About Sharon

I am a psychologist who spent the first ten years of my career doing full-time clinical work at a large community mental health center.  The agency was growing quickly and the administrators kept trying to promote me but I declined, even when I was starting to burn out as a clinician.  I am a bit obsessive-compulsive and had always been stressed by ambiguity or change.  My fear about joining the management ranks was that it would just be too stressful for me.

Robin came to see me early in my career with symptoms related to a past history of trauma including depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, dissociative episodes and self-mutilation.  She also had significant social anxiety and severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.  She was very smart, funny, likable and knowledgeable about her symptoms as she herself had worked in the mental health field for several years.  Robin was very good at presenting to the world that she was feeling better and was healthier than she actually was.  She had told very few of her mental health savvy friends about her symptoms.  I was honored that she agreed to let me in, and she quickly made significant progress in treatment.  Within a couple years she was stabilized on antidepressant medication and was no longer self-mutilating or dissociating.  She and I spread out our sessions, meeting more frequently for periods of time when she would have sporadic episodes of increased depression.  These episodes always responded well to adjustments in her antidepressant medication, and she continued to develop better coping skills and an increased understanding of her illness.

In early 2002 Robin became intractably depressed.  We both assumed situational factors were the cause of her increased symptoms.  A year of medication changes and other therapeutic strategies, however, brought little relief.   In early 2003 she was still working full-time as a case manager in the mental health field despite having been significantly depressed for the previous year.  She finally was unable to contain and manage her symptoms any longer, and ended up being hospitalized for the first time in January 2003.

What happened during the subsequent eleven months is a dramatic story of Robin struggling against almost constant obsessive suicidal thoughts, and me learning that she had been hiding many of her feelings and symptoms from me and everyone else (did not want to lose “my respect”) for many years.  Once Robin’s defenses completely abandoned her and she began to talk, I became as spiritually clear as I have ever been…that I needed to be her life-line if she was going to survive.  I became painfully aware that this person I cared about and had known for so long, had been completely alone in her significant illness.  She was not consciously hiding it.  Minimizing and trying to “be normal” was her defense.  She did not know how to be open about how “crazy” she was feeling.  As I started to become immersed in the reality of everything I had not known about her, it suddenly became clear to me that she had been misdiagnosed…by me and by her psychiatrist.  Her psychiatrist agreed, and we worked closely together to try to get Robin’s symptoms stabilized.  After four hospitalizations, eleven electroconvulsive therapy treatments, a planned suicide attempt that got interrupted by completely coincidental events, a job loss, and five medications, Robin finally said the words I had been waiting, desperately, for so long to hear… “I feel like myself again.”

That year changed me forever.  I had no choice but to abandon whatever techniques I had learned as a therapist and to completely “trust my gut.”  I agonized, consulted colleagues and supervisors, extended boundaries in ways that felt appropriate, lost sleep, and worried a lot.  Robin’s brain was torturing her.  Her severe obsessive-compulsive symptoms took over her thoughts and she could not shift out of obsessing about killing herself.   At the same time, I became completely clear that all of the meaningless things I had ever worried about prior to that time were unimportant.  Witnessing the life and death struggle of someone I cared about, for eleven months, caused everything in my life to take on a different perspective.  The bottom line is that I am no longer afraid of change or ambiguity.  I am no longer stressed by the challenges that used to stress me.  My life has been through many, many changes since that time including stopping my therapy practice, allowing myself to be promoted many times over a seven year period to various positions with increasing management responsibilities, and then changing career paths again.

Robin has continued to heal since that horrible year of despair.  Her story is dramatic.  There is much to say about how others can learn from her experience.  She has managed to overcome the stigma of mental illness and to accept herself and her remaining symptoms.  She is now open with others about her illness and disability.

I will be forever grateful to Robin for letting me in, for allowing me to witness her pain, and for the positive changes that happened to me as a result.  Robin and I need to tell her story.  There is a book to write, so that others may benefit.  This blog is the vehicle through which our book will be written.

Sharon DeVinney, Ph.D. completed her doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Purdue University.  She spent ten years doing full-time clinical practice at a community mental health center with primarily adults, many of whom experienced symptoms of severe mental illness.  She then spent eight years working as an administrator at that same community mental health center while continuing to maintain a small caseload of therapy clients.  During the past four years she has worked as an administrator and disability evaluator, and provides clinical services in long-term care facilities.

36 Responses to About Sharon

  1. Aimer Shama says:

    Sounds like an amazing journey and an incredible story. Can’t wait to find out more. Question to Sharon though, why is it that Robin’s story is the one you choose to focus exclusively on?

  2. ninamishkin says:

    Hi Sharon. Sorry to be so late getting back to you to thank you for your visit and your “follow.” As you probably read when you visited, I’ve been out of commission for about two weeks with an obscure dermatological problem, but am slowly emerging, and look forward to exploring your blog as soon as my head clears itself from the course of steroids that were prescribed. Although my emotional problems were never as severe as Robin’s, or even ever required medication, I did at one time, now long past, sometimes refer to myself as the Queen of Therapy (consort to Woody Allen’s King). So your area of expertise and self perceptions are of particular interest to me! 🙂

  3. Thank you for stopping by my post and following me. You have an interesting story and I will follow along.

  4. Mandy says:

    Thank you for following my blog so I could discover yours. In my most recent post I just mentioned needing to find a therapist. (I have had no real luck connecting with one over the many years of dealing with childhood sexual abuse). I’m intrigued by you and Robin’s connection (envy it for sure!) and look forward to reading.

    • I love your blog! Thanks for visiting ours. Yes, Robin and I both feel fortunate to have found each other. There is so much more to the story…

      • Thank you so much for following my blog Sharon! I am absolutely fascinated by your blog and look forward to reading past posts, and to keeping up with new ones when they are published. I also can’t wait to read the book when it comes out! Although my time in therapy has been comparatively short (a couple of years), it has been quite varied, and I am really interested in the process, in different types of therapy, and in the therapist/client relationship. The great thing about your blog is being able to see things both from the therapist’s and the client’s point of view, particularly as I struggle so much with wondering how my therapist(s) see/have seen me. Thank you again for following, and for sharing your experiences in this way!

      • Thank you so much for your supportive comments. Robin and I are enjoying telling our story, and it is really great to hear from you and others that it is helpful and interesting. As a fellow blogger, I’m sure you are aware that putting oneself out into cyperspace is an exercise in vulnerability. It is always helpful to find out what the people reading are actually thinking about what we are writing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. thesadluckdame says:

    Thanks so much for following my blog! I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus lately as I deal with a major depressive episode and increased dissociation, but I hope to be back in the game soon. :3

  6. 1sparrow says:

    Sharon, I can’t thank you enough for following my blog. Considering your background, I consider it an honor. Using this forum to post your book is a great idea and I look forward to future posts. Also looking forward to scanning the blogs you follow!

  7. mercy123123 says:

    I read your post with tears in my eyes, because someone I know didn’t make it. Please share Robin’s story with the world. It could save a life. Stigma kills.

    • Thank you so much for reading. I’m so sorry you lost someone you care about. Robin and I both feel strongly about trying to fight the stigma, and are sharing our story in order to make a small contribution to this mission. Hope you will follow along!

  8. Mandy says:

    Sharon, I really look forward to and Robin’s posts. I wonder if what you do could open other therapists eyes. I’ve been searching for a therapist for a long time and have a hard time getting a return phone call! Do you have a projected time for your book coming out? It’s going to help a lot of people!

    • I am so sorry you have not been able to find a therapist…don’t give up! I wish I could give you a projected time for the book, but we are posting as we write it. We are going to try to get started on Part Two, which is The Six Steps to Overcoming Mental Illness while we finish writing the story, but we are not sure when we will be able to get it done. I am so glad you are following. Thanks for all your support!

  9. lensgirl53 says:

    While I hear the positive side of this experience, I can’t help but be envious of Robin. As I search for reasons and answers about my own son’s suicide I find it hard to be overjoyed that there is a silver lining for others but not my son. If only…. It’s like losing a loved one to cancer to find out the day after they die that a cure for the disease has been found. I know how selfish that sounds. Forgive me.

    I do realize from reading over several of your posts that Robin’s struggles have been long and not so easily treated. I hope she will be able to continue to cope and endure the process toward a better life with your help. She has been blessed by having a caring person in her life that can really be of help. I am sure she considers you that blessing in her life.

    • Thank you so much for your very honest comments. I always welcome dialogue and feedback. I am very, very sorry about your son’s death and can completely understand your feelings of envy about the unusual connection Robin and I have experienced. Please do not feel selfish about wishing your son had found the right help to prevent his suicide! Mental illness is often tragic, especially because the relentless stigma associated with these issues affects everything from funding for mental health services to people’s willingness to admit they need help and to seek treatment. We are telling Robin’s story (which is only just beginning) because there is so much others can learn from it. I wish your son was still alive to read it. I hope you are able to eventually find some peace in the face of your heartbreaking loss.

  10. Hi Sharon, thanks for visiting my blog. I have bipolar, obsessive compulsive and paranoid personality disorders for which I have been taking prozac and wellbutrin for the past twenty-five years. I had long periods of suicidal thoughts, especially when I was driving on the highway. I look forward to reading your and Robin’s journey from the start. ~ Dennis

  11. Denise Hisey says:

    Hi Sharon, thanks for stopping by recently.
    After reading both your and Robin’s About pages, I was totally drawn in by your stories. I read one book several years ago written by the client and therapist but I can’t remember the title. It’s the only one I’ve ever seen out there, so I’m sure yours is very unique.
    Kudos to you both for being willing to tell such an important story. I firmly believe the more of us who tell our stories about mental health journeys, the more we can break down the walls of stigma.

  12. Dear Sharon,

    Thank you for your comment on my poem post a month ago at Wagblog. I was hospitalized soon thereafter, and experienced so much brutality there and what i felt was deliberate torture at this institution. They knew i had PTSD from previous seclusions and restraints use, as well as other forms of domestic abuse and rape. The terrible thing to me now is that though i consider forgiveness a necessary and one of the highest virtues, if not the primary one, i find myself not wanting to forgive them – or anyone at any previous abusive hospital – not wanting to forgive them at all, not even for my own peace of mind, but wanting to stay angry so i can get back at them and hurt them! I am SO SO angry. I just want them to hurt as much as i hurt…and i know yes, i know it does me no goddam good to want them to feel as bad as i do, because they won’t and can’t.

    They don’t even know that what they did to me was wrong or that there was another way to treat a human being…and i know that staying filled with anger only hurts me. But i don’t know how to let go of it and forgive them, because they knowingly did such things to me, stripped me naked and put me in a seclusion cell in the name of helping me, and restrained me, with the “assistance” of manhandling guards, shackled me naked to a bed, because they were sick of me…silenced me, left me alone to scream my lungs out….and turned the intercom off so no one had to hear me shriek.

    i don’t know how to forgive this and let it go. Yet it does me no good to want them to feel my screams and hurt…how can i ever forgive them? How can i let it go? How does one forgive, how does one stop being angry or even start wanting to not be angry, when this keeps happening in the name of treatment? You tell me? (No, i don’t mean really, you. Clearly you are not a perpetrator. I am just venting here, because you were so kind as to comment on my poem, and i am too raw to write my own blog post…but really, HOW DARE ANYONE CONSIDER SUCH TORTURE “TREATMENT”?!

    Thank you for letting me say these few words here. And thank you for being there for Robin in her time of anguish and greatest need.

    Pam W.

    • Pam–I was happy to see you back, but I am so sorry to hear how much you are still struggling. Your experiences highlight one of the issues Robin and I will be discussing in the second part of our book, which will outline six steps to healing from overcoming severe mental illness (i.e., getting to a place where mental illness is not your identity, feeling generally content with your life, and knowing what to do to maximize the likelihood of maintaining stability). One of the issues we will discuss is that in 2003 at the agency where I was working, there was continuity of care. Robin was able to continuously receive treatment from both me and her psychiatrist whether she was in the hospital or not. I obviously know nothing about your situation with treatment providers, but I can tell you that this continuity of care no longer exists in our community, as the agency where I used to work is now closed…partly due to severe funding cuts at the state level. I have much to say about the way in which our health care system falls short in terms of appropriately treating people with mental illness. That could be a whole different book. I hope you feel better soon, and will keep reading Robin’s story. Sharon

  13. YEs, one of the major problems is that I experience regular setbacks leading to hospital stays of no short length, largely my doctor feels and so does my brother, a psychiatrist I actually admire, that I try to stop my meds (which I do not believe I need) with inevitably disastrous consequences…A long story, an old one, I know, but there you have it. I do not trust the meds and I do not want to take them, though I have long said that if anything I like the “side effects” of feeling activated and feeling enabled to write and do art. Frankly, on the other hand, I do not trust my own experience, and also believe that I could do art and writing without them, given time enough to heal and detox (even though I KNOW in point of fact that before these drugs I did nothing like it, not in terms of productivity)..That said, another major problems of being hospitalized — which you alluded to — is that my private psychiatrist (not to mention my own brother) has no say in my treatment, legally, and literally. Whether her advice is taken or rejected is only a matter of how amenable the treating hospitalist psychiatrist is to “outside interference.” This recent time, the in-hospital doc was adamantly against her input, though he did not, luckily insist on shooting me up with megadoses of Haldol, or change my meds to Zyprexa so long as I agreed to take my usual Abilify and Geodon. But he was so brutal in other ways, and my own psychiatrist, having no admitting privileges could not even visit, except at the very limited and strictly enforced visiting hours. She had no influence on any of his decisions, not even when he committed me involuntarily “for length of stay”, and made a serious threat to send me longterm to the one state hospital left in Connecticut.

    I need to somehow stay on the meds, I guess. I dunnno…I hate to say that, because in truth, in utter truth, despite all these fiascos related to not taking them, I still just do not trust in them or believe that I, Pam Wagner, need antipsychotic medication to stay out of the hospital. It just does’t compute, I do not understand why. You would think that after the extreme brutality of this last long stay, I would shape up and see the reasonableness behind at least agreeing to take the meds. But in all honesty, I do not. That is not to say that I won’t take them. I do, and I will, for the time being. I have no unpleasant side effects from them that I notice. But because I cannot say that I feel I need them, I can just see this situation repeating itself down the road, the next time I get to feeling like it is too much to keep taking pills I shouldn’t take, or that I feel some website is encouraging me to stop…

    It’s a huge problem. I feel like I am a failure in so many people’s eyes if I keep taking antipsychotic meds, that they say are bogus and I largely intellectually know and agree they are. I feel that I disappoint them if I do not stop taking them…And myself. Even if they have no idea who I am and logically could not give a damn about me, I still feel like I am disappointing everyone. And of course myself…So it is a problem, and I do not see it being permanently resolved yet.

    Thanks again, as I have before, for your blog and your kind responses to my long comments. I still haven’t undertaken my own blog post about New Britain General Hospital…still too raw and hurting from that, But I appreciate your letting me take baby steps here.

    Here’s a question: When you extended your usual boundaries with Robin, did this change your relationships with other clients? Meaning, did you also find these boundaries getting less rigid with them, and was this a good thing or a less than good thing? I have had problems with doctors who have not kept their boundaries with me, though I have maintained MY OWN…They needed something from me, and when I could not provide it, everything went haywire, and as the patient of course I was blamed…by the doctor, at any rate, and by a system that can use diagnosis as a way to blame. If you get my drift.

  14. Pam–I can tell how much you are struggling with the whole issue of whether to take medication. I’m sorry it is all so hard. I was also sorry to hear I was right about the continuity of care issue with your hospitalization. It horrifies me the extent to which outpatient and inpatient providers do not collaborate with each other. This is an issue within our whole health care system. I won’t get on my soap box about that here….

    I’m so glad you asked the question about boundaries. I always welcome dialogue. To answer your question, my decision to extend the boundaries with Robin did not affect my relationships with other clients at that time. I was making conscious decisions about what was best for Robin. It became clear to me that her rigid brain had kept her very isolated from everyone, and that this was contributing to her severe depression. I knew I was the only person she could be open with at that time, given the extent of her suicidal thoughts, and that if I did not make myself more available to her she would likely end up dead. My goal was to be a temporarily close support person until she could get comfortable being more open with her family and friends, which is what eventually happened. Robin’s experience did help me realize I needed to occasionally be more flexible with other clients in terms of boundaries. But the decision to extend boundaries in any way should always be made by therapists with the specific client’s best interests in mind. You said you have had issues with doctors who have not kept their boundaries with you because they needed something from you that you couldn’t provide. That is the key…you (or any other client) should never be expected to meet the needs of your treatment providers. That is when things can start to go “haywire” as you say. Treatment providers need to be aware of their own issues and how these issues can impact the therapy relationship. It is the responsibility of the treatment provider to ensure they do whatever necessary, including seeking their own treatment, to prevent themselves from doing harm to the clients who are trusting them.

    I am so glad you are back to writing. Happy to dialogue, any time. Sharon

  15. Dawn D says:

    First, thank you for following me.
    I don’t know how much you have read about me yet, but I have been going about finding myself in a non-conventional way I guess. Or maybe it’s very conventional, it’s just that people don’t dare admit it.
    I have been fighting against stigma associated with mental health for a long time. I had to fight for more than 15 years for the right to seek treatment, to make my ex understand that undergoing such treatment wasn’t a waste of money, or time. That’s the first type if stigma I had to go through.
    Then was the fact that, as an expat, I was part of a pretty small community, one in which it is so easy to become stigmatised.
    I fought stigma with my parents, with my in-laws, with friends, with just about everyone.
    I find it sad that people don’t feel safe to admit to people around them they suffer from a disease.
    There was a time when I couldn’t admit I was suffering from depression for fear of being rejected. Now, I have become, if not proud, at least unashamed to say that I suffer from depression. I don’t tell everyone, but I am not ashamed to admit it any more. I am much more open to telling others. Possibly because I feel I am close to complete recovery (or at least my happy ending). And because I want people to see that having a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re crazy.
    Now, one of the hardest stigma I am fighting is with my eldest, who heard his dad speak ill of me so often, a dad who keeps saying that I’m not depressed, I am just lazy. That crying serves no purpose, so I shouldn’t cry, that I am merely weak… I hope one day my teen sees that his dad is just narcissistic, egotistical and abusive. Until then… I’ll have to live with the stigma once again.
    I had a special bond with both my psychiatrist and psychotherapist, one that survived changes of offices or a move out of the country followed by a return more than 5 years later. I am grateful to all of my therapists and particulary to that one psychiatrist. He is the one who saved me while I was in the psychiatric hospital with suicidal thoughts, and the one who accepted to take me on afterwards, even though it was unusual to do so, to still a client from a colleague… I am very grateful to him for having done so.
    I think showing the experience from both points of view is an interesting idea. I
    m looking forward to reading more.

    • I am so glad you came and visited. I love your blog as well, and look forward to reading more. Robin and I had to take a bit of a break from writing, but we are back and ready to tell the rest of her story. Thanks so much for reading!

      • Dawn D says:

        You love my blog? Meaning you have read more than a post or two I assume? Nice to know. May I aske when you started to read?
        As for Robin’s and your story… it hits so close to home, I like the way you write… But I didn’t have it in me today to read more than three of your posts (your about pages and the first part of the meltdwon from Robin’s perspective). This is too emotionally draining for me today. :-/

      • Read a few posts last night. I love the way you write…so descriptively. I am working on trying to get better at that. It seems to come naturally. Loved the “First Date” post. 🙂

        Yes, reading our blog can be emotional for those who have been through similar experiences. I am honored you are reading. Take your time…

      • Dawn D says:

        Thank you very much. I am honored that you like what ai write. As you know, or will know soon, I don’t consider myself a writer, it was never my trade. So to have someone say they love the way I write… I’m tearful!
        Which part of the first date did you like? Well, I suppose the second one was far more descriptive than the first one 😉

        I will take my time. I am looking forward to the 6 steps you mentioned. It would probably help me…

  16. Just found your blog, and wanted to say I think it’s amazing. I’ve experienced a similar situation to Robin… pretending I’m okay on the outside, sharing a little bit (but not everything) with my therapist, and being misdiagnosed. My “meltdown” happened last January. When it came out that I have major depression and Borderline Personality Disorder, instead of working through it with me, my therapist became scared and left me. I am still struggling with (and blogging about) the pain of my mental illness and her abandonment every day. I can’t imagine having a relationship as strong as you and Robin’s… your story is amazing.

    • So glad you found us and that the blog has been helpful to you. I’m so sorry your therapist left…that just means she was not the right therapist for you. Robin and I were fortunate to have the luxury of working together for so long. Mental health treatment, in this country anyway, has gotten much more difficult since 2003 when Robin had her meltdown. I hope you find a good therapist who can stick with you for as long as it takes to heal!

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