Therapist Ilene Glance was trying to be “cute” when she posted a video to TikTok with the words “when a client wants to trauma dump first session” on Oct. 19.
She went back to her afternoon sessions, and by the time she checked her phone that night, thousands of people were furious at the “trauma dumping therapist.”
“is it ‘trauma dumping’ if you’re literally their therapist? if my therapist told me not to ‘trauma dump’ on them i would start making my tapes,” @diligenda said in a tweet featuring a screenshot of the video.
“I have an MSW [master’s of Social Work] and it is impossible to ‘trauma dump’ on your THERAPIST. Even in relationships with laypeople, ‘talking about your trauma a bunch’ is not even what ‘trauma dumping’ MEANS,” @Respexy said in another Twitter reaction.
“ah ok *adds ‘my therapist is making fun of me online’ to my grand list of anxieties,*” posted @antitractionist.
The outrage increased after people realized that Glance provided counseling to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students following the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, which BuzzFeed News confirmed.
Glance, who works with clients aged 14 to 25 and specializes in trauma treatment, said her video had been misinterpreted.
She’d used the viral “Holy spirit, activate! Holy spirit, activate” soundbite — for people jokingly in search of backup from higher powers — and posted with the caption “Not on my watch.”
People were furious at the implied message that clients on Glance’s “watch” cannot share their most emotional experiences with her, their therapist.
“What's with the caption, Ilene? What's never happening on your ‘watch’ again?” said a therapist who posts as @thatpsychnp in a TikTok response. “You're not going to let trauma victims share their story with you, their therapist? … You are dangerous to your patients and dangerous to the mental health field.”
Glance said that she wanted to use the colloquial phrase “trauma dump” to shed light on therapy best practices, saying she was trying to point out that therapy is a process and that not everything has to be said in the first session.
“I want them to understand we're going to go slowly,” she said.
Glance thought only her 200 followers, most of whom are fellow therapists, would see it. Now she’s struggling with going viral and being questioned about her ethics and work practice.
After the initial negative comments, she took the video down and made her TikTok private. She put up a second video saying she felt “bullied.” The second video amassed even more comments. She deleted her account, but screenshots of the trauma dumping video continued to circulate on social media.
A stranger called her work phone and used profanity. People shared her professional license number and resources to report Glance to the state. A Yelp page attached to an old address of her practice got disparaging reviews, as did an old Facebook page. Her relatives received social media messages. Someone mailed at least three vicious postcards to her home, she said.
She reported the unwanted attention to police, and a public information officer for Coconut Creek Police Department confirmed on Wednesday that law enforcement continue to regularly patrol in front of her home. The first week after she posted the video, she said, she had barely slept, wasn’t eating and her blood sugar had reached dangerous levels for a diabetic.
“I would really like to stop getting hurt,” Glance said. “I’m asking to stop having my life ruined.”
Fellow therapists who use TikTok note that while the backlash against Glance is extreme, her “trauma dumping” video was inappropriate and damaging.
Therapist Courtney Tracy said she initially felt “bad” for Glance but wanted to address the issue to her 1.6 million TikTok followers who would be looking for answers.
She posted a video explaining that no one can “trauma dump” on their therapist because the definition of the term implies offloading emotions inappropriately and without permission. This is the opposite of what therapy is — counselors give permission to clients to share their experiences.
“People who are clinicians can understand what she’s saying — it isn’t beneficial for the client to come into session, ‘trauma dump’ on the therapist and walk away — there may be no space for therapeutic support,” she said to BuzzFeed News.
“To the person that doesn’t feel comfortable talking about their trauma in the first place, to see a professional using the words ‘trauma dump’ … it just felt inappropriate,” Tracy said.
Tracy said she knows to anticipate the myriad “messy” reactions a video can have — and she’s had two videos get negative attention before. Those experiences made her realize how, for therapists, internet backlash can cause concerns that they'll lose their licenses or the goal of encouraging people to seek therapy will be negatively impacted.
Therapists being on TikTok is a relatively new phenomenon, noted Tracy, and they're still trying to figure out how much of their personal views versus psychoeducational perspectives to share on social media.
“When it’s not your full-time job and you’re not fully committed to understanding how this type of content is perceived, it’s easy to make mistakes,” Tracy said.
However, she noted that whenever a professional makes a mistake online, it’s best to “show up” and come out with an apology video or explanation.
“The people that were hurt by the video are likely sticking around to see if you’re going to help them feel better because they were relying on you in the first place,” she said.
Glance’s account is still deleted. She lost two clients from the video, and the remaining clients have discussed the situation with her and are “100% behind me,” she said.
And she does hope that people begin to understand her message that clients shouldn’t feel like they have to unleash all their trauma on day one of therapy.
“They don’t feel like they have to rush and don’t have to hurt in order to heal,” Glance said. “I don’t want anyone to hurt; that’s not my job.”