Being involved in or witnessing a traumatic event effects everyone in different ways. These can include; loss, road traffic accidents, natural disasters and criminal events. It is common to be upset, distressed or confused afterwards, but this doesn’t normally last long. When the effects are particularly severe or last longer than a month you may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It is thought that PTSD is caused by the brain being unable to correctly process the memory of the traumatic event, possibly to prepare you for a future traumatic event by causing hyper-arousal. Therefore, treatment focuses on confronting your memories and processing them in detail, whilst noticing unhelpful thoughts you may have.
The effects of trauma will vary from person to person so it is important to speak to one of our psychologists to establish the best approach for you.
PTSD has both physical and psychological effects. Some of the common symptoms are:
- Tension and muscle aches
- Vivid flashbacks
- Intrusive thoughts
- Intense distress if encounter reminders
- Disturbed sleep
- Concentration problems
Some people will also use avoidance behaviours to relieve their symptoms such as;
Keeping busy, avoiding situations, repressing memories, feeling detached or numb, inability to express emotion, alcohol or drug misuse
Who can experience trauma?
Anyone who experiences a traumatic event can develop PTSD, however, not everybody does. There are particular factors which can make a person more or less vulnerable including:
- Experiencing repeated trauma
- Getting physically injured or feeling pain
- Lack of support from friends, family or professionals
- Experiencing extra stress at the time of the event
- Previous experiences of anxiety or depression
- Working in high risk situations
- Being a refugee or asylum seeker
- Experiencing childhood abuse
Trauma can take various forms and each of these can cause a different type of impact
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a single trauma
- Complex trauma following multiple or prolonged traumatic events
- Trauma following violence, including robbery and rape
- Early childhood trauma
- Trauma following a physical health condition, including trauma caused by injury, illness or invasive medical procedures
- Trauma following childbirth
- Combat trauma
- Refugee trauma
- Trauma following natural disasters
- Traumatic grief which may occur following a death of someone important
How does therapy help with trauma?
NICE guidelines suggest that when identifying the most appropriate treatment option there are many factors to consider including; history, severity and the amount of time you have experienced these issues for and the presence of any other disorders (such as depression or anxiety). Guidelines recommend that regular and continuous sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) are effective approaches.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) –CBT is a therapy concerned with the relationship between thoughts and behaviour. Trauma focused CBT aims to help you to recognise the expectations that you may have following a traumatic event, such as, expecting to go on experiencing negative feelings and expecting certain triggers to bring up unwanted feelings. It will involve a guided re-experiencing of the event in order to allow the trauma to be processed and re-filed in your memory. You will then work with your psychologist to find a more useful way of reacting and behaving. This will in turn help you restart activities you may have been avoiding and help you cope with other symptoms.
Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) – EMDR suggests that trauma arises from the brain being unable to process information during a traumatic event as it would a normal memory. By creating a left-right eye movement the information processing systems in the brain are stimulated, aiming to help you process the traumatic events and speed up readjustment and recovery.
Mindfulness – Mindfulness is a practice which has Buddhist origins and has been around for thousands of years. It is state which is achieved by focusing in on the here and now, acknowledging thoughts, feelings and sensations but not attempting to get rid of them or judge them.
Medication – medication is not usually prescribed for PTSD itself but may be for the associated difficulties such as depression, difficulty sleeping or if you are unready for a talking treatment. Psychologists cannot prescribe medication so you would need to also work with a psychiatrist or general practitioner.