Tag Archives: Violent extremism

The Psychology of Violent Extremism

Since the last newsletter where violent extremism was discussed, there have been a number of further acts of violence within the UK.  Thinking about what drives people to engage in such behaviour has become more pertinent.  Dr Hannah FarrAlongside this it also feels important that we think about how we talk to our young people about these acts, especially after the suicide bomber at the Ariana Grande concert, where many young people were involved.  At the end of this piece I will provide details outlining where to find information on trauma, how to support people who have been through a traumatic experience and how to talk to young people about what has been happening in their world.  However, I want to start by presenting some of the psychological research which has tried to develop a profile of someone who becomes involved in extremism.

Psychological research into those who carry out acts of violent extremism has been somewhat minimal to date.  However, there are some characteristics which have been identified and provide us with some insight into what drives a person to join these groups.  It is suggested that those young men (I will focus on men here as they are the majority in these groups) who feel marginalised and unrepresented in places of authority e.g. the government, and who perceive an injustice are more likely to join an extremist group.  They appear to be searching for a sense of belonging, connectedness and affiliation (Silke, 2008), which they don’t feel they get elsewhere in society or their community.  It is suggested that they feel uncertain about themselves and their world (Bonim, 2014) and seek danger and excitement as a way of giving their life meaning.  They feel they are unable to make changes in any other way than through extreme and unconventional means (Saucier et al., 2009).  They believe they represent a broader victimised group who need someone to stand up for them (Horgan, 2017).  Motivation, ideology and social process all come together to play a role in the radicalisation of men who join extremist groups.  Understanding this interplay is the first step towards developing policies to intervene (Kruglanski et al., 2014), it may also be important for society to understand and play a role in expressing concerns about possible extremism in their communities.

How communities can play a role in expressing concerns about suspicious behaviour has also been an ongoing discussion especially after an attack.  Dando (2017) stated that when it comes to ‘pointing the finger at a neighbour or friend’ when they are suspicious of their values/beliefs/behaviour the impact may be too great.  She considers the impact of a reduction in community police officers, as it may be that a rapport between communities and police could encourage people to have more of the difficult conversations.  ‘When people feel socially and economically excluded, and when groups feel marginalised they tend to look inwards rather than outwards’.

Violent extremism effects us all, either directly as a victim or family/friend member of a victim; even as a family member/friend of the perpetrator; as an observer and member of a community or as a parent (carer) trying to explain to a child what is happening in their world, whilst trying to make sense of it yourself.  These experiences are traumatic and leave us with questions and difficult emotions, so I have attached some links to websites which may help to provide some support.

By: Dr Hannah Farr, Clinical Psychologist
July 2017

Dr Hannah Farr works at Wendy Bramham Therapy on Thursday mornings in Marlborough.



  • Helping children understand their responses to difficult news stories




A different and effective method of helping clients with trauma: Energy Psychotherapy

IMG_0918.JPGAt the Transforming Trauma: Energy Psychotherapy workshop on 25th February we were introduced to a way of bringing together traditional talking therapy and some of the techniques of energy psychology to alleviate distress and suffering.

Trauma was defined as any event which continues to evoke difficult feelings and/or physical symptoms. The emphasis was on there being no divide between mind and body, and that the body’s energy system can ‘know’ more accurately than the conscious mind what is at the root of an individual’s disturbance.

The seminar leaders, Sandra Figgess and Heather Redington presented case material to illustrate how energy techniques could be used in a psychotherapeutic process. We had the opportunity to try out some of these for ourselves, including muscle testing (kinesiology), a method for making enquiries of the energy system. As well as being fun to try, this also produced some interesting results: when responding to a particular enquiry, my conscious mind and my body response seemed to be at odds. As a psychodynamic therapist I am aware of the conflict between conscious and unconscious intention, so it was intriguing to see it demonstrated by the body. In energy psychotherapy this can be used to provide a working hypothesis on how to proceed.

Another point of cross over between psychoanalytic ideas and energy psychology was looked at in ‘reversals’, the issues that prevent a person achieving the desired change/healing. In energy psychology these are named and worked on using Emotional Freedom Technique. In psychoanalytic therapy they are referred to as resistances, and the work of therapy is often about bringing them into consciousness, where they are less likely to drive behaviour and prevent change.

It was a very thought-provoking workshop that has stimulated my interest in this area.

By Hannah Cowan, March 2017

For anyone wishing to pursue this method further, there will be a five day foundation course in Oxford in June and July 2017.  Please contact therapy@greenfig.org.uk or phone 01865 515156.  Or visit http://www.energypsychotherapyworks.co.uk

Energy Psychotherapy – article in BACP (children and young people) March 2017

Comments from participants: 

“Most interesting and thought-provoking”

“v nice venue, v professional, safe and respectful. V much valued the experiential elements”

“the trainers are excellent, clarifying as and when needed. I loved the experience of energy psychotherapy. Thank you”

“a very engaging day – contemplating an expansion of my practice and the possibility of integrating it”

“very supportive and valuable”

“extremely thought- and feeling-provoking”

“well presented – simplistic enough to stay conscious, complicated enough to know one couldn’t practise it without lots more training”

11 feedback forms gave the following average results:

1) overall assessment of event: 4.5 out of 5

2) speakers : 4.55 out of 5

3) value for money : 4.45 out of 5

By Wendy Bramham, March 2017

Seminar: Neuroscience and psychotherapy with Margaret Wilkinson, Sat 23rd April

Psychotherapy can help change the brain – this was the compelling take-away thought from Margaret Wilkinson’s excellent seminar on Saturday. Margaret reminded us how early childhood experiences shape not only our emotions and thoughts but our actual neuro-biology. However, these learned patterns and response do not need to be set in neural stone. Margaret outlined how recent insights from neuroscience indicate that the brain is plastic, creating new neurons and new connections throughout life. This means that whilst old patterns of thinking and feeling may be deep-seated and habitual, they can be changed. The empathic and boundaried psychotherapeutic relationship is a place which promotes this change, literally helping the brain think and feel in a new way.

Margaret helped us reflect on this through insights from her own clinical work, questions from the group and an interesting interactive exercise in which we practiced wordless empathy – simply receiving and responding to our partner’s body language and unspoken energy.

This was a good day’s learning, with plenty of food for thought and scope for exploring in our own work.

Briony Martin

(Counsellor and Psychotherapist in private practice and in an agency setting with clients presenting with addiction issues)

We are delighted with the scores from 19 delegate feedback forms:

Overall assessment of event: 4.63 out of 5

Speaker (Margaret Wilkinson): 4.58 out of 5

Value for money: 4.58 out of 5

written comments from delegates:

great organisation, lovely venue”; “excellent, clear, knowledge and experience shines through”; “speaker engaging, very knowledgeable and able to share this in a easy way”

Thank you to everyone who gives us feedback, which we take seriously and use to improve what we do.

Wendy Bramham 

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) – seminar update

Psychotherapist, Hannah Cowan, writes: “At our seminar on Saturday, Sarah House introduced us to EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) by telling us how the founder, Francine Schapiro, noticed that after a walk in the park she felt more able to manage things that had been troubling her. She connected this to the frequent eye movements that occur when walking and went on to develop a system of therapy that used rapid movement of the eyes from left to right. The purpose of the eye movements is to keep a person anchored in the present whilst remembering a traumatic memory.  Additionally these movements help to connect the left and right sides of the brain which, following trauma, can become disconnected.”

Thank you to all who participated in the event, and for your feedback. Your average rating for both the event and the speaker was 4.5 out of 5!

Our next seminar, 13 June 2015, looks at the tricky issue of how to talk about sex in the therapy room. For more information on this and all forthcoming events, visit our website wendybramham.co.uk

Author:  Hannah Cowan
Editor: Wendy Bramham
April 2015

Working with Trauma

Trauma is defined by Peter Levine as a “highly activated stress response, frozen in time”.  Part 2 of our workshop on “Working Mindfully with Complex Trauma” included learning several ‘maps’ for understanding the trauma response (which can be shared with clients); the distinct phases of trauma work; and applying new clinical techniques in role plays. There was so much richness in this one day that it is hard to briefly summarise!

One of the ‘maps’ which was really useful in understanding trauma included the development of insecure attachment styles during early childhood, which are anchored deeply in the body. This can lead to difficulties with emotional regulation throughout life and particularly when there is an intensely stressful experience or trauma.  A person can become stuck in either chronic hyper arousal states (eg anger, vigilance, anxiety, chaos, restlessness, etc) OR in chronic hypo arousal states (eg passivity, silence, hopelessness, sleep disturbances, withdrawn, rigidity, blank mind etc). The “window of tolerance” which is the space between these two states (in which under normal circumstances we can seek relaxation, reflection, understanding etc) becomes narrowed.  Our task in trauma treatment is to help the client widen that “window of tolerance” or mental space for curiosity and objectivity.

When working with trauma, we learned that it is most important to help the client develop resources for creating a sense of safety (both in and out of the therapy sessions) – helping them to know how to seek comfort, relaxation and security. It is imperative to respect the client’s defences which should be seen as RESOURCES. We help to create safety in the therapy through emotional attunement, developing a good working alliance (through education about the stress response for example) and mindfulness techniques.  It is important to be flexible and work at the client’s pace.

The majority of attendees’ post-seminar feedback was to ask for a 3rd day! We were aware there was so much to learn and we were hungry for more.  Once again, Margaret was an inspired teacher.  We were delighted to receive an average score of 4.6 out of 5 for overall assessment of the event from all attendees from this 2-day seminar.

By: Wendy Bramham, July 2014

Extraordinary testimony to survival and forgiveness

Don’t miss listening to this extraordinary story of Michelle Knight’s unbelievable ordeal at the hands of Ariel Castro who imprisoned her for 11 years in Cleveland, Ohio until last year when she was able to escape.  She is interviewed on radio 4 and you can listen again here:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0436h12.

This is a testimony to show that extreme and prolonged abuse does not have to determine or define the victim’s character or their future. It also exemplifies how forgiveness (as opposed to forgetting) can be achieved through understanding the deeper psychological motivation behind cruelty.

Michelle suffered unimaginable cruelty which included almost daily rape and being chained up in the basement for months on end with a sock in her mouth and a motorcycle helmet on her head. She was beaten, starved and exposed to cold temperatures for 6 months without clothes or blankets. Her several pregnancies resulted in miscarriages due to beatings by Castro.

Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus were also kidnapped and imprisoned by Ariel Castro. Gina was only 14. Amanda Berry had Castro’s child.

Michelle has now written a memoire Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed’ is published by Weinstein Books.