Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and TRAUMA
The nature of trauma
Trauma can be described as:
- an abrupt shift in physical experience that elicits similar shifts in mental experience (1).
In other words, a sudden and unexpected threat to the physical body will result in a sudden shift in mental processing. This shift tends to be dissociative (split off or disconnected from normal mental processes) in nature. It is seen as an adaptive response that protects the person by distancing them from pain and fear.
Unfortunately, in some cases this shift may also prevent the natural processing of the event by dissociating the memories so effectively that they remain out of conscious awareness.
- Traumatic events that do not pose a physical threat to the body are referred to as stress responses. However, they can also result in dissociative experiences similar to those encountered in physical trauma, resulting in the same maladaptive response.
- Responses to trauma can generally be expressed in two ways: acute stress reactions or post traumatic stress disorder.
Acute stress reactions
Acute stress reactions are immediate and brief responses to intense stressors that will typically last from a few hours and up to 4 weeks. The core symptoms are anxiety and depression, which may be experienced separately or both together.
- Anxiety as a result of experiencing a threatening situation (e.g. a road accident)
- Depression as a result of experiencing a loss during the threatening situation (e.g. a road accident in which a companion is killed).
Other symptoms could include:
- Feelings of being dazed
- Lack of concentration
Coping strategies also form part of the acute stress reaction and can include avoidance and denial.
Experienced as a belief that the event has not happened, or as amnesia for the event itself.
Both avoidance and denial will recede as the anxiety, depression and other symptoms are worked through. In effect, the dissociated material is processed and safely reintegrated naturally as the person talks about the incident, thinks it through, expresses emotion, dreams etc.
Unfortunately if the coping strategies and defence mechanisms are maintained for too long a period they may become maladaptive and prevent the working through of the traumatic material (2). This can then result in a condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD has become relatively well known, over the past few decades, due to members of the armed forces returning from combat zones with the psychological condition which may include some of the following symptoms:
Intensive intrusive imagery (flashbacks)
Recurring distressing dreams
Difficulty in recalling stressful events at will
Avoidance of reminders of the event
Diminished interest in activity
Inability to feel emotion (numbness)
However, PTSD is not only developed by people in a combat zone and the above symptoms can be experienced after prolonged periods of psychological stress (e.g. bullying, emotional abuse etc.) or learning of the sudden death or serious injury of someone close to you can also result in PTSD. One off events such as rape or a mugging or a natural disaster could also lead to the same condition.
It is important to acknowledge too that not everyone who experiences such stressors will go on to develop PTSD.
PTSD is estimated to affect about 1 in every 3 people who have a traumatic experience, but it's not clear exactly why some people develop the condition and others don't (3).
Hypnotherapy and EMDR for PTSD and Trauma
If you have mild symptoms of PTSD, or you've had symptoms for less than four weeks, an approach called watchful waiting may be recommended.
Watchful waiting involves carefully monitoring your symptoms to see whether they improve or get worse. It's sometimes recommended because 2 in every 3 people who develop problems after a traumatic experience get better within a few weeks without treatment.
For more engrained symptoms of PTSD or Trauma, hypnotherapy can help stabilise the emotional state of an individual before approaching the traumatised material with either The Rewind Technique or another therapeutic approach called EMDR .
Once the traumatic material has been processed I also help individuals reintegrate into living a life with improved relationships, less anxiety and improved mood.
If you feel you would like to explore recovering from PTSD or Trauma with hypnotherapy or EMDR please do get in touch.
1. Gelder M, Andreasen N and Lopez-Ibor J (2009) The New Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry Oxford University Press
2. Davison GC, Neale JM and Kring AM (2003) Abnormal Psychology John Wiley and Sons