Much older me: Hiya, how are you doing?
Boy: I’m making the grass nice for Mum. Where is she?
Much older me: She’s around. I’m looking after you. Hope that’s OK? You know I’m the older you, don’t you? I’m you when we grow up.
Boy: Yep. How old are you?
Much older me: How much can you count to? Can you count to six? One, two… Yes, it’s the first one on the other hand. OK, there’s a six in how old I am.
Boy: Alright. Where’s Rover?
Much older me: Over there. He’ll be over in a moment. He’ll want some spray, it’s so hot.
Boy: You look a bit sad.
Much older me: Yes, you’re right. I heard Dad hit you, and really hard. I didn’t know. I’m angry about it.
Boy: Doesn’t matter. I did a bad thing, I suppose. I think I was making too much noise. Must be a good boy now, not get into trouble. Not make Dad angry. Dad did let me sit on his bike. It’s huge. Goes fast. And I sat on a big gun. Then Mum took me to the beach. She looked so pretty. I love Mum all the time.
Much older me:Good, I’m glad you had fun. Hey, you didn’t do anything wrong. You’re a good chap. How’s that pump going? Figured it out? When you’re ready, try and say a bit more about what Dad did. You know he shouldn’t have done it. It must’ve hurt. I bet you cried.
Boy: Can’t remember now. Suppose so. Thanks for asking. Rover’s coming over. Give him a squirt. He’ll jump around.
Much older me: OK. Well, before Rover comes over, I want to say something. You know I love you, don’t you? And I think a lot about you. You’re brave and funny and people like you to be around.
Boy: Of course. And I know you’re big me. But you didn’t used to come much. I wondered where you were.
Much older me: I’m so sorry. I didn’t know how to find you. But I’m here now. Just look up and I’ll be around. I’ve got an eye out for you.
Boy: It feels nice that you’re here. Rover was always here. What’s an ‘eye out’?
This all started with a photo
I’d always known of the black-and-white photo of me at about 18 months old, when we were in the Far East. The little boy with a garden pump. A photo in Mum’s collection. When Mum died, and it came to me, I mentioned that photo to my troubled brother. He said Mum had told him it always made her cry, because it was just at the time of the photo that she had come home to find my back and bottom were blue with bruises. My father had clearly thrashed me, she said.
Mum and I had been close. Too close, of course. But she had never told me about that violence. It was a shock. I wasn’t happy with her, departed or not. I had been a therapist for many years, and I realised I could have done more for myself, and so too for my family, if I had just known that. It would have solved a mystery.
I thought about it a fair bit. For many years, I had never understood my up-and-down emotions, and why three, going on four years of personal therapy had not quite been enough. Knowing about the photo made a lot of sense to me about it all. I got down to more
inner child work for myself. A supervision relationship with a senior in the EMDR world really helped me understand what we can now do.
Next in this issue
From my late 30s, I had spent nearly four years in weekly therapy. Three years with one lady and then some more. I never missed a session. She missed more than me. I was the good client. I certainly improved in therapy, but it never felt complete. I came into therapy because I experienced something of a physical breakdown. I was burnt out, with lots of body stuff going on, some two years of continual flu-like symptoms. I couldn’t speak above a whisper for months at the worst of it, or get out of bed for more than six hours a day. So it had been difficult to keep a business running. But I had kept working through it.
Finally, I went to a new GP, ready to push for some answers. I had been looking for a magic-bullet explanation for months. Was all this down to an allergy? Some strange infection? I was lucky enough to meet a doctor who had started a career change: to become a Jungian analyst. He asked me some straight questions. ‘OK,’ he said, ‘you’ve got pains in the head and around the ear. You’ve been to an ENT consultant. There’s nothing untoward medically. Were you ever hit on the ear? Roughly where these pains are?’
‘Mm… well, actually Doctor, yes.’ I inwardly thought: What’s that got to do with my illness? ‘Yes. And hit like that for many years when I was young. Without warning, and often from behind, by my father.’ (In fact, until I was aged about 13, when I made to defend myself with a sizeable ashtray. The former soldier backed off and the violence stopped.)
The doctor sent me for a psychiatric assessment: seriously expensive, I thought. The psychiatrist referred me to a therapist he knew, a long way out of my area.
Starting to talk to a therapist
This was a strange business for me from the start. All the above symptoms: throat inflammation, stress symptoms, major energy loss and head pains, pretty much disappeared over the first two months of regular sessions. I thought I had better stick to these sessions, however weird it all seemed.
As sessions went on, I began to realise I was angry, anxious and edgy. I realised I was feeling odd and increasingly apart from people outside my immediate family and friends. I didn’t oppress or abuse other people, I hope, but I was hostile to all authority, and in particular men. I made a passable amateur boxer at university, which doesn’t surprise me from here. Some incidents when I was driving a car are frightening to consider now. It certainly worried my therapist.
I have always had certain maybe hypnagogic experiences and dreams. They involve a lot of yelling at ‘someone’, my wife tells me. I know very little about them. And loud monologues threatening to do something to someone, often an evil presence. I’m 60 now, and, if anything, these experiences are more frequent. But they seem funny, especially the hollering of Biblical passages about mayhem. Yesterday, I had a brief nap outside, and woke up to my wife calling me: ‘Are you OK?’ I was yelling for help and had no idea. If I had had EMDR sessions, would they have been able to, resolve ‘maladaptive memory’, and at this level?
I had three years of that therapy in all. I was on the couch for this type of Freudian therapy, looking at my therapist’s bookshelves. She would sit behind me. I remember seeing a title from her bookshelves and going off to read it. One I remember was called The Basic Fault, by Michael Balint. That sounded like a promising thing to figure out. I read it and asked her what it meant. Are some of us, or many of us, faulted from around the teenage years? What do we need to do to get fixed up? I’d read of a thing called regression. Is this the basis of a cure? How do you do it? Do you have to break down or something like that, to get through? And a lot of chaffing about the money. How can I afford this? God bless her, she trusted me to an account. And I would pay what I could to catch up when I could.
Overall, we did a lot of good stuff. The dreams, squeezing stuff out of long silences, bringing me back from the door when I’d had enough of the silences. The endless probing and digging around about what I meant, what I felt. At times, it was all confusing and frustrating. And then there were times of something else, difficult to describe. Rather wonderful really, reaching through to possibilities. I noticed, I felt stronger as we progressed.
Towards the end, I noticed I respected her. We had belonged to each other for this effort, and I would miss it. If you had said at the time that I had found a new mother, I would have politely rolled my eyes. However, it looks different from here. My own mum, always loved, just hadn’t protected me well enough. My therapist had taken some mid position that felt like neither gender. Decent and steady. Many, many years later, I had to go back to her for some confirmation, and she helped me out. No fee. The assessing psychiatrist was not interested.
My therapist used a traditional approach: psychoanalysis. Or more correctly, psychoanalytically informed psychotherapy. She was certainly skilled in the method, which, very briefly, seems to work with the anger that a client inevitably feels toward the therapist. The idea is that the resolution of problems will proceed when the anger in the relationship – patient to therapist – is talked through or interpreted. If the patient doesn’t get into this, then the therapist is likely to work with the resistance or defence. As in, ‘You are angry with me. You are!’
While I couldn’t describe the method then, I knew some kind of routine was in the air. So, after maybe the fifth time, she told me with some intensity that I was angry with her, I politely told her this didn’t make sense (and I liked things to make sense, and to be reasonable towards people I respected). I reminded her that I paid her. I travelled about a two-hour round trip for our sessions and took a day off work. She was recommended by a psychiatrist. I didn’t feel angry with her, but I did want to get on with it. I told her I even quite liked her. She seemed a decent sort to me. So, why would I be angry with her?
She would deal with my defensiveness often with sheer silence. It drove me crackers. So, after one very long silence, I got up to go. I told her I hadn’t come this far to be ignored. In a very firm voice, she told me to sit down again, which I did. But things changed then. She used to really talk to me after that. We got on better and with more openness. I even admitted to her that I had been sort of angry with her at times, maybe. About the fees.
During three years of sessions, there were maybe only two sessions that were focused on the business of violence I experienced over some 10 or more years of my life. And when I had a week or two of not being hit, I always thought I was about to be. I might now think that my therapist was concerned that if she came too near to the violence, I would be off. Maybe not. Maybe it was just the training to interpret our relationship. Anyway, we didn’t go near it much.
I wasn’t a person then to cry or release emotion. So it cannot have been easy for her. I was so ‘well defended’, in her phrase. In maybe two sessions over the whole three years, I managed a tear or two. Interestingly, and I’ve only just realised it after revising this material, those emotion-processing sessions were when I chose to get up off the couch and insisted on sitting upright. Maybe I felt less subservient; ready to bite the bullet? I wish we had done more.
I began to feel that I was not going to sort more than so much in these sessions. I enjoyed them, especially the dream work, but we were going around. There was something I couldn’t reach. I remember saying, ‘I’m doing this for the next generation, so that my children aren’t so affected.’
That was a turning point. I steadily began to sort out the next bit of my life. I felt up to it now.
I wanted to become a therapist myself
I had looked into it, and I couldn’t see how to afford the five to eight years of training to become a psychotherapist. I could make a counsellor, given the way the BACP accreditation route allowed a part-time approach to building the career. My therapist was not impressed. I got on with it though. It wasn’t her life we were trying to make sense of. Eventually, she said in a dry way, ‘Well, I’ve no doubt there’s a market for it.’ She had clearly, reluctantly, got the idea I was getting on with this. And that helped. So I trained as a psychodynamic counsellor, then there were years of CBT. Then trauma-focused CBT for a uniformed service. Finally, I became an EMDR specialist, which I would like to mention. I was sat in an agency talking to therapists all over the country and kept hearing about the powerful possibilities of a new therapy: EMDR. It really did sound odd; something about waving a hand before a client’s eyes to keep their attention. However, such was the positive sense of the feedback, I took on the basic training.
A new wave of evidence-based therapy has been around in some volume for maybe 20 years. What has happened is mainly, it seems to me, that: 1) brain science has made it a lot easier to understand what we need to heal; 2) research professionals have pointed to those therapies that are more workable (EMDR is certainly one, along with trauma-focused CBT); 3) two diagnoses, PTSD and Complex PTSD, have really helped focus attention on how to spot those who need help, and how to provide it. And even how to have the state and insurance agencies pay for it on a good day. I think EMDR particularly provides the access to those states and connections which I have referred to sliding by; what would now be considered as a missed opportunity to process dysfunctional memory.
What I find to be particularly helpful is the inner child or ego-state approach, now so well established within the EMDR movement. The introduction section at the start of this article is an active dialogue of the rapprochement with the injured child, often referred to as an ‘exile’ (particularly in internal family systems ). I encountered this first via the ‘loving eyes protocol’ of Jim Knipe.1 We look over, and just wait, with a kindly eye. Ready to acknowledge, but not to rush, at the place where the injured experience has been left. I think of it as the adult, practised in the acknowledgement, turning up at a bridge. If it’s a no-show, one leaves a present for the younger one. Not always a younger one, of course. This approach seems more real to me than metaphorical, and I think clients would agree about the realness of these meetings.
EMDR is now a worldwide therapy, supported by huge amounts of research. It is a recommended therapy for trauma under NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) and recommended by the International Society for Traumatic Stress (ISTSS). I believe if I had had maybe 24 to 30 sessions of modern EMDR therapy when I was in my 30s, I could have worked through most of what was needed.
After this, I’m going to look at those small black-and-white photos again. Mum’s making a fuss of me. And little me is loving it. The older man knows more about a real connection with the shadowy aspects of life. I might even have the breadth within me to remember that my father spent a lot of money on me in many ways, to set me up, and protected me from things outside the family that were dangerous. And he had his severe trouble growing up. An orphan in the 1930s, fostered out for 10 shillings board a week and treated like pressed labour.
Overall, I know I’m less in bits. I know that entering the difficult domain of shame and secrecy with kindness, has brought connection and strength for me and, I hope, for a few of my clients.
This piece is dedicated to Mike Wright, an EMDR consultant and person-centred counsellor. He was well known in EMDR circles for helping the EMDR movement, for the time he gave EMDR Association UK, and in building an active EMDR Regional Group. I was happy to have his wise and kind eye available for some years.
1 Knipe J. Loving eyes protocol. [Online.] https://emdrtherapyvolusia.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Loving_Eyes_Protocol.pdf (accessed 25 July 2022)