Trina had been pushing the self-destruct button for most of her life. As a teenager she went out drinking late. She got married when she was just 19. But after she had her first baby, the problems got much bigger.
Her mental health took a nosedive. She developed an eating disorder which put her in hospital, and then spent the next 15 years in and out of mental health services.
She self-harmed and made suicide attempts. Trina spent a whole year on a psychiatric ward at her lowest point. It was when she was hospitalised for the second time that Trina had the courage to tell somebody what had happened to her as a child. She had been sexually abused by a family member from the age of four until she was nine years old. All of her self-destructive behaviour was a way of trying to cope with the vivid, terrifying memories.
Looking back, it’s clear that Trina was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She had frequent flashbacks. Certain smells would trigger disturbing memories. She struggled to spend time with her brother’s daughter who looked a lot like Trina as a child. “I found it hard to be with my niece,” she says. “I couldn’t even look at old pictures of myself as a child as it brought it all back.”
Trina was diagnosed with several other disorders: anorexia, bulimia and borderline personality disorder. She went through lots of types of therapy over the years, including drama therapy, various psychotherapies, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) but unfortunately not the type that is specific to treating PTSD. Even when she was spending five days a week in therapy, none of these techniques really helped Trina – she would improve for a while and then relapse over and over again.
Around 2011, the family moved to Camarthenshire, Wales, and Trina decided to go and ask for help from her new GP. She was put in touch with psychologist Debbie Jeffries. For the first time, Trina was given a definitive diagnosis of PTSD, and Debbie suggested trying EMDR.
“I was really sceptical to start with,” says Trina, “but EMDR was amazing, and turned my life on its head.” She spent just under a year in EMDR treatment with Debbie. They worked through every single disturbing memory until their power and vividness faded, and Trina says her whole life was transformed.
After being treated for PTSD with EMDR, Trina’s eating disorders, self-harm, and all her other self-destructive behaviour finally stopped. She can now look at photo albums from her childhood, and even give her niece a big hug.
Inspired to make something positive out of her experiences, Trina graduated with a first class honours degree in mental health nursing in 2016, and now works as a mental health nurse in a nursing home for the elderly. She says, “I want to be one of those nurses who can understand.”
In the summer of 2000, Jane’s 21-year-old daughter Lucie was murdered in a horrible case that made headline news around the world. While working in Tokyo, she was raped, murdered and her body was dismembered.
This would have been too much for any parent to cope with, but Jane felt like she was in a waking nightmare. Her mind created awful images of what she imagined to have happened, and these went around and around in her head constantly for more than three years. She barely slept, and certain triggers, like the sound of a chainsaw, or a child who looked a bit like Lucie, would cause the images to become overpowering.
Jane had some counselling sessions but they didn’t stop what was going on. She felt she wasn’t moving through a grieving process at all but was trapped in trauma.
Jane’s son also sought professional help to come to terms with what had happened, and it was his psychiatrist who told Jane about EMDR and suggested it might help her.
When Jane saw her EMDR therapist for the first time, he asked her what she thought would make her feel better – Jane knew she just wanted to feel that Lucie was safe now. Jane had four EMDR sessions, but only had to tell her therapist what had happened in the first one. During the following three sessions she focused on the phrase “she’s safe” while thinking about what happened and following the therapist’s fingers back and forth.
That feeling of safety became ingrained. When she thought about Lucie and started to be bombarded by frightening images, Jane now heard a voice saying, “she’s safe”, and the images instantly stopped. The pictures quickly started to come into Jane’s head less frequently and with less emotional power. Jane was able to think about Lucie and feel sad rather than completely traumatised and to progress through the grieving process.
Thanks to EMDR, Jane could focus better on her life. She was able to visit Japan and stand up in court at the trial of Lucie’s killer and give a victim impact statement as he sat opposite her.
Today, when she sees a girl who looks like her daughter or has to think about what happened, Jane still hears the voice telling her, “she’s safe”. “Quite simply, EMDR gave me my life back,” she says.
Andrew*, aged 4
Around the age of two, Andrew began to behave in a violent way. He would hit out at his parents and other children at his nursery. The problem got worse until, aged four, he couldn’t be trusted around babies and toddlers and even attacked his dad’s cousin.
“I couldn’t understand what was going on,” says his mum Karen*. Some of her friends hurtfully blamed his behaviour on poor parenting, but Andrew couldn’t have come from a more stable family background. Karen started to worry about the future. “How would I defend myself from his attacks when he grew into a teenager?”
At dinner one evening, a family friend who was an educational therapist asked whether Andrew had been through a traumatic event at any point in his life. “What about an operation?” she asked. This rang a bell with Karen. “She was spot on – Andrew had actually had an operation shortly before his behaviour changed,” she says. When he was just two, he stuffed a tissue up his nose which had to be removed under anaesthetic. He had been given gas and the experience was very upsetting – the mask had to be held forcibly over his face and his arms were pinned down to stop him pulling it off.
Karen’s therapist friend suggested giving Andrew some EMDR therapy, explaining that it has been found to be very effective for children as well as adults – even children who are too young to be able to describe what happened to them.
Karen was a bit sceptical but decided to give it a shot. During the therapy session, Andrew sat on Karen’s lap while she told the story of what had happened to him in hospital. Meanwhile, the therapist gently tapped Andrew on each shoulder. As Andrew heard the story he became very upset, ran away and hid under the kitchen table.
Later, when he had calmed down, he was asked to make a drawing of himself having the operation, and then scrub it out in black pen from left to right. The therapist also produced a story in simple language affirming all the positive things about Andrew’s life, referring to the operation and describing it as something confusing that happened when he was two. The story describes the behaviour it caused, and how he doesn’t need to do that anymore because he’s safe now.
The change in Andrew’s behaviour after his first EMDR session was instant. He stopped lashing out, and he was much calmer at nursery and school. “He didn’t start fights anymore,” Karen says, “and if there was an argument he would take himself off and calm down. It was a really dramatic improvement.”
Andrew is now 12, and Karen says the change has been permanent. “He’s the sweetest child and won’t lift a finger against anyone.”
* Andrew’s and Karen’s names have been changed