Monday, December 18, 2006

Dr. Arnold (if you're clever, you'll know why that's her name)

Dr. Arnold taught me in my master's program. She told me several times that I was special -- that she didn't remember most students the way she remembered me. She wrote me a love letter of a recommendation the first time I applied to psychology programs. She also went to the school I've just been bounced from and had a few unpleasant run-ins with Dr. Jerk. She even told me he was known to have problems with older female students.

So I actually thought she might see things my way.

No such luck. She sent me this stinker of an email last night:

Ayelet, it's taken me some time to figure out how to respond to this message and your earlier message of the same day, so you may have had the meeting already and matters may have progressed in some direction that I haven't anticipated.

In any case, it's impossible for me to know exactly what's been going on or what the equities of the situation are. But, taking all of your messages together, I gather that you don't really want to continue at this school (after a semester of mandatory leave, that is) and are planning to apply elsewhere.

Frankly, my hope would be that you and the faculty could resolve this impasse so that you could remain at this school. But if that can't happen, there are two things I really need to say -- even though you may not agree with them -- because I'm concerned that you may undermine yourself in the long run if you don't consider them.

The first is that, if you do re-apply, you should be straightforward about the circumstances of your departure from this school. (In one of your earlier e-mails you implied that you might offer a somewhat sanitized explanation for leaving.) Graduate psychology programs take ethical issues very seriously, so if you were admitted to another program and it were later discovered that you had concealed pertinent facts in your application, you might be faced with another premature departure.

The second is that you should consider waiting a while before re-applying, to be sure you completely understand (and can avoid a repetition of) what happened at school -- and to make sure you're emotionally on an even keel during the process.

At the risk of sounding perseverative, I again stress the importance of being in therapy at a time like this. You mentioned your psychiatrist, and you said he's supportive, but it's not clear to me whether this is someone you see at least weekly for psychotherapy, or less often for medication management (and some psychotherapy). Of course, I hope it's the former!

I see Dr. R once a month for 45 minutes, and I've spoken with him on the phone once during this whole debacle. He agreed that I was handling this mess as best I could. Moreover, the only way I can avoid a repetition of what happened at school is to go to a school where the faculty isn't COMPLETELY NUTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I wrote her back:

Dr. Arnold: The most objective person who knows me best, my psychiatrist, does not believe that any of the faculty's charges against me are true. I do not have "loose boundaries" or anger problems.

I only "cheated" by testing people I knew -- and only AFTER trying unsuccessfully to get people I could test from my labmates, and after being berated yet again by Dr. Jerk, who has been consistently rude and harsh to me for no good reason. I did not feel I had anyone among the faculty to go to when the person I was supposed to test -- and went out to Queens to test -- stood me up right before an assignment deadline. It was either test someone I knew or fail that assignment; Dr. Jerk and my T.A. were unwilling to help me, even though what happened was not my fault.

Moreover, the clinical health students are encouraged to test people they know, and the school clinical students are encouraged to test children they know. The course is for practice; any test results are invalid by virtue of the fact that we're still learning and making mistakes. So for the faculty to point to this as a major ethical failing is meretricious. They set up the system for me to fail; when it didn't work for me, I had no recourse. I had no choice but to practice testing with someone I already knew. They are acting as though I plagiarized or assaulted someone physically.

I resorted to duplicity because the faculty has been harassing me almost from day one -- Dr. Rock certainly, and Dr. Octopussy and Dr. Dragon as well. I have asked for help, and it was denied me. I was accused of having loose boundaries and being rude and disrespectful. None of the faculty have ever interviewed me or conducted any kind of assessment. They're going on clinical judgment alone, and I think you know that clinical judgment alone is not a very valid assessment measure.

That, of course, is unethical -- they let their personal biases influence their professional judgment. Moreover, when I asked my advisor, Dr. Freud, for help in dealing with Dr. Jerk's enmity, he was of no assistance.

Dr. Jerk has lied about me in faculty meetings; that is beyond unethical. Dr. Dragon asked me if she could help, and when I asked for help she charged me with being rude and disrespectful. That does not speak well of her compassion. In fact, she told the class of 2010 that she is not a warm, compassionate person. What the hell is such a person doing training clinical psychologists?

In that last, horrible meeting, three of the faculty ranged against me, they intimated that because I tested -- for a course, not for clinical purposes -- someone I was dating, I could not be trusted to work with male patients. Apparently I'll either get too angry at them or try to sleep with them. This is a vicious slander and wholly undeserved.

I am sorry you are disappointed, but I tried to do my best under extremely trying circumstances. I did not deserve the calumnies that they have heaped upon me. I am not the horrible person they say I am, and it is only this belief in myself that has kept me from utter despair and another suicide attempt. They tortured a person who is extremely vulnerable to stress, and it is only my friends and family who have kept me from decompensating.

I deserve a second chance without any negative aspersions cast upon me. That is why I do not feel bad about glossing over my experience at this school. What happened there was not my fault. That is not merely my opinion; it's the opinion of my psychiatrist as well as many of my fellow former students and Dr. Goodman, who taught me in several classes in my master's program and for whom I have been grading papers on a freelance basis.

Since you do not see things this way, I would greatly appreciate it if you would keep your opinions about me to yourself. I will certainly never trouble you for another recommendation.

Ayelet Survivor, M.A.

I realize she's not going to be convinced by anything I could write. I'm so sick of people second-guessing me. But -- whatever. As long as Dr. R and Dr. Goodman believe in me, I'm not concerned about the opinion of any other mental health professional.

Annoyingly, Dr. Arnold sent me a very understanding response:

My message was not intended to be critical, though unfortunately it seems to have come across that way. I'm not in a position to judge your past actions; I was simply trying to caution you about what may be a risky strategy going forward. Obviously this is a very unpleasant situation for you, as it would be for anyone, and I'm sorry if I've inadvertently added to your distress.

Makes it a lot harder to hate her. I don't want to be saying "You're either with me or against me" -- only morons say stuff like that. (Damn you, Ohio -- you elected him to a second term!) And I don't want to overreact when people try to give me good advice -- it's quite a deterrent. But if I can't talk to my own mother right now, obviously I'm being pretty restrictive concerning whose input I listen to.

Thank Gd I see Dr. R tomorrow. I need a reality check. I don't think I'm being irrational, or sliding into hypomania. But I need some reassurance that I'm behaving as well as could be expected, considering my circumstances.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"


  1. For what it's worth (which might not be much), I saw Dr. Arnold's first email as being of the tone she said it was in her second email. She simply raised a couple of concerns that she thought you should consider going forward. I was actually confused about why you had responded to her in the way that you did, although I do understand that these issues are minefields and am not judging you for doing so.
    I would, actually, advise you to consider her first point more - about the level to which you gloss over things in the future. Even if what has happened to you seems to be "not your fault" - and it seems to me too that it hasn't been your fault - stretching things in the future or using 'white lies' on applications can get you into even more trouble, and really effectively end your ability to be enrolled in any program (there's no way to know how administrators / faculty at the next school will view your current situation - they might not see things your way). They are serious issues, and as you know better than anyone else, faculty members can have a way of finding out information that you never intended them to find out. I'm not saying to lay out the whole situation on applications, but I would be VERY cautious about the way you cover yourself

  2. Hey darling - I would have to agree with anonymous - Dr. Arnold wasn't trying to be critical; she was trying to be helpful. And everything in your response was good and accurate till the last paragraph, where you kinda bit her head off. That's my opinion.

    Either way, I think you can say, on future interviews, that a mixture of medical problems and faculty dysfunction led to your departure from school. Who needs specifics?

    If they ask for specifics, I'd dole them out sparingly, regardless. You don't want to lay this whole story on someone at one sitting, unless you know they're sympathetic and won't hold it against you.