You are the most important element in the psychotherapeutic relationship. You—not the money, not the agency and not the therapist. They all exist to help you, and if they don’t know that then you shouldn’t go to that person or agency. In Syracuse, Brownell Center for Behavioral Health is an agency to which you should not go.
For many years, the Onondaga Pastoral Counseling Center (OPCC) had an operating license from the NYS Office of Mental Health, then the license was transferred to Brownell. (And don’t we wonder what that was all about?) Brownell is a subset of Liberty Resources and claims to be “the largest community based outpatient mental health provider in Onondaga County . . .” and more’s the pity.
I called Brownell and was immediately transferred to the intake person. She told me to come in and fill out the application. There are two relevant facts here: (1) the application was one page of name, rank and serial number, and (2) traveling by Medicaid wheelchair van, it would take me about three hours and cost you, the taxpayer, about $50 to get this one page filled out, so I asked her if she could email me the application. She said yes.
And then she didn’t do it.
So I waited a couple of days and then called her boss. That’s what an activist does. Regular people give up and go away; an activist calls back and talks to your boss. You should keep that in mind when screwing with people. So I told her boss that I was multiply disabled and requesting accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Would she please read me the questions and let me answer them over the phone?
No, she would not. However, she said she would email me the one-pager, and she did. I could not figure out how to answer it on-line so I printed it, filled it out, and then couldn’t figure out how to fax it back on account of one of my disabilities is in learning. So I’m standing there by my printer/copier/fax machine, fighting back tears, and I call Dr. Robert Feldman, the director of Brownell Center, and discover that he should have “see and avoid” tattooed on his forehead.
(Let us keep in mind that throughout all this I am suffering from severe depression. I have insomnia. I cry a lot. I spend hours staring at the television, which is problematic because it’s not turned on.)
I told Feldman my little story about his intake person, his intake person’s boss, and my depression and multiple disabilities. Feldman’s answers were cold, pedantic, and uncooperative. At one point he said that he didn’t know why I was being so hostile. Babe, I know hostile when I’m being hostile, and I wasn’t. I was being cold and uncooperative, just like Feldman, but I had just cause: his people were screw-ups.
President Truman had a placard on his desk that read “The buck stops here.” He knew that he was at the top of the heap and every screw-up by every government employee ultimately landed on his desk. He knew he was responsible; Feldman hasn’t figured that out. As director, if the people who work for him screw up then he has to deal with it. And you’d think, wouldn’t you, that a guy who came up from being a therapist might be, well, nicer to a person in pain? Not Bob Feldman.
Finally he says, “I’m trying to help.”
“No,” I replied. “If you were trying to help then you would be saying ‘Here’s what we can do.’” Instead, he was just asking a lot of questions punctuated by l-o-o-o-ng silences. So, after another long silence, Dr. Robert Feldman asks me my name, which I had given him at the outset. Finally—I get to be me! After another long silence, he asks for my phone number. Then he coldly says someone will call me.
A couple hours later a nice lady calls me, asks me the questions on the form, and I give the answers. Then I go back to waiting. There is, roughly, a two-week wait between each step in the Brownell process.
Then I get a phone call setting up an appointment to go in for the real intake—I think. I show up at the appointed time, wheel up to the reception window, and get handed FIFTEEN pages of paperwork to be filled out and/or signed. Fifteen pages. I am suffering from severe depression and have to fill out fifteen pages of paperwork before anybody will talk to me. I am hurting, and I have to sit in a waiting room with a guy playing rock music and a little baby screaming, and fill out paperwork.
Okay, so here’s the point: if you are in pain and somebody hands you fifteen pages of paperwork, walk away. Better yet, run screaming. They do not have your best interests at heart. They care about money and power, not you. You will not get help at this agency. I have no idea why I stayed—some combination of desperation and docility, just like everybody else, I suppose. Maybe it’s hope: you keep thinking it will get better. Nobody could really treat you this badly, could they?
Finally a young man comes to the waiting room and escorts me through a long labyrinth of hallways, deep into the heart of darkness. The kid is a graduate student doing an internship—and doing what he’s told. He’s been told to ask me a bunch more questions. In fact, he’s got pages more questions, but these are not the simple questions as on the first fifteen pages. These are the big, painful questions:
- Have you ever been abused? Emotionally or physically? By whom? When?
- Have you been sexually abused? By whom? How often?
- Are you, or anyone close to you, an alcoholic? Grandpa? Daddy? Mom?
- Have you taken drugs? When did you last use? What was your drug of choice?
- Have you been in rehab? Where and when?
- Have you been in jail? When? Where? What for?
Now, what’s wrong with this picture? (To be continued)