Intellectual Disability and Complex Childhood Trauma
Mild Intellectual Disability
John is a 35-year-old man with mild intellectual disability who experienced complex childhood trauma and had struggled with anxiety, depression, and intrusive memories for most of his life. He was referred to receive Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy by his NDIS support coordinator.
John had tried several other therapies at clinics across the Central Coast but was still struggling under the weight of his past trauma. When I first met John, the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns had meant that all the activities he usually enjoyed had ground to a halt. His favourite outlets of swimming and going to the gym were no longer possible and extended periods of isolation were increasing his anxiety and depression. More worryingly, his behaviour was becoming increasingly verbally aggressive and impacting the relationship with his parents.
John’s therapy sessions began in his home. As often is the case with the NDIS, funding included travel. For clients experiencing trauma, this means that therapy can begin in a place where the client feels safe and secure. We began a thorough history-taking process and gathered information about John’s trauma history and current symptoms.
Treating Emotional Abuse with EMDR Therapy
At the heart of John’s experience was the physical and emotional abuse he had suffered at the hands of his brother. John was guided through the EMDR process while focusing on the worst of these memories. Gradually, he was able to process his emotions and reduce the level of distress associated with this trauma. We then helped John strengthen positive beliefs about himself, which for John meant being lovable and feeling accepted.
In subsequent therapy sessions, John’s distress levels related to the target traumatic memory continued to decrease. He reported feeling more in control of his emotions and less burdened by the memories of his trauma. Most importantly, he was experiencing less anxiety and the incidence of verbal aggression had reduced to zero.
Working towards John’s NDIS goals after lockdown meant getting him back to swimming and the gym. Therefore, we began processing John’s anxiety around public places. Together, new behavioural patterns were practiced through imaginal rehearsal. Once the pathways had been established in session, John was able to get back to swimming and working out at his favourite gym in Mingara without becoming retraumatised.