A Community of Heart Profile: Michael Paterson
If ever there were a good candidate for leprechaun, Michael Paterson would be our man. Light of step, keen of wit and big of heart, this engaging Irishman knows about life from the depths of anguish to the transcendent mysteries of the universe.
Michael Charles Paterson was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His parents met in the Auxiliary Fire Service in the 1950’s and he has a brother, two years younger.
As an enterprising young man of 17 years, he began clerical work in the accounts and computer departments for the Northern Ireland Electricity Service where he remained for five years. In 1979, he had friends serving in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and liked what he had heard about their experiences. He found that there was a good future and pay structure and the possibility of defending his country from insurgents. As a result of all of this, Michael joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary, becoming a police officer in Northern Ireland. At the time that he joined the Constabulary, he did not think of himself as an academic and was excited about his new work where he did well and had a promising career. He was newly married and ready for the adventures that life had in store for him.
In September 1981, on his wife’s 25 th birthday, Michael’s life path abruptly changed. At first, he was stationed outside of Belfast and then he was reassigned to inside the city. During that time, the police traveled in lightly armored vehicles. Michael was in just such a means of transportation when a rocket- propelled grenade was aimed at him. The grenade burnt through the armor of the vehicle and killed the driver. Next, it “took” Michael’s arms and crushed his leg. It roared out of the passenger side window and exploded outside. Michael experienced the light in the tunnel first. He was feeling very comfortable in the light, although he had the distinct feeling that it was not the time for him to be there. Then, he was back in his body in intensive care. When he had returned from this experience, he was in great form and euphoric. He felt so close to God - even though he had not been religious. At that time, his mother’s aunt brought him a Bible that he still has. Since then, he has had no fear of death, nor did he experience Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. He attributes this to his being newly married, physically fit and “keen to get back to it.” He never saw himself as disabled, just impaired and his job was “to get on with it.” Having a positive view of the future helped him move on. And, move on he did. Although life was difficult at first and he had to learn everything again such as writing or moving. He recovered from his injuries and was in traction for a fractured femur for three months. In late spring 1982, he was exercising again and started running and by early 1983, he ran a half marathon! He now sees his prosthetic limbs as part of himself that allow him the independence to live his life to the fullest.
Also, in 1982, Michael became a full time student. He attended Castlereagh College of Further Education for one year. He then went to the University of Ulster at Jordanstown where he studied Social Issues, Politics, Statistics, Economics, and majored in Psychology. He received first class honors in Psychology when he graduated in 1987.
The events of September 1981 changed Michael’s life forever and influenced his future. It led to an interest in trauma and a desire to champion the cause of policemen wounded physically and/or psychologically in the line of duty. The thesis that won him the honors was titled, “Physically Disabled People: Their Perceptions of the Public’s Reaction to Them, the Impact of Disability on their Social Life, and their Satisfaction with the Caring Professions.” Nineteen eighty marked the first time that criteria for PTSD were acknowledged in the Constabulary. It was only late in the 1980’s that any type of psychological support was in place.
Michael went on to study at Queen’s University of Belfast in the Department of Mental Health and received a Ph.D. in Research. This doctoral dissertation was “The Social and Psychological Adaptation of Individuals and their Families to Temporary but Prolonged Disability.”
As his first job, he was drawn into Government Statistics. He became a Senior Assistant Statistician with the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency for the Northern Ireland Civil Service. He was attached initially to the Department of Economic Development and latterly to the Police Authority for Northern Ireland (RUC). His duties included development and management of social surveys, development of management information systems, and staff management. But, his heart was not in it. He was much more interested in understanding people and how it is that they behave in the ways that they do. So, he applied to the Department of Clinical Psychology at Queen’s University of Belfast, receiving his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology in 1999. His research on “The Psychological and Physical Health of Police Officers Retired Recently from the Royal Ulster Constabulary” won the Praxis Prize of 1999 for the best postgraduate research related to mental health in the School of Psychology, Queens University of Belfast. It was subsequently published in the Irish Journal of Psychology in 2001.
While training to be a Clinical Psychologist, Michael learned about EMDR. In 1998, he took Part 1 in Cork City at a training organized by Desmond Poole; the trainer was Roger Solomon. It was during the practicum that Michael asked permission to work with the incident where he lost his arms. He remembered that the face of the woman who was to be the therapist fell at the prospect. It turned out that the practice was a success and Michael was able to process this central experience and let it go.
After this, Michael realized the power of EMDR and began to use this new methodology with the patients in his practice with PTSD. As his enthusiasm grew, he worked with more and more challenging cases and his expertise grew. He used the listserv as a way to hone his skill between Part 1 and 2 and then completed his training in London, in 1999. That same year he was invited to be a facilitator and completed this training in 2000.
On the completion of his Clinical Doctorate, Michael became the Principal Clinical Psychologist with the Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust for Northern Ireland. Here was the chance for the change that he had dreamed about. He had the opportunity to work with his fellow policemen and policewoman to help them heal from the traumas that they had encountered in their work. Also, he was involved with service development, staff training and directing and supervising psychological research.
It was at this time that he met Paul Miller –another EMDR aficionado- who was at the Trust in a supportive capacity to help prevent secondary traumatization; they became fast friends. Michael recognized that he was wanted to share his skills by bringing like minded-people together to impact on others in a positive way. In 2002, he became the full-time Managing Director of TMR Health Professionals that is a private sector organization providing expertise in clinical assessment, intervention, clinical supervision, and research. Michael is the “front man” for the organization and administers it, generates new business, sees patients, supervises the staff and stays current. Paul joined him part-time and is still a great support.
Michael is another member of our community who has been generous with his time when it comes to supporting his community, especially when it comes to trauma. In 2002, he was invited in his capacity as a mental health practitioner to be a participant in a program run by the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation (Co Wicklow). Former Republican and Loyalist paramilitary activists were to meet together with former security forces and the powers that be wanted mental health backup. Michael was to be a non-participating observer and give support. One of the Republican paramilitaries told him bluntly that he had a choice to, “Join in, or clear off!” but he used stronger words. Michael joined in and became a participant in this group where he told his story.
His experience had an impact on the community and, as a result, he was invited to go to South Africa on a tour of the wilderness where this same group slept under the stars and had to depend on each other. There were 18 who went on the trip, including 4 women and 2 male and 2 female facilitators for the group. They were exposed to each other’s points of view and personalities. There were ex-combatants who had been members of the Republican and Loyalist movements and had served time in jail, an ex-member of the prison service, Michael as an ex-police officer, and members of victims’ groups who had lost someone close to them. They visited Cape Town and Robin Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. In all, they spent 14 days together. At Robin Island they had a workshop where they were invited to tell their narrative. When the leader was pushing a young woman to tell her story despite her reluctance, Michael spoke up in support of her right to choose to speak or not. This turned out to be an icebreaker and, later, ex- combatants came up to him in support. As the days progressed, an element of mutual respect developed, as well as trust. They started to see each other as people first, rather than just political ideologies. Michael noted that one way to equalize such a disparate group was to put them out in the wilderness together and after 5 days everyone smelled the same - BAD!! A film crew accompanied the group as a way to capture the group dynamic for the purpose of learning about how people from different points of view, philosophies and ideologies could come together. The individuals of the group retain the copyright of this material.
When in the wilderness within ¾ of an hour, Michael had a spiritual experience. These types of experience are not foreign to him and have occurred a number of times in his life, each time at the birth of his children. While having one, he has a sense of inner peace and being close to nature. While the group –at that time- of eleven were walking, they came upon eleven water buffalo beside the river. “There were eleven of them looking at eleven of us.” Later, the guide explained that buffalo are communal creatures and this he took as a promising sign. The group began to act and feel like the natural creatures living there. Although there were poisonous spiders, snakes, lions and rhinos, they were able to co-exist and maintain that feeling of inner peace. As a result, Michael was able to use this experience as a touchstone in his modern life when he returned to Belfast.
Michael’s first volunteer work, in 1987, was at CRUSE Bereavement Care for Northern Ireland where he learned many of his initial clinical skills. He worked as a volunteer Counselor for the Advice Service run by the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health and in 2000 he was an Adjudication Committee Member for the regional “Give it a Go” program (Millennium Fund) for people with disabilities. In 2003, he was a member of the Northern Ireland DHSS CREST sub-group that examined effective treatments for PTSD in adults. Fortunately for EMDR, Michael was a member of the smaller group that looked at psychological therapies, as he wanted EMDR to have a fair hearing. As a result of his direct intervention, EMDR was accepted as an effective treatment for trauma. In Northern Ireland, the recommended treatment for PTSD to primary care givers is SSRIs, CBT and/or EMDR. In 2004, he was a member of the “Healing through Remembering” panel and, in the same year, he was a member of the Trauma Advisory Panel for the Eastern Health and Social Services Board.
Michael has a number of publications from 1987 to current day. He has written and spoken on issues such as the impact of civil unrest for amputees in Northern Ireland; the psychological and physical health of retired members of the Constabulary; PTSD; psychological consequences of upper limb injury; attitudes and disabled people; the effects of age at which one is disabled and length of disability on the social behavior and perceptions of physically disabled people; the psychological cost of caring; and motivation and achievement to staff and pupils in a Belfast High School for starters!
Michael has been actively involved in EMDR since he was first trained. He is an Executive Committee Member of the EMDR Association of UK and Ireland. He is responsible for organizing interest groups in his region and bringing over well-known EMDR teachers such as Gerry Puk, Mark Grant and Carol Forgash. He himself is interested in using Ego States with EMDR in the treatment of Complex PTSD. Currently, he is in the process of becoming an EMDR Institute Trainer for Ireland.
A few years ago Michael met Terry Waite, a former Beirut hostage, at a talk in Belfast. Michael later invited him to open the building for TMR Health Professionals and gave him an experience of EMDR (see photo).
To the EMDR community Michael would like to say the following: “Keep doing what you are doing and believe in the process because it does change lives and, as Francine encourages us to do always, ‘Do the research!!’”
Michael is married with 3 female teenagers and one younger son. All of them love skiing and reading. He is not sure how his kids feel about Psychology!
However, we are sure about how we feel about him! He has transcended many of life’s most difficult challenges and has emerged with his own brand of kindness, humor and keen intelligence. We are lucky to have him as part of our ever-expanding EMDR community.