Jenna’s chaotic childhood was followed by repeated trauma as an adult entertainer. The Retreat by Sheppard Pratt was her only hope.

Jenna* grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. as the youngest of 9 children. Her parents divorced when she was three years old. She split time between both houses. Some of her earliest memories are the vivid nightmares she had about visiting her dad’s house.

“My dad was a very angry person,” recalls Jenna. “I used to have recurring nightmares about being at his house. He was coping with a lot and took it out on us [kids].”

As the youngest of so many children, Jenna was particularly vulnerable and affected by the instability of her home. 

“Growing up was incredibly chaotic in so many different ways. During those years, I experienced neglect and every type of abuse—physical, emotional, and sexual,” she recalls.

Running From Trauma

At age 19, she started her first romantic relationship with someone who encouraged her to become an adult entertainer at a strip club. 

“I wanted love so badly and I was working a minimum wage job, so I thought I’d just try it,” she says. “I had never had a lot of money and the first night I made $426! I also felt very accepted. But over time, when you work in an atmosphere where you have people dealing with their own addictions, they try to pick on the weakest one.”

At work, Jenna experienced repeated assaults that exacerbated the trauma that still plagued her from her younger years. To cope, she turned to alcohol and other substances. 

“I used a lot of substances to mask what I was actually feeling,” she explains. “For four years, I completely disregarded my feelings in order to survive.”

Jenna, who had struggled with self-harm since her younger years, began to have constant suicidal thoughts. She sought support from a variety of therapists, groups, and treatment centers, and tried various medications, but it wasn’t enough. A few months before she turned 24, she created a suicide plan. Before she could followed through, she called her brother. Thankfully, he made her immediately drive to his house. With the help of other family members, they found The Retreat by Sheppard Pratt.

A Turning Point

“The Retreat was the first place we called,” says Jenna. “I asked, ‘Do you have a bed for me and how soon can I get there?’ I was there within two days.”

At first, Jenna was very nervous about being admitted to residential care at The Retreat.

“When I first got there, I was terrified because I knew I never had a long-term treatment stay. But everyone was really sweet to me. I’ve been in psych wards a lot of times, and the staff there never got it. But the staff at The Retreat really get it,” she explains.

Over the course of the next two months, Jenna worked with the treatment team, especially Molly Schiffer, LCPC, and Jon Hershfield, MFT, to understand her PTSD and OCD and develop strategies for managing these co-occurring disorders. 

“[Jenna] had struggled with significant OCD issues since she was a child, but she also endured significant trauma in her youth, which caused the two conditions to be intertwined,” says Hershfield. “We helped her learn to manage these symptoms by engaging her in two evidence-based treatments at once, exposure and response prevention (ERP) for OCD and cognitive processing therapy (CPT) for trauma. The ERP helped her identify and stand up to her unwanted thoughts and fears while the CPT helped to break down some of her core beliefs that came from trauma.” 

Jenna really appreciated therapy with Hershfield and her therapy team.

“I absolutely loved working with him because he is very real. He will snap you into reality so quickly when you’re having an OCD thought. But he does it in a way where he’s not shutting you down by invalidating you. He shows you how to see that thought from a different perspective,” she says.

Jenna improved gradually and after two months, she was ready to move to Ruxton House, a transitional house that offers extended treatment as part of The Retreat’s continuum of care. A therapist accompanied her for her first job interview for a position as a salesperson at a luxury car dealership. She landed the job and eventually moved into her own apartment.

Running Toward Hope

Today, Jenna lives independently and continues to work with her care team. She feels a deep sense of gratitude for how far she has come. 

“People have told me over the years that they see more for me, but I never believed them. But now I do—I can appreciate my strength, resilience, intelligence, and especially my lovingness. There was a moment recently when I was sitting in my own apartment and I felt an overwhelming rush of gratefulness. I spent my whole life begging not to be here. And now, here I was feeling waves of gratitude crashing over me. I was like, ‘Oh! I cannot believe I’m alive right now and things are ok!’ I genuinely believe The Retreat saved my life and helped me find a reason to be here.”

*Name and some details have been changed to protect the client’s privacy.