People often ask how I got started working with Dissociative Disorders and how I learned to talk with people with DID. That’s a fair question, so l will tell you a little bit of my story.
I started my work with dissociative trauma survivors way back in the 80’s. At the time, I was living on the Canadian prairies working at a residential centre for troubled teenagers who had gotten into a little bit of trouble with the law. I had just returned to work after a wonderful 6-month maternity leave, and at that moment, I had an empty caseload.
I was rested, refreshed, and ready to get back to work.
Because I was not already booked up with a full client load, I was given a very interesting opportunity to work specifically with a 13-year old girl who had arrived at our facility a few days before. She was legally required to live there for a few years, and we were expected to help her during her very long stay at this treatment centre.
This girl was really angry. She set several fires in the bathroom. She yelled a lot. She threw furniture. She threw food. She refused to speak to any of the men on staff. She stayed in her room by herself and refused to participate in any group activities. She had everyone baffled, and she most certainly wouldn’t let anyone get anywhere close to her.
So far, all the staff members were completely striking out, and she was simply not having it!
Besides her aggressive and violent behaviors, she had just been very recently diagnosed with DID by Dr Colin Ross, and you can bet your bottom dollar that no one at that facility had a clue about what to do about THAT.
It seemed to me they were all a little freaked out. I’m not sure who was more scared of who. Were those staffers more afraid of her, or was she more afraid of them?
I guess I came back from my maternity leave just in the nick of time because they really didn’t know how to help this girl in any way, shape, or form.
So with me being female, and having extra time in my new work schedule, my team leader wanted me to go meet this young gal and see if I could talk with her or reach her in any way. First I was filled in on all the terrible problems that were happening, of course. My goodness. What a challenge I was given on day one of my return! But hey — I was in a good place, and I was up for it.
So I mustered up my courage, hoped things didn’t explode out of control, and decided to go say hello to her.
And there she was….. curled up on the far opposite side of the room. This “giant problem child” was sitting quietly in the corner, head down, staying tucked within herself. She looked like a normal, but sad and depressed adolescent to me. I took a couple soft steps towards her, and asked gently:
“Hi, I’m Kathy, may I come sit with you for a bit?”
And this so-called Wild Child looked up at me, stared at me for a bit, checked me out with her hypersensitive spidey-sense. I looked back at her, gave her a non-threatening soft smile, and soon enough, she nodded an okay in my direction.
I went a little closer, close enough to talk comfortably, but certainly not crowding her space, and we just talked. And talked. And talked.
She was not any trouble at all! This young gal was a beautiful soul and she was certainly in a whopping lot of pain. Oh dear, oh dear.
Where was this monster child they had spoken of??? I didn’t see any monsters.
Where was all this volatile rage they had been battling? I didn’t see any rage.
I saw a young teenage girl who was hurting, and scared, and sad, and feeling so very, very alone.
We hit it off instantly. Without a problem. Without any screaming, without any anger, without any overturned furniture. I was gentle and respectful towards her and she was warm and receptive to me.
And that was that. It was settled. We were a team. I was most certainly the person who was to be assigned to work with this gal. Besides, she still refused to speak to anyone else, so I guess, in essence, she chose me.
And thank goodness, because this wonderful young girl introduced me to the world of Dissociative Identity Disorder.
But wait — can I do this ???
OKAY! I had a big big challenge ahead of me, because I needed to figure out how to help this gal who had DID. I had vaguely heard of DID, (well, back then we called it Multiple Personality Disorder, so MPD), but I hadn’t ever talked with anyone who was dissociative or split.
I hadn’t studied anything about dissociation because when I did my Clinical Studies for Social Work in graduate school at KU, “there were only 200 people in the whole world with Multiple Personality Disorder,” or so they said anyway.
I was well educated, but I certainly didn’t know much about MPD, so I couldn’t bring that to the healing equation.
However, I had a few other strengths to offer. I already had a pretty good grasp on helping with sexual abuse and trauma issues as I was very familiar with those tender places.
Plus, I had been working with troubled teens for years — teens who came from horribly abusive families and teens who spent much of their lives on the streets. I had already heard quite a few horrific stories of child abuse. I knew many children came from terrible homes.
In my years of working with street kids, I had already learned a few skills about managing volatile and aggressive teenagers. I was physically strong and healthy. I knew I could handle myself around any outbursts.
Plus, I had been well-trained in family systems therapy, and had worked as a family systems therapist, so the whole idea of system work was comfortable for me as well.
But to see one highly traumatized child as a busy system of lots of inside people? Well, that was a first.
But it was okay.
I liked this young gal, I liked challenges, and I was interested in learning about DID. I wasn’t too scared or too freaked out by the diagnosis itself. For me, DID was far more fascinating than it was fearful.
Sure, these were great skills to have, but they didn’t help me understand Dissociative Identity Disorder or know what to do about it.
Next Task: Learning about Dissociative Identity Disorder
This was the 80’s, years before there was internet, so I was limited to reading the few resources I could get my hands on.
I really wanted to learn, and understand, and be helpful to this young girl who was put in my care. I felt an immediate and deep responsibility for her, and tried to learn as much as possible.
Needless to say, the whole DID/MPD treatment process was as new to me as it was to this very newly diagnosed young gal. And it was absolutely new to everyone else in the treatment centre. None of us knew what we were doing.
Everything was an unknown!
Fortunately, I had a little extra help.
Dr. Colin Ross and Geri Anderson, his wonderful nurse assistant, were available for near weekly supervision meetings / phone calls to help me figure out what I was doing.
Remember, this was back in the 80’s when we all lived in Canada.
Dr. Ross was newly emerging into the picture as an expert in the field, and he wasn’t quite as busy then as he is nowadays. But he certainly knew more than I did (back then, maybe not now, HA!), and the guidance I received from Dr Ross and Geri Anderson was an absolute life-saver for me.
They guided me along, week by week for at least two years, and their commitment to helping was very much appreciated. I was able to ask them questions, and get their expert opinions on what to do next. Plus they provided emotional support for me as I found my first exposure to this level of trauma work to be very heavy and personally challenging.
The main goal, however, was to develop an understanding of dissociative disorders so I could learn how to help this gal. After all, I had been personally selected for this job, and by golly! I was determined to be helpful.
The Treatment Plan — Starting at the very very beginning…..
I had done a good job at connecting with this gal, and continued to build a solid level of trust and rapport with her. We were building a solid relationship, and we were comfortable talking together.
This was good — she needed to be able to feel safe with me, and that was happening.
Because she was living at the treatment centre, I knew her basic needs were being attended to every single day. There was 24-hour care at the centre, a variety of people she could talk to at almost any time of day or night, and I was able to give her hours of individual attention each day I was at work.
She was given healthy food, a warm place to stay, clean clothes, her own personal space for rest, recreational activities, and a proper school education. She had medical attention whenever it was needed.
Most importantly, she was completely safe in her outside life and her abusers were not allowed to hurt her anymore.
But she was still a dissociative young girl, who was hurting, and scared, and sad, and feeling very very alone.
So… it was important for me to figure out how to meet her system, and to figure out how to help her.
How Do You Meet the People in a DID System ?
- Who was who?
- Exactly how was I supposed to help this young gal figure out who was who in her system?
- And where were they?
- How was I going to find her system folks, and then what was I supposed to do with them once I found them?
- Or… how was SHE supposed to find her system folks and show me who was who in her system?
- And what was she supposed to do with them once she found them?
Oh my goodness!
Neither of us knew what to do or how to go about any of that.
What did you do when you first found out you were DID?
Did you know how to find your system folks?
Did you know what to do when you found them?
Well…. 30 years later, and after meeting hundreds of dissociative trauma survivors, it doesn’t overwhelm me anymore to meet someone with DID. I think it’s pretty darn cool. 🙂
And yes, it took a little while, but I’ve learned a few things about what to do when someone is first diagnosed with DID, or when they are first meeting their insiders, or when they are meeting a new insider even after years of time. It’s okay. These are do-able, manageable things. It might feel a little freaky and scary to you at first, but hold tight, stay close, and take the time to learn some things. You can do this. You can most definitely do this!
You’re here, and you’re in a great place already. There is lots of help and information available for you here. You are definitely not alone.
You’ll see that, ESPECIALLY if you keep reading around this blog, including the comments. It’s good you are here, because already being here, with all the information provided here, you have more resources available to you today than I did when I met that wonderful young girl.
What I know about that is …. if I can do it, you can do it!
Dig in, and learn. 😀
And please know that I wish you the very best in your healing journey.
PS: I’ve just told you part of the story from when I very first started meeting inside system people.
If you need a little help meeting some of your inside people, or knowing what to do when you find them, I’ve got a fantastic new resource made special, just for you.
The Saddest Little Bear Dissoci-ACTION Story Pack is about when you first meet your inside bears, and what do you do when you first meet them, or even when you find yet another a new bear years later.
This creative resource is available now.
Click HERE for more information.
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