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 there 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.

Rolodex switching and amnesia

I am still recovering from my inpatient stay at Sheppard Pratt’s trauma program. I suppose your average person doesn’t understand why one would need to recover from being in an inpatient program.

My brain feels as though it is loosely held in place, and on any given day it can spin and spin so that I don’t know which way is up. My recent 4 week hospitalization at Sheppard Pratt was like that.

I believe being in an inpatient environment is always a very triggering situation for me. As one of the therapist put it, it makes sense for me to be triggered as whenever someone paid attention to me as a child like is done at SP, it always meant abuse was to follow.

Needless to say, that trigger and the fact that truthfully I am not in control of my life behind the locked doors of SP, my defenses are at their highest.

I learned from this last hospitalization that my childhood go-to defense was to keep me and my entire system so confused that we couldn’t put two sentences together. This last hospitalization played that defense out.

I had trouble remembering things before I went in, but once in, I couldn’t remember hardly anything. My treatment team believes I was switching so much that the “Rolodex switching ” kept my memory from working. That’s one theory, and possible, but other theories are equally possible.

I am home now and I had desperately hoped my memory would improve as the degree of amnesia I was experiencing was terrifying. It is a little like temporary episodes of dementia that come and go.

My memory is a little better but still troubling. I went to a restaurant last night and was in line with my family to order at the counter. As I walked away I had to ask my spouse what I had ordered. I had been so present and in control until I wasn’t.

Today I was thinking of my son’s birthday. I couldn’t remember the day and year for sure. I asked him when his birthday was because he is still at the age where “when is your birthday” is still fun to answer. I feel guilty that I couldn’t remember.

Things seem settled down, so why am I struggling so much?

I know I am confused and nervous and certain about this new direction in my therapy.

I learned at Sheppard Pratt that I must focus exclusively on internal communication and cooperation as my most pressing goal.

Only problem. There doesn’t seem to be a clear formula and I am honestly both certain it is the way to go but dumbfounded as to how one goes in that direction. Talk about needed manuals.

I have therapy tomorrow. In the past I was never short in the talking department, but feel confused how this new therapy approach works with my therapist.

In the past, we dealt with whatever that came up, but now I realize I must be more intentional about my work.

Perhaps I will begin by remembering to bring my new system map to the appointment. Last time I forgot.

I am afraid of this new but possibly old fractured mind that works in a state of confusion. I am sure I can’t do justice to explaining how someone can operate on the tightrope between ok and blank mind syndrome (not real).

If you can’t imagine it, count yourself lucky. It is truly terrifying.

My journey has changed

Some of you may have noticed that I have been missing in action for the past month or so.

I was really not doing well and needed intensive inpatient help with managing the symptoms of my DID and PTSD, particularly the level of suicidality I was experiencing.

I decided to go inpatient and it lasted longer than I expected. If I wouldn’t have really pushed to get out, I still easily met the criteria of someone who needed to be inpatient. But alas, I always feel terribly restless and triggered when I am inpatient, so a month was as much as I could do.

I am now happily home with my family and working to transition back into my real life. Still figuring this out and hope to share it with you as I uncover the new path of my journey.

I experienced incredible levels of amnesia and confusion while inpatient, but I was still able to gain some important insights into a new direction for my life.

I plan to share these new plans with you as I unpack myself back into the real world and my real life.

For now, I can say I realize I do have a life to live while doing this work, and I don’t have to “fix” my life before I can start living it.

I am also happy to say I am not currently feeling suicidal, which is remarkable because that is my typical normal. I know better than to get overly excited about this as I know it can change on a dime, but I do feel a sliver of hope that it is currently absent.

Speaking of hope, I did manage to gain some hope despite the incredible amnesia, confusion, transference, and uncomfortableness I experienced staying in this inpatient unit. Nothing like being locked up and power taken from you as a survivor that is seemingly required for inpatient treatment.

I am feeling well today and I am looking forward to sharing my new journey with you, and my experience during my inpatient stay.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the support I received from you all.

With love and hope to you all,

Kathy