Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – what is it and how to treat it

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD is when, following a traumatic incident, individuals experience distressing symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive thoughts about the incident. This can mean that they re-experience the event, they might avoid any memories of the event or even small triggers which bring on memories of the event and they often exhibit symptoms of low mood, anxiety and depression and negative thoughts about themselves, others or the future. Individuals with PTSD are often very sensitive to things around them; this might manifest itself in being on guard more than other people, maybe jumpy or quick to react to small things. They might also come across as more aggressive or reckless because small things might make them more stressed than usual and they therefore react in a more extreme way than they would have normally.

What kinds of traumas cause PTSD?

Normally the events are ones where the individual feared for their life or someone else’s life. Individuals can develop PTSD if they were victim to the event, saw the event or even if they heard about it happening to someone who was important to them.

Events such as road traffic accidents or assaults of any nature may bring on these symptoms, burglary and rape too. Sometimes repeated exposure to the details of an event through work can cause the same effects.

Why does it happen?

Shapiro said that when we experience a threatening event, our brain’s memory systems don’t work as well as normal. When it’s processing the traumatic event it can be too upsetting to process and so it simply doesn’t turn it into a memory. This means it remains a current event in our minds so that our body reacts as if it is in that event again, and so it can feel like it’s happening now (rather than in the past) and right here (rather than where the event happened).

How do they treat it?

Government guidelines recommend CBT therapy, EMDR or anti-anxiety and anti-depressants as a treatment for PTSD.

What is EMDR?

Do you know the saying, ‘sleep on it’? Or ‘everything feels better after a good night’s sleep’? This is because when we sleep, and enter REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, the brain starts to process what happened the day before, and to make sense and store the memories of it in a helpful, useful way. This way, when we wake up, we can access the information from the day before in an easier and more accessible way. EMDR is said to work in a similar way but for traumatic events.

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy.

EMDR is complex, thorough and goes through 8 phases of treatment including History and Treatment Planning, Preparation (where trust between the client and the practitioner is established), Assessment, Desensitisation, Installation (of a new positive belief), Body Scan and Closure.

It is perhaps the Desensitisation stage for which the treatment is most known. In it, the therapist will encourage the client to identify some of the disturbing emotions they are experiencing and asks them to move their eyes through different sets of structured movements as they focus on different aspects of the trauma. This movement, which is thought to mimic that of REM, desensitises them to the trauma.

If you think that you or someone you know are suffering from PTSD and would like to receive therapy for PTSD then I would encourage you to refer yourself to your local IAPT service which is part of the NHS and which provides free treatment for this disorder. Your GP can provide this number. In Buckinghamshire please google Healthy Minds Bucks. If you do not wish to have to wait for treatment then please search for EMDR therapist in your local area.

www.happii.uk is a website providing information about mental health and wellbeing. Happii.uk is provided by Anna Batho, a therapist working in High Wycombe and providing therapy in Amersham and the wider Buckinghamshire (Bucks) region.

You can contact her here.

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