“George is a courageous boy”

The power of early-attachment-focused interventions in therapy

*George was well into his 80s when he came to therapy for the first time in his life. His GP had suggested he try talking therapy to deal with his increasing anxiety. It was obvious that he was sceptical about this option from the moment we met.

“I am not sure that you can do anything to help me, ” he started. “I have been like this for such a long time and I am just getting worse.”

George had been prone to anxiety for as long as he could remember. He had always found social gatherings particularly hard to cope with but more recently this had escalated to feeling constantly fearful during the day and having relentless nightmares at night. The nightmares tended to focus on him being lost and unable to find his way home.  

When on his own, George found himself dwelling on his past and about being in hospital as a child. At the age of two, he was playing in the garden with his siblings when he tripped and landed with his hands in the ash left over from a bonfire they’d had the night before. The coals below the white ash were still red hot and burned George’s hands so severely he had to have a number of skin-graft operations. These took place between the ages of two and 14.

It wasn’t the pain that George recalled but the bewilderment he felt as a toddler, finding himself standing in a bed with bars around it, in a strange place with no sign of his mother or father. As this happened in the war years, George was also the only child in the burns unit; he was surrounded by pilots and other adults who had been horrifically burned. Looking back now, as an adult, he realises how difficult and expensive it would have been for his parents to get to the hospital to visit him.

The first part of therapy focused on equipping George with coping strategies for his anxiety. The session that proved to be a turning point was when we agreed to focus on little George, still  trapped in that hospital bed after all these years.

Starting with a recent experience of feeling fearful and believing this meant he was a weak man, George closed his eyes and I asked him to imagine dropping back in time to identify memories that resonated with these same thoughts and feelings. Almost instantly he was back in that hospital bed. His recall of the details was astounding; he even remembered the sound of the anaesthetic bottles clinking as they were wheeled down the hospital corridor.

I invited adult George to imagine that he could go back to that moment to be with little George. In this re-scripting of the memories, George was given permission to interact with his younger self in whatever way felt right. George’s expression softened almost immediately. He described standing near the toddler whilst he was in theatre – little George’s eyes never leaving him until the anaesthetic took effect – and then being there on the ward when his much younger self woke up. When prompted about what he would like to do next, George described gently wrapping little George in a blanket, arranging for a taxi to fetch them and taking the boy home with him. At home, George imagined making him something to eat before tucking him up safe and warm in a bed and reading him a bedtime story.

Having successfully rescued little George, the next step was for George to challenge his negative self-perception of being “weak”. I asked him to see what evidence he could come up with to prove the opposite. George closed his eyes again and a few moments later recalled a school teacher writing on his report: “George is a courageous boy”.

A few minutes later, a conversation he’d had as a child with his father came to mind. His father had given him the option to say no to any further operations. George seemed surprised when he said, “It was my decision to go through with them. I must be more courageous than I thought.”

In the last sessions we had together, George’s anxiety continued to diminish significantly.

At a follow-up session a couple of months after our therapeutic journey together was concluded, I was keen to find out how George was doing. He was pleased to tell me that the nightmares had stopped almost entirely. He told me that on the odd occasion when they had reoccurred, “I just remind myself that little George is home with me, safe and sound, and the fear goes. 

“My only regret is that I didn’t know about this kind of help years ago.”

Therapies such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitizing Reprocessing) work because they help repair developmental deficits in early childhood experiences. As adults we tend to look back at childhood experiences and write them off, telling ourselves they weren’t such a big deal. But for that toddler within us, they can remain very big deals indeed.

If you’re struggling with issues from your childhood, therapy may be a good option for you too. You can contact me here.

*Client’s name and details have been changed to protect client confidentiality


One thought on ““George is a courageous boy”

  1. Wow Iain this is extremely powerful. It’s such an amazing concept of looking at the child you were and nurturing yourself as that child. It makes so much sense. This is such a great happy ending story! George was extremely brave too in coming to you so late in life! I think he felt safe with you. Hence the success!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: