Thing about “last resort”- people will often make brutal things to do look connected to things they are not connected to. “You pinned him to the floor?” “Well, he throws chairs at people!” failing to mention that the pinning to the floor was actually because he threw a pencil. Even if it is factually true that the kid sometimes throws chairs at people.
What if the nice lady therapist wasn’t my therapist but my mom? Am I still allowed to feel badly about all the things she did like that?
Content warning: this post is about physical and emotional harm done to people (especially children) with disabilities by (mostly) female therapists. Proceed with caution.
This is a hard post to write. It’s about abuse. It’s about a kind of abuse I haven’t seen described much. I think abuse is the right word, even though a lot of abusers probably genuinely think they’re doing the right thing.
Anyway, here goes:
Many, many people with disabilities I know have been harmed or even outright abused by Nice Lady Therapists. (Usual caveat: not all therapists are abusive, and this post is not opposition to childhood therapy. I’m saying that therapists need to stop hurting kids and other vulnerable people, not that therapy is evil. Pointing out that therapy is often important and that many therapists are good is not an answer to what I am describing.)
Nice Lady Therapists tell us that, whatever they do to us is by definition nice, and good for us. And that we like it, and that they love us, and that they are rescuing us, and that we are grateful.
They have a brightly-decorated therapy room full of toys, and assure every adult they come across that ~their kids~ love therapy. They use a lot of praise and enthusiastic affect, and maybe positive reinforcement with stickers and prizes. They might call the things they have kids do games. Some of them really do play games.
And every interaction with them is degrading in a way that’s hard to pinpoint, and hard to recover from. They do all kinds of things to kids with disabilities that typically developing kids would never be expected to tolerate. And they do it with a smile, and expect the kids they’re doing it to to smile back.
Sometimes it hurts physically, sometimes it hurts emotionally. Sometimes it’s a matter of being 12 years old and expected to trace a picture for toddlers for the zillionth time. And being told “This is fun! I used to do this all the time when I was a kid!”.
Sometimes it’s a matter of being forced to do a frightening or physically painful exercise, and being forbidden to express pain or fear. It hurts their feelings if a kid is upset. Don’t we know how much she cares? Don’t we know that she’d never do anything to hurt us? Don’t we want to learn and grow up to be independent?
Sometimes it’s a matter of being expected to accept intensely bad advice as though it’s insight. For instance, getting sent to therapy because you’re not making friends. And being told “We are all friends in this school! You have to give the other kids a chance.” And, if you try to explain otherwise, she patiently and lovingly explains to you why your thinking is distorted and you’ll have lots of friends if you just let yourself try.
Sometimes it’s - crossing a physical line. Touching in a way they have no good reason to be touching. Or touching over the objections of the kid in a way that is in no way justified by therapy goals. Sometimes sexually, sometimes not. Sometimes in ways that are against ethical standards of practice, sometimes not. But intimately, invasively. And if you say no, she patiently, lovingly, explains that you have nothing to be afraid of and that everything is ok. And that if you just trust her, you will have fun and get better. And when her profession has professional training about boundaries and appropriate touch, she thinks or even says “women don’t do that.”
Some male therapists do many of these things too, but there’s a gendered version of it that usually comes from women. And that can cause a problem for people with disabilities who are recovering from this. Most things about trauma and abuse of power are about misogyny in some way. They’re about men hurting women, and taking advantage of power dynamics that favor men to do so. Those descriptions are important because that pattern is common. But it is not the only abuse pattern, and it is not the only gendered abuse pattern.
Female therapists are subjected to misogyny and the power of men just as much as any other women. But they also have tremendous power over people with disabilities, many of whom are deeply dehumanized. The assumption that women have neither the power nor the ability to hurt anyone gets really dangerous really quickly for children with disabilities receiving therapy.
And it also means that people with disabilities often have a different relationship to gender than most nondisabled people. If you’ve been harmed by women over and over and assured that you liked it, it complicates things. If you’re a girl, it can make it hard to see a group of women as a Safe Space, especially if they think the thing making it safe is keeping the men out. If you’re a boy who has been repeatedly harmed by women who believed they were powerless, it can be hard to understand that the gender hierarchies that feminists and others talk about actually do exist. And it complicates things in any number of other ways.
But if you have been hurt by Nice Lady Therapists, you are not alone. If it has affected your relationship to gender, you are not alone. If it has left scars that others say you shouldn’t have because she was nice and meant well, you are not alone.
You don’t have to think someone is nice because she says she is. It’s ok to think that someone is hurting you even if that upsets them. You don’t have to think someone is safe or loving just because they are a woman or a therapist or smiling. Women can be abusive too. In human services, it is common. You are not alone, and it was wrong to treat you that way. The harm done to you was not because of your disability, and it’s not something that you could have fixed by being more cooperative or working harder or having a better attitude. It’s not your fault, and it’s not because of anything wrong with you. And it’s not your fault if it still hurts.
I’m not sure what else to say about this today. I think that there is a lot that needs saying (and I hope I will find some of it in the comments.) Any of y’all want to weigh in?
I can’t weigh in atm but i might be able to in the future, but yeah. This is a thing that happens, and the abuse caused to me by a Nice Lady Therapist ™ caused and still causes me to avoid and lie and fear treatment and has caused my illnesses and disabilities to get worse because of that.
Yes. It’s really hard to get treatment of any kind when Nice Lady Therapists make medical treatment and therapy language triggering, even if you grow up and have access to non-abusive treatment.
Nice lady therapists told me that restraint doesnt hurt, theyre keeping me safe. They put me in a baskethold and said it was a hug. They followed me to the bathroom when i was a teenager and made me do coloring sheets. They made me hug and cuddle and pretend to like it. They made me earn everything and acted like they were giving me a gift. If i didnt want their help it was problems accepting that others cared about me.
Content warning: This is a graphic post about brutality towards people with disabilities. ABA and justifications for abuse are discussed. Proceed with caution.
People do a lot of brutal things to people with disabilities, including children.
Some examples: pinning them to the floor, punishing them with electric shocks, medicating them into immobility, putting them in 10-40 hours a week of repetitive behavioral therapy, taking away everything they care about and making them earn it by complying with therapy, taking away their food, and confining them in small places.
These things are now somewhat politically unpopular. We identify, as a culture, as having got past that point. We think of this kind of brutality as something that happened in the past, even though it is still common.
What this means in practice is that whenever people do brutal things to someone with a disability, it will be called the last resort. People doing the brutal things will claim that they minimize them, that there are protections in place, and that they only do them when necessary.
For example, this is an excerpt from the (as of this post) current ethical standards for BCBAs (certified ABA experts):
The behavior analyst recommends reinforcement rather than punishment whenever possible. If punishment procedures are necessary, the behavior analyst always includes reinforcement procedures for alternative behavior in the program.
4.06 Avoiding Harmful Reinforcers. RBT
The behavior analyst minimizes the use of items as potential reinforcers that maybe harmful to the long-term health of the client or participant (e.g., cigarettes, sugar or fat-laden food), or that may require undesirably marked deprivation procedures as motivating operations.”
In other words, the current standards of ethics for ABA practices explicitly allow punishment, harmful reinforcers, and “undesirably marked deprivation procedures”. But, they claim to “minimize” it, and only do it when they consider it necessary in some way.
This is an empty claim. Everyone who has ever used harmful reinforcers and brutal punishments has claimed that they are only used when they are necessary. Even the people who deprived children of food and made them live and study on electrified floors (graphic link, proceed with caution.) Even the electric shocks and food deprivation used by the Judge Rotenburg Center do not violate the BCBA ethical guidelines, because they claim that they are necessary and only used in extreme cases (even though they shock people for things like standing up from chairs without permission.)
Whenever any of this is done to someone, it will be justified as “a last resort”. Even if it’s an explicit part of their plan. Even if it’s done regularly with no attempt to transition to another approach. Even if nothing else has ever been tried. Someone who is treated brutally will be assumed to have deserved it.
People call things last resorts to justify doing them. They choose to do brutal things to a vulnerable person, but they think of it as inevitable because it is “the last resort”. Calling something “the last resort” means “it’s that person’s fault I’m doing this; I could not possibly do otherwise.”
Treating someone in your care brutally and then blaming them for your choices is inexcusable.
To those treated brutally and told it was a last resort: I’m sorry that happened to you. I’m even more sorry if it’s still happening. It’s not your fault. It’s not because of anything you did, and it’s not because there’s anything wrong with your mind. You were abused because others chose to abuse you.