Thanks for sharing your story with us Cynthia. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I have always been interested in becoming a therapist, ever since I was a child. My mother was a psychiatrist and I found her work very intriguing. My mom was a doctor before women really became doctors. She got a lot of flak for it from her peers. People would jab at her and tell her she was taking a man’s job… she was a real feminist in her day. I respected her a lot even though she was the only mom in the neighborhood who worked.
When I was 19 years old, I sought out work in my field, so I could learn. I got a job working with homeless and high-risk youth in Hollywood, CA at a homeless youth shelter. We worked with the chronically homeless teens. Through this I learned that trauma was a key factor in homelessness as teens on the street usually developed mental health problems as a direct result of their troubled families. Some had true mental illnesses that were passed through their genes. Most were troubled as a result of severe, chronic childhood abuse. In addition, more than half of the teens on the streets were also on the streets because their families rejected them because they were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. This broke my heart and I became committed and passionate to try and do something about this problem.
Being a lesbian myself, I knew how hard it could be to “come out” as a teenager. It was scary to face large scale social rejection and blatant hatred and discrimination. I “came out” at the age of 19, so I couldn’t imagine being a teen in high school trying to navigate the troubles of normal adolescents, facing large scale ostracism by both adults and peers, and then on top of that deal with abuse and homelessness. It was unfathomable to me.
At that time, the Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services (GLASS) was providing help to LGBTQ and HIV+ youth. I joined their organization and served the community for over 15 years. I learned to advocate for LGBTQI and HIV+ teens while I was also learning more about the impact of trauma and abuse on the human psyche. Most of these teens had severe abuse and often had developed mental illnesses either as a result of their abuse or as a result of their biological disposition to mental illness, or some combination of the two.
GLASS gave me many opportunities to grow as a professional. I learned much about advocacy and treatment of my community as well as how to treat a variety of different mental health problems. I used my time at GLASS to learn about working with special populations. Some of the more unique groups I focused on were adolescent sex offenders, trauma in youth and its impact on developmental issues, childhood abuse, forensic aspects of mental health, transgender youth and special needs of transgender youth in addition and much more. I became a program director of one of the group homes while at GLASS and headed up the house that housed the sexual offenders.
I helped run the sexual offender treatment program and also became the transgender youth specialist there. I produced educational pamphlets aimed at helping reduce the spread of HIV and reduce homelessness for this very vulnerable population.
Vulnerable youth were frequently victims of many different crimes. Teens on the street have to find ways to survive and support themselves. Survival sex is a large part of their common experiences. Predators are keenly aware that homeless youth are easy victims.
Many youths are familiar with the experience of being used by adults for sex and whatever else they may have desired of them, so they are easily turned into “cheap labor” for pimps or other people who would exploit them for their own personal gain. What I was less familiar with, but had begun to encounter, were the various aspects of human trafficking and human slavery that many of these youths also encountered.
Sometimes youth would tell me “tall tales” of sex rings, child pornography rings, snuff films, Hollywood parties where children and teens were the main feature of the parties for sex and violence, and dark occult groups. Most of the staff and professionals I met did not believe kids when they talked about horrifying stories that were extreme and bizarre. I had kids begin to open up to me about groups of adults who were involved in things that most people couldn’t ever imagine. Many were of adults who exploited youth in pornography but then they were also being brought into weird religious celebrations.
Teens had behaviors that were odd and sometimes downright scary. These kids learn early that when they try to tell about more than classic sexual exploitation people will not believe them. They will be dismissed as liars, attention seeking, crazy and worse, if YOU believe anything they tell you, YOU are then dismissed as gullible and crazy yourself! These kids were the MOST vulnerable youth of all.
I was a staff member who cared for kids in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. I saw the “Satan Panic” firsthand. I watched Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Springer and Geraldo interview people who claimed to have been from Satanic Cults and who had multiple personality disorder. I was curious, as was most of America at that time, but was a teenager myself in the 80’s so was privy to watching as Satanism was debunked in the media and the majority of the psychiatric communities dismissed multiple personality disorder.
I didn’t give it a lot of thought past the curiosity I had about the topics. I met a couple of kids who claimed to have had multiple personality disorder but again most of the professionals were dismissing their claims as attention seeking and lies so I never thought more about it beyond this. I read about it from a curiosity standpoint but that was about it.
When I was in what I like to refer to as “therapy school,” multiple personality disorder was briefly mentioned in my diagnostic training, but that was it. It was discussed as a very rare disorder that you really wouldn’t encounter in your career or need to know much about. There was one teacher who did an 8 hour special class on the subject but that was all I ever heard about it. I did take the class because I was curious.
It was right around this time that I began seeing more evidence of teens with multiple personalities, which is now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder. I didn’t know it at the time. I just knew these teens had some bizarre behaviors. At this point I was working as a therapist intern at GLASS. There were several of us and we were supervised by a clinical supervisor. We had a Day Treatment Program at this point, which was a building where the youth came after school to have group therapy and special programs. One youth began acting out in one of the offices and was claiming to be Satan and was threatening the staff, the therapist and the clinical supervisor. Apparently, Satan didn’t like them and was threatening to hurt them, themselves and spat on the clinical supervisor. Me, being who I am as a therapist, was strangely jealous! Crazy, right? I was jealous because I knew that therapist had a case of Dissociative Identity Disorder, that rare disorder that I would not need to know about in my career! I wanted to have an experience working with it myself, as a young clinician. I was hungry to learn.
My wish came true sooner than I expected! I took that 8 hour seminar on working with Dissociative Identity Disorder and there I learned how to assess people for it. Mental health professionals actually don’t learn this at all when learning to assess for mental health disorders! I find that fascinating! Assessing for dissociation in general is an incredibly important thing to know how to do for all sorts of trauma, but it is important to know how to distinguish a dissociative identity disorder from psychosis in particular. One is caused by trauma, the other is a neurological disorder that requires medication.
Psychiatrists giving a traumatized person who has dissociation antipsychotic medications at dosages required to treat psychosis and schizophrenia are highly dangerous and cause brain damage! So to me that is an incredibly important thing to know how to distinguish!
Because I learned how to begin asking the right questions, I immediately added this to my mental health assessments for all of my clients. Soon I had my first case of Dissociative Identity Disorder. I had no idea what I was in for!
The client who revealed that she had multiplicity was a case that had been at the agency for many years. When this child revealed the dissociation, I immediately sought out supervision from my clinical supervisor. I had no idea what the resultant reactions would be.
Suddenly she was unavailable for many weeks. As an intern, therapist interns are required to have weekly individual and group supervision by a clinical supervisor. I went several months without supervision at all. I would beg for supervision and she would promise to meet with me but each week she would be unavailable. I was left on my own to deal with a case I had no idea how to handle. I brought the case to the clinical part of the team who thought I was nuts! It was the strangest reaction! I went from being the most respected therapist at the agency to the therapist who was seen as crazy! I couldn’t understand what was happening!
Being a responsible young clinician, I began doing what we are taught to do when we receive cases you know little about. You are instructed to either pass the case to someone more qualified, read about the disorder and proper treatment strategies, or take seminars about the diagnosis to be better qualified to work with the issue and seek out clinical support from clinicians who are skilled in treating the diagnosis. I began obsessively reading books about the disorder. I read personal accounts, books written by therapists who specialize in treating dissociative disorders, and I began attending conferences to learn. I sought supervision from an outside clinician who was skinned in the treatment of dissociation. He became my mentor throughout my early work with dissociation. The more I worked with this client, the stranger things became at my work. It’s a weird phenomenon that happens with you have a DID case. Clinicians become skeptical of YOU. People at my work began becoming skittish around me. They were wondering why I was spending so much energy focused on learning about this topic. The more social pressure I got from my peers at work, the more I was determined to learn about what I was seeing.
I began having regular phone supervision meetings with Dr. Donald Fridley, PhD. He was a staff psychologist at Del Amo Hospital. Del Amo Hospital has a trauma program as a part of its hospital program and they have an area of specialization in the treatment of dissociative disorders. It is one of three hospitals in the country that specialize in trauma and dissociation. Dr. Fridley was a very generous and gracious man. He was extremely busy but always took time to mentor me, for free.
This is unheard of. I had no idea who I was meeting with at that time. He had become the president of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. He was an important man in the world of psychology. All I knew was he was a brilliant man who was generous and helping me navigate this difficult case I had when no one else at my own agency would return my calls! He even offered to train the entire agency on how to work with Dissociative Identity Disorder! He offered it for free! Needless to say, for political reasons, the agency turned down his generous offer. It’s a shame because they really could have learned a tremendous amount from him. He was a brilliant clinician.
The more pressure my agency put on me, the more determined I became at learning about this ONE psychiatric disorder that our agency did not want to treat. We treated every other disorder and never got rid of youth because of a diagnosis. We had some highly dangerous children that we worked with, including children who had been raised by serial killers and were rapists and pedophiles or severely mentally ill. Yet the agency at that point was saying that if was truly determined that my client had DID, the child would need to be moved to another agency because we were not equipped to deal with a case that complex. It made no sense.
We worked with all cases, including severe cases. I had no understanding of the politics involved. I didn’t understand that they were scared of community backlash because of the political history around DID. They ended up taking me off the case because the client also was feeling the pressure. The child did not want me to tell anyone else at the agency, including the psychiatrist or my administrative team because the client didn’t think they would handle it well. Turns out that client was right.
Ironically their reactivity became a driving force for me. I couldn’t understand why a mental health agency would become so afraid of one diagnosis. This led me on a journey that I would never have imagined. I worked with trauma and childhood abuse. I understood a lot about prostitution, survival sex, sex rings, pornography, and various traumatic experiences that shape a person’s life in various detrimental ways. I understood a lot about many different types of mental illnesses and had learned a huge amount from my time with GLASS. I am forever grateful for the opportunities I had there and in the agencies that help homeless teens. All these experiences began preparing me for this aspect of my career – human trafficking and human sexual slavery.
I spent a lot of time learning about dissociative disorders. The more you learn about them the more you encounter the controversy surrounding them and the dark occults that can be affiliated with DID. But what most people don’t understand is that the dark occults where DID is often born, are deeply intertwined with underground organized crime. Criminals learned that severely traumatizing and drugging children can cause them to forget the crimes you involve them in. Further, using hypnosis and teaching them to have different personalities is a great way of hiding what they are experiencing in their criminal organizations. Children become child soldiers and human sex slaves. But then you can teach them to forget and have no awareness of these activities.
They can go to school and interact with unsuspecting adults and other kids who won’t know what is going on when they are being used for criminal purposes. Children with DID have been used in drug smuggling, pornography, child prostitution, even spying and assassinations. Who would suspect an innocent child would be there to murder you? These children can be traumatized and shaped into free labor for organized crime. It is a horrifying reality that very few people know anything about. Unfortunately, small groups of various religious groups who practice occult magic rites, blood magic and sex magic specifically, learned how to create DID for the purpose of magical rites. Organized crime learned that they could use children trained in these cults for their own purposes. A lot of money is made using these children and human trafficking, which is far more than the use of people for sexual prostitution, is more prevalent in the United States than any other country. We are the ideal place for it – a rich country, discredited DID and occult magic cults publicly, with many organized crime groups in control of ports and major throughways to transport humans as needed or as demand grows for their use. If you report the activities to authorities, you will be discredited or disbelieved. It’s a perfect environment for a major cover-up of human slavery.
I kept learning and educating myself about dissociative disorders and trauma throughout my career. As a mental health professional, a feminist and an activist, I decided I did not want to contribute to the fear and ignorance surrounding this disorder.
I trained in treating trauma and dissociation for many years now. I read about it regularly, attend conferences and have met with various professionals who have committed their lives to the treatment of trauma and dissociation as well. I worked with Randy Noblitt, PhD and professor at Alliant University to start the Los Angeles chapter of the Dissociative Disorders Study Group – a professional group for clinicians who treat dissociative disorders. It is a place where other professionals can discuss cases, treatment strategies and learn together and offer one another support.
In April of 2005, I opened my private practice. This ultimately was always my dream. I am highly independent spirited and always knew I needed to have my own business. Many people warned me that private practice was very difficult to get into and establish. I learned a lot about running your own business as a therapist and knew it took at least three to five years to develop a regular clientele. I think my interests in trauma and feminism along with the work I have done in the LGBTQI community helped me to develop a full practice that took less than 8 months. I was stunned! I was working full time for myself in less than 1 year!
Since then, my business grew. A woman interested in some of the same areas I treat approached me to mentor her. This was when I first began hiring people to work in my practice. Since then I developed Los Angeles Therapy Network, Inc. It was based on the idea that good therapy is about providing therapy that is relational and attachment focused. We work from a trauma model but also all the clinicians at LA Therapy Network are highly trained and skilled clinicians. I wanted a team that was different than the typical model of either independent groups of therapists who refer to one another or low paid or volunteer interns who were needing to learn how to be therapists and moved on from clients after 6 months or a year. Good therapy is ongoing for the length of time a client needs or wants to be with a therapist. Therapy for the general public just isn’t good therapy anymore. We are looking for quick fixes for serious problems. My idea was different, have a group of highly trained therapists who work together and offer different skills and options for the clients we serve but who are all committed to seeing cases through to their end. We combined the best of each models. We do not use interns. We do not use insurance – who try to control treatment and limit what we are able to do. We try to provide the best therapy at reasonable pricing.
LA Therapy Network (LATN) offers therapy in the community. Most of the offices are at private homes. I have found most people prefer this because it is more comfortable to do therapy at a house then to go to an office that is more formal and public. We have top clinicians who have a minimum of 10 years’ experience post-licensure (after completing their 3000 hours for licensing and passing their professional licensing exams). They each have specialized training in therapy so we have much more to offer. For example, I am a Board Certified Expert in the treatment of Traumatic Stress, I am trained in the use of Jungian Sandplay Therapy, creative therapies, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. I am specially trained in the treatment of Dissociative Disorders, occult abuse and am a feminist therapist. I have other therapists who are trained in other mind-body therapies, have trained under the masters in psychology, and use hypnotherapy, somatic therapies, art therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectic behavioral therapy and much much more. We are a powerhouse group of therapists and a deeply committed team who are bonded together with one another and provide therapy throughout Los Angeles County. We currently have three offices under LATN – Northeast Los Angeles in Eagle Rock, Glendale and South Pasadena areas, Long Beach/South Bay and northern Orange County and Santa Monica/Westside. The therapists here will sometimes see clients out of their own private practice locations in Beverly Hills, Redondo Beach and Sherman Oaks.
Our mottos are: “Because Sometimes… You Need More than a Friend….”
“Sanity for the Insanity of Life”
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Owning your own business is never a smooth road! Life has many challenges and mine is no exception! I started my business after I divorced my first wife and after I had to have a hysterectomy. It was a very difficult emotional time for me. I did not want the end of the relationship and at the time we had been planning to have a family together. She realized while on a trip out of the country with her mother that she did not want to have a family with me and was unhappy with certain aspects of our relationship. The divorce and loss of ability to have children was devastating. It was in my attempt to rebuild that I began my own private practice.
I met a new partner and began a new life with her. Unfortunately, this person had developed several health problems and I became her full-time caregiver. Losing her income forced me to push the business to grow. This was a blessing in disguise because I now have five therapists who work with me, a business manager and an assistant who all make LATN great! I am very proud of my team!
Our work is difficult work because of the nature of some of the people we serve. When we have high profile or difficult cases of torture and trauma, it is tiring to help someone who has been that badly hurt heal. It takes a lot of your energy and being that traumatized makes them suspicious of all people in their lives. This can be turned against you sometimes. You never know what is going to trigger people who have been that hurt in their lives.
For the most part, our work is incredibly very rewarding! We have incredible clients of all backgrounds! We have stars from the movie and television industry, highly creative people from all different performing arts backgrounds, strong women who are advocates of people in need, business owners, passionate students…. I always learn from all our clients and am always amazed at the incredible lives people lead! It is a huge sacred honor to help people heal their psyches and help them through life challenges. I have been able to be a part of these sacred paths and we all feel deeply blessed to be doing the work we are doing!
Please tell us about Los Angeles Therapy Network.
LATN is a group of feminist therapists. We specialize in helping people from all walks of life but we focus on helping women, the LGBTQI communities, people struggling with trauma, depression, anxiety, life transitions, couples struggling in their relationships, professional development and creative blocks and of course trauma and dissociation.
Our areas of expertise are women’s issues, trauma of all types but especially from childhood abuse and sexual trauma, human trafficking/modern day slavery, cult and occult abuse, and dissociative disorders.
We are set apart because of the fact that all of the therapists here are highly trained, licensed professionals. We have a range of 10-30+ years post-licensure experience. We are all committed to the work and collaborate regularly together in biweekly case consultations. I ensure we have an ongoing strong connection with one another so we help each other in our own private lives as well as maintain connections so we work with clients collaboratively. We are all trained in specialized areas and each have different therapeutic approaches so we cross train each other. We are really good at what we do!
I am proud of the quality of professionals LATN hires. We seek the best. We operate from a feminist model and our team is an incredibly bonded and gifted group of women!
I am also very proud of our work helping survivors of human trafficking and modern day slavery. We have done some powerful work with our clients and I am deeply honored to be a part of this team!
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I think the only thing I would have done differently is hire a good business manager, like I have now and I think I would have instituted the hiring practice I use now. We interview a group of people and interview people we are serious about several times. The entire team interviews candidates eventually if we are serious about them and if they pass all the interviews then we try them out. It’s a lengthy process but it shows people you have to be serious about working here and take it serious. I also explain to people that therapy is different from other work. Clients expect to leave a therapist and not the other way around. Thus, I explain to clinicians who come to work here that we expect them to remain here until they retire. It sounds crazy but it works! I don’t want a lot of turn over. We keep a very unusually high standard along with maintaining a supportive team environment. We have several social gatherings together in addition to our regular case meetings so everyone maintains a sense of belonging.