Mercy Ministries and support of anti-LGBT ministries

This piece by Mercy Survivor Chelsea was originally published on her personal blog, The Pink Propaganda, and can be viewed here.

One of the biggest questions I get asked is whether Mercy Ministries is anti LGBT, like a lot of things they don’t seem to take a very clear stance on the issue.  Or do they?

In the 90s they did.  Nancy Alcorn reportedly made lots of statements like:

Homosexuality is caused by self hate

That’s quite an odd statement to make.  Almost as if homosexuality was a mental illness.  I mean it wasn’t an unpopular belief back in those days right?

However it’s 2015 and you would think that dealing with mental illnesses they would collectively be up on the times as far as the homosexuality, LGBT thing is concerned.

In 2008, an article was released in The Nashville Scene with a interview from a former employee of Nancy Alcorn’s who claimed among other things that Nancy herself was a lesbian, it wasn’t the fact that Nancy was a lesbian that was the problem, but the immediate lash out of Nancy Alcorn in her own personal blog, “Nancy Sets the Record Straight” which has since been removed, stating that:

I want to make it clear that I am not gay, nor have I ever engaged in a homosexual lifestyle.  These attacks have been deeply hurtful for me personally, but what frustrates me even more is that they are so clearly the enemy’s effort to distract from the amazing work going on at Mercy Ministries

 What frustrates me is that she saw being called homosexual as an attack and the only part of that entire article was her focus on being called gay.  She brings up nothing about the abuse at Mercy Ministries mentioned.  She just jumps at the defense to prove herself straight, because anything else would be disastrous.

In that same article, past resident “Rebecca” went on to say that:

Being too skinny was a minor sin in the Mercy catalog.  Looking lesbian was a major crime.  Alcorn admonished girls for wearing their hair short, despite keeping her owns locks in a shoulder-length bob.  If girls got too close they were forced to sign a separation contract that prevented them from being alone together.  Mercy didn’t advertise itself as a gay-repair ministry, but some girls enrolled to be cured of their “disease.”  One day a big donor took a tour of Mercy and thought one of the girls seeking to be “fixed” was a boy.  Alcorn was so embarrassed she bought the girl a new wardrobe.  By the end of the afternoon, she guaranteed there would be no more confusion thanks to the girl’s new shirt: “I Heart Boys.”

On their intake packet, they still ask the question whether you have “struggled with your sexuality”.  This is a tricky way of wording this, because what if being a lesbian was never a struggle for someone?  What if they walk into Mercy Ministries completely naive?

An old version asks one simple, awkward word sitting next to a question about prostitution… lesbianism?

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Their current counseling model says that “identity confusion” and “sexual sins” are parts of the freedom from demonic oppression area.

And perhaps the most telling piece of evidence is their continued support of strictly, sometimes down right hateful, anti-gay ministries and pastors.

The worst that comes to mind is Watoto Ministries in Uganda with Pastor Gary Skinner.  Some of the articles covered by Watoto read much like a nightmare.

It’s not surprising to me that Mercy Ministries supports a church that exploits orphans, we’ve talked heavily about the exploitation of Mercy Ministries residents.

Dehumanization of Mercy Ministries’ residents

Another Mercy Survivors video: Mercy Ministries and dehumanization of their clients

While not alone, Watoto is at the forefront of the anti-gay movement in Uganda. Stephen Langa, an elder at Watoto and the head of the Family Life Network, produced a March conference on homosexuality in Uganda and at least two of the sessions were held at the [Watoto] church. He then pressed the government “to enact stringent laws against the practice”

…an article in New Vision, a Ugandan newspaper, paraphrased him saying.

David Bahati, a member of Uganda’s Parliament, has since introduced legislation that would punish gay men and lesbians with the death penalty or life in prison in some cases, though the government has suggested the harshest provision could be removed.  The bill requires doctors, priests, and others to report homosexuals to police.  Skinner has said nothing about the bill or at least nothing that has been reported in Uganda’s press.  But the pastor has influence in Uganda.

On a blog devoted to a missions trip where Mercy Ministries staff members took Mercy graduates to Kampala Uganda to help Watato Ministries build four classrooms for orphans of Gary Skinner’s, the staff of Mercy Ministries said this:

This summer, we will be co-leading a group of Mercy Ministries’ graduates to serve in Kampala, Uganda!  We will be partnering with Watoto Ministries – a community that provides a holistic home environment, as well as quality education to children that have been orphaned due to the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Mercy Ministries has had a great relationship with the founders of Watoto for many years, and together we will build four classrooms for the children in Kampala.

This sounds magical, if Skinner wasn’t using those orphans to press his anti-gay hate in Uganda and if Mercy Ministries wasn’t completely aware of that as well as the rest of the developed first world countries.

Gary Skinner…. has been described by Ugandan human-rights activist Frank Mugisha as “one of the most homophobic people in the world.” Skinner is especially notable for establishing Watoto Church (formerly Kampala Pentecostal Church) in Uganda’s capital city, and he also heads Watoto Child Care Ministries, an organization that cares for children orphaned by the nation’s HIV/AIDS scourge.  Its work includes the famous Watoto Children’s Choir (formerly Uganda Children’s Choir).  These institutions provide Skinner with moral authority, which he uses to exert enormous influence in Uganda (and beyond) in pursuit of an anti-LGBTI agenda”.

I mean, sure it’s a free country, have your “opinions”, I don’t like them, but screaming at you isn’t going to change them, there are many other people they tote off that speak anti-gay, but do you have to support a ministry that quite literally speaks of killing and jailing gays?  That’s reprehensible, and anyone that supports Mercy Ministries is indirectly supporting Gary Skinner and his “Kill the Gays” Bill.  They’ve donated nearly $100,000 in just two years of your donations to Gary Skinner.

Mercy Ministries’ connection to Lou Engle

Another, more significant and more blood thirsty connection of Mercy Ministries to anti-gay ministries is their connection to Lou Engle.  A man who called upon Ellen Degeneres to become straight and “change the minds of the masses” and tell the current generation that being gay is not acceptable.

He supported and was a main leader in the Proposition 8 Bill that made gay marriage illegal in California after it was made legal in 2008.

Lou Engle perhaps stirred up more in Uganda then Gary Skinner did.

Lou Engle has visited Mercy Ministries homes a number of times, and claims to be good friends with Alcorn herself.  Alcorn served on his advisory board of his large Christian gathering named “The Call”, as well as Mercy Ministries residents attending it, where Engle often spouts off anti-gay agendas.  I find it unfathomable how they could expose young women to this type of hate when young women who often attend Mercy go there being LGBT.

If you want to read more about this stuff, please purchase the book The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care: Treatments That Harm Women, LGBT persons and The Mentally Ill by John Weaver.

Mercy Ministries’ tax documents connect them to Watoto:

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Why are people who speak out about Mercy Ministries called bitter?

This piece by Mercy Survivor Chelsea was originally published on her personal blog and can be viewed here.

It’s called marginalizing.

Marginalize – To treat (a person, group, or concept) as insignificant 

Survivors are marginalized when people are all too willing to accept the claims made by abusers and their supporters that the individual claiming the abuse is “crazy” or “resentful” and should be ignored.  This disregards the claims of a survivor and communicates a lack of significance for the survivor group.  The less significant the survivor group is, the more likely people are to believe the abuser and ignore the claims made.

I am not bitter.  I am not resentful.  Stop marginalizing me.  I am significant, my voice does matter, and my claims will not be tossed aside, because it’s easier for you to believe the abuser.

See more here.

No Mercy Ministries, your wish to do good is not enough

This piece by Mercy Survivor Chelsea was originally published on her personal blog, The Pink Propaganda, and can be viewed here.

On page 38 of Ministry Today Nov/Dec 2013 Edition of Ministry Today, Nancy Alcorn is quoted as mocking people who do not believe in her ministry:

I still don’t believe the church can possibly care for all those disturbed girls. Juvenile delinquents and unwed mothers, they’re the ones responsible for their situations, plus we pay taxes so the government can take care of them. Those girls need highly skilled, well educated professionals. A bunch of Christians with good intentions can’t possibly do much good”

In 2008, the Sydney Morning Herald did an interview with Dr Ian Hickie about Mercy Ministries. Dr Ian Hickie is a professor at the University of Sydney and founder of the Brain and Mind Research institute.  Professor Hickie is quoted as saying:

“One of the most important developments in mental health services over the past two decades had been a move from religious-based counselling to evidence-based practice.

Most of the non-government or community sector have moved very rapidly to a professional base, so while they maintain their core values they have also moved to make sure their services are scientifically based rather than religious-based.

Organisations purporting to provide health services had to be properly accredited, with qualified staff, safe facilities and regular reporting on the outcomes of those programs.  The wish to do good is no longer enough; the serious possibility that you do harm also must be a consideration.”

I feel that Mercy Ministries needs to take into serious consideration that their program may be doing more harm then good.

As one reason why they should exchange their treatment for mental illnesses from religious practices like deliverance sessions and prayer, I came across an article the other day that said that for the very first time in history they will be able to test for major depression with a simple blood test and already can with an MRI.

This is ample proof that mental illnesses are physical conditions and not choices that can be changed, like their counseling manual labels them.  “Choices That Bring Change”.  This is ample proof that that they need qualified therapists, 24/7 access to nurses and onsite doctors to monitor medications.

No, I’m sorry Nancy Alcorn, good intentions are NOT enough.  People are sick and it’s your civil duty to either take care of them properly or back out of the race.

And it’s anyone’s civil duty who supports them to demand that they adopt better practices for mental health illnesses.

A message to anyone who supports Mercy Ministries

This piece by Mercy Survivor Chelsea was originally published on her personal blog, The Pink Propaganda, and can be viewed here.

I really cannot stand the Mercy Ministries residents, sponsors and supporters who have this attitude about them that it’s okay for Mercy Ministries to hurt some young women, as long as they help others. It’s okay for them to be abusive towards some young women as long as others turn out alright.

It’s actually really common for abusive people to pick one person to take the brunt of the abuse and at Mercy Ministries things are kept very secret, so you would never see it.  You’re not allowed to talk about why you’re there.  You can get in trouble for talking about your interactions with staff members.  Your roommate could have been that woman.  Your friend could have been that woman.  And I don’t understand why this is excusable, because they helped you?  Or they helped your friend.  I don’t care if they helped a million young women, things have to change.

It’s called scapegoating.

Aggression, the use of force against another human being, is always present in scapegoating.  As Elizabeth A. Kaspar says, “The aggressive person is one who tries to dominate others.  Aggressiveness, too, can take several forms. The aggressive person is frequently rude and humiliating, (eg, “What do you mean, you aren’t going to do it?”), or the aggressive person can become self-righteous (eg, “I am only insisting on this for your own good.”), or she/he can resort to being manipulative (eg, “If you refuse, what will everyone think of you?”)

It seems as if we humans as a species seem to need someone to vent our anger on and make wrong.  Scapegoating is a projection defense.  It is the ego saying, “If I can put the blame on you, I don’t have to recognize and take responsibility for the negative qualities in myself.  What I can’t stand about myself, I really hate in you and have to attack you for it in order to deny that I have the same quality.”

Scapegoating is a hostile social – psychological discrediting routine by which people move blame and responsibility away from themselves and towards a target person or group. It is also a practice by which angry feelings and feelings of hostility may be projected, via inappropriate accusation, towards others. The target feels wrongly persecuted and receives misplaced vilification, blame and criticism; he is likely to suffer rejection from those who the perpetrator seeks to influence.  Scapegoating has a wide range of focus: from very large groups of people down to the scapegoating of individuals by other individuals. 

In scapegoating, feelings of guilt, aggression, blame and suffering are transferred away from a person or group so as to fulfill an unconscious drive to resolve or avoid such bad feelings.  This is done by the displacement of responsibility and blame to another who serves as a target for blame both for the scapegoater and his supporters.”

The process is unconscious it is more likely to be denied by the perpetrator. In such cases, any bad feelings – such as the perpetrator’s own shame and guilt – are also likely to be denied.  Scapegoating frees the perpetrator from some self-dissatisfaction and provides some narcissistic gratification to him.  It enables the self-righteous discharge of aggression.  Scapegoaters tend to have excessively disciplinary characteristics [Kraupl-Taylor, 1953]. ….On another view, scapegoaters are insecure people driven to raise their own status by lowering the status of their target …”[1]

Mercy Ministries staff members are not all trained on how to be subjective with the women in the program.  They aren’t trained about transference and what should happen if that came up.  A lot of them are not trained at all.

The staff are sorely under educated and misguided about mental illness, from counselors to secretaries to residential staff.  They have very few people keeping them accountable.  There are no on site doctors, etc.  A lot of the time if you go to authority with a problem with staff you are told to just work it out, there is no intervention.  It’s automatically assumed that it’s the clients fault, because the staff are women of God and could not possibly be abusive.  There is no clear cut way you can lodge a grievance, there is no grievance procedure.  The staff turn over rate is phenomenal and the staff-to-patient ratio is something like 2:30 at times.  That’s far beyond any treatment program I’ve ever been to.

I have heard a lot of really terrible stories come out of Mercy Ministries.  Some very sad stories, most of which do not make themselves public.  But some of us do.  And there are some young women who came out of Mercy not being targeted and they cut themselves off from Mercy Ministries, because of the stories that they heard. I admire those girls, I really do.  And I admire the sponsors who did too. LG and TWLOHA come to mind.

How can you so blindly just be okay with that? How can you be okay that some young women are being targeted and harmed?  I was treated very poorly at Mercy Ministries by some staff members, and to this day I’m not exactly sure why.  I feel that for a long time at Mercy Ministries I followed the rules to a T, and then just gave in, because I couldn’t please them.  I feel that at some point I was an easy target.  And maybe there are reasons that are very personal to staff that I will never know.  They scapegoated me a lot.  When they kicked me out instead of saying something like, “this just didn’t work out”.  They told me how I was manipulative, rebellious, didn’t follow God’s plan for my life and how I didn’t work the program.  It was all my fault.  Despite all that they did wrong.  I constantly felt rejected by them, no matter what I did I would never be accepted by certain staff members.

I can still remember the day I got so upset and asked the head of counseling why she was so rough on me as opposed to other young women and she answered me.

You entered a psychiatric ward, of course I’m more rough on you

I entered a psychiatric ward two weeks into my stay, because I was so suicidal.  Again I did not understand why this meant she had to be more mean to me.  She was even scapegoating a reason to be mean to me and making it my fault.  YOU were in a psychiatric ward, so that gives me permission to be mean to you.  It wasn’t even logical.  I was clearly sick.

When people tell me that they were treated nicely there I am shocked.  That’s impossible.  Why was I treated so poorly?  Maybe it’s a little bit of the same for people who were treated nicely when they hear an abuse story.  “What, no that’s impossible, nobody was abused there, I was treated so nicely”.  Some staff members were good to me.  I will not lie about that.  I found safety in some of them and terror in others.  To the point where I would avert all eye contact and stare at the floor.  Unfortunately I felt that the staff members who scapegoated me the most, had the most power.

And then I hear stories about other young women who were defiant, refused to eat, and did all this other really horrible stuff and they “loved on them and told them about Jesus”.  Is that code for “love equals discipline” and by “told them about Jesus” they actually told them about how much they were sinning?  Or was I different for some reason?  I mean there were young women there that were far more defiant then I was and they never acted towards them like they did me.  They accepted them.  I constantly questioned, what was wrong with me?  But it wasn’t what was wrong with me.  It was what was wrong with them.

And I hear it over and over again.  The same thing.  They target someone and they choose her to take down.  And then you’re sitting there saying “it didn’t happen to my friend, it didn’t happen to me, so they’re perfect”.

So when a mother locks a child in a closet, and takes care of the other two, is she still a good mother?

I mean these stories are real.  Nobody made them up.  Nobody exaggerated.  Nobody is “bitter” or “resentful“.  I know for myself I am glad I never graduated the program.  And many people with abuse stories DID graduate the program.  It’s a common theme in each one.  Dozens of stories, and you’re still supporting them?  And there are dozens more that haven’t come forward.  I don’t get it.  I really just do not get why you’re not asking for change of some type?  With anything else in this world you would be at their door step telling them to shape up.  Don’t stop because this place helped you or helped someone you know.  You now know me and I was harmed by them.  They hurt a load of others also.  And that’s not right.  Ignorance is not bliss.

It wasn’t just “hurt”.  Some of us are still disabled, years later, from the PTSD.  Some of us still cannot look people in the eye.  Some of us are still terrified of authority.  Some of us hear a Hillsong  song and we quiver.  Some of us are so afraid we don’t talk about it at all.  We fear our words will not be heard and that we will be retaliated against if we do speak.  Some of us still have panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares.  Some would run the other way if we saw Mercy Ministries staff members.  We live in a house built with brick and we don’t trust anyone to knock it down.  Some of us never dated again, never got close to anyone, were never able to trust another therapist.  I could keep going.

It’s not common sense.  It’s not rational.  Think about it.

Here’s some that are public.  American Stories.  But there are many, many, more of which I have heard or am shocked by daily.

Had I not been abused and allowed myself to be open enough to hear stories of the young women who were abused, I would never be able to live with the guilt of supporting Mercy Ministries.  But we all have our demons.  You can chose yours.  I’m not forcing you stop supporting them, it’s clearly your decision, this is just maybe another side of the tracks story.

And what I am asking you to is stop blaming the victims in this situation, like we are at fault and we did this to them.  They did this to us.  We aren’t out to get Mercy Ministries, we are out to tell our stories.  We have that right.

After Mercy Ministries Australia was shut down and all of their stories came out and it made headlines and the young women felt safe to come forward.  1/3 of all Mercy Ministries residents came forward with stories of abuse. 1/3, that is not okay.  That is sad.

The Truth About Mercy: Liz’s story

Comfortably Numb: Poems by a former Mercy Ministries resident

Sean the Blogonaut: Hope’s Mercy Ministries story

The Nashville Scene: Jesus RX: The untold tale behind Mercy Ministries’ one-size-fits-all prescription for recovery

Mercy Survivors: Bethany – Mercy Ministries and the scapegoats of their irresponsibility

Free Thought Blogs: A tale of Mercy Ministries

Falling out of recovery after Mercy Ministries

This piece by Mercy Survivor Chelsea was originally published on her personal blog, The Pink Propaganda, and can be viewed here.

Macklemore wrote this song about his addiction and it reminded me of my time after Mercy Ministries.  He says in this song how he relapses and his first worst fear is admitting it to himself, and his second worst fear is admitting it to his family/friends.

He says that the whole world put him on a pedestal, used his success story for all these drug addicts and now he’s failing and it reminded me so much of Mercy Ministries’ women.  Mercy Ministries puts their stories out into the community and at some point these people feel they have to get over their addictions/eating disorders/etc for others.  But Macklemore doesn’t want to lie to his fans about where he’s at, he says.

But I’d rather live telling the truth and be judged for my mistakes
Than falsely held up, given props, loved and praised.

He talks about how worried he is that people will call him or his story a lie.  Or that people will abandon him, but comes to the conclusion that nobody will leave.  Or at least nobody that will matter.

I translated this slightly.  From rap to English.  🙂

Those 3 plus years, I was so proud of
And I threw them all away for two Styrofoam cups
The irony, everyone will think that he lied to me
Made my sobriety so public, there’s no privacy
If I don’t talk about it then they think I carry a sobriety date
08-10-08, but now it’s been changed

Everybody wants to put me in some box as a saint that I never was,
It’s like the false prophet that never came
And will they think that everything that I’ve written has all been fake?
Or will I just take this slip up to the grave?

Uh, what  are my parents gonna say?
The success story that got his life together and changed?
And you know what pain looks like
When you tell your dad you relapsed and look him directly into his face
The seat on your shoulder’s, the seemingly heavy weight

Haven’t seen tears like this on my girlfriend
The trust that I once built’s has been betrayed
But I’d rather live telling the truth and be judged for my mistakes
Than falsely held up, given props, loved and praised. 
I guess I have to get this on the page

Feeling sick and helpless, I lost myself
I know what I have to do and I can’t help it
One day at a time is what they tell us
Now I have to find a way to tell them

God help them
Yeah, one day at a time is what they tell us
Now I have to find a way to tell them

We fall so hard
Now we have to get back what we lost
I thought you would leave
But you were with me all along.

 Click here to listen.  There’s strong language.  It is a rap.  I removed the strong language for my page.

It’s time to stop being afraid of Mercy Ministries staff members

This piece by Mercy Survivor Chelsea was originally published on her personal blog, The Pink Propaganda, and can be viewed here.

I probably cannot tell you the number of people who have confessed the fear that envelopes them to be near Mercy Ministries staff after leaving the program.  I am fortunate to have lived so far away.

It’s odd that I find this fear to be more prominent among those of us who have spoke out against Mercy Ministries, then those of us who are still with Mercy Ministries.

I often wonder if it’s because we feel that we are not perfect.  That we have something to be ashamed of.  That we have spoken up and spoken out and not followed the rules.  That underneath it all we are still standing back at Mercy Ministries, waiting in the hallway for the staff to come out and punish us for our actions.

We didn’t follow Mercy’s rules.  I mean, ultimately we betrayed them.  At least in their eyes it’s seen this way.  And in our minds, that have been torn down and built back up to worship Mercy Ministries, we see it this way too.

But it’s time to change.  It’s time to take back our minds.  It’s time to stop being afraid.  It’s time to realize that what some of those staff members did, they should be hanging their heads when they walk past us.  Not the other way around.

If they made you feel low for small things, don’t let them.  If they told you, you were manipulative, rebellious, not following God’s plan.  If they made it clear you were sinning.  If they pointed out every flaw you made and called you a hypocrite.  If they called you an attention seeker, a fool.  If they ever told you you weren’t working hard enough, when you couldn’t possibly work any harder.  If they condemned you for things you did in your past, or made you feel small for things you wanted to do in your future.  They did the same to me.

You were sick, you went there for a reason, and maybe you even made mistakes.  Mistakes happen, everybody makes them.  Nobody is perfect.  I made mistakes.  Anyone who claims to have not made mistakes is lying.  Stop running over them time and time again, about what YOU could have done differently.  What could they have done differently?  Blaming yourself over and over again, for something that is not your fault.  How could they have educated themselves on your mental illness, or your sexuality, or your condition?

Did you betray them or did they betray you?

Take your mind back.  It’s time to stop being afraid.

Mercy Ministries compared to other treatment centers

This piece by Mercy Survivor Chelsea was originally published on her personal blog, The Pink Propaganda, and can be viewed here.

For all intents and purposes for this blog we’re going to call Mercy Ministries a treatment center.  Although technically I hate referring to them as that, because I think it gives girls the wrong idea.  So bear with me.

A couple blogs ago somebody else compared Monte Nido to Mercy Ministries and I thought I would do the same, only with the place that really did help my eating disorder, as opposed to Mercy Ministries, that made it worse.

Mercy Ministries lacked a fundamental understanding that people with bulimia often go up and down in weight.  While the head to toe shot that I sent them in November was an average sized person, I had gained weight since then.  With bulimia I went up and down and all over the place and this seemed to upset them.

These are things that happened at Mercy that would NEVER happen at the place that I went to.  (Brandywine Eating Disorder Unit outside of Philadelphia).

  • Being asked to wake up earlier to exercise more then the other girls
  • Being more obsessed with me losing weight then I was
  • Putting me on certain food restrictions. Peanut butter, desserts, etc.
  • Offering me gifts, gift cards to Starbucks, the bookstore, etc if I lost weight.
  • Leaving me on plate check longer then any of the other girls, because they thought I would sneak food.

While I may have been overweight at the time, I was still very self conscious of my body, but I went in with an attitude that I wanted to become more confident in who I was as a person and I just was not prepared to be told day in and day out how much weight I needed to lose.  Just because I was overweight, it did not mean that my eating disorder was not serious and did not warrant their consideration in the way that they spoke to me about me losing weight.

Mercy Ministries lacked structure.  Their whole program lacked structure.

There were never any group therapies.  You had individual counseling once a week.  It wasn’t conducive for recovery.  They had one time a week that 15 of us sat together and discussed like a chapter of a book that we read.  They refer to this as “group therapy”, but it’s not like “hey these are my emotions…”  It’s more like a book club.

Brandywine had at least seven or eight groups a day, plus you see the psychiatrist daily, you see your therapist 2-3 times a week, you see the family therapist once a week or more depending on your family, and you see the nutritionist at least once a week, more if you request.  You also have a team meeting once a week.  You have interns on hand.  There’s an art therapist.  A yoga instructor.  A music therapist.  Animal therapy.  You have certified RNs passing out medications and signing medications in and out of computer systems to make them accountable.  And RNs are always on the units, and medical doctors are always available 24/7.

Your therapist is typically masters degree or doctorate degree.  They have done rotations at eating disorder units in their training and have worked with eating disorders prior to their employment.

They offer Christian therapists and work with you spiritually if you choose this route.

The nutritionist has been working with eating disorder for quite some time and has a lot of knowledge about them.

Also the leader of the program, a psychiatrist got his degrees at Yale, Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania.  He has his medical degree and has been working with eating disorders for most of his adult life.  We saw him daily for psychiatric drug maintenance and for monitoring for medical issues.

At Mercy Ministries, I never saw a nutritionist once.  I believe when I got there I asked about it and they sent me to see the house manager, who had no formal training in nutrition, and she told me what I was supposed to eat for the whole four months I was there.  I believe some locations do now have nutritionists, I do not believe that they are required to have a background in eating disorders.  About half way through my stay we got a fitness director.  She had no say in what we ate.

At Brandywine exercise is not entirely discouraged, but 5ks and unmonitored hour long sessions at the gym for women who have issues over-exercising would not have been allowed.

The leader of the program at Mercy, the actual program director. I am unaware of her education.  But I can promise that it was nothing more then a masters degree.

At Mercy Ministries, you have a counselor.  Mine was not formally educated to my knowledge.  I do believe some of them are now.  Medications are just put into bags and passed out.  I know for me I had controlled substances in my bag and every staff member had access to that room, some of them prior young women of Mercy Ministries themselves.  Staff members slept in that room.  Staff members with no medical degrees at all were passing out heavy psychiatric drugs.

We had an art closet.  But no art therapist, even though I don’t really think all that jazz of art therapists and music therapists and yoga therapists is needed to have a good treatment program, it makes it much less boring.

Also at Brandywine, we had a community TV, access to newspapers, even access to the internet and cellphones, we were allowed to listen to ipods, form relationships with whoever we wanted to.  Get mad, have negative emotions.  We were also allowed to discuss with each other why we were there, what brought us to this place.  I mean it centered around our group therapies, it bonded us as a group.  It made us feel heard.  It wasn’t a dirty little secret.  I felt that I was really allowed to bond to other girls without getting in trouble for being socially awkward.

There was a staff ratio of maybe 1:6, versus 1:15 on the weekends at Mercy Ministries.

If you self harmed at Brandywine it was taken really seriously and people talked to you about it.  “Why did you do it?” “What happened?”

At Mercy Ministries, it was really hot and cold about whether girls would get help, depending on the staff member and what they “thought” with their level of “psychiatric expertise” you were trying to do.  Sometimes women were often ignored for cutting themselves, because Mercy Ministries staff thought they were just seeking attention.  Other times, staff would take the item(s) away and leave it at that. But rarely would they ask you why you did that or ask you to talk it out.  There were a couple times that I purged at Mercy Ministries and didn’t even mention it to staff, because I knew I wouldn’t get any help for it and if anything I would just get into more trouble.

At Brandywine I felt safe to come to staff and say “I messed up, can you help me”?

The only thing that was better at Mercy Ministries was meal times.  At Brandywine, there’s always awkward silence as everybody stares at their food.  At Mercy Ministries, only a certain percentage of girls have eating disorders and those who do are controlled by threats like “if you don’t eat we’ll send you home”, or “We absolutely do NOT tolerate not eating and if you want to be here then you better eat, because there are 700 girls on that waiting list and we will replace you”.  So there is really no girls not eating, because they have a lot of power over you.  Nobody wants to go home, everybody is scared of not being able to survive without Mercy Ministries.

At Brandywine, a lot of the girls will get back at staff by not eating their meals.  Or show that they are angry by not eating.  That doesn’t happen at Mercy Ministries.  You think that would be a good thing, but it’s actually not.  The freedom of choice should be there.  The freedom to express emotion openly should also be there.

Another thing different was the feel of the places.  Mercy Ministries was very well decorated.  I mean Brandywine is government funded, not privately funded, so it does give them some limits on what they can do with the place.  Many Mercy Ministries homes have balconies and pools and big stair cases, and the breakable pieces sitting on the end tables.

Brandywine is more of an open unit, but you cannot leave the property.  It’s the same with Mercy Ministries.  Mercy Ministries may claim that you can leave at any time, but if you try, they will come after you and they will yell at you.

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