PTSD Treatment with EMDR Psychotherapy
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
The abbreviation PTSD is a medical term commonly used to encompass the causes and symptoms of trauma as discussed on my trauma page on this website. There are differences with full-blown PTSD symptoms however (see below) and several of the symptoms have to appear together to arrive at the diagnosis.
In the case of a single event, initially, strong emotions or even silent withdrawal would generally be considered to be normal reactions to abnormal events, therefore PTSD cannot properly be diagnosed until a month after that event, with the month often described as a period of watchful waiting. This would be the normal time that someone might take to begin to show recovery from the mental and emotional horror and shock. After this period of watchful waiting and if there is no sense of feeling better then it is likely to be time to get help.
Multiple and complex traumatic scenarios may need more immediate help and the period of watchful waiting may be dispensed with.
Notably, some people experience the most horrifying trauma imaginable but eventually, after the initial shock has worn off, they gradually return to health and remain healthy. Others experience a comparably mild stressful event which is sufficient to produce a full-blown disorder. Therefore some time needs to elapse to give our innate self-healing system a chance to do its job. When it’s clear that it’s not going to then it’s time to seek help. Be aware though that symptoms can occur months or even years later: therefore the 4 week guideline must be tempered with common sense and you should seek help if you feel you need it.
Experiences triggering the PTSD can be anything disturbing and extremely unpleasant outside of normal experience which could be as varied as the London and Manchester bombings, incidents in the war in Afghanistan, or the Hillsborough football stadium disaster. These can have a lasting effect on you especially if you are actually present during these disasters.
Likewise, if you are involved in, or just witness, events such as road accidents, muggings, and sexual or physical assaults, these experiences may also cause you deep emotional shock and injury. There is no doubt that the reactions that may follow can seriously hamper and interfere with your life.
Just as in any other traumatic experience there are any number of traumatic events which may trigger PTSD:
- Personal trauma
- Violent crime
- Sexual or physical assault
- Road traffic accidents
- Difficulties during childbirth
- Child abuse
- Natural Disasters
- Witnessing a terrible event
- Refugees & civilian survivors of war
Background to PTSDThe term ‘PTSD’ was first described in relation to the American veterans of the Vietnam War, but the problem has existed for a lot longer and has had a variety of names. During and after the First World War, large numbers of soldiers were said to be suffering from ‘shell shock’, ‘soldier’s heart’ or ‘battle fatigue’. The symptoms referred to by these terms would now be called PTSD or ‘combat stress’. As discussed above however, the term PTSD can be used to describe the psychological trauma resulting from any traumatic event, not only war related trauma.
So, What are the symptoms?If you have faced a traumatic experience, you may simply feel emotionally numb to begin with, and feelings of distress may not emerge straight away. But, sooner or later, you are likely to develop emotional and physical reactions, and changes in behaviour, which may include some of the following:
- vivid flashbacks (feeling that the trauma is happening all over again)
- intrusive negative thoughts and images
- intense distress at real or symbolic reminders of the trauma
- panic attacks
Further Symptoms- Avoiding memories
- Keeping busy
- Avoiding situations that remind you of the trauma
- Repressing memories (being unable to remember aspects of the event)
- Feeling detached, cut off and emotionally numb
- Being unable to express affection
- Feeling there’s no point in planning for the future
- Being easily upset or angry
- Disturbed sleep
- Irritability and aggressive behaviour
- Lack of concentration
- Extreme alertness
- Being easily startled
In complex trauma you may also have other symptoms, such as severe anxiety, a phobia or depression or you may develop a dissociative disorder.
Remember, there’s no time limit on the appearance of distress, and some survivors may not develop post-traumatic symptoms until many years after the event.
Why do some people develop PTSD when others don’t?It’s estimated that up to three per cent of the general population is likely to be affected by PTSD at some point. Anyone can develop PTSD following experiences such as those mentioned above, but remember that not everyone does so.
Fearing for your life
Events in which others die, or where you thought you were going to die, may lead to more long-lasting stress responses. A study of Falkland War veterans found that people who had actually been involved in actual combat were most likely to get PTSD.
Man-made disasters, particularly those involving deliberate acts of violence, terrorism, or exploitation, seem to cause longer-lasting and more painful emotional consequences than natural disasters. The crucial factor may be that such experience destroys people’s trust in others, particularly if they involve someone you have depended on.
People who remain conscious throughout the experience are more vulnerable to PTSD because of the horrific memories etched on the mind, whereas those who lose consciousness or suffer head injury are often protected.
Your personal history can make you more prone to PTSD. If a traumatic event triggers memories of an earlier distressing experience (which may not always be consciously remembered but stored in the body-mind), the effect may be much worse. Similarly, if you are already going through emotional problems, you are much more vulnerable.
Guilt feelings & Survivor guilt
Sometimes survivors of trauma feel guilty, as though they were responsible for the event, or could have done more to save themselves or others. Post-traumatic stress disorder studies showed that those who blamed themselves in some way for the outcome of the disaster were more at risk of severe and long-term distress.
How can I cope after a traumatic event?• After a traumatic event, people often feel numb, dazed and disorientated. Talking about what has happened to them may be the last thing they want to do. Many survivors have said that what they found most useful, to begin with, was practical advice, followed by information and support with day-to-day tasks.
• Talking about your feelings may be the best way of coming to terms with the experience. Everyone will have their own unique responses, and will need to proceed at their own pace. You may turn to friends, relatives and colleagues, or seek professional help when you decide you do want to talk about what you’ve been through.
• It is important that you have an opportunity to talk to someone when you are ready to do so. However, some research has shown that formally debriefing with trained debriefers within two or three days after traumatic events can help stop PTSD occurring. This can be done individually or with a group of people who also experienced the event. This should focus on making sense of the event by going through the factual details and creating a helpful story so as to fill any gaps but WITHOUT focussing on the feelings. Making you describe all the emotion feelings and bodily sensations in great detail at this point may make PTSD more likely, because it may help to imprint and establish memories of the event in a deeper way, increasing the risk of flashbacks, nightmares or emotional flooding.
• However, if you bottle up stress responses over weeks, months or years, they may become deeply ingrained and cause serious problems. You may remain in a state of extreme tension long after the trauma has passed. You may find yourself avoiding situations, in case they remind you of the trauma, so that life becomes increasingly restricted. Not uncommonly, you may turn to drink or drugs to blot out the feelings causing further problems.
Leaflet from MIND About: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Real Life Stories:1. Rebecca's story about living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
2. Paul Holmes tells us about his incredible journey from the night of a train wreck, through PTSD and depression and out the other side
3. The wives and partners of servicemen with post-traumatic stress disorder on how they live with the terrifying condition
4. Lisa French was on the London bus that was attacked in the July 7 bombings. Two years later, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder
5. Andy, an ex-fire officer, describes his experience of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and how the right treatment has helped him to move on
Please refer to the EMDR articles suitable for the layman on the Welcome Page of this website - and also see my chosen list of trauma-related books, helpful for the layman, on the page called Books ...... there is no extra charge to you for ordering these books via this website.