Sisters are doing it for Themselves
I worked in a secure hospital in the United Kingdom from 1992 to 1996 and requested to work in women’s services as this is where my expertise was best placed and I wished to improve the therapeutic services for women patients at the hospital. There had previously been a public inquiry at the Hospital which had highlighted abuses of patients there and I wished to be part of the improvements to the services following the inquiry recommendations.
However, within a short time of working as a clinical psychologist at the hospital I experienced many challenges and found the institution to be patriarchal and abusive. I was also working closely with two trainee clinical psychologists and two assistant psychologists and the five of us tried our level best to support the women patients in the service. Myself and the women professionals I was supervising and working with started to be treated very unfairly for supporting women patients with their concerns. The more women patients developed trust with us the more they disclosed the abuses they suffered at the hospital. We became labelled by others as the ‘five lesbians’ for supporting women and the more we raised concerns based on the women patients experiences of abuse, the more we as professionals became marginalised and mistreated. Women patients spoke to us about psychological abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse at the hospital and at the hands of staff who worked there and were meant to provide care and safety. When we raised our concerns and challenged these practices, the institution closed ranks and tried to deny the abuses and tried to silence women patients by labelling them as ‘mentally ill and therefore their word could not be trusted.’ They also tried to belittle us as professionals so we would not be taken seriously.
As professionals who were dismayed by the lack of an effective response from the hospital we raised concerns with interested organisations who support patients right’s, including women in special hospitals, WISH and the Mental Health Act Commission. Even when photographic evidence had been obtained, women’s complaints were not taken seriously. Then a woman patient I had been seeing for therapy for several years was prevented from moving out of the hospital to a less secure hospital due to her self-harm. The impact of her rehabilitation being prevented resulted in her becoming depressed, a normal response to the situation she found herself in. However, the care team led by a medical professional decided to give her Electroconvulsive Therapy, ECT, a shock to the brain. Although I raised objections to this harsh treatment and said I felt her response was normal, she was given ECT. I found her afterwards on the ward crying her eyes out. She told me she had no choice as the staff forced her consent to the treatment stating that if she didn’t she would never see her boyfriend again. I considered this to be a violation of the informed consent process which should have taken place. When I raised concerns regarding this I was suspended from my duties. After some meetings, I considered that I had reached a point where I could not work effectively at the hospital, as professionals my team were being harassed due to our support of women and their concerns, and the women patients we were trying our best to provide therapeutic services for were unsafe and complaining of abuse and therefore I considered I had been constructively dismissed. I had an industrial tribunal where I claimed I had been subjected to sexual harassment and constructive dismissal which I won, and in which I raised the concerns women patients had presented to myself and my team. I am pleased to say I won the court case, although my major concern was the welfare of the women patients. I therefore, following the tragic death of one of my previous women patients, submitted my documentation to her inquest, although her body was cremated so evidence regarding her death remained hidden and the circumstances of her death suspicious. I further submitted the evidence to the Fallon Inquiry. Following this, women patients were removed from the hospital.
I called this very brief writing piece of a very complex and difficult experience Sisters are doing it for Themselves as one of the few positive things we managed to establish whilst working at the hospital was a therapeutic group for women who self-harmed (usually as a result of traumatic experiences). This was one of the only safe spaces at the hospital where women in the group could share their experiences, relax, support each other and even laugh about things which were extremely difficult to deal with. The group ran with the same women for eighteen months and has been written about elsewhere.