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SAMHSA News - May/June 2008, Volume 16, Number 3

Guest Speaker: Filmmaker Presents Behind Closed Doors

By Leslie Quander Wooldridge

A recent SAMHSA in-service session highlighted the experiences of trauma survivors and provided a glimpse of their recovery.

The award-winning documentary, Behind Closed Doors, was produced with funds from a SAMHSA grant. The film tells the story of four women who spent years struggling to overcome childhood abuse only to be traumatized again within the walls of psychiatric hospitals.
Their journeys toward healing began when they entered a non-traditional community program that offered safety, compassion, and hope.

Sandra “Sandy” Heisler, one of the women featured in the film, attended the in-service to talk about how she endured—and eventually overcame—personal trauma that involved childhood abuse, substance abuse, rape, and even homelessness. “No one offered to help,” she remembered of her life before she entered the community program. “I thought my life was over and I wanted to die.”

Talking to an audience of SAMHSA staff members, some of whom wiped away tears as she spoke, Ms. Heisler said her entrance into the community program was the beginning of a new life. “To this day, I still live in fear, but I handle it a little differently,” Ms. Heisler explained with a clear voice, noting that she now is in recovery. “The reason I’m standing here today is because someone cared enough about me to help me out.”

The documentary that delves into Ms. Heisler’s story, as well as the experiences of other trauma survivors, was created by Laura Cain, J.D., Managing Attorney of the Adult Mental Health Unit at the Maryland Disability Law Center.

To request a free copy of the film, please contact the law center by email at or by phone at 410-727-6352, ext. 0.

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