Voices in the Rooms

Miles: “Pain takes away pain.”

Dr. Richard Baer: “Really, hows does that work?”

Miles: “Outside pain make inside pain hurt less.”

Dr. Richard Baer: “You mean if you cut yourself on the outside, your feelings will hurt less?”

Miles: “Yeah.”

Dr. Richard Baer: “Where did you learn this?”

“I don’t know. Jensen does it, too.”

She woke up in pain.  She had just had a baby by Caesarian, but she didn’t know it or anything else. She felt alone and scared.

“The nurse kept calling me Karen.” 

“Though this is madness,
yet there’s method in it”

Karen Underhill (not her real name) had a natural talent. She could self-hypnotize — put “herself” in a trance. And she desperately needed that talent — for when she was shut into that coffin by her father and the priest — Claire couldn’t breathe, and she was only seven at the time.  Miles screamed and pounded her little hands against the lid of the coffin, she was suffocating.

Dr. Richard Baer, the psychiatrist who started treating Karen Underhill in 1989, and after a year, had suspected that Karen, a plainly dressed, no make-up, plump woman twenty nine years old,  had “Disassociative Personality Disorder” — a psychiatric gobbly-gook phrase — for “something’s happening here — what ain’t exactly clear.”  After the initial set of botched “psychotherapy” sessions, where Baer prescribed anti-depressants, the standard chemical solution of toxic psychiatry —  luckily it can buy time for the psychiatrist, occasionally sometimes not doing too much harm, and in this case it did buy time, and Baer resolved to listen better to his patient.

“One of the better pieces of advice I got in my psychiatry training was that my job as a therapist is simply to try to understand the patient. Not tell them what to do, not make them change, not tell them about myself. My job is to understand them. Once I come to that understanding, I can share it with them. It’s a perspective that will help a therapist remain patient and stay out of a lot of trouble.” [Baer, Richard (2007-10-02). Switching Time (Kindle Locations 384-387). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.]


Disorder — not. Psychiatric mumbo-jumbo.  Order is a better word, for Karen created Order out of the chaotic world she was born into.  The crazymixed up circumstance of her parents and grandparents.  Her father, a pedophile and an abuser, her mother a denying co-dependent — and the grandfather, an abuser.  Generations of abuse. Karen was depressed when she first met with Dr. Baer, for good reason.  She had ordered and separated herself to cope: Invaded Stranger -> Sundering — But what is her-self?

Let Chaos storm, Let cloud shapes, swarmI wait for form.  — Robert Frost.

None of what happened to Karen was known by her.  She had very little memory about the past.  She had been faking it, as though she remembered the people in her life: her husband, her family, her acquaintances, and herself — she pretended that she knew the people who knew her — she try to glean who these people were and her relationship to them.  Dr Baer seemed nice, maybe even concerned, but she wasn’t sure about him, he gave her pills for her depression and wanted to make her safe.  Dr Baer knew nothing of Karen’s situation initially; he might think she is crazy and abandon her.

But the Angry One wanted to die.

And then there were the letters to Dr. Baer, however fragmented.

Richard had never had such a case, he knew he didn’t have appropriate knowledge; he would have to read up about it.  He tried to keep Karen from killing herself, or abuse herself.  He finally decided that she had a Multiple Personality Disorder (again, medics’ BS word). There were clues that Karen started to relate Dr. Baer about self that indicated she was missing parts of the day and night, although Karen 3 —  yes Karen 3 — was mostly in the dark about things.  Richard knew hypnosis might help, he was eager to talk to other “Personalities”.  Karen was open to this she couldn’t understand why she was missing time —

“Karen is describing dissociative episodes that seem to have occurred off and on for most of her life. She asked me why she loses time. I suggest it could be a way to cope with being in pain. I have my own suspicions, but don’t really have a better answer to give her now.” [Baer, Richard (2007-10-02). Switching Time (Kindle Locations 454-455). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.]

Switching time.

Holdon (male 37) and Katherine (female 37) were in control, much of the time, but they didn’t have total control — Claire (female 7), Miles (male 10), Jensen (male 11), Karen Boo (female 2), Sidney (male 5)Thea (female 6), Elise (female 8), Karl (male 10), Ann (female 16), Julie (female 13), Juliann (female 15), Sandy (female 18),  Karen 1 (female 10), Karen 2 (female 21), Karen 3 (female 30) each alter had their function. Which ones were aware and/or in control for a time, depended on the circumstance.

“How is it that Jensen can come out and do this to you?” I ask. “How is it determined who gets to come out?

“Different reasons,” says Katherine, “but it’s usually the one with the strongest feelings.

[Baer, Richard (2007-10-02). Switching Time (Kindle Locations 2494-2495). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.]

Different reasons, different contexts, different situations, different feelings, different thoughts, different memories, different Rooms, different Time.  Different voices.  Different conversations.

One of the main jobs of conciousness is to keep our life tied together into a coherent story, a self-concept. It does this by generating explanations of behaviors on the basis of our self image, images, memories of the past, expectations of the future, the present social situation, and the physical environment in which behavior is produced. — Joseph Le Doux

“Claire is seven years old and is very insecure. Right now she is sad because she feels forgotten by you. I’ve tried to encourage her to come out and talk but she’s hurting too much. She has terrible headaches.”[Baer, Richard (2007-10-02). Switching Time (Kindle Locations 2413-2415). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.]

Holdon: I made it my purpose to know every detail of each alter so that I could monitor their behavior. Regretfully I could not intervene when they were out. I put together a conference room (the inside chat room) and that was one of my best accomplishments. It was the only time we all came together and worked as a unit. The meetings were held nightly, with an open invitation to any alter wishing to attend. When adult discussion was needed, child alters were asked to leave. During this time, I kept track of how we, as a unit, were doing, and made changes, if possible. I took pride in this job. I’ve done my best to keep us alive until this time of integration. There is only the need for me to integrate so we can begin our new life as one. My job is done. I’m ready to integrate.  [Baer, Richard (2007-10-02). Switching Time (Kindle Locations 5446-5451). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.]

Switching Time is a chronicle, by Dr. Richard Baer, of Karen Underhill’s struggle to survive, and eventually prosper with his help against the odds.  Karen being a Champion Idealist [Advocate, ENFP], her natural ability to put herself in a trance, depersonalize, and put her memories and feelings tucked away, sundering (disassociated), to be used when appropriate.

The integration experience was really hard—gaining all the new feelings that were Julie’s. “At first I couldn’t believe it,” she says, animated, using her hands to talk, “but the new memories coincided with bits of my own. For example, I remember once going swimming when it was fifty degrees out. I didn’t realize why I’d done it. But I learned Julie did this to use the cold water to help the pain in her legs. I had remembered all of it except the pain part.”  [Baer, Richard (2007-10-02). Switching Time (Kindle Locations 3508-3509). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.]

As Karen said in the epilogue of the book.

Tears still come when I think back through all the years I spent in therapy with Dr. Baer, working together to heal me. As I read and reread this book, his words touched me in an unbelievable way, but what matters most is that, through this journey, I was brought back to life. I surely wouldn’t be here without him. Switching Time is an accurate description of what I suffered and experienced, and Dr. Baer has captured my alter personalities exactly as I recall them. My alters grew to trust him before I did. Usually I’d find myself in Dr. Baer’s waiting room, alone, anxious, and wondering how I’d arrived. I had to accept that somehow I was just there. But the moment Dr. Baer opened the door I felt safe. For the first time in my life someone was willing to listen to me, time and again, without judgment. Through eighteen years of therapy I’ve learned from him about trust, respect, dignity, integrity, commitment, faith, compassion, and love.

After being hurt so badly all my life, I didn’t have the ability to love myself or anyone else. As a woman and a mother this was unbearable. Whether real or fantasized, Dr. Baer’s patience, understanding, and unconditional care made me feel accepted and, yes, loved. — Karen Underhill

3 thoughts on “Voices in the Rooms

  1. John henry July 23, 2012 / 7:50 am

    This is confusing, to say the least.


  2. Kathy Keane July 24, 2012 / 3:46 pm

    It reminds me of Sybil. It’s so sad. My heart goes out to kids like this.


  3. Linda May 16, 2013 / 9:51 am

    This an extreme example of the malleability of the human mind and the measures to which it can take to protect itself. Amazing true story!


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