PTSD Training for Trafficked Survivors with Victor Lyons (SessionWise)

The latest in our series of partner interviews is with Victor Lyons from SessionWise who specialises in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) training. Victor has worked in e-learning for the last 23 years, most notably with ReadingWise International which has trained over 350,000 people worldwide in literacy and life skills. He is currently training community leaders in Africa and South Asia, in areas where there is no effective mental health infrastructure, to set up effective trauma relief, peer counselling programs. They are particularly focused on gender-based-violence victims, trafficking survivors, migrants and other disadvantaged communities.

Liluye’s Staff Writer, Emma Lees, interviewed Victor to find out more about the PTSD training and how it can help individuals from NGOs and organisations to work with those who have survived trafficking and other traumas in their lives.

To watch Victor’s interview, please watch below:

This is the Liluye interview of Victor:

What exactly is PTSD?
It is a condition which has a collection of symptoms and the main symptoms are (as you don’t have to have all of these symptoms) sleep disturbance like nightmares or flashbacks, or you are suddenly walking down the street and suddenly you’re back in the jungle where you used to be a soldier and then there’s also avoidance and there are phobias, there are streets you can’t go down or places you can’t go or things you don’t want to talk about. Then there’s things that you do want to talk about, but you can’t because you just get too emotional, so it’s those kinds of things.

It originally was a condition that was identified with people who had been in the war so people came back from World War I. There was obviously something seriously wrong with them, and it was called shell-shock. It could be very, very serious.

But nowadays we can look at it and say well it’s not just military stuff, it’s not just bombs, there are all sorts of things that can cause PTSD. You get a high rate of it with firemen, with policemen, anybody who has to attend a traumatic incident. Even though they don’t suffer it themselves they can get equally traumatised. I personally find that a lot of people have trouble with bereavements and don’t recover from them. They are exhibiting the same symptoms.

How did you first get involved in PTSD training itself?
Well, when I was eight I was having a discussion with my best friend, Lionel, and we were trying to work out what we were going to do. He said, “I’m going to be a brain surgeon,” and I said, “I’m going to be a psychiatrist.” The reason I said psychiatrist is that I came from a family, or two families, my mother’s family, my father’s family, of extraordinary people with amazing personalities. What made people different and why were some of them completely bonkers? Why were some of them very sane? It became an obsession to the point where I presumed the only way I was going to learn about this was to actually do psychiatry. But to do psychiatry you had to go to medical school and if you went to medical school where I went in Bristol (UK) the first thing you did was start cutting up bodies. So we started from the neck and worked downwards and I’m sitting there after two months thinking this isn’t helping me understand how people think, how people behave, so I switched to psychology. The psychology realm in those days (because I’m quite old now), was all about objective measurements; it was like how does somebody behave? Let’s observe them and it wasn’t about how the people think.

Psychology today seems to have evolved into so many different areas now and PTSD training is something that’s relatively new, I would have thought. Is that the case?
Yeah. Well, yes. You’re absolutely right. Psychology has devolved into different segments, if you like, and the one obviously we’re talking about here is Clinical Psychology. So, the first obsession is always with diagnosis, which is great because if you don’t diagnose what’s going on you don’t know how to address it. So, yes, there are tests for PTSD, but they’re not used often enough, unfortunately. What happened with me was that my friend and colleague was doing her PhD and her thesis was about using this treatment called TIR (Traumatic Incident Reduction) on crime victims who have PTSD and that they will get better with this treatment. So, my friend asked me to get involved, and I did.

We set up shop in a victim support organisation in South London where they deal with crime victims. The police would send over the traumatised crime victims and what the police got out of it was the fact that their witnesses, when they went on the stand in subsequent trials, wouldn’t fall apart because they were too traumatised to testify. What we got out of it was subjects that we could use this treatment method on, and our results were absolutely extraordinary. During that period 89% of all the PTSD crime cases we came across, after we attended to them and gave them sessions, no longer had PTSD.

Wow 89 percent, that’s phenomenal.

It worked! It didn’t matter what type of victim they were, whether they were a crime victim or whatever. If they had PTSD, as I said, 89% were effectively cured. With TIR, if there is somebody I can’t cure with PTSD, I feel I’ve failed.

Quite simply it’s not me, it’s the technique. The technique works. In this PhD research trial we did, there were four of us with completely different experiences. One very experienced one, one beginner, and so on. We all got the same results which showed it was the technique. It wasn’t us.

How does it work? Is it a series of questions, more like a version of talk therapy, or is it a variety of different things?
Right. When I explain it’ll sound terribly simple and terribly obvious, but there are a couple of specifics about it that make it work very well. What you’re doing is the model, if you like. The assumption is that if you’ve been in a trauma there is a video recording in your head of that trauma. This recording has vision, it has sound, it has feeling and it has everything – all the perceptions there. The problem is not that you don’t have that recording, but the problem is that you can’t access that recording. The joy of TIR is that we go in and we know how to access that recording. We get you to go in and look at that video and go through it, watch it, feel it, and all the rest of it, until you get to the end. Then you tell us what happened, so you relate your experience to us, and then we do it again and again. As we do it, gradually two things can happen: either the picture in your head, the video in your head shrinks and fades, gets thinner and eventually disappears, or the other thing that can happen is it gets heavier and more solid. When that happens, we know there is an earlier similar incident behind it. So, we go to the earlier similar incident, or incidents, and quite often you’ll have a chain of incidents which are similar. And, when you get to the bottom one, that disappears. Then the trauma has gone.

So, they all kind of fall over like a row of dominoes, effectively?
Yes, that’s correct. Also, we don’t do 50 minute hours or anything silly. We don’t say, “Right, your time’s up, my next client’s here.” You go on until the picture has disappeared. Now that can take half an hour or it can take five hours. The two longest sessions I did, one was with somebody who had been in a terrorist incident in Kabul. That took nearly five hours and then another very long one was a stalking victim. Usually, they take one hour or two hours.

Usually it takes just one session, you just stay for as long as you need to, and then that’s it?
Exactly… for that trauma, I mean. Typically, people will come in and will have 10 or 15 traumas, so they will need repeat sessions. The most common cause of trauma generally is actually deaths of people you’re close to. That seems to cause more trauma than anything and if we treat it just like it’s PTSD with this technique, it makes a huge difference.

Do you have to do any follow-up work afterwards?
Yes. The least you can do is call them back, but, again, unlike conventional clinical psychology where it is once a week for 50 minutes, I try and get them back the next day or the day after, so every two days is probably about optimum. And, we keep going. We have a list of traumas we go through. That is what we have done at the beginning, a history, or interview, where we have asked them to go through everything in their life that could possibly have been traumatic and then look at how interested they are in addressing these. We go by how interested they are, and then we go through the list until they say, “Well that’s it. Finished. I’m done. Thank you, goodbye.”

This process has worked great for me and my colleagues, but there’s only a handful of us. What the answer is now is to train lots of people.

Now I understand more about the extent of trauma and the number of trafficking victims and refugees. Three of my grandparents were refugees so I feel this quite strongly. They escaped ethnic cleansing in Eastern Europe. The whole refugee trauma thing is kind of important to me and trafficking victims are really a specific, worst case of that. They didn’t always escape somewhere or something, they might eventually, but they go through hell before they escape.

And, in some cases it can take many years for them to actually escape their situation. I know you’ve more recently started working with trafficking and Liluye. What kind of experiences have you had so far with the PTSD training and with some of the organisations we partner and work with?
In my past, I’ve come across some awful traumas like people who’ve been gang raped by police, people who’ve been involved in terrorist incidents, and people who’ve been tortured in various prisons around the world. These are quite serious cases, but what I hadn’t come across was the extent of trauma with trafficking cases. They are there at the extreme end. People who’ve been raped multiple times over a short period of time, for example. So what I’m doing now is training people who work with these people. What I want to do is is build up an organisation of trainers who go out and train others. I’m trying to follow a similar model [that I’m used to]. I’ve just started on this route.

I did this with literacy campaigns in India where I wrote the literacy program. We got a small team, we trained some people, they trained other people and we ended up training about a thousand people altogether who went off and set up centres around India.

So far we’ve done the first training sessions with people who will go and do this technique, because it’s not that difficult, and it does get results. Plus, we’re talking about areas where there is no mental health infrastructure. If you’re traumatised in the middle of these parts of Africa or India, where we’re dealing with, you can’t go to the Clinical Psychologist or therapist and get sessions, or even if you did, you couldn’t afford them. I’m working in an area where mental health is a vacuum. This is like, okay, let’s see the most traumatised people, let’s fix them up as quickly as possible, and see where we are.

You’ve already trained one organisation and you’ve got another organisation this weekend that you’ll be training?
Yes, I train individuals from organisations. The first cohort were people from World Pulse [a global, online sisterhood community]. The next cohort was also people from World Pulse, but they have their own organisations as well.

Typically how long does the training last?
I’ve got to the point where we have an app (SessionWise), which has the theory on it that they can do in their own time online before we actually start. Then, we do a weekend of role plays and exercises. It’s practical work along with practice, practice, practice, practice. Usually, it’s four hours on Saturday, and four hours on Sunday. After that, I deal with them individually and coach them as they take on their clients. Then we see how it goes!

You’ve had 89% of success from this work and that is across all cases, so it’s obviously worth people undertaking this training and going through the process. Obviously you’re working with Liluye, with us, to try and encourage organisations to take part in this training. I know that we recently started doing this and we’re looking at working with as many partner organisations as we possibly can to help support them through this process. We would ask anyone that is interested in taking part to get in touch with www.SessionWise.org.

The other thing to mention is that I’m going to need some resources, if I am going to build this, like I did with my literacy program.
I mean we ended up with 238,000 graduates for that. To do that we needed resources. We got funds. It worked very, very well, and in hindsight, it was great. I need to do the same thing. I need resources. I’m going to need funding. We’re going to be putting in funding proposals to grant organisations; to donors. But, I also do have colleagues around the world who are old friends who do this as well in different countries, so I’m going to press gang them into helping me, as, and when, I need it.

To get more information, specifically on this project, the website is called SessionWise.org.

There is an introduction to what we’re doing, and information to get anything you need to know about how to do this technique. It’s all in that app. Once you have access to this, you’ve got a permanent login into the app. Whenever you need to refresh yourself, you can go and use it. Also, they can use it as a prompt while they’re giving a session. They can have it on their laptop, or whatever, and it tells them what to do next… an aide memoire, if you like.

How much does it cost for an individual to go through this training?
At the moment, we don’t charge. We ask for donations of 100€, if you can afford it. Now, you know we have people in remote areas of South Asia or West Africa, or wherever, who just cannot afford that, because they live in totally different economies. We’re not insistent at all, if you can’t afford it. We’re very grateful for the money, but that’s only a short-term thing. In the long term, we hope to get money from donors or grant foundations to fund this. I don’t want there to be any charge to the end user. I don’t want somebody who’s got full-blown PTSD having to worry about paying me or paying any of our trainers. That’s got to stop.

Well, thank you so much for your time, Victor. We really appreciate it. Absolutely fascinating work, and it feels like it’s such an exciting time to be involved in doing this as it could really transform people’s and communities’ lives.
Yes, it is very exciting. I’ve done exciting things before with projects that took off, and some projects that didn’t take off. I have to admit, this one is really exciting because you do see the change very, very quickly. I’m really looking forward to scaling it up very fast.

Absolutely. The request for today is if you’re an organisation or an individual that would like to take part in this training, please get in touch at SessionWise.org. We can then discuss partnerships and how we can work together to try and maximise the roll-out of this training.

Equally, if you are from an organisation or in a position to help sponsor and donate towards this work, it would be fantastic to get in touch with us at: info@liluye.org. Let us try and maximise how many people can really benefit from this amazing work. For more information about Liluye, please visit: liluye.org.

Very best of luck with it all and we look forward to working more closely together in the future.
Thank you.

Background information about PTSD can be found here:
PTSD Statistics (ptsdunited.org)
How Common is PTSD in Adults? (PTSD: National Center for PTSD)
(These informational links relate to the USA. One would expect all other countries to have statistics of the similar order of magnitude. Although in countries with poor primary healthcare and less health and safety, you might expect a higher percentage.)

Case Study:

My name is Young Regina Afanwi. I live in Bamenda in North-West Cameroon. I run a community organisation that helps disabled people.

I have received several traumatic incident sessions recently. The first one concerned a visit to my husband, who has been in prison for 10 months. He still has not been charged. After one particular visit, I became very depressed, because he was very teary. Each time I looked at the photograph I took of him there in the prison, it broke my heart. Later that day, I had a trauma counselling session in which I kept visualizing a picture of him in the prison, and telling my life coach, Victor, all what happened from the beginning to the end of the visit.

After going through this a few times, I got to the point where I felt so happy and grateful that I had visited him, which was the complete opposite of what I felt before the session.

After the session, I felt like a heavy load had been taken off my head. I was on top of my spirit that evening.

My children and I had a call with my husband that same evening, and my phone was on speaker so we could all chat. It felt like he was back home with us. It was the best evening ever since he had been locked up. I slept like a baby that night. Now I am more open-minded to the fact that he is not at home with us, and facing the reality of that.

I then had a session to address an earlier incident when two of my children were kidnapped at gun-point. They were eventually returned to me, but had been badly beaten up. The session helped me recover from that trauma.

Now, I have been trained with my study partner by Victor, so I can give, and receive, these sessions with other people.

I want to say to Victor, “You are a God send. Thank you so much for always being there and ever willing to train and give us sessions. You are the best!” I recommend these sessions and the training to all who are undergoing any form of trauma out there.

In the PTSD training, they learn:
• What causes trauma, depression, anxiety and panic attacks.
• Straightforward techniques that can be used to eradicate these conditions.
• Special communication skills that will help them do the techniques with each other.
• Lots of role playing of counselling sessions for practice.
• How to start giving each other real, peer counselling sessions using the techniques that they have learnt on the course.

For more information about Victor’s PSTD training (SessionWise), or to support his international training program, please visit: SessionWise.org.

For more information about Liluye or to inquire about becoming a partner, please visit: www.liluye.org/contact. Or, if you are interested in donating to Liluye, please visit: www.liluye.org/donate.

Victor Lyons was interviewed by Liluye Staff Writer, Emma Lees, who also writes on her blog, InnerExpat.

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