If you have been following my blog, you know I have been interviewing therapist authors to bring you more perspectives on mental health and more resources. Today I am sharing an interview with someone who is not a therapist. Jade Miller does peer support and shares her journey living with Dissociative Identity Disorder, and she has written books about her experience.
Peer support is different than therapy but can be an essential part of treatment and healing. It’s impossible for everyone to find a therapist who shares their lived experience, and although that lived experience is not essential for a therapist to be effective (and some therapists with lived experience do not choose to disclose this information to clients), connecting with someone who understands because they have been there themselves can be a huge piece of their healing journey.
1. To start off, can you tell me what goes into peer support and how it’s different from “traditional” therapy?
Yes! Peer support is more popular in Europe at the moment but a close parallel that is more widely known/understood in the USA is the idea of a “sponsor” for people in AA. It’s someone who is further along the road of recovery, who has had a lot of success in their recovery, offering to help others who are on that same road. (And just like many other professions, there are good peer supporters and not so good ones.) There is more room for personal disclosure since the help being offered is informed by the lived experience of the one offering peer support. It also tends to involve a lot more self-education on the part of the peer supporter, which they have to decide how and when to apply with their clients based on their experience with being the one needing help. I am personally careful not to misrepresent myself as a therapist because I am not a therapist and what I offer is not therapy. I encourage my clients to seek therapy in addition to the support I offer, if they feel it to be needful.
2. How did you get started offering this service, and how do people get signed up for peer support?
I started off as a blogger writing about my recovery from trauma and an attachment disorder from 2014-2018 on my blog, Thoughts From J8. During that time I also published 5 books and helped run various trauma support groups online, wherein I got to know a lot of people in recovery and fielded a lot of private questions and conversations. I came to a resting point in 2018 where I felt I had gotten to a place in my recovery where I wanted to just step back from the internet and enjoy life. No one ever fully “arrives” in healing from trauma, but I had gotten to a level of health and functionality that I had worked hard to attain, and I wanted to celebrate it and take some time off. About a year later, I knew I wanted to continue helping trauma survivors but I felt like I would be better at it in a one-on-one setting. There’s only so much generic info you can offer from behind a computer screen in a 5-min conversation. Since DID and ritual abuse are very misunderstood and underserved populations, I started offering my lived experience and education (sought out and obtained on my own over the course of 15 years) to help others with whatever their goals were for their recovery. People who might be interested in learning more about me or what I offer to people can visit my business site which is Peer Support For Multiples.
3. It looks like you do a lot of work specifically with people with DID – does your support network work with other diagnoses as well?
I primarily work with DID because that is where the majority of my experience and education lies. Other diagnoses tend to have more resources/options available to them so it would be unusual for someone with a completely different diagnosis to seek me out specifically. I would most likely approach that on a case by case basis. (If I suspect or know that a person needs support that is beyond my experience and ability, I do my best to find other resources for them but ultimately I do not take them on as a client.)
4. In my experience, it is particularly difficult to find professionals who have experience, expertise, and competence in DID specifically – what can we do as professionals to provide competent and appropriate services?
I love to work with professionals (in fact many of my clients hire me alongside their therapist) to help them understand DID better from the point of view of someone with lived experience. I would say seeking feedback and input from people with DID and dissociative disorders whenever possible is one thing that can really help professionals understand their clients better and learn what helps and what doesn’t. I also offer my time to professionals who have clients with DID to help answer any questions they may have about topics that they have a hard time understanding regarding their clients. Consultations about specific cases are also available if the client gives their permission for details to be shared with me.
5. If you’re comfortable, can you tell me a bit about your experience with DID?
I first began realizing I had an internal system of different parts/people in 2005. I started having flashbacks and uncovering repressed memories at about the same time. Back then it was really scary and confusing because there wasn’t much information available on what was happening to me nor were there any professionals in my area (or even within a few hours’ drive) who could or would help. Later even when I found one or two who claimed to understand DID, their approach was re-traumatizing to myself and my internal system and I decided we were not a good therapeutic match. After 15 years of internal work, with the help of various people and varying backgrounds/credentials, I would consider myself a “healthy functioning multiple” who would technically be DDNOS (Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) since most of the amnesia is no longer present. I live life as a group of people who definitely have opposing thoughts at times but who mostly let me handle the external world. Functionally I would not appear to have a dissociative disorder unless I was going through tremendous amounts of stress/trauma. A couple of my closest friends have been able to get to know a couple of my other inside people, but only over a matter of years. Most people who are not close to me would not know they exist.
6. Again if you’re comfortable, what has your experience been like with the mental health system?
I find a lot of interactions in the mental health system to have the potential to easily re-traumatize people simply due to the power dynamics at play. I have experienced professionals who believe they know me and know what I need, without even talking to me extensively, over and above what I think and believe, and when we begin a “helping” relationship already at odds, it doesn’t tend to get much better from there. This is one reason I like the alliance I can create with my clients since I’m not a therapist. We are on the same level, rather than there being a hierarchy with me above them and them below me. I’m not afraid to say I don’t know the answer to something, and to invite them to be curious together.
7. What should mental health professionals know about DID? What should the general public know about DID?
Dissociative disorders are not as rare as people are trained or told to think it is. Part of the problem is that the tools for diagnosis are outdated and inadequate. If you look at the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) statistics it is estimated that 1 in 6 adults experience 4 or more ACEs. Dissociation is one way that people cope with ongoing trauma, but dissociation by nature is covert and by design does not bring attention to itself since such attention could potentially be life threatening in abusive environments.
DID itself has also been stigmatized by stories like Sybil, Fight Club, and Split to the point that people would not want to know or admit if they thought it was a possibility. In some cases their reputation and even career would be jeopardized.
Most people can relate to the idea of having more than one ego state, even ego states that can sometimes oppose each other, as well as having an “inner child;” the popularity of IFS (Internal Family Systems Therapy) has brought this to light more recently. The primary (but not only) distinguishing factor between having a variety of ego states of varying ages and opinions, and DID, is the lack of amnesic barriers between the ego states. There are related dissociative disorders where the person has multiple distinct ego states but without the amnesic barriers. DID is the diagnosis that gets all the attention, but DID and dissociative disorders are much more common than people typically believe because they’ve been socialized to believe that it will look a certain way when in reality it doesn’t. It’s also worth pointing out that parts (as in, ego states) are not the problem – unresolved trauma is the problem.
8. Tell me a bit about your books, blog, etc – the resources you have put out there?
On the writing front, I wrote a book for people’s inner child/children in 2015 called Dear Little Ones. This book has traveled around the world and been loved by many abuse survivors, therapists, and loved ones. In 2016 I made it a series and wrote Dear Little Ones: Book 2 – About Parents, which discusses the complex relationships we all have with our caregivers. In 2018 I wrote the final book in the series, Dear Little Ones: Book 3 – About Being Whole in which I talk about what it means to find healing as a ‘we,’ rather than an ‘I.’ The books have been well received in the trauma community, although the original Dear Little Ones remains a bestseller out of the three.
I also wrote Attachment and Dissociation: A Survivor’s Analysis in 2016 as a short ebook that dives into the dynamics between trauma, attachment theory, and dissociation – all of which I’m fascinated by. My blog, Thoughts From J8, remains live as well, as a resource.
Last year (2020) I also released a more detailed video about my life story called Edelweiss, which is free to view on YouTube. I made Edelweiss with the hope of presenting a view of someone with DID, who had survived childhood trauma and trafficking in a non-sensationalized way. I also wanted to tell a story of someone who had overcome extreme circumstances and found a peaceful and fulfilling life, so that others might be encouraged that it was possible for them as well.
9. Do you have any other projects coming up that you would like to talk about?
Right now I’m currently in process of creating new editions of the Dear Little Ones books with the help of a professional book designer which I hope to launch in late May or early June with the goal of reaching more people who need their message. I have also been plugging away at my first novel – tentatively called The Farm – for a couple of years, and have the outline written for my first memoir as well. I stay busy!