My work in a category A prison was often challenging.
Not especially because of the men I was working with, but because, over time, I developed a growing and unsettling realisation that many of them should not be in prison at all, but should rather be receiving treatment for undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder.
The ‘domino effect’ of PTSD is profound. It starts with trauma and the symptoms begin to wreck lives, relationships and destroy hope.
Take Ben for example:
When I met Ben he’d been back in the prison system for six months and was heading for release. But Ben didn’t want to be released. ‘I feel safe in here’ he said. ‘It feels a bit like being back in the Army.’
Bens’ story was one I would hear over and over again during my time working in the prison.
He had returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan a changed man.
Gone was the easy going, funny, affectionate guy who his wife, Jane, had waved off just 6 months ago. Ben seemed to have a dark and brooding quality about him now. He had a short fuse and would shout at the children all the time. They became frightened of him. Then, one day, he snapped and lashed out at Jane.
She left and took the children with her and Ben got worse.
What he hadn’t told Jane, because he felt so ashamed, was that he couldn’t sleep at night because he was constantly replaying a terrifying and never ending film in his head from his tour in Afghanistan.
Ben never told me what actually happened on that tour, but it was clear he now had all the classic symptoms of PTSD such as nightmares, flashbacks and insomnia along with anger outbursts and a range of aches and pains, sweating, shaking and nausea.
He had taken to drinking to block out the nightmares and, when that didn’t work, he got hold of some drugs. He now had trouble functioning at work. He had a car accident, lost his license and then lost his job. He lost his home soon after and found himself on the streets, sleeping rough.
‘I pitched a tent in the local woods’, said Ben. ‘It wasn’t too bad at first. My army training helped me survive, but then someone set fire to my tent and I ended up sleeping in a skip. It said it all really. I feel worthless now. I’m just a pile of rubbish.’
I felt so bad for Ben. His life had unravelled and no one had spotted what was really wrong. The PTSD needed resolving. But, back then, even after years of training as a counsellor, although I could recognise the symptoms of PTSD, I had absolutely no idea how to treat it.
Now, I know that an intervention such as the ‘Rewind’ technique could have resolved Ben’s symptoms in just one session with a trained practitioner.
‘Rewind’ is a powerful, yet simple way to take back control from PTSD. Its originator, Dr David Muss, recognised its potential when he was studying NLP and doing his medical training. His wife was raped on campus and started having terrible nightmares soon after.
The term ‘post traumatic stress disorder’ had only just found its way into the diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM). Until then, the cluster of symptoms we would now recognise, were thought of simply as neurosis or even ‘shell shock’.
The Rewind is easy enough to do and is now been taught as a self help technique by Dr Muss himself. It involves getting the sufferer to calmly imagine the original trauma projected onto a film screen from the moment just before it happened to when it ends or the memory fades, and then jumping into the film and rewinding very fast from inside the memory. This distorts the memory and sends a signal to the emotional centre of the brain to allow the images to pass into the ‘filing cabinet’ where we store everyday memories that are not loaded with emotion or fight and flight signals.
What happened to Ben, I do not know. What I do know is, there are thousands of ‘Bens’ in prisons up and down the UK right now. They should not be there and they should be getting the appropriate treatment to free their imprisoned minds.
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