My Journey to Gorky In Three Parts: Part II

What follows below is the second part in a true, three-part narrative. Last week’s column, available on, ended with my sassing a Graham House counselor; my parents’ sudden return from their anniversary cruise; and the psychologist’s retaliatory diagnosis that I was “suicidal” and therefore had to leave the school. My parents and I left Isham to go to my dorm. My father immediately went to talk to my house counselor, who was as shocked by the psychologist’s decision as we were. She advised us to appeal to the school doctor. However, she admonished us “not to take on” this Graham House counselor, and she said she could lose her job for advising us in this matter. (Incidentally, a day later, when we knocked at her apartment, she told us in tears that she “[could]n’t even talk to us,” and closed the door.) On Sunday my parents met with the school doctor, who refused to intervene or even consider getting a second opinion from another Graham House counselor (for clarification, Graham House may claim that only after “great deliberation” will they condemn a student to a leave of absence, but all of their information comes from one single counselor’s “evaluation”) or an independent therapist. We were told to meet with the Dean of Studies the following day to arrange for a swift and orderly exit from the school. In a last-ditch effort, we were able to postpone this meeting until after I was evaluated by an independent child and adolescent psychiatrist. At the Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital psychiatrist’s behest, we requested the psychologist’s notes on my sessions with her (by law, health care workers have to keep records). Graham House, at first, denied that any such records existed. Then they declared that the psychologist’s “personal records” were not to be released. Then they told us that it would take a day or two for them to photocopy the supposedly undoctored (no pun intended) records. The psychologist then refused to hand over the notes before meeting privately with me to declare that there were “some things [I] might not want [my] parents to see.” I told her I did not care and left with the photocopies. Not surprisingly, nowhere in her notes had she ever labeled me “suicidal.” We had to wait several days to get an appointment with a reputable, nationally renowned doctor so that it didn’t look as if we had shopped around for a diagnosis. Besides, my parents were genuinely concerned that I might really be suicidal. But after the lengthy evaluation, the shrink diagnosed me as having a short-lived “adjustment disorder” similar to when a person loses a parent or spouse. I was not a risk for suicide; I was not even clinically depressed. In perhaps the biggest duh!-of-a-diagnosis ever, he deemed that I was very upset that my boyfriend had left suddenly. (Three other national experts in child and adolescent psychiatry and suicidality who evaluated me in the following weeks also independently came to the same conclusions.) Throughout this time, I was living in the Andover Inn, and my friends were writing letters to administrators on my behalf. I was not allowed to attend classes, despite my requests otherwise. I had been contacting my teachers, who unanimously told me that they had not been consulted by Graham House or any other administrative faction about my leave of absence, for help as well. Some offered to speak up on my behalf, but many well-meaningly bowed to the psychologist’s alleged expertise and professionalism. My family and I were particularly worried about the effects my “expulsion” would have on my chances for college. In the meeting I had had with my college counselor back in winter term, he had told me that, given my spotless transcript, board scores, and disciplinary record, I was a shoe-in for any college of my choosing. If I looked like such a catch on paper, I wondered, what crime would colleges imagine I had committed that could possibly induce Andover to kick me out? And so, shortly before I left campus, my father and I met with my college counselor. He told me that, since I would not receive grades for my spring term courses, I would most likely not be admitted anywhere early. He generously offered his services to me while I attended a school at home. He also mentioned that the psychologist had told him “about a week and a half ago” that I “might be leaving the school.” In other words, we learned that the psychologist, in a breach of patient confidentiality, had actually to discredit me to my college counselor before even my parents were notified of my mandatory LOA. Back to our meeting with the Dean of Studies. The Dean inexplicably refused to read the psychiatrist’s evaluation, declaring that he would rely solely on the Graham House counselor’s “interpretation of the report.” Astonishingly, the psychologist falsely declared that she and the Mass. General doctor had “essentially the same diagnosis”(!). The Dean silenced our protests to this clearly fatuous “interpretation” by saying, “I don’t have time for this. I don’t care if you get a hundred opinions. The decision has been made.” This notwithstanding the school’s oft-cited but disingenuous “concern for [my] welfare.” We offered to have my mother rent an apartment in Andover so that I might be a day student; but the decision was final. We offered to have me see a therapist over the summer and then return in the fall; but the decision was final. We marched across the hall to the Head of School’s office, seeking to appeal the decision. She delegated our case to the Associate Head of School, who instructed us to go home and submit a written appeal. The latter promised to act on the appeal within a week of its receipt. So, two and a half weeks after my boyfriend had left school, one week after I had gone to Isham to postpone a history test, and two weeks before the end of spring term 2002, I packed up my things and hugged my friends goodbye, expecting never to set foot on Andover Hill again. My family and I went home determined to figure out my school plans for the following year. Of course, a thought occurred to us: if we couldn’t get the school to be reasonable, well, perhaps a couple of $600/hour attorneys could.