Ian Wright impressed by the work of Hampton Trust during the filming of his documentary- i news article 3rd May 2021

Ian Wright’s psychiatrist reveals how she helps him confront memories of childhood abuse

A new BBC documentary sees the former England and Arsenal striker talk for the first time at length about his experience growing up in an abusive household.

Ian Wright has loved Match of the Day since he was a little boy, and it was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream when he became a pundit on the football highlights show. Which makes the following story all the more distressing.

When Wright was a child, his tyrannical stepfather would not let him watch his favourite programme. Rather, he forced his nine-year-old stepson to stand facing the wall while he enjoyed the show. If the boy attempted to turn round, he would be screamed at.

Why did his stepfather do it? “Just because he could. To hear the Match of the Day music and know you can’t watch it – it was torture. So unnecessary, just cruel.”

In his first visit for half a century to the one-room flat where he grew up in Brockley, south-east London, Wright says: “This wall doesn’t realise what it’s done to me. I’m making sure my back’s towards it.”

These moving moments come from Ian Wright: Home Truths, a new BBC documentary in which the former England and Arsenal striker talks for the first time at length about his experience growing up in an abusive household.

The 57-year-old also explores how it is an alarmingly widespread problem today. By the age of 16, one in five children in this country will have endured abuse. In the last year, 1.6 million women have experienced domestic abuse, and in 90 per cent of such cases there was a child present.

Having spent “50 years trying to avoid what happened,” Wright first disclosed the abuse he endured on Desert Island Discs last year. Every day since, he says, “I receive messages from people who had similar experiences growing up. Not speaking is what helps abuse continue.”

‘Learning to do things differently’

When people decide to confront experiences like this, they often need professional help. One of those helping Wright process the horrors of his childhood is Dr Nuri Gené-Cos, a consultant psychiatrist and trauma specialist for adults at Maudsley Hospital in South London.

She tells Wright that he was subjected to the “worst betrayal of your life” by his parents and that clinically he would be considered the victim of severe emotional abuse.

Speaking to i, Dr Gené-Cos says that the frustration Wright can still intermittently experience is rooted in his childhood trauma. Explaining how he can move on from this, the doctor says he need not feel trapped as that helpless, furious child anymore. “The grown-up Ian can access that nine-year-old self inside himself and start to father him.

“He can tell him, ‘you don’t need to get so angry. I’m a grown-up, and I’m a father, and I can protect you now.’ That’s the beginning of learning to do things differently.”

Dr Nuri Gené-Cos says Wright is an “inspiration” for others to seek help (Photo: Riccardo Vito Carlucci)

Sadly, these issues are all too topical, she says. “Lockdown has only increased the problem of domestic abuse.”

The Domestic Abuse Act was given royal assent last week, extending protections against controlling and coercive behaviour, making it an offence to intentionally strangle someone, and giving victims priority for homelessness assistance.

But Dr Gené-Cos warns there is still woeful under-funding of many mental health services, which needs to be addressed. “We all need to take responsibility to prevent these cases from happening in the future. The problem is that we severely under-resource services like mine. These people need our attention, and we’ve simply neglected them.

“We are investing in short-term ideas and quick fixes and ignoring the future, but the reality is that kids are our future. We have to invest in their nutrition, education and support. We don’t want more people in prison – they are full already. I bet you 80 per cent of people in prison have had a violent upbringing.”

Helping abusers reform their ways

Examining how different people are trying to deal with domestic abuse, Ian Wright visits the Hampton Trust in Southampton as part of his documentary. The organisation runs courses for people who are at risk of committing, or have already committed, abuse.

Vicky Gilroy, who helps to run the courses, says: “We see a lot of behaviours that individuals don’t recognise as abuse. Our job is to help them in understanding that.”
It’s a very grave problem. “We know that every six seconds a woman is assaulted in this country – that’s without even taking into account coercive control.

“We are working at giving perpetrators skills and strategies that they can put in place within the family environment so that it reduces the exposure of their children to abuse. If we can reduce that exposure, those children are going to have better life chances.”

Vicky Gilroy of the Hampton Trust treats domestic abusers
Vicky Gilroy of the Hampton Trust treats domestic abusers

Wright also meets Wes, who has a history of domestic violence and referred himself to the Hampton Trust when he became a father for the first time. Wes outlines how the techniques he has learnt on the course are helping him to improve his behaviour at home.

Wright is impressed by the work he sees at the Hampton. “We have to give these people the opportunity to change,” he says. “We have to break the cycle.”

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