Beat It

beat it
angry with my father (3/3)

Concluding tonight on Five is the documentary series that follows members of the public as they attempt to overcome a variety of psychological difficulties. Tonight’s instalment tells the story of 25-year-old Chris, who is coming to terms with a violent childhood and desperately hoping to eradicate his anger-management issues so that he can fulfil his dream of becoming a social worker.

In Worthing, West Sussex, two young brothers are clearing out the debris of their father’s life. Furniture, fittings and an odd, scythe-like object are flung onto a rubbish heap in the back yard. The boys are feeling strange – their father terrorised them with violence for years, and it is with a mixture of anger and elation that they now remove all tangible proof of his existence from their former home. “You walk into the kitchen and there’s a carving knife and you’re like: ‘I’ve felt that against my throat,’” says Chris.

His younger brother Richard, however, is worried that they might inadvertently continue their father’s legacy of aggression. “Chris has been more of a father figure than my Dad has,” he says, but goes on to note that after a drink, Chris can sometimes become violent.

After refusing to spend Christmas with the family in Bolton where the boys have lived for the past four years, their father died alone of heart failure, and went undiscovered for some time. Frightened of suffering the same fate, both Chris and Richard attend a weekend of anger-management counselling in the picturesque Sussex countryside, in the hope of laying their demons to rest.

Anger guru Mike Fisher is keen to help the brothers, along with all the other course attendees, work through their issues. Himself a former ‘angry man’, he has dedicated his life to helping people on the brink of violence regain control of their feelings. “The challenge with you,” he tells Chris, “is that you’ve been holding onto the grudge.” He then goes on to offer the advice: “transcend your limitations, and all the limitations that your father imposed on you.”

But counselling is not quite so straightforward, and even the placid Mike finds Chris a challenge. When Chris responds to a lovingly prepared meal with disgust, declaring “I’ve never seen ginger soup before in my life,” Mike has to leave the room. The next morning he explains to Chris that by goading him, he was indirectly trying to force Mike to express his own anger.

During the course of the weekend, the group undergoes intensive discussions, art therapy and a great deal of soul-searching. A real breakthrough comes when Ray, who also suffered a violent childhood, volunteers to try an exercise called the ‘detour method’. While mentally reliving a terrible trauma, Ray is asked to hit a cushion with a baseball bat, slowly increasing his self-control and expressing his pain verbally as well as physically. Mike hopes that this technique will lay the memory to rest. For Richard and Chris, who identify with Ray’s experiences, the process brings many painful memories to the surface.

At the end of the weekend, a smiling Richard explains how the course has helped him: “I feel like I’ve got an advantage on life now –I feel like I know what to do in that situation.”

Four weeks later, Chris has moved back to Worthing with his mother, having redecorated and refurbished his childhood home. Has the course provided catharsis and paved the way for a brighter future? “I’m more chilled out”, he says, and explains that despite several testing moments, he has not had an argument since the weekend of counselling. “I’m well on the way to beating it,” he concludes.

beat it
the boy with the stammer (2/3)

Continuing tonight on Five is a series of documentaries following members of the public as they attempt to overcome a variety of psychological difficulties. Tonight’s instalment follows schoolboy Cameron’s attempt to defeat the stammer that cripples his self-confidence and prevents him from expressing himself. Ever since he could speak, 13-year-old Cameron has stammered. When he began to talk “in a jumbled-up way”, his mother took him to a speech therapist. She was told he would hopefully grow out of it – but he has not. Cameron is articulate when he can force the words out, but most of the time, he explains, “my throat gets so tight, nothing gets out.” Cameron talks candidly about his “stressful” and “disheartening” condition: “It’s kind of like a parasite,” he says. “It just won’t leave.”

Before his last birthday, Cameron told his mum, Jane, that he did not want any presents – just a new voice box so he could speak normally. Then, he said, he would “have so much confidence it would be unbelievable.” Determined to help her son beat this problem, Jane has enrolled him on an intensive residential course where teachers use a breathing technique to help people manage their stammers. The Starfish course is run by Anne Blight, who explains that the technique of “costal breathing” is simple and well established: “It’s not rocket science,” she says.

The technique centres on stammerers taking a deep breath before speaking to help them get the words out. The first morning of the course finds Cameron in a room full of adults, who introduce themselves by recording a piece to video. Many of the participants struggle to speak, and for Jane, sitting at the back of the room, it is a heart-rending experience: “Lots of people there seem to have struggled and ended up not doing what they wanted to do with their lives – and all because of a speech problem,” she says. The afternoon session sees the stammerers begin using the breathing technique, with belts tied around their chests to help them inhale deeply. Using a “buddy system”, participants stand in a line facing their partner and practise saying their names. With the help of his partner Matt – himself an ex-stammerer – Cameron seems to make rapid progress: “It’s weird,” he says. “It’s actually working!” Jane is equally impressed: “I didn’t really appreciate how effective it would be and how quickly people could pick it up,” she says.

Day two finds Cameron suffering a crisis of confidence, as the sudden hope of life without a stammer temporarily overwhelms him. But with encouragement from Anne and Matt, Cameron is able to stand up in front of the group and briefly introduce himself. It is a watershed moment for the lad, who finds renewed confidence in the afternoon session, when the stammerers confront one of their greatest fears: a live telephone call.

Using a speakerphone in front of the group, Cameron successfully calls directory enquiries – and is so enthused by his achievement that he volunteers to do it again. Cameron ends the day on a high, being the second person to stand up before the room and express his gratitude to the course organisers. “I’m a very proud, happy young boy,” he says. “You’re all a great inspiration to me and hopefully we can help many other people like us.” Cameron finishes the course determined to build on what he has accomplished: “It may not be a cure,” he says. “But it helps a hell of a lot!”

beat it
addicted to asda (1/3)

Starting tonight on Five is a new series of documentaries following members of the public as they attempt to overcome a variety of psychological difficulties. The series shows how counselling, training and advice from top psychologists can help people battle the demons that have taken over their lives. Tonight’s first episode tells the story of 24-year-old mother Amanda, who developed an uncontrollable shopping addiction after being brutally attacked seven years ago.

In the northern town of Ashton-under-Lyne, a young woman is dealing with an unusual and debilitating compulsion. Amanda is addicted to shopping at Asda, and has come to view the supermarket as her shelter from the world. After being attacked by a gang of youths and scarred across the face at the age of 17, Amanda retreated to the safety of her local Asda, where her mum works. “It’s my own little way of getting away from things,” she says. But Amanda’s safe haven turned into a nightmare when she found that she could not stop spending, buying endless clothes that she did not need. “It’s like something inside me just takes control,” she confesses.

Having run up a staggering £14,000 debt, Amanda has finally decided to get help, enrolling in a course of therapy run by one of Britain’s top psychologists, Dr John McGovern. He has no doubts about the gravity of her plight: “This is something that wrecks people’s lives,” he says. If she is to confront her obsession, Amanda must deal with the trauma of her attack for the first time.

As her counselling sessions begin, Amanda talks frankly of how her fears drove her to the sanctuary of Asda: “It’s the first place I run to when I need to calm down and just think or be on my own,” she explains. Amanda revisits the scene of her attack and explains the nature of her obsession: “People think it’s a matter of choice… I really wish it was,” she says. “I’d do anything not to be this way.” Amanda’s problems have strained her relationship with her mother, with whom she lives. Their house is cluttered with Amanda’s purchases, and mum Wendy admits she is irritated by her daughter’s actions.

Dr McGovern’s approach is to wean Amanda off her addiction. “It’s a case of breaking it into little steps,” he says. To this end, he accompanies Amanda to Asda, and on their first trip he suggests that she try not to do a tour of the whole store. This is a significant departure for Amanda, who always does a full circuit of the shop. Amanda is initially anxious, but once amongst the shelves she settles into her routine. Dr McGovern observes her compulsion first-hand and notes how quickly she loses track of the time. But the excursion is a success: for the first time in two years, Amanda leaves Asda early.

Galvanised by her breakthrough, Amanda goes to seek advice from a debt advisory service, and takes some of her unwanted clothes to a car boot sale. Within weeks her family relationships have improved and her mum is struck by her progress: “She’s the daughter that she used to be,” she says. “She’s fun to be with.”

Amanda is now able to leave Asda earlier and earlier, until on one trip she buys nothing more than a magazine. Her family hails the success her counselling has brought her, and Dr McGovern summarises what he hopes to achieve: “It’s not about notshopping,” he says. “It’s about doing real shopping.” For Amanda, it has been an emotional ride, and she knows she still has much work to do. But she says: “I’m determined. I’ll beat it.”

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