Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

"I Am Not a Disorder": The Chrysalis Community-Based Treatment Program

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

"I Am Not a Disorder": The Chrysalis Community-Based Treatment Program

Article excerpt


In 1980, I took a job as a social worker in a Children's Aid Society treatment centre in Toronto. Within this context, I began to meet women and children who had been subjected to the most brutal forms of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, among them a woman who suffered from a severe case of what we then called "multiple personality" and now call "dissociative identity disorder." I knew I was over my head trying to help this woman, but the psychiatric facility from which she was referred to our program made it clear that they had no intention of taking her back. So I decided to return to school to learn more about how to do this work that was suddenly much more complex than I had previously experienced, and I enrolled in the Community Psychology program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in the University of Toronto.

I had grown up in New York City and Long Island and spent much of my free time as an adolescent in two of the most marginalized areas of the city, the Bowery and Spanish Harlem, operating a clothing room for homeless people and caring for abandoned babies. Then I moved to Toronto where I was a social worker in communities where I saw the same poverty, racism, and class oppression. I came to postgraduate studies wanting to know more about people's intrapsychic struggles but also extremely aware of the ways in which their environment profoundly affects who they are and can become. Community Psychology, the branch of psychology concerned with person-environment interactions and the ways society impacts upon individual and community functioning, was, therefore, a good fit for me.

Social injustice related to race and class were central to my awareness from the time I was a teenager in the early 1960s, traveling from one end of Manhattan to another. It was only in the early 1980s, when I encountered on a daily basis women and children who had been repeatedly brutalized, physically and sexually, by men, that I began to see a glimpse of gender and sexuality as sites of oppression. Dr. Jeri Wine was one of my professors in the Community Psychology department at OISE, and she opened my eyes to a feminist perspective on psychology that has stood me in good stead in my work for the next 20 years.

I had signed on for a master's degree, but Jeri convinced me that there was no reason why I should not do a doctorate as well. She supervised my dissertation committee with a light hand, recognizing my capacity to do what I needed to do in my own way. With her support, I finished my dissertation expeditiously and went back to the complicated and endlessly interesting project of reaching out to people who have endured the extremes of oppressive socialization to a patriarchal society, those with severe post-traumatic dissociative conditions.

A few years after I graduated from OISE, I was invited to join the Department of Psychiatry at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. As well as teaching and supervising the psychiatry residents and other students, I developed a treatment program for individuals who had been diagnosed in the psychiatric system with "personality disorders." This article describes a few aspects of this program, which has operated for 11 years within the dominant culture of a university hospital and at the same time attempts every day to subvert some of the most basic values of that culture. I continue to be grateful to Jeri Wine for giving me both the encouragement and the space to build the feminist perspective and community psychology knowledge base that made creating and sustaining this innovative program possible. As well as the direct contribution she made to my life, she has also enriched the lives of all the individuals who have been touched, stirred up, empowered, and healed through the Chrysalis Program.

The Chrysalis Program

Feminist therapists operate within multiple realities, and the ability to live with uncomfortable contradictions in order to make ourselves useful to suffering people is a particularly feminist feat. …

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