By: Lt. Col. Chris Christensen (Ret.)
The views and opinions expressed in these articles and interviews are those of the individuals speaking, and do not necessarily represent those of Applied Metapsychology International.
This article and other similar articles can be found in Beyond Trauma: Conversations on Traumatic Incident Reduction, 2nd Edition available from our bookstore at www.TIRbook.com
In Memoriam by Gerald French
Just two weeks before he was to join us as one of the principal speakers at the European Conference on Metapsychology in Munich, Lt. Col. Chris Christensen (Ret.) died suddenly and unexpectedly. Chris trained with us in Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR) in 1989, subsequently devoting hundreds of hours of his own time to working with fellow combat vets, their families, and other trauma survivors, to take away their pain. His body failed while he pursued the duties of his formal work, arranging for the transshipment of humanitarian aid to the desperate peoples of Eastern Europe. His death occurred in Germany on the morning of October 29th, 1992, and was of “natural” causes, if such a word can be employed to describe the loss of this kind and gifted man to whom so many grateful people surrendered so much hurt.
What follows is the transcript of a tape that Chris sent us shortly after his arrival in Germany to take up his duties there and to scout out quarters for himself and his lovely wife, Lee. He made the tape one evening, sitting on a single bed in a small hotel room by himself.
Transcribing his words has been somewhat difficult for me. Hearing Chris’ voice – his laughter, the occasional pauses of the tape when he permitted himself the tears of joy that facilitators experience from time to time in reflecting on the simple miracles that their skills produce – drove home to me the loss his death represents to all the ones he didn’t get the chance to help.
Chris wouldn’t have approved of my reaction at all. He’d have said something like, “Stop snivelling, Ger! If I could do it, so can a lot of other folks!” And he’d have been right, of course … so I stopped snivelling.
I’m sure he approved.
Gerald D. French, MA, CTS,
The Last of the Wildcats
This is Chris Christensen. I’m making this tape on the 2nd of March, 1992, in Stuttgart, Germany.
Some months ago, a friend there gave me a call and asked me if I would be kind enough to talk about “Wildcat” Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR). [“Wildcat” was a nickname given to Chris because of his willingness to work with people on the spur of the moment. Also because he tried to get his employer to sanction his use of TIR during his normal working hours to help unemployed veterans, and when they refused, Chris used his own time to help people without payment. -Editor Note.] He then went on to say that it would be very nice if I could relate some of the “cases”, if you will, that I have worked with, and just give some general background on the types of people that I’ve worked with. Well, that obviously becomes a bit more difficult. [In what follows] I do not use real names. That being said, the other thing that becomes very difficult is this: it is amazing how hard it is to recall the individual, and his or her traumatic incident and how they unraveled in our sessions. It seems as though the training that I received is extremely successful in allowing my viewers to walk away without their heavy pictures “sticking” to me. As a result, I have found that it is, in some cases, difficult even to remember the names of the people that I have worked with over the last, oh, almost two years now.
Another thing that has become very evident to me in working with TIR is that I have become much more tolerant in my understanding of what a traumatic incident is. I’ve realized that what is traumatic to one may well not seem traumatic to another, and that what may seem insignificant to me can be a mountain of crap to another. It is amazing to see what might be, by my definition, a very insignificant thing, cause a tremendous amount of pain – real pain – and emotional discharge in another. That’s been a very positive learning experience for me, one that says, “Don’t mess with the system!” TIR works, as long as you don’t mess with it. Good stuff!
It is amazing how relaxed and tolerant I’ve become, too, when observing intense emotional discharge take place in a viewer during a session of TIR. While a viewer is in the bottom of the pit – groveling, snot-running, etc. – I’ve come to know full well that this is [just] a process that takes place, the end result of which is going to be just … beautiful! And when they come back up out of that crap and look at you, clear-eyed, and say, “Wow! Thanks!” … well, it’s just wonderful stuff.
Another thing I’ve learned is that it’s impossible to assist a person through the TIR process and mentally jump ahead to a “logical” conclusion. If there is one thing that I have found, it is that if I lose concentration during a session – if my “shield” goes down – and part of my mind jumps forward to speculate, I can almost rest assured that that conclusion I imagine will be the wrong one when it all washes out. That again says to me: “Be very confident in the process of TIR itself. Let the procedure run its course.” I may well tend to allow things to continue longer than I normally would, or than I would normally feel comfortable in doing, but I have found that by allowing TIR to run its course – even if it is longer than where I think it might want to go – I find that the end result tends to be much more satisfying, much more clear in the viewer’s [client’s] mind. And as a result, the success at the end of it is just short of phenomenal.
Okay. Having said that, I will run down a few things, for what they are worth. If you care to use any of it at all, shucks … have at it! Anything that I can do to help spread TIR … well, I’m for it.
During my initial training in Menlo Park, I had someone in mind to start out with on my return to Idaho: a combat vet who had been in the thick of a lot of killing and mayhem; a man who suffered the classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, who “job-hopped” and who, frankly, I was tired of seeing show up in front of my desk on the average of once every four months, saying, “Lost my job again … I need another job … The family’s getting hungry, and, oh, by the way, I’ve been drunk for the last three days … and I’m broke.”
Well, that guy and I started down the road. Thinking back on it, I recall my thoughts as he relived his combat experiences. I can recall very distinctly …. Hmm! That’s strange! I hadn’t thought of it ’till now, that I was thinking, “That’s not so bad; I did worse than that. I was in deeper crap than that. What’s your problem, fella?”–those kinds of thoughts. I remembered Gerald’s instructions, though: “Keep your mouth shut and let the procedure work”. And I did.
That session was a long one, by the way, probably one of the longer ones that I’ve given. I may well have had an overrun [continuing past an end point] or two, and mixed two or three incidents into the same string before it was all over, but it was dramatic at the end of it. I didn’t miss the final end point. It blew in my face. It … it was wonderful!
In the course of running down after the session was over, he mentioned that he had a friend that was in a town about thirty-five miles away, another Viet Nam combat vet who was in a wheel chair. His story I related at the first Metapsychology conference, but just real generally here, a fast one time through:
This fellow had tried to commit suicide, the one in the wheel chair, that is. The first man I’d dealt with called me, and he and I went to the hospital. We talked, and the fellow was released the following day. I took him through a couple of sessions, and he went from suicidal to working full time in a coffee shop. And by the way, he’s still there! He is the person who runs around in his chair and cheers everyone else up and says, “Hey! there is something about life…!” There’s a guy who has now been working almost two years … hadn’t worked before that for five or six years … had been under professional psychiatric care, medicated to the gills. Today, he is off medication and no longer under psychiatric care. My dealings with him lasted … well … over a period of about three months, we probably put in somewhere close to twenty hours of TIR. It was his decision to get off of the medications; it was his decision to quit psychiatric care; it was his decision to go back to work Hey! Not too shabby, I would say offhand.
Guess we’d better take a short break…. [Tape pause.] Very interesting thing: I got a bit teary-eyed over that. It still brings joy to the heart.
The first combat vet: we took him through … oh, about twenty five hours by the time that he felt that he was through. We found that most all of what he had hung his combat experiences on went a little bit deeper than that–many times back to … oh … age four or five … in there, though he was not specific. That fellow is still working–still with the same job that he obtained within thirty days of completing TIR.
And while the thought crosses my mind: when I arrived at Job Service in Idaho, back in April of 1985, there were in excess of 150 disabled veterans on the rolls, seeking employment. I worked with those people up until the time that I went to California to receive my TIR training, and so we had close to five years that I worked very hard with those folks to put ’em to work and keep ’em in jobs. I would say at the time that I went to California, I still had a hundred and twenty of those people on the roles, seeking employment. With the skills learned through TIR training – and I’m talking the one-week, forty hour intensive course that Gerald gave me – I would estimate that I have worked with close to sixty of those people, anywhere from two hours to twenty hours, max, the average probably running closer to 14 or 15 hours. And out of those 60 people that I worked with on TIR, I had two – that’s one, two! – left on the roles, seeking employment, when I left Idaho for Germany three weeks ago.
I have had failures. Every one of my failures has been exactly where Gerald told me it would occur: in a place where the mind was not available: mind-altering drugs … alcohol. Those are the two main causes. Mind not available … I am not capable of getting through with TIR … and Gerald told me that I wouldn’t be. Hey, that’s alright. I basically ceased working with those types of people, merely telling them that it’s their choice … that once they get to the point – and they can do whatever they want to – I will be available, if I’m geographically in the area, to assist once they’re clean. Those failures … a total of four … I had to find out for myself. So be it. I did.
Different situation: female … professional … a secretary with management skills … extremely capable individual, about forty years old … husband an extremely successful doctor … old home-town girl … very efficient, friendly … just a good professional, one that you’d want in the front office, someone who’d give you a good image with people coming through the front door. No problem whatsoever. She was operating in an office that had a management style that was based upon lies and mistrust. Employees were picked on to the point that this gal went from being that extremely efficient professional to being a woman who was afraid to type a letter for fear of making a mistake. She was completely dehumanized, if you will. Her sense of security went to zero. It affected her marriage. She was no longer capable of doing anything but going home and bawling [crying]… by the hour. The agency where she worked had an Employee Assistance Program whereby you could call a number, confidentially, and you would get eight hours of professional counseling service. This gal sought that program and went through it. She was referred to a psychiatrist, and went to that psychiatrist for about four months. At that point, she came to me one day and said, “I understand that you have something that you have learned in California that might be able to help me, and I need help.” She was then still working in the same office, and had been threatened with probation, almost unheard of there.
When she came to me for help, she had also told me that her marriage was very shaky. I happened to know her husband, and the three of us agreed to meet. At that initial meeting, we set out the procedure. Her husband was completely trusting, allowing me and his wife to be in a room alone for maybe up to three hours, undisturbed, in their home. The end result of all of that was that two and a half months later, she went to her psychiatrist for her final session – her choice – and assisted the psychiatrist through the last, fifty-minute session. At the end of it, she said, “I don’t think I need to pay you your fees any more to listen to your problems, Mrs. Psychiatrist, and at this point, our relationship is done, thank you very much!”
The lady subsequently decided to quit her job, took six weeks off, was hired back in another agency, doing the same type of work. She’s held that job now for close to a year. The boss is extremely satisfied with her … says, “Hey, this is the type of professional I’ve been looking for in my office for years and years and years!” One of her husband’s comments sticks in my mind very clearly: “Thank you for giving me back my wife! Thank you for allowing her to have her life back!” A total success.
An interesting thing occurred as a result of that. This lady was one of, oh, five or six that I had worked with at that point, all of whom, unbeknownst to me, had been clients of the same psychiatrist. All of them, also unbeknownst to me, had quit going to that psychiatrist after doing TIR. At that point, the psychiatrist came to me and asked what I was doing that was causing her clients to get well, and that whatever it was, she needed it. Well, the bottom line of that story was that I went to her and the senior psychiatrist in her office and we talked for a little bit over an hour. The gist of the conversation was, “We will be glad to bring you in under our insurance umbrella; you may operate with us.” Their real interest, however, was, “How many clients can you bring into the business? Because we are in the process of building our client base….” It became obvious to me that their effort and thrust was not towards making people better. It was an effort to hook those people, to make ’em dependent upon that psychiatric business. Repeat business … I decided that I wasn’t “into” that kind of situation.
New subject: female … about 37 years old … a son 15 or 16 years old … in a situation where every three or four months, the person that she was dearly in love with would physically beat the crap out of her. He was into verbal abuse on a repeating basis as well. Such incidents would culminate in his moving out, taking their personal possessions, changing the bank account, stripping the proceeds out.
This particular lady had left a job in New York, where she’d been being paid close to $30 an hour in the engineering arena, to come to Idaho, where she’d accepted employment at $8 an hour. Her husband had been in some sort of security or law enforcement work ever since he had left Viet Nam. He prided himself on looking younger than he was, a definite physical freak, a “hard body” who did a lot of weight work, never missed two … three … four hours a day in the gym, and enjoyed trying to intimidate others. When she came to me, his wife told me she knew that I’d been doing a lot of work with vets, and that some of them, who also worked for the police, had told her that I knew how to do something that was “pretty good”. They wouldn’t describe what it was, but they highly recommended that she ask me about it. She did.
Our first session was about two and a half hours long, and towards the end of it, she looked at me and said, “Now I know why I married that person! He is my father … he acts like my father … he treats me like my father did … he abuses me like my father always has …”, and she went into about a thirty minute diatribe, screaming, yelling, beating on her own body, flailing her fists on her legs, at the end of which she slowly reached a state of calm, with tears dripping and nose running. And in the space of about fifteen minutes after that, she looked up, her eyes opened, she smiled, and said, “I’m well. Thank you!” [Tape pause.] Hmm! I’m sitting here, crying like a baby … grinning! It was one of the most pure, quick sessions I’ve ever given and, as I recall, that was the third time through the first incident that she picked to look at. She went directly to it. She’d been seeing a psychiatrist at that time for four months, three times a week, :50 minutes an hour. [laugh.] Oh … and before she’d left New York, she’d been under psychiatric care for eighteen months there in one stretch. She looked at me and she said, “My God! All of that money, and all of that time, and I never got through to the issues.” She said, “I feel like a brand new person! I feel light … I feel like I weigh twenty pounds!”
Well, that story resulted in the abusive husband calling her and being informed by the lady that she had filed for divorce, that the divorce was going through, that it was not her fault – the divorce – and that she had not ruined his career, that he had chosen to do that all on his own, that she was not going to kowtow to him anymore….
Shortly after that conversation, she came bouncing into my office, sat down at my desk, and proceeded to tell me, in a voice that was loud enough to be heard fifty feet away, that whatever it was I had, it worked and Goddamn, she was glad to be alive again!
She has accepted employment at another firm. She has tripled her salary over what she was making before. She left on the 20th of February, and on arriving on her new job, she picked up the phone and again thanked me, made sure that I had her new address and that she had mine. She has already sent a letter to me here in Stuttgart. She reports that her life is together, her divorce in progress, and she is … in … charge![Tape pause]
Whew! I didn’t realize that I had that much emotional attachment … in terms of pure, outright pleasure! For a male like me, who went through the military, who was raised in Montana on a rock farm, very poor; who came up with somewhat of a macho image – if you were a man, you proved what you were, and you damned sure didn’t cry! [laugh] – it feels kinda good to sit here… and grin… and let tears run… and not feel bad about it.
New subject: a lady… close to sixty years old… petite… someone who’s spent most of her life as a social worker … rape and crisis counselor, homeless shelter operator, family abuse counselor … a person who, herself, was sexually and verbally abused. Her mother had committed suicide, two marriages ended in divorce, and her last husband also committed suicide. He was a man who had lived a sham, lived an untrue life, assumed a lifestyle and identity and activities that were all lies. When his money ran out and he was no longer able to continue that lie, he put a shotgun in his mouth and blew his own head off.
She found him, still hanging on the shotgun.
When I met her, she had received professional counseling for over 18 months. She had just taken a part time job as a nursing assistant and was in the process of losing her home, having run out of all savings, down to nothing. The insurance money was spent, and she was basically being forced back out of the home and onto the street to survive or to commit suicide herself, an act she had considered.
That’s when I entered the picture, again through a mutual friend, a person I’d worked with that she knew. I started working with her. At the time, she had very acute arthritis in her hands, the skin drawn very tightly over the knuckles, over the fingers, over the bones. It didn’t go with the rest of her at all. She had basically no flexibility in any of her fingers. We worked through the last suicide, and in the process, I recall her agonizing over the fact that the sheriff and the people who had investigated on that morning had told her not to wash her hands, and had basically accused her of assisting her husband to commit suicide. (Obviously, they were looking at the paraffin test for residual gunpowder on her hands.) She was not involved, and she was fully acquitted very quickly, but … a strange thing: at no time, through all of that process, did they ever come back to her and tell her that she could wash her hands now.
Within ten minutes of completing our first session, she got up, went to the kitchen sink, took a bar of soap, and started scrubbing her hands, looking at me – crying, and laughing – and said, “My God, I can wash my hands again for the first time in two years.”
Quite an impact on “the Wildcat”. He almost lost it! [Laugh.]
Several sessions later, she had a major realization concerning her sexual abuser, and this was coupled to her having been raised as a young lady on a farm, where she had also been sexually abused. When TIR took her all the way back, she had a very definite realization that it was not her fault. She ended up going back to her own counselor, helping him through a couple of sessions, becoming one of his case studies to be presented during a national meeting. Yet she withheld from that counselor the fact that she had realized where her problems had been rooted, and the case presentation turned into one in which, during a seminar, her counselor’s peers attempted to tell him where he had gone wrong, what he should have done, how he might have been able to get to the bottom of the issue had he used different techniques … and they used it as a problem solving seminar. The lady’s attitude, when she heard about it, was “Let them work it out. I did.”
She, today, is very happy doing what she is doing. She is working full time and has picked up – through her use of TIR – some techniques that she has incorporated into her own case load. She is, in fact, in charge of her life and, in her words, “quite happy”.
New subject: a Viet Nam combat vet, a skilled technician, within six months of being able to retire … diagnosed with a nervous breakdown. He came to me asking, “How do I get back into the federal system now that I have bailed out of it? Is there any way I can get back in?” We went through a few alternatives… then I gave him a short session that had an outstanding result. We then went through five of six more sessions. They started out, oh, two, two and a half hours a shot… ended up fifteen-twenty minutes a session. He finally came to realize that a set of common circumstances were involved in the work site of his last job where he’d finally just gotten to a point where he could not work, could not concentrate, could not sleep, did not eat, went back on the bottle… All of those things had common leads back to Viet Nam and what he had done there. He saw. He drew the parallels between them. He had the realizations. And the last I heard from him, two months ago, he was back with his old organization… everyone was happy to have him back… and he was well on his way to passing his probation period. He’s off and running. He did well…
Another guy: a graduate student male… the son of a friend. I watched him go through most of high school and college… some of the normal trials and tribulations as he interacted with members of the opposite sex. He’s one of those people with a gift for dealing with people… liked by everyone who knows him… never had a problem getting dates with the girls. But then, in graduate school, he fell deeply in love with a girl whom he wanted to marry. They discussed it, planned how it would happen… and then it all unraveled, and very unpleasantly.
Well, falling off the deep end (“That’s all that I deserve”), he turned into a real wild person. He almost flunked out of school… withdrew from several courses… was suspended briefly… went back to school… and was not doing very well at all. Not interacting well with people as he always had before… working part time… going to the bars and raising six kinds of sand almost full time. Wasn’t a whole lot of time for studies.
He’d heard about what I was doing from his dad, and one day he came to me asked if maybe I could “try that stuff” [TIR] with him.
Within two weeks time – during which, as I recall, we had four or five sessions – he crawled out of the bars, picked up his books, and went back to studying. He’s now graduated, with an MBA, and working hard in a very good job. He has read just about everything that he can get his hands on that has to do with TIR. He’s extremely interested in learning all of the processes and procedures, and would like to pick it up himself… But again, here was an individual who was heading down the wrong track, knew he was heading down the wrong track, needed a “tour guide” to turn him around, got one… and turned around. He’s doing great!
And I suspect that’s about enough rambling into this little machine, so before too long goes past, I will get the tape in the mail. One of these days, I’d like to learn more about this stuff myself. I realize that in TIR, I’ve got just a little piece of it.
So, until such time as we get together, have fun… be good… keep grinnin’… Ciao!
Lt. Col Chris Christensen (Ret.)
March 2nd, 1992