Just over half a century ago life in Northern Ireland took on a dark and dismal new normality. The depressing rhythm of bombs, shootings, murders, maiming and beatings continued for three decades, with the conflict largely ending in the late 1990s. 

While the worst of the troubles may feel more distant with each passing year Northern Ireland is still very much a “live trauma” with many people struggling to cope. This manifests today as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD), alcoholism, anger management, unresolved grief, to name just a few. 

This is made worse when there is a stigma associated with talking about the past, fuelled by a historic distrust of security services and partly fear that stopped people talking for fear of reprisals by paramilitary groups. The phrase of the day was “loose talk costs lives, which was very successful in maintaining a culture of silence. 

Given that 39% of people experienced a traumatic event during the conflict, 14% have a mental illness, 9% have signs of PTSD, (source Ulster University) the figures are staggering. Siobhan O’Neill, who is a professor of mental health sciences at Ulster University says “The difference is that people here weren’t offered support or services.” Prof O’Neill says that contributes to a higher suicide rate. Our male rate is twice that of England.” She also points out that despite the fact prevalence of mental illness is highest in the UK funding for mental health is significantly lower compared with other regions. 

“ It isn’t until relatively recently that we’ve realised the mental health needs of this population,” she says. 

“ Until five or ten years ago, people weren’t really coming forward and asking for help.” 

Of the many thousands of people who witnessed appalling scenes, members of the emergency services were particularly exposed. Retired firefighter Bob Pollock recounts he and some colleagues were caught up in a bombing in the early seventies a senior officer “poured us a brandy each and said away you go.” Such stories are common among those who served on the frontline, responding to tragedies.  

How does this transfer to what clients present in the clinic? I have worked with countless clients who were addicted to prescribed drugs, alcoholism. These clients were not aware that they had been self- soothing to escape trauma from the conflict.  

Many clients present with anxiety and depression. Before every session, I take a very detailed intake where I often uncover unimaginable hurt and trauma. One client had vivid memories of being awakened by the front door being kicked in and at the age of 9 hearing footsteps and shouting coming up the stairs. The bedroom door violently swung open to the shouts of “don’t move.” Everyone was forcibly dragged from their beds in various states of undress and held downstairs in the living room, all except the father. The client could hear furniture being smashed upstairs and it was obvious his father was being beaten. After what seemed an eternity, boots could be heard rushing down the stairs with shouts of “move it, move it” through the gap in the door the client caught a glimpse of his blood-covered father, and the sheer terror in his eyes as he was rushed out the front door to the awaiting Saracen.  

As quick as it began it was over, then there was nothing but silence. The client remembers nobody spoke, his Mum was stunned.  

There was no such thing as therapy in the 70s. the closest thing to therapy then was neighbours who would rally round to help, with the “miraculous cup of tea.”  

Between the age of 1-9, we believe everything we see, hear and experience. We are if you like downloading machines. We believe in Santa, tooth fairy, we don’t question anything. Imagine for a moment a child aged 1 year old in Northern Ireland in 1970. What was the daily mental diet of negativity that child downloaded in the first 9 years of their life?  Daily there was bombs, shootings, murders. That was their normality.  This is where we get our programming for life, our blueprint. How many people in Northern Ireland have downloaded the world is a dangerous place, I can’t talk about my feelings, feelings of not being good enough, trust issues with authority figures, limiting beliefs? 

It’s only after the age of 8-9 that our conscious mind develops, and we begin to question things. The conscious mind is very logical, solves problems and has our short- term memory. But the conscious mind only runs 5% of our day. The subconscious mind where all our thoughts, feelings, emotions, long term memory and most importantly our protector is, this is the one in charge, this runs 95% of our day. How many of us have gone into a supermarket for 5 things and come out with a basket load of stuff? Advertisers spend millions every year influencing our subconscious minds with great success.  

The good news is in hypnosis a skilled hypnotherapist has access to the subconscious mind, where we can change the negative thoughts, feelings and emotions around the past. We can’t change the past, it would not be ethical to erase a memory from the subconscious mind. When the negative thoughts, feelings and emotions are changed and replaced with more positive emotions then the client can go on to live a very happy, fulfilling life to their fullest potential. 

Often this takes 2-3 sessions even if the client had the negative memory for 30- 40 years. The problem arises if you don’t realise you have a problem, I have often heard, we are all anxious in our house, it’s the way we are. Another one is depression runs in our family. If someone has this belief it’s unlikely they will ask for help, they have accepted this is the way they are. However, everything we learn, we can unlearn.  

In summary, Northern Ireland is very much an open wound, a traumatised population, something I can testify to where 39% of people have experienced a traumatic event, 14% have a mental illness, 9% have signs of PTSD (source Ulster University) all of which can be successfully treated with the beautiful process of hypnotherapy. There are just two things needed for hypnotherapy to be successful. 

  1. The person is willing and wants to change. 
  1. Hypnosis is delivered correctly. 

The second one we at the Institute of Clinical Hypnotherapy Ireland (ICHI) can guarantee. All of our therapists are highly skilled and experienced, trained to the highest of standards which is always ongoing and developing. 

By Peter Loughrey