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Specialist therapy helps Cumbrian man overcome 40 years of PTSD

Jeremy Gavins

[A] Cumbrian man is sharing his personal story of post traumatic stress disorder to make sense of his experiences with the hope that it will also help others.

After suffering from depression, and what he later discovered was post-traumatic stress disorder, for more than 40 years; 64-year-old Jeremy Gavins from Ulverston now describes himself as happy.

As a gay teenager in the 1970s, Jeremy was given painful electric shocks to ‘cure’ him of his homosexuality. The effects of this historic treatment which is no longer practised left a lifetime of mental scars.

Over the years Jeremy sought help through the NHS and through private healthcare however it wasn’t until he was offered Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy from Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust in 2015 that Jeremy has fully understood and accepted what has happened to him.

He said: “Eventually I got the EMDR therapy which was absolutely brilliantly successful and I’m fine now but I went through some very very dark times and from 2011 until 2013 things were really bad. I am actually happy now.”

Jeremy has written a book about is experience, ‘Is it about that boy? The shocking trauma of aversion therapy‘. The book was self-published on 18th May and is available to buy through his distributor: 1777-is-it-about-that-boy-the-shocking-trauma-of-aversion-therapy-YPD01963.html

Liz Bolt is the Consultant Clinical Psychologist who treated Jeremy with EMDR.

She explained, how it helped Jeremy: “This therapy was originally developed to heal the symptoms of emotional distress that have been caused by a severely traumatic event. It can be very successful in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, which is part of what Jeremy was suffering from.

“Some of the therapy Jeremy had beforehand was also helpful, but in his case EMDR helped him to finally put to rest some of the trauma, and to make sense of what he had done to cope with it.   When people experience really traumatic events, they try and make sense of it at the time, but the emotions can be so overwhelming, that the “sense” they make of it can be wrong.  So they for example can end up thinking they are “weak”, or “bad” to have let it happen.

“In Jeremy’s case he even ended up believing that someone had died as a way of managing the trauma at the time.

“EMDR helps people to revisit the memory and deal with the intense emotions, and what the trauma made them believe about themselves and make sense of it from a new perspective.”

“EMDR is just one of the therapies available for trauma that is recommended by NICE guidelines. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is also recommended. In Cumbria people with mild to moderate mental health issues, such as PTSD, can refer themselves to a service called First Step. There are a number of evidence based options for treating PTSD and the trained assessor will discuss, with the service user, the most suitable approach to use.”

In October last year (2017) the Royal College of Psychiatrists named Jeremy in a statement apologising for the effect of the treatment. Professor Wendy Burn who is president of the College explained that these practices are no longer carried out and the profession as a whole regret the actions of the past. She said: “It is with profound regret that we hear of the lifelong impact that treatments such as ‘aversion therapy’ had on Jeremy Gavins and others. It is important to acknowledge that this was once standard procedure within mental health services, and indeed reflected a wider societal attitude of fear and hatred towards homosexuals.

“It is also vital to emphasise that times have changed. Studies that once purported to have a ‘cure’ to homosexuality, or indeed to classify it as an illness in the first place, have now all been disproven and debunked. Studies which once showed conversion therapies to be successful have all been exposed as seriously methodologically flawed. In this day and age, there is no feasible scenario in which a fully trained mental health professional would administer such treatment.

“The injustice of those within the LGB community who were treated as mentally unwell due to their sexual orientation alone is keenly felt by mental health professionals. We can’t re-write history, but what we can do is make it clear that today our doors are open and that principles of equality and diversity will be passionately upheld.”

Although Jeremy was given electric shocks, this should not be confused with ECT (electro convulsive therapy) which is an evidence based intervention for severe depression.  IN ECT shocks are administered to the head/brain under anaesthetic.  In Jeremy’s case electric shocks were administered to his body deliberately in order to inflict pain. This is very different.

Mr Gavins now lives in Ulverston and is available for interview next week please contact the communications team to arrange. Liz Bolt is also available for interview next week.

Despite being legal for those over the age of 21 since 1967, homosexuality was still referred to as a disease in the statistical manual of mental disorders. In 1973 it was removed as a mental disorder and was labelled a sexual orientation disturbance and it wasn’t until 1987 that homosexuality was completely removed from the classification of mental disorders.

Dr Wendy Burn’s said: “There are no words that can repair the damage done to anyone who has ever been deemed ‘mentally unwell’ simply for loving a person of the same sex. For those who were then ‘treated’ using non-evidence based procedures by mental health professionals up until as late as the 1970s, the trauma of such experiences can never be erased.

“It is important to acknowledge that this was once standard procedure within mental health services, and indeed reflected a wider societal attitude of fear and hatred towards homosexuals.

“It is also vital to emphasise that times have changed. Studies that once purported to have a ‘cure’ to homosexuality, or indeed to classify it as an illness in the first place, have now all been disproven and debunked. Studies which once showed conversion therapies to be successful have all been exposed as seriously methodologically flawed. In this day and age, there is no feasible scenario in which a fully trained mental health professional would administer such treatment.

“The Royal College of Psychiatrists believes strongly that our first role as Doctors is to do no harm, and we firmly consider the provision of any intervention purporting to ‘treat’ something which is not a disorder, as wholly unethical. Our position statement clearly states that homosexuality is not a disorder and should not be treated.

“Psychiatry is one of the most diverse medical specialities – which fully reflects the diversity of patients. For us, it is an honour and a privilege to get to know each of the individuals that walks into our workplace, and to understand their concerns, desires and ambitions; parts of them that have may not have been shared with anyone else. It is our job to offer non-judgemental advice to anyone who seeks our help, no matter their background, age, gender, sex, race or religion. Similarly, we encourage all those interested in mental health to choose psychiatry and take on what can only be described as one of the most fulfilling and rewarding careers.

“The injustice of those within the LGB community who were treated as mentally unwell due to their sexual orientation alone is keenly felt by mental health professionals. We can’t re-write history, but what we can do is make it clear that today our doors are open and that principles of equality and diversity will be passionately upheld.

“For anyone seeking mental health support, we are here. For anyone with a desire to choose psychiatry and support others with their mental health, we are here.

“For anyone hoping to work with us to right the wrongs of the past, we are here. It is with profound regret that we hear of the lifelong impact that treatments such as ‘aversion therapy’ had on Jeremy Gavins and others.

“It is with openness, kindness and humility that we hold our hands up, open our doors, and fight tirelessly to provide the ethical, evidenced-based mental health treatment that all of us deserve.”

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