This touching patient story came from Holyborne Hospitals wonderful Therapy Team. Patient details have been anonymised.
“When our patients come to us, reports of their journey to admission and their current situation are often exceeded by their own rich accounts. James was admitted as a “suicidal patient”, which was not unreasonable given he had been presenting with suicidal thoughts.
James engaged well, and was able to describe the intrusive and highly distressing thoughts he had been experiencing, featuring images of death. He had been terrified of these, and specifically of fears of what he may do in response. He asked the team to help him find a way to “get rid of these thoughts”. He had come to us as a place of safety.
In his career, James responded to scenes where people lost their lives. He had experienced much trauma in his work life and had been the one who was “strong” and “stoic”. James was the one who held everyone else together; he was “the glue”, both at work and at home. He had functioned in quite a male environment where feelings were not expressed – “you just don’t do that!”.
We worked with James to unpack some of his thoughts. Slowly, we worked out that his thoughts came from witnessing the world as somewhere where life is fragile. He was the one to deal with death and loss all around him, and make everyone else ok. He was a protector. His thoughts, once we explored them, were far from suicidal. They did not represent his wish for death, but his fear of death – his love of life and his absolute desire to stay alive for all he had going for him.
Exploration of this in Psychology sessions, use of Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy with our Psychotherapist, Mindfulness in Groups, Family Therapy Sessions, and development of roles and identity with Occupational Therapy all played a part. James reframed his thoughts, and started to understand the effects of trauma. Crucially, he came to experience thoughts not as toxic enemies to fear, but as normal and survivable aspects of being human. He learnt to sit with thoughts for what they are, and to live alongside them.
James’ time with us was relatively short, but he turned his life to place where he felt he could safely leave. He and his family reframed how they saw “strength”, understanding their “rock” as someone who could sometimes break down and reflect on his thoughts, and emerge stronger than ever.
James and his family expressed gratitude for all that our team did. We were touched by their gifts, but reflected the work back as theirs.
We learnt as much as they did. We learnt that with careful assessment, the experiences of our patients can be different to how they first appear. What is the “presenting problem”, really? We can only know by deep, active listening, and open clinical minds. We learnt that a truly MDT approach really puts the patient first, and in this case, in the middle of a system of where family, culture, work and identity can be everything.”
The Therapy Team