Dr Fergus Heffernan
I started out my life as a teenager in the Irish Defence Forces in 1975. I did what many soldiers were doing at that time and served for six months with the United Nations Interim Force in the Lebanon.
From early on I began to get an understanding that it was not the events I was a part of or witnessed in Lebanon that were causing me difficulties, instead it was the fear and anxiety that came home with me in my head, that I never got a chance to process at the time of the event. This in turn was reconnecting to stored memories of fear and anxiety from my childhood, fears and anxiety of growing up in a home bereft with mental illness.
Thus began my lifelong search for understanding of how Psychology, Physiology, Neurology, Emotions, Biology, Genetics, and Spirituality came together like a mobile over a child’s cot to create the human condition. It has been a challenging, frightening, sometimes overwhelming, but ultimately lifesaving journey of experiences (some good, some not so good).
I have been privileged in my life so far to have worked with human beings in the darkest places on the planet as well as with humans in the darkest moments of their lives. I have worked with genocide victims in Rwanda, soldiers in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, victims of famine in Ethiopia, tsunami victims in Sri Lanka, earthquake victims in Nicaragua and hurricane victims in Haiti.
I have learned so much on in my job, heading up psychological distress teams responding to crisis, including many things that I could never have learned from a book. My greatest learning however has been witnessing the power of the human spirit in action. The miracle of watching people even in the most distressing circumstances, come through and be able to live a life of serenity and peace in their own heads. Why was this? It was because they had to learn to rely on self and community, just to get through the day.
The power of the human spirit is indomitable. Although I consider myself very lucky to have acquired vast and very varied academic qualifications, realistically all they gave me was knowledge and not wisdom ? You can go searching all the libraries in the world looking for wisdom, but even if you do, it won’t know where to find you. Wisdom does not come from knowing things, it comes from knowing yourself!!
I have been privileged to have delivered key note addresses at major conferences and to have taught in major universities all over the world. I have also collaborated with major leaders of industry but without doubt my greatest pleasure now is to sit with ordinary honest to God Irish citizens in classrooms in schools, in community and parish halls, in rural and urban Ireland and being afforded the privilege of listening to their stories of survival, in an increasingly globalized Ireland where our country’s leadership seems to have grown an innate deafness to the plight of ordinary common citizens of our State.
Fergus joined the Irish Defence Forces straight from school as a young recruit in the Curragh Camp. He served for a six month Tour of Duty in the Lebanon while he was almost still a child.
Fergus has a BSc in Clinical Psychology, an MSc in Family Therapies, an MSc in Cellular Molecular Biology and a Phd in Bio Psychology.
Fergus has spent most of his adult life working in some of the most distressed areas on the planet. He has dealt with soldiers with trauma from Battleground Operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor, Central Africa and Bosnia. He has also worked, heading up Psychological Distress Response Teams, with victims of genocide in Rwanda, as well as victims of natural disasters in areas of the world affected by hurricanes, famine, earthquakes, and tsunamis.
Fergus is a visiting Professor at many major universities and is much sought after as a speaker at events and conferences all over the world.
Fergus would say his greatest privilege has not being the educational qualifications or the worldwide travel, but rather the privilege of watching the human spirit at work, protecting people in the darkest moments of their lives in the darkest places on the planet giving them a purpose to stay going in life.