is starting to get filled in.

With the memories of my incestuous abuse from a very early age, I can no longer deny that my family not only didn’t love me, but they also didn’t even care for me enough to treat me like a human being.

I was intentionally hurt for their pleasure or financial gain. “Parts” formed in response to keep me alive through this horrific childhood. My spirit died, but my body stayed alive. This distinction is important because I am not sure one can recapture a dead spirit, at least I haven’t so far.

I live today with many, many parts who are like people sharing my body with me. Some people may think it is cool, but I do not. I envision many souls trapped in one body leaving all the souls to live an incomplete existence under the best of circumstances.

The many parts living within me are all smack in the middle of facing the truth of our childhood in many different ways. The truth has taken our breath away. Some sit paralyzed with this new information, others feel extremely despondent and broken with this realization. It isn’t easy for any of us in our system.

Forget the processing and grieving of what we have been through. How does one even pick up the pieces to carry on with knowledge that no one loved us, or cared one bit about our innocence as a child. We did not matter to anyone for a very long time.

It is hard to face the truth that we were merely a “thing” for people to do whatever they wanted with. Either they did not see us as a human being, or they had no humanity within them.

Facing the truth, and not believing the fantasy version of my life I created, is an extraordinarily painful state of being.

I alternate between these states: incredible sadness, suicidal feelings, anger, self-harm feelings, and feelings of being lost and numb.

I don’t know what the next step is for me. My therapist worries the memories and feelings are too overwhelming for me. The way I look at it is I have two choices: I can face the truth and hope I don’t die in the process, or I can stay dissociated and keep myself living in La-La Land.

Neither of them sound appealing, honestly. Since I have been living a dissociated life for my entire life, I suppose it makes sense to travel the newer road.

As I choose this new road, I worry about the questions I can’t answer right now. “If I am not who I thought I was, what does that mean for my identity today?” “If I accept the truth that I was treated like garbage by my family of origin, can I still exist knowing that my creators valued my life at zero?” “Is there something inherently wrong with me that my family decided to treat me as garbage who didn’t matter to anyone?”

I can’t find sufficient words to describe my feelings about this journey. I have never quite understood how this journey works, but somehow I have always had the feeling that someone else, someone wiser and more powerful, has control over the path this journey takes.

There is comfort in knowing I am not in control of the journey, perhaps because I would hope a higher power would show me more mercy than I give myself.