A Community of Heart Profile: Richard Mitchell
The circumstances of Richard Mitchell’s birth were symbolic of many of the things that would become important in his life: separateness; trauma; madness; large institutions and connections to Europe.
Born in the Lennoxtown lunatic asylum -that was also functioning as a maternity ward- in Glasgow, Scotland, Richard came into the world during World War II in the midst of the chaos of not only the world, but, literally and figuratively, into its “madness.” His parents were emigrants; his mother’s parents had come from Ireland during one of the Irish famines while his father came from Germany in the 1930’s. They met at the famous Gleneagles Hotel where they both worked. His grandfather had stayed in Germany and was imprisoned in Dachau because of his left wing political views. His father became a political refugee who came to Scotland in protest of the political climate of the Third Reich.
Unfortunately, the change of name from Lutz to Mitchell aroused suspicion and, because his father still was a German national, he was incarcerated in 1941 at Barlinnie Prison and then interned in the Isle of Mann camp for the better part of the war. His mother who had already given birth to Richard’s elder brother, Peter, was ostracized by the society in which she lived because of her marriage. In 1944, Richard was born when his father was allowed to return to Glasgow toward the end of the war when victory for the Allies was within reach.
The era in which Richard was born was filled with turmoil. He grew up in a world that had managed to produce more trauma in a short period of time than had been produced for centuries. Coming from two parents who had sustained trauma of their own, Richard grew up hearing about the trauma and indignities that his father had sustained as a prisoner of war and how his father had responded with the feeling of anger at the injustice of what had happened.
The effects on Richard and his 2 brothers were twofold; they felt both separate and special. Separate because of their father’s German heritage in a postwar era that vilified Hitler and Germany and caused them to not publicize their German connections, yet, special because of his father’s positive reaction to his European and German connections.
Richard grew up with the advantage of understanding the consequences of war and also the multi- dimensional experience of people on different sides of a conflict. From an early age, he incorporated the guilt and responsibility of what had happened. Even though his family had not supported Hitler’s regime, his family suffered for it and was part of the whole experience of the war. As a young child, he visited his grandfather, aunt and cousins in Germany and remembers the devastation that had occurred in that land. Later, when he married his wife, Judy, he heard the stories of how Judy’s mother and her sister escaped Germany but lost the rest of their family in Auschwitz. This trauma of post World War II has been a leitmotif that has shaped Richard’s life choices and path.
Influenced by his older brother’s success in the academic world, Richard completed his Scottish education and decided to follow an Engineering Management course to move into the professional world. By the third year, it became clear to him that he was unhappy in this work and was much more interested in a profession that supported human interaction and caring. He found out about Social Work and decided to pursue a course of study with children.
For the first time, he left Scotland and pursued a Certificate of Qualification in Social Work in Colchester, England. He met Judy and, in 1970, he both married and completed his training. Judy was English from outside of Birmingham and they decided to settle in England.
His first job was at the Oxford City Social Services, Department at Oxfordshire where he worked with children and adolescents. Richard felt like he had found his niche. He had enjoyed his psychodynamic training and was working with families with children who had behavioral problems or had been taken away from their families because they had been abused. His work was to manage the case and do individual psychotherapy. He found that he was really concerned about the families who could not cope with their children and they had to be placed away from their families. Over time, this work was emotionally draining. He felt that, although he was enthusiastic and did much good work, he did not know how to deal with that level of distress that was condemning these children to a second rate kind of existence. He felt better equipped to deal with the adults and moved into this area and went for more training.
During that time he became a Senior Social Worker in Mental Health at the Kent County Council Social Services Department. His job was in a semi-rural community where he and his team provided services to Mental Health Hospitals and they had the chance to be the liaison between the community and the hospitals.
This phase of Richard’s career brought him face to face with the “extreme end of madness” that defined his entry into the world at Lennoxtown insane asylum where his mother had been terrified by the strange sounds in the “loony bin.” Richard felt that these institutions were like wombs – huge places where people spent their lives. He was challenged by working with this population and then moved to London where he became the Senior Manager for a Mental Health Crisis Intervention Service at the Department of Psychiatry at Barnet.
In 1997 Richard went to the Institute for the Development of Human Potential. At the time, “Humanistic Psychology” was the buzzword and every one thought that this was the answer to the deficits in psychodynamic psychotherapy. Richard felt that this course of study transformed his life. He learned about himself, the world and became a much happier person
1977 was the height of the anti-psychiatry movement spearheaded in the UK by R.D. Laing. Dr. Laing was instrumental in setting up the 24-hour mental health Crisis Intervention Service in which Richard worked. Putting his humanistic training into action, Richard and his multi-disciplinarian team were committed to providing a comprehensive range of psychological services for patients in their home as an alternative to hospitalization. They felt that they had found the answer to healing mental illness, and, Richard dedicated himself to this work until 1994. During this time, he learned a great deal about the pros and cons of politics, institutions, and true believers. His job was to lead the rapid response team that operated 24/7. His team was totally committed to the concept of preventing human distress that had been seen prior to this only as an illness. However, over time, he learned how it is easy to go from being committed to a philosophy to defending it at all costs.
Feeding his hunger for more understanding of the situations that he was in, Richard went on for more training: he was accredited as a Psychotherapist by the Association of Humanistic Psychology Practitioners in 1981; received a Certificate in Biodynamic Psychotherapy from the Gerda Boysen Institute in 1988; a diploma in Consultation with Organizations and Working Groups in 1990 from the Tavistock Institute; and earned an accreditation as a Psychotherapist from the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy in 1990. He then attended Cranfield University where he was awarded a Master of Philosophy in Mental Health in 1993.
Richard’s research for his thesis was inspired by the dynamics in his workplace. He discovered how, at times, his colleagues began to defend their principles rather than look at the reality of this way of treating patients. Instead of evaluating this new method of treatment, politics overrode objectivity and the multi-disciplinarian teams and, at times, individuals lost their ability to be impartial.
His thesis grew out of listening to the patients. What he found was that some patients agreed with the overall idea that staying out of the hospital was good and beneficial, however, there were a number of patients who felt aggrieved that they were not given the proper service since they were denied entry into the hospital. Richard observed that many of the practitioners who were treating the patients could not hear what their patients were saying to them and there was a major break in communication between the patients and the therapists. The psychotherapists were trying to squeeze patients into the model and they felt that it was the patients who were wrong and not the model! As some staff began to hear the message, the institution was split by the power struggles that ensued.
Richard used the Delphi model of observing multi-disciplinary team functioning. He interviewed the teams who saw the patients as successful in this model and those who did not. He also interviewed the patients to understand their perspective. What he found was that, often, the clinicians who thought they were the most successful were the least successful in predicting the experience of their patients, and, often, the patients whom the clinicians felt gained the least from the intervention were the ones who received the most.
As a result of the relationship that Richard had with his colleagues, they began to incorporate his results, became more realistic and realized that they had not been properly listening to their clients.
Richard went on to write a book called “Crisis Intervention in Practice (Avery Press, 1993) that clarified his findings for other mental health professionals. He found that his whole experience was enlightening as it gave him the opportunity to be a true believer and then test his results and influence his colleagues as he came up with a different finding than he and they once believed. It became an exercise that tested his flexibility and enabled him to experience a deeper understanding of himself, his colleagues and the institution within which he worked.
It was in the year of the publication of his book that Richard heard about EMDR. In a story that we have come to know, one of his team members returned from the United States after being trained in EMDR. Richard was “incredibly skeptical” and “unenthusiastic” but, even so, his friend persuaded him to go to the EMDR training and “the rest is history”!
Richard was amazed by his experience and encouraged the colleagues on his team to go to the very next training. After that, they set up a peer supervision group where they did live supervision and Richard noted, “We learned on our feet.” Not only did he experience a new treatment, his eyes were suddenly opened to the trauma all around him. As he reviewed the devastating histories of the patients he served in the Community Mental Health Crisis Intervention Service, he began to understand them from a totally different perspective. However, he feels that it was not until he took the Facilitator Training with Robbie Dunton of the EMDR Institute that he really knew EMDR.
Learning about the effects of trauma was so enlightening that, in 1994, he left his job of 17 years and opened up “The Trauma Center” in London with several colleagues. Richard is the Clinical Director of the Center where he sees private patients and does Consultation and Supervision with mental health professionals and organizations.
As Richard began to see the deep and profound changes that occurred as he worked with his patients with EMDR, his desire to share his knowledge grew and he joined EMDR’s Humanitarian Assistance Program traveling nearby to Northern Ireland and then further to The Palestine Authority, Israel, Turkey and Bangladesh. The learning that he acquired were formative. Francine Shapiro’s notion of the internationalism of EMDR and her passion for how it can heal the trauma of the world inspired him and his HAP experiences taught him about the potentiality of EMDR and the power and the possibility of EMDR to work across language and cultures. It also taught him about humility in the face of the force of Nature. As Richard said:
“I think about the enormity of these gigantic events and the impact on people. I thought that I knew. You can read it in the news but the first time I went to Turkey after the earthquake, the enormity of the crushed buildings with all of the people living in tent, it moves you up in awareness. It is humbling but empowering because there is something that you can do about it.”
During the mid-nineties, EMDR was beginning to grow in Europe. Sitting in a debriefing in London after an EMDR Institute training with colleagues such as Ad de Jongh, John Spector, Elan Shapiro, Arne Hofmann, I (in my role as the International coordinator for the EMDRIA Board) asked for someone to step up and become the voice for EMDR practitioners in Europe. As I looked around that circle, Richard was the one who met my eyes unflinchingly and was unanimously elected as the head of this group.
This was a very important moment for Richard that influenced the course of the next 12 years of his life. His taking on the mantle of leadership that day evolved into his becoming the first President of EMDR Europe in 1995. It was an experience that transformed him totally. The timing for Richard was perfect. He had the time, the energy and the knowledge to lead an organization as it grew from a fledgling organization into a respected and large organization with 18 member countries.
The forces that led to the formation of the European Community (EU) arose from a deep desire to transcend the destructive conflicts between nations that resulted in two of the worst conflicts that mankind has ever known. Richard was committed to this concept and believed in the ability of the members of the EMDR community to transcend diverse languages and cultures. He had learned even when we were few, we could work as Facilitators in each other’s countries despite the language barriers. Many of us became expert in teaching EMDR, even though we might not know the language of the country that we were in. As experts in EMDR, we had learned the language of affect that is a clear indicator of a vibrant and effective EMDR session. The members of the EMDR European community bonded together through these types of experiences and due to the many discussions that occurred during trainings and over meals at that time.
All of Richard’s experience and capabilities came together at this moment to take on this huge task. His understanding of organizations, his European background, his awareness of the unique dynamics of Europe and his dedication to changing lives through healing trauma and creating the possibility for healthy lives made him the perfect choice for this job. The amount of interest and excitement that was felt during those early trainings was palpable and Richard helped focus the energy into a viable organization that grew into its own autonomous group, independent of the organization that had been formed in the United States. With each passing year, the organization of EMDR Europe has grown stronger and, as EMDR trainings have been taught in the language of the country, the attendance at the European-based conferences has grown.
The Standards of Training have been the key to EMDR Europe. As in the United States, the goals of the organization are to set, maintain and enforce standards. In Europe, there are standards for Trainers, Facilitators and Consultants. The European model has been the inspiration for extending participants’ training to include more practice and supervision and demonstration of competence between the Part 1 and II weekends.
In 2002, Richard earned his certification as an EMDR Trainer by EMDR Europe. He began by doing trainings between the Part I and II trainings that included a review of the EMDR Standard Protocol, followed by Supervision and practice. This evolved into a training model that he calls “EMDR Workshops Ltd.” Richard, David Blore and Manda Holmshaw created this company to provide psycho-trauma and EMDR training to mental health professionals.
After 12 years of service, Richard left his position as President of EMDR Europe. He was honored at the EMDR Europe 2007 conference in Europe for being the organization’s founding President and for leaving a rich legacy of dedication, focus and a profound belief in the importance of upholding the standards of EMDR.
Richard’s words for our diverse EMDR community are the following:
“The power of EMDR to heal the pain of the past and break into the cycle of future violence never fails to amaze me. If the flap of a butterfly’s wings in France has the potential to set of a chain of events that brings about a storm in the US, then, just think of what change treating one traumatic memory might have down generations. Now, just wonder at the possible impact of teaching just one clinician EMDR who goes on to treat hundreds of clients. Such thoughts fill my heart with great hope. If you follow your heart you can’t go wrong.”
Although Richard has retired from the Presidency, he seems just as involved in the development of EMDR in Europe as he ever was. He has done Tai Chi for over 20 years and enjoys walking, music, theater and cinema. His most recent interest is in learning how to build and write his own website.
In a world that is plagued by chaos, trauma and doubt, Richard Mitchell is one of our colleagues who has helped light our path in the pursuit of teaching and learning EMDR. As he has made his way, he has inspired us, laughed with us and seeded his heartfelt interest in healing the wounds of humanity. His skill and humanity has touched many, his legacy is for us all.