Those who work with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing to treat trauma share the pros and cons.

Locke Hughes

emdr ireland larry o larry

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, is a research-backed type of therapy people use for trauma and anxiety.

Trauma doesn’t always look the same. Whether it’s a failed relationship, an unspeakable act of violence or a devastating natural disaster, traumas differ in their severity, as well as their effects on us.

If you’ve ever experienced it, you know how difficult it can be to imagine living a normal life where you’re not regularly reminded of what you experienced. But one therapy treatment promises it can help with some erasure.

It’s called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR. The therapy type is supported by research, and considered as an effective treatment for trauma by a host of international organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the World Health Organization.

The origins of EMDR date back to 1989, when psychologist Francine Shapiro realized that rapid eye movements helped assuage her own negative emotions while walking through a park. Shapiro spent years developing, practicing and studying the effects of the therapeutic procedure, eventually coining the name EMDR in 1991.

How does EMDR work?
When we go through a traumatic event, our central nervous system kicks into high gear, reacting with an applicable stress response — i.e., a fight, flight or freeze reaction. Sometimes a distressing event can be processed sufficiently by our brain on its own, and it heals itself.

But other times, our brain can get “stuck” in the past and continues to react as if we’re still experiencing the disturbing event — as if we’re back in the trauma, explained Charlotte Margulies, a psychotherapist and founder of Aspen Alliance Counseling. That’s where EMDR can help. Through enabling the differing parts of the brain to communicate more effectively, EMDR helps our brain process traumatic memories more effectively.

In EMDR, “the traumatic memory becomes part of the existing positive memory network, which brings relief to the patient,” said Sandra McCluskey, assistant professor of psychiatry at The University of Toledo and a licensed professional clinical counselor. “The patient can still recall the memory, but because it is finally properly stored with existing adaptive and positive memories, the patient no longer emotionally reacts when they think about it.”

EMDR therapy consists of eight different phases. Phase 1 involves history-taking, where the therapist learns more about the client’s past and develops a treatment plan. In Phase 2, the therapist spends time teaching the client coping and calming skills to help them handle emotional distress, which they can use between and during sessions. The amount of time spent in these phases is determined on a case-by-case basis, McCluskey said, and depends on the patient’s history, their specific traumas and the judgment of the therapist.

During Phases 3 through 6, the client will target and reprocess — or work through — the identified trauma. This is where the signature modality of EMDR comes into play, known as bilateral stimulation (BLS). The three types of BLS to stimulate eye movement include: visual (when a therapist moves a finger or light bar back and forth), auditory (slight chimes or other sounds that alternate in each ear), or tactile (buzzers that you hold in your hand and pulse back and forth).

While engaging in BLS, the client will be instructed to focus on a visual image of the trauma, a negative thought they associate with themselves and bodily sensations.

After the eye movement stimulations, the client is instructed to simply notice whatever thought, feeling, image, memory or sensation comes to mind. Again, these phases will last as long as needed for the client to eventually eliminate feelings of distress associated with the trauma.

Finally, Phases 7 and 8 wrap up the therapeutic sessions. The therapist makes sure the client feels stable and safe moving forward, knowing how to use the self-regulating techniques learned in Phase 2, and evaluates the progress the patient has made.

In order to offer EMDR therapy, mental health professionals must go through EMDR training.

emdr cork larry o reilly counsellor

Who is EMDR for?

EMDR is continually emerging as a useful form of treatment for people who have suffered traumatic events, and almost anyone may benefit from EMDR therapy (more on that below).

EMDR is applicable to a range of traumas, such as sexual assault, a car accident, violent crime, bullying as a child and breakups, Margulies explained. Anyone who’s been in talk therapy for a while and not seeing the results they are hoping for might want to give EMDR a try.

Research backs up the effectiveness of EMDR. One notable study found that 12 sessions of EMDR eliminated PTSD in over 77% of combat veterans who participated in the research. Another study found that 100% of the single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer were diagnosed with PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions.

And while EMDR might be most studied for its effects on traumatic memories, it may also work for a myriad of other mental health issues, according to both research and anecdotal stories.

“I’ve had so much success using EMDR therapy for so many different issues,” McCluskey said. She’s used it to help patients work through unresolved grief, anxiety and panic attacks.

Donna Brown, an author and retired registered nurse in Pearce, Arizona, said EDMR helped her to manage her trauma symptoms ― including intense depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts ― that stemmed from childhood abuse.

“As I sat in front of the machine week after week watching the flashing lights, I wondered if there was any validity to the treatment,” Brown, 68, said. “Nonetheless, as time went on, I began to experience noticeable improvement in my mood and a steady decline in the number of flashbacks.”

After a year of therapy, Brown said she stopped getting horrific flashbacks.

“I was able to live a normal life without fear of recurrence,” she said. “Through my experience of EMDR, I gained invaluable knowledge about this procedure and sense of gratitude to be alive and enjoying life. Perhaps EMDR will not work in all situations, yet I would highly recommend it to others who are struggling with their own mental health challenges.”

Are there any drawbacks to EMDR?
Brown is right that EDMR isn’t a cure-all for everyone. Overall, mental health professionals seem to be in agreement that EMDR is an effective and safe way to help people process traumatic memories. However, there are some cons, said Shirley Porter, a psychotherapist and writer for Choosing Therapy, who has experience with EMDR as both a patient and a professional.

For some people, EMDR is just not a fit, Porter explained. One of the challenges: “Since the therapy itself causes a client to relive the trauma for brief periods of time, some find it too painful to get to a point where the memories of the trauma cause no distress at all,” she said.

Another reason someone may not want to proceed with EMDR is related to the emotional dysregulation some may experience following an EMDR session. This can manifest as an inability to calm down or manage one’s own emotions, as well as a spike in PTSD symptoms, such as flashbacks or nightmares.

This is why the timing of EMDR sessions is so important, Porter emphasized. “It’s not something one would want to do the week prior to an exam, job interview or major presentation, due to the potential distress that could occur.”

Just like any therapy modality, every individual will respond differently to EMDR. But as Margulies noted, most of the feedback she receives as a therapist from patients going through EMDR is positive.

“Most people tell me that they enjoy it not only because it’s effective, but it also feels safe,” she said. “And the biggest gift that it gives people that can be hard to find elsewhere is a sense of relief that they’re making progress.”

This story has been updated to more clearly reflect information on therapists’ training in EDMR.

On the Guardian Website

Jameela Jamil has revealed EMDR therapy “saved her life” in a candid post shared on Instagram, where she told her followers: “It’s ok not to be [ok]”.

On the Huffingpost Website

The Good Place star, 33, said there’s “nothing wrong or embarrassing about getting help” and praised EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) therapy, which she said helped treat her depression, anxiety, eating disorder issues and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“If you should be lucky enough to access any mental healthcare, I would urge you to spend your money on that before anything else that isn’t a necessity for your life,” she said, adding that therapy “saved my life”.

In the UK, EMDR is recognised as a treatment for PTSD by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and is offered on the NHS.

Dr Anna Redding, a consultant clinical psychologist and accredited EMDR therapist, describes it as “a bit like a laser beam”, and says it “really get to the heart of things”.

[Read More: How To Access Free Therapy In 2019 If You’re Struggling With Your Mental Health]

What Is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR involves making side-to-side eye movements, while recalling a traumatic incident or memory. It’s a relatively new treatment that has been found to reduce the symptoms of PTSD – although clinicians cannot fully explain why.

Dr Redding, who practises EMDR for the NHS and through her private clinic, and is a member of the Counselling Directory, says although it is predominantly used for people diagnosed with PTSD, it could also help those with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and, in some cases, psychosis. It can be used to treat people who haven’t been diagnosed with PTSD, but have lived through traumatic experiences, as well as those with phobias – for example, a fear of flying.

Despite there being multiple theories, there’s no definitive explanation as to how and why it works. “It’s a little bit weird and wonderful,” says Dr Redding.

“The premise of PTSD is that the normal memory-processing got ‘stuck’ when there was an overwhelming traumatic experience,” she explains. “This doesn’t happen for everybody but for those where it does, the memory can’t get processed properly. And this is what causes the flashbacks, the intrusions, the nightmares, etc.”

This is where EMDR comes in. Using a factory metaphor, Dr Redding explains: “The traumatic memory is too big to go through the factory, and EMDR breaks down the memory so it can go through the factory, get processed and no longer cause the stress and impact on daily living that it was [causing] before.”

This happens through the eye movements or, in some cases, another action – this could be tapping the sides of a person’s knees, listening to alternating sounds through headphones or holding alternating buzzers in each hand.

A therapist may sit diagonally to a client, for example, and wave their finger backwards and forwards in front of the patient’s face (or carry out another repetitive action), while the client is thinking about a traumatic memory.

Therapists will follow a rigid EMDR protocol until the distress is resolved. This may take a handful of therapy sessions – or tens of sessions – depending on how many traumatic memories there are.

How To Access EDMR Therapy

EMDR is typically considered for adults with a diagnosis of PTSD, or those showing symptoms of it. It’s recommended for young people aged seven to 17-years-old with a diagnosis or symptoms of PTSD, but only if they don’t respond to trauma-focused CBT (a form of cognitive behavioural therapy).

Patients will typically be provided eight to 12 EMDR sessions, according to NICE, although more may be necessary if they have experienced multiple traumas.

There are three ways you can access this type of therapy in the UK, says Dr Redding. Firstly, through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, where people can self-refer. This type of service is mainly for people who don’t have complex traumas and might instead have a trauma focused on a one-off event, like a car accident. “Waiting lists would vary from two weeks to a few months,” Dr Redding says.

The second route is through a community mental health team, and this would be for people with complex trauma, multiple traumas or disassociation. “The referral for that has to come through a GP,” says Dr Redding. Despite attempts to keep waiting lists short, they can be anywhere between 18 weeks to a year.

Another route for those able to afford it is to go private. The cost can be anywhere between £70 and £100 per session, depending on the accreditation of the therapist.

“What EMDR is going to do is say: in order to process this, we have to help you look at it.”

The Drawbacks

Like most types of therapy, EMDR doesn’t work for everyone. Everyone needs to treat it with respect and caution, advises Dr Redding. “It’s difficult, it’s not easy work,” she says. “Ultimately a lot of people want to avoid this stuff, nobody wants to think about the traumatic things that have happened to them – we want to try and block these things.”

By its very nature, PTSD won’t let you block them. “What EMDR is going to do is say: in order to process this, we have to help you look at it,” she says. “Lots of emotions can come up, body sensations can come up, and that can be very difficult for people. So it’s important they’ve got the skills in place to manage what’s going to come up – and those skills can be taught in therapy if they don’t have them already.”

It’s also crucial to make sure you’re dealing with a qualified EMDR therapist who is accredited. “There are some therapists out there saying they do EMDR and it’s not EMDR at all,” she adds.

If you don’t feel comfortable or ready to address those emotions, Dr Redding advises waiting until you are, adding: “EMDR isn’t going to go anywhere, the therapy will always be there.”

stress exam emdr cork

Helping students to cope with study and exam preparation

As we enter into the season for examinations at secondary school and at collage level it is important for parents and carers to understand the complexity of exam stress and the impact it can have on preparation and performance for students and further how it affects their families.

Students have been working hard for a long period of their lives and the leaving certificate or collage examinations can seem to be the defining of all of that hard work. It is inevitable that stress and anxiety will be at a heightened point the closer the student gets to final examinations. Care needs to be taken to ensure that students have all the supports necessary to assist them through this important period of their transition to collage or transition to careers.

Sometimes past events (traumas) can be remembered during this time of heightened stress as the body “holds the score” or the shape of what the trauma felt like back when it occurred. Sometimes past traumas are not adaptively processed and remain like a misfiled memory that consequently re-emerges when the body is under stress. In such cases it may be supportive for the student to seek support to clear this and to “put the past in the past”, as Francine Shapiro describes in her book on EMDR.

One important factor that sometimes goes unnoticed at this time is the impact that past traumas or PTSD has on the psychological wellbeing of anxious students.

What is PTSD?

Currently, for a diagnosis of PTSD, the student needs to have experienced a traumatic event where they perceive a threat to either themselves or to others and this distress invokes horror, helplessness and a sense of hyperarousal (Kataoka et al. 2012). Traumatic events can range from childhood trauma, physical or sexual assault, effects from a medical procedure or sickness or other single incident or repetitive traumas such as bullying in class or amongst peers, an assault or robbery, a major car accident etc. Some features of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are: re-experiencing of the event, hyper-arousal (leading to angry outbursts, difficulty with sleep patterns, and irritable patterns of behaviour.
With younger children this can be seen in their repetitively re-living the trauma in their play or no longer engaging in previously enjoyable activity)

Sensitivity to sounds or lights along with hyper-vigilance, loss of concentration ability and flashbacks where previous experiences are relived are indicative of PTSD and can re-emerge during stressful periods of our lives. The first step is to realise the presence of the above symptoms and to seek supports Many students may describe days when they feel the difficulty of concentrating on study for exams and they are “zoned out” or dissociative with difficulty in staying focused and connected.

School or College student services are there to support students where emotional distress is affecting their preparations and on many occasions students may be offered changes in time allocations or space options to enable them to complete their progress. But receiving support isn’t always easy for people with PTSD, and signing up with disability services can spark feelings of shame. We assume that our trauma doesn’t count. But it does.

Internal resources include coping skills, strength and resilience age and genetics whereas external resources are anything that is outside of you that provides you with support, strength, and relaxation. External resources might be your network of friends, your family and your community. Other key elements include the structure of sleep and nutritional balance along with exercise. Engaging with a therapist who specializes in trauma will ensure that you find an empathic response to the distress being felt.

For some students suffering from PTSD it is important to provide an appropriate environment from which they can have maximum protection from background sounds or the people around them. Practice some kind of relaxation technique, such as yoga and make the decision to engaging in physical activation such as by stretching your hands or tapping your feet Maintaining a good diet including limiting coffee, sugary, fatty foods and drinks. Sipping water reinforces the activation of the saliva gland and is a very useful resource to regulate right/left brain activity Other resources include listening to guided imagery CDs and doing some journaling.
The above are just some of the tools for maintaining wellness as you prepare for your examinations. When in doubt talk to a therapist who can guide you with further supports and assist you through this important period of your education.

Larry O Reilly is a Senior Counsellor / Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor and specialises in complex trauma and PTSD distress in clients.

The director speaks for the first time about the horrific event from his childhood that inspired his new TV drama The Virtues
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On the guardian Website

I’ve interviewed director Shane Meadows a few times now, and it’s always been fun. He’s an entertaining person to spend an hour with: enthusiastic, emotional, funny, a natural talker. Plus there’s lots to talk about, as his work is great. From his first features, Small Time (1996) and A Room For Romeo Brass (1999), through Dead Man’s Shoes, into 2006’s This Is England and the three TV spin-off series that came out of that (This Is England 86, 88 and 90), as well as his Stone Roses comeback documentary, Made of Stone, Meadows makes brilliant British films and telly. He calls himself “kitchen sink”, but he’s a rare combination of artist, storyteller and near-documentarian who often uses his life growing up in Uttoxeter in Staffordshire as inspiration. His methods – lengthy casting process, lots of rehearsals – mean that he helps actors, and people who have never acted before, to give authentic and award-winning performances. His work leaves me in bits.

So I’m looking forward to seeing him again. Except that this interview turns out to be far from fun. It goes very dark, very quickly. If I were a continuity announcer, I’d say something like: the following contains content that some people might find upsetting.

Still, we start upbeat enough. We meet in the downstairs room of Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema, near to his home. Meadows has his foot in a medical boot – he has a running injury – but otherwise all is good; in a smart parka and jeans, he’s his usual ebullient self.

We’re here to talk about his new four-part series on Channel 4, The Virtues, directed by Meadows and co-written with regular writing partner Jack Thorne. It stars Stephen Graham as Joseph, a Liverpudlian who returns to Ireland in search of his past. It’s a gripping and moving watch, driven by truthful performances; but it’s also a step up. The Virtues moves out of Meadows’s established world of small-town crime and hectic wit and into something more lyrical.

“I always wanted to make a film where people didn’t talk,” he says. “I’d watch some European films and it would be just people ambling along in a car – 15, 20 minutes where no one would speak and it would be completely compelling. And I could never do it.”

With The Virtues, he has. Especially during the first and second episodes, there is a real sense of things unsaid. This is unusual in Meadows’s work, where characters tend to speak quickly and truthfully, and the violence, when it comes, is unexpected. In The Virtues, you can feel repressed pain, sense it leaking out and driving the action, even though the plot is unclear for quite some time. This is mostly due to an immense performance from Graham, who is transformed, far from the character he’s played before for Meadows.

In This Is England, Graham was Combo, the violent NF supporter who came out of prison to wreck Woody’s amiable little skinhead crew. He was macho, scary and horrible (though slightly redeemed in TIE 88). In The Virtues, however, Graham plays someone else entirely: a quiet, middle-aged man just about holding it together.

Joe has a son, Shea, with an ex-partner, and we see his reaction to them leaving Liverpool for a new life. Initially, he keeps a lid on things, but his trauma spills into a pub scene that is jovial but so tense that at one point I had to leave the room. There’s a queasy post-chucking-out stumble around Liverpool’s kebab shops. Soon, we follow Joe as he gets the ferry to Ireland, to try to excavate his past.

Graham is absolutely terrific: a career best, I would say, and his is a CV packed with excellence. There’s also a wonderful performance from Helen Behan, whom Meadows met some years ago, on holiday in Bettystown, a coastal town north of Dublin.

“She approached me and said she’d always wanted to act. I took her number and said, ‘I might be in touch or I might forget.’”

Every five or six years, I’d have these massive depressions or anxiety attacks… really bad
But he remembered, and cast her as a nurse in TIE 88. In The Virtues, Behan is full of heart, funny and stern. Rising star Niamh Algar is brilliant too, plus – plus! – the score is by PJ Harvey. Meadows wanted a soundtrack as opposed to songs, as he’d had in This Is England, and he’d thought of Harvey. And then, amazingly, she emailed him out of the blue, saying she’d like to work with him. There’s a beautiful sequence of Joe trudging through the Irish countryside in the rain, all set to Harvey’s fantastic music.

Anyway, you should watch The Virtues. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I have to, because Meadows wants to talk to me about a specific incident that led to him making the series. In fact, he’s revved himself up to do this interview.

“I only want to talk about this once,” he says. “You’re the only person I’m going to tell. There was an event in my life that happened at a fucking unbelievably unlucky moment in time…”

OK, I say, a bit uncertain as to what he’s going to tell me. And then he tells me. In the summer of 1982, Meadows’s dad, Arty, was taken into custody on suspicion of murder. Arty, a lorry driver, had found the body of an 11-year-old schoolgirl, Susan Maxwell, beside the A518 near Uttoxeter, and the police wrongly thought he might have killed her.

Obviously, this was a traumatic time for Shane and his family. The media were camped outside their house, “trying to buy photographs off neighbours”; his dad was in the cells, and it was decided that it would be better if Shane and his sister went elsewhere for a bit. Off went his sister to a camp for CB radio enthusiasts (it was the 1980s), and Shane was sent to his aunty’s, on the other side of Uttoxeter. She tried her best to keep Meadows away from the news, but he remembers going into a newsagent’s and seeing the front pages of the papers: “They had my name, and my sister’s. They put a picture of my dad in when he was 18, when he was a rocker – rather than 28 and a dad of two – so he looked like he could be a really dangerous bastard.”

Upset and confused, he left his aunt, went to a nearby park and sat on a swing.

“It was already a wank old day,” he says. “And then these two brothers came up.”

One was around Shane’s age, the other about four years older. They picked on him – “they mentioned my dad” – scared him, and made him go into the woods behind the park. And once they’d got him in there, the older brother sexually abused him over a long period of time. Shane was nine.

Immediately after he left the woods, he says, he thought to himself, “If you don’t say anything, it never happened… if you just don’t tell anyone, it didn’t happen.” And he never did tell anyone. He returned to his aunt’s house. At some point, he remembers going into the back garden and hearing the two boys playing on their bikes outside. He had a panic attack and went indoors.

When he returned to his parents’ following his dad’s release, he regressed for a while. “I can remember this feeling of abomination. I started wetting the bed, all the classic signs were there” – but everyone thought it was because his dad had been suspected of murder. Shane squashed the whole traumatic, terrible incident down into something hard and dark and tiny, and deliberately buried it as deep as he could inside. In fact, he actually forgot about it.

This seems almost unbelievable – “I know, it’s mad. I knew they’d picked on me, bullied me, but that was it” – but it’s true. He forgot about it so thoroughly that when he changed school soon after and saw the bigger boy, all he knew was that he was really frightened of him. “It was like every ounce of me knew, but I didn’t remember it, so I must’ve blocked it.”

Meadows successfully blocked what he calls “the incident” or “the event” – but it affected everything. “You can feel that sense of panic, but not understand it or why it affects your life on a daily basis,” he says.

Shane Meadows on set of This Is England ‘90 with Chanel Cresswell who plays Kelly
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Shane Meadows on set of This Is England ‘90 with Chanel Cresswell who plays Kelly. Photograph: Channel 4

His life changed. When he was around 11, he joined an older gang of skinheads, so that he would have protection, without really knowing why. He went a bit nuts in his teens, did drugs, started petty thieving. As an adult, again without knowing why, he always cut corners when walking the dog took him too close to any woods. He went through his whole life not directly recalling the event. Not knowing what had happened to him.

“But every five or six years, I’d have these massive depressions or anxiety attacks,” he says. “Really bad. Dragging me into the pits of hell, it felt like the Book of Revelations.” The attacks would last a few months and sometimes he’d have to go to a clinic (he did after finishing This Is England 90). He had his first “nervy b”, as he calls them, when he was 20.

In his 30s, he tried counselling, but that didn’t really help. It wasn’t until two years ago, when he went to a clinical psychologist, that something really changed. The psychologist asked Meadows lots of technical questions (about 450 of them) and found that his problem areas were “extreme anxiety around going away from home, and feeling that the world was a bad place”. He diagnosed Shane with PTSD and prescribed a particular treatment.

“I promised my wife I wouldn’t speak about this, but anyway, here goes, baby. Have you heard of EMDR? You put on these headphones, and there are different sounds in your ears, like a buzz in one and a bleep in the other.”

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) is a technique often used for PTSD, whereby the patient has to recall the moment of trauma while listening to separate sounds in each ear (or tapping different knees, or looking at different things).

“The awful thing about that event, though, is that I couldn’t remember it, so it was like I was living it for the first time.”

At the first session, the psychologist asked him to think back to when he was in the park. “I was like, ‘Why? They were just twats to me because of my dad.’” But the psychologist insisted. The first thing he remembered was walking away from the park, telling himself if he didn’t mention the attack, it never happened. He chucked down the headphones and walked out, “like Tony Soprano”. But as he was walking along, the act of walking reminded him even more of leaving the park: that specific feeling of deliberate pain suppression.

Now, Meadows can remember most of what happened. Not everything – “it’s like a shattered mirror, I have fairly horrific images but I can’t make whole sequences” – but the point of EMDR is not to recall every detail of a traumatic incident, but to access the feelings around it. You stop every three minutes or so, to assess how high your stress levels have become. At the beginning, he says, he was off the scale. He would cry uncontrollably, “snot and toffee everywhere”. In fact, the process was so difficult that he quit a couple of times; but gradually, as he repeated the therapy, his stress levels reduced. Which explains how he can talk about it to me. He’s not cheerful about it, but he is astonishingly straightforward. “I own it now.”

Most of what happened has come back to him. The younger boy wasn’t involved, but just stood aside and let it happen. The older boy was “a right fucking grubby bastard” with “piggy eyes and teeth like fangs”. In Uttoxeter at the time, kids went to lower school until 9, then middle school until 13, and high school after that, and when Meadows changed schools soon after the assault, he found himself in the same school year as the younger brother. Luckily, the older one had just left to go to high school, but he was still hanging around. Meadows would leave school by the back way so he didn’t have to encounter him, sitting on the wall nearby. When Meadows got to high school, the younger brother told him that the older boy had left to become a footballer. “Obviously, he’d been sent to Borstal.”

Anyway, he was gone.

For a while, during the therapy, Meadows was overcome by a desire for revenge. He started trying to track down the brothers, find them, catch them off guard.

“Sit man-to-man without any fucking weapons,” he says. “And see what kind of a person they are. But then I thought, well, this is going to go great if they’ve really changed or they’re broken or whatever, but if they’re still a disgusting, horrible, manipulative, potentially paedophile sort of character, and they smirk at me over the table... then it’s going to go incredibly badly.”

This Is England, starring Thomas Turgoose, centre
Facebook Twitter Pinterest This Is England, the film, starring Thomas Turgoose, centre.

We discuss how revenge is such an important theme in his work. Dead Man’s Shoes is a revenge tale. Lol in This Is England gets revenge on her dad. “It’s not about revenge for revenge’s sake,” he says. “It’s about empathy for people. Like Lol, it’s about that fucking awful scene with Trev where Lol’s dad rapes her. People at talks come up to me and say, ‘I’ve had that experience’ and they thanked me for it, because so many people hear the sentences people get given for rape, and it makes it seem like a milder crime than the disgusting, life-changing thing it actually is.”

Also, many of his films – Romeo Brass, This Is England – examine the unsettling effect of an older, dangerous stranger on a happy friendship group. Meadows used to think this was because of another incident in his background, when his sister went out with an older boy and Shane egged him on to beat up an innocent younger kid. Or another time, when he was kidnapped and held at knifepoint for a day by the ex-boyfriend of his girlfriend (Meadows’s teenage years were colourful). But obviously, the roots went further back. In This Is England Shaun, Shane’s alter ego, joined an older group of kids because he wanted protection. That is exactly what Shane did.

Anyway, once Meadows had got his head around the whole thing, he decided to use it to make The Virtues, with Joe as his alter ego. And there’s another element woven through the new series: a children’s home.

There were a couple of children’s homes near where Meadows grew up and, as a child, he was very conscious of the kids who ran away. He remembers, when he was 11, that a couple of sisters fled a home called Riverside, and stayed in a Victorian public toilets. Meadows brought them blankets and taped down the button on the hand dryer so it would blow all night and keep them warm. He felt real empathy for them, as he did and does for anyone bullied.

“Once you’ve seen someone get properly beaten up, you don’t forget,” he says. “The velocity, the hatred, someone stamping someone’s face into the corner of a room. When you’re stood there holding their coat. That never leaves you.”

When he was young, and going off the rails, his dad got a policeman friend to take Meadows round a children’s home, to scare him. It worked. “All the lads looked like Tim Roth in Made In Britain, there was glue scabs round all the girls’ mouths.” The children’s homes are closed now, but they were centres of abuse: physical, emotional, sexual.

“I think about that,” he says. “I was so affected and [the abuse] only happened once. I’ve had at least three breakdowns as a result; it’s caused me a lifetime of anguish, so imagine what it was like there, all that brutality and you can’t escape. Someone being able to come into your room whenever they liked…”

As I’m absorbing all of this, Shane tells me that, while he was filming The Virtues in February 2018, his mum Gillian was diagnosed with cancer (there’s a dedication to her at the end of the series). She died four weeks later, aged just 63. It was a terrible time, he says, though the dying itself was peaceful – he was there and was able to tell her how much he loved her.

‘I’ve always been honest about where my stories come from, how personal they are’: Shane Meadows.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest ‘I’ve always been honest about where my stories come from, how personal they are’: Shane Meadows. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/Observer
“My sister was the rock,” he says. “I just couldn’t cope.”

He didn’t tell his mum about what he’d found out through his therapy – “it’s a bit much to put that on the parcel shelf before someone dies” – but he’s told the rest of the family.

God, what a couple of years he has had.

“Yeah,” he says, “but it means that I’m not scared now. I mean, what else is there to fear?” Though he admits he can get pretty jumpy around his own kids, and their safety. He has two young boys, aged six and 10, and he’s very protective. His wife keeps his paranoia in check, “or I’d be like the SAS, following them when they go to school, jumping over hedges”. But their lives are very different from his at that age, more monitored: “They do loads of stuff after school, football and rugby and swimming: they don’t just hang out with other kids, like I used to.”

This interview has, strangely, been quite uplifting. Meadows is serious when he talks about what happened to him, but he’s not broken. I notice he often uses “you” rather than “I” when he tells the tale, understanding the assault in a bigger context. He feels sorry for that poor young boy, who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. His calmness makes it easier to hear his story. Also, he looks great: he’s lost a bit of weight and is sparkly-eyed and clear-skinned. Before he broke his foot, he’d been cycling and running. He even does a bit of meditation. “I used to think all that was a load of crap, but it’s like a safety valve. Better than what I used to do, which was get leathered.”

What he wants to do with the series, he says, other than make a great piece of art, is to emphasise how heroic it is for some people just to live a normal life. That’s why it’s called The Virtues.

“I don’t think we should be celebrating people who’ve made the FTSE 100,” he says. “You don’t know why a tramp is what he is. How could you look down your nose at someone on the street? For some people just to lead a sober life is heroic, way better than running a conglomerate or making political decisions.”

He feels grateful that he’s a filmmaker and can use his films to help his trauma, or his trauma to create films. “From my point of view,” he says, “this was a chance for me to create a safe space, to face my abuser. All I wanted was to be able to sit down with this guy, via Stephen Graham. I’ve always been honest about where my stories come from, how personal they are. It would obviously have been easier for me not to talk about this one, but I’m not making an exception. I’m not scared or ashamed any more. Plenty of people have been through far worse and they’ve told their stories. What happened to me is the reason the series exists.”

The ending of The Virtues doesn’t do quite what you might expect. Meadows didn’t expect it either, but, as is his style, he let the actors involved do what came naturally, tried out a few scenarios and chose the scenes that worked the best. He’s a believer in the human spirit.

“One of the last sessions I had with the psychologist, he said to me, ‘Imagine you could go back and make that event not happen. The risk is that you quite possibly wouldn’t be doing what you’d be doing now. Would you go back and change it?’ And I know I wouldn’t. Having experienced that, and the empathy that comes with it… I’d never swap that in a million years. I certainly wouldn’t swap telling stories. That is just part of my life and I’ve got through it. It’s lovely to know I can.”

The Virtues begins on Channel 4 on Wednesday 15 May at 9pm. The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) offers free support for adult survivors on 0808 801 0331

‘He leaves you in bits’: Meadows’ finest, by Miranda Sawyer

Small Time (1996)
Made for £5,000, and set in a Nottingham suburb, Meadows’s first full-length film takes us round car boot sales, cafes and front rooms as Malc (Mat Hand) and his mates thieve and sell whatever they can get their hands on. Gavin Clarke, who worked on several Meadows films before his death in 2015, does the soundtrack. Notable for Meadows’s own acting (not bad), and his wig (horrendous).

Paddy Considine and Andrew Shim in A Room for Romeo Brass.
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Paddy Considine and Andrew Shim in A Room for Romeo Brass. Photograph: Dean Rogers/Alliance Atlantis/Bbc/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

A Room for Romeo Brass (1999)
Based on Meadows’s childhood, this has Andrew Shim as 12-year-old Romeo, and launched the careers of both Vicky McClure (as Romeo’s sister Ladine) and Paddy Considine as Morell, the older eccentric who befriends Romeo and his friend Gavin (Ben Marshall) and tries to seduce Ladine. Hilarious and scary, with brilliant performances, the DVD features eye-wateringly funny commentary from Meadows and Considine.

Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)
Tense, trippy and terrifying, this revenge thriller with a twist stars Paddy Considine and Toby Kebbell as brothers who return to their hometown, Matlock, to confront the bullies that still live there. Considine burns up the screen with his just-held-in vengeful rage. Features a nauseatingly realistic drugs scene, and an oh-my-God use of a gas mask. Terrific.

Joe Gilgun, Vicky McClure and William Travis in This Is England.
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Joe Gilgun, Vicky McClure and William Travis in This Is England 90. Photograph: Channel 4
This Is England (2006)/This Is England 86-90 (TV series, 2010, 2011, 2015)
The most directly autobiographical of Meadows’s work, This Is England is set in 1983 and stars Thomas Turgoose as Shaun Fields, an unhappy young lad who joins a cheerful skinhead group, led by Woody (Joseph Gilgun) and girlfriend Lol (Vicky McClure). Things go wrong when racist old member Combo (Stephen Graham) comes out of prison and stirs up trouble, beating up Milky (Andrew Shim). A brilliant soundtrack and wonderful performances won the film a Bifa and a Bafta. The Channel 4 series that followed takes the characters in different directions. Lol has her moment in 86; 88 sees Woody and Lol’s relationship falter, then reignite; 90 is a homage to rave culture as well as the culmination of the Milky and Combo relationship. Shaun grows up throughout.

Stone Roses: Made of Stone (2013)
A documentary love letter to Meadows’s favourite band as The Roses reform after a 16-year split. There’s an amazing opening shot by cinematographer Laurie Rose (no relation) at one of the band’s massive homecoming Heaton Park shows. The Roses themselves are never directly interviewed, giving Made of Stone a fan’s eye view. It’s the better for it.

Residential Intensive EMDR Program
for fast access to stabilisation, resourcing and wellness

A new development within the field of trauma therapy has been developed to enable clients who have longer term distress due to traumatic life events to move onto a continuum of positive change and put the past into the past in relation to old and distressful events and memories.

The program involves a combination of intensive therapy over a three day period and also includes physical activation through walking, yoga, mindfulness, swimming and other activates to assist right – left brain activity.

Clients have the added advantage of being able to focus fully on themselves over this period without the distraction of everyday life such as work, family and environmental triggers.

A typical day starts from 8am and throughout the day client moves from intensive therapeutic support through to more relaxing and regulating activities such as described above. Clients are also supported through consultations in relation to overall physical wellness such as diet, exercise, sleep and energy levels.  Clients begin the process of gaining entry
with a number of non-residential consultations to prepare them for the residential program.

Normally as few as three sessions of 60-90 minutes is sufficient to complete assessment, history taking, targeting and stabilisation and resourcing work to be completed. This equips client to be able to attend the residential part of the program and focus on processing the traumatic memories to enable them to desensitise their bodies from the traumatic events, and to install and develop their adaptive information processing abilities and put the past into the past while being more able to hold and enjoy being in the present and rebuilding their true sense of themselves.

There are two follow-up procedures to this work available for clients.
Firstly there is a weekly check-in by client to evaluate their weekly events such as activity, energy levels, sleep levels and overall wellbeing. There is also access to check -in if required to therapeutic conversation following the intensive program. Finally clients are encouraged to participate in follow-up re-evaluation six weeks after the residential program.

EMDR is recognised by the World Health Organisation (2013) as an effective therapy for children and adolescents who have experienced traumatic events. It also has the highest recommendation for Children and Adolescents with PTSD from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS, 2018).

It is very common for children and adolescents to feel distressed following a trauma. In most cases symptoms improve within a few weeks. Unfortunately, a small percentage will go on to develop symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as other symptoms such as anxiety or hopelessness.

PTSD is caused by an inability to process the traumatic event naturally, often when the traumatic event feels especially overwhelming, shocking or distressing. An indication that your child or teenager may be struggling with symptoms of trauma following a traumatic event may include intrusions (episodes of ‘remembering’ the original event), flashbacks (where the child or adolescent may behave as if they are re-experiencing the original event) or avoidances of reminders of the event alongside behavioural or emotional changes. For some young people, therapy may be beneficial.

For further information on understanding trauma please see the following links :

Read this leaflet for Understanding Trauma: A guide for parents or carers of young children.

Read this leaflet for Understanding Trauma: A guide for parents and adolescents.

How does EMDR work with children and adolescents?

EMDR can be adapted depending upon the specific needs and developmental stage of your child or adolescent. For example, pictures may be used instead of words or the therapist may write a story or narrative about the traumatic events to make the therapy more accessible to children who are struggling to talk about the trauma.

Read these Leaflets to find out about how to explain EMDR to nursery-age children.

Male Therapist VersionFemale Therapist Version

Finding a suitable child EMDR therapist :

It is really important to find a suitable child EMDR therapist who has been specially trained to work with children who can build a good therapeutic relationship with both you and your child. Please ensure that the therapist has attended an accredited training in EMDR (as recognised by the UK & Ireland EMDR Association) and has also completed further accredited training to use EMDR with children and adolescents.

emdr cork children and adolescents