Dealing With PTSD
It is inevitable that throughout our lives we will all experience our fair share of stresses, strains and difficult situations. For most of us, recovery from these events will be a natural process which occurs over time, without the need for further help. For others however, certain traumatic and frightening events can trigger a reaction which can last for a period of months, or even years.
This reaction is known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD for short, a condition which manifests both physically and psychologically and is thought to occur in approximately 30% of individuals who experience traumatic events.
The term PTSD is used to describe a range of symptoms which occur following on from involvement in a traumatic event. These events are considered to be both beyond our control, and outside of our normal human experiences. The event itself could be anything from witnessing a road traffic accident, natural disaster or terrorist attack, through to being the victim of a mugging, or witnessing harrowing scenes whilst serving in the armed forces. Whether you are present during a traumatic event, a witness, or a direct victim, the intense distress and helplessness you felt in the midst of that situation can have a deep and long lasting psychological effect and can trigger a series of symptoms which can seriously impact your life. In some individuals the symptoms will develop very shortly after the event, but for others the onset may be delayed by a number of months, or even years after the trauma first occurred.
Some sufferers are not comfortable with the use of the term ‘disorder’ as used in the term ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’, as they consider their reactions to be natural and understandable responses to events that are abnormal, and would thus prefer the use of the term ‘syndrome’. However, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the official medical terminology which is used to describe the condition by organisations such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), and for that reason we will continue to use the above terminology throughout.
Symptoms of PTSD
PTSD will usually occur after an individual has been involved in, or has witnessed a traumatic event such as a serious road traffic accident, a natural disaster, being held hostage, a violent death, military combat, a sexual assault, or another situation in which an individual feels extreme fear, and or helplessness. After events such as these, PTSD will usually develop fairly quickly, though for some (below15%), the development of symptoms will be delayed by a period of weeks, months, or sometimes years. Symptoms will vary from person to person, but often involve the sufferer ‘reliving’ the event to some extent through a combination of flashbacks and nightmares. Re-experiencing the trauma can lead to sleep problems, concentration difficulties, feelings of isolation and depression and a variety of additional symptoms. The severity and persistence of these symptoms will vary greatly from person to person. For some sufferers, symptoms will be interspersed with periods of remission and for others they will be constant and acute enough to considerably impact quality of life.
Some of the key symptoms of PTSD are outlined below:
Re-experiencing parts of the trauma. It is quite common for individuals with PTSD to relive parts of the event through vivid flashbacks and nightmares. It may be that something in everyday life such as a sound or image has triggered this response, or this may occur for no identifiable reason. Flashbacks, intrusive images, thoughts and nightmares can be extremely distressing for sufferers as they can make them feel as though the event is happening all over again, even if only for a brief moment.
Hypervigilance. Often, sufferers find that after a traumatic event they remain constantly alert and vigilant to potentially threatening events, and are extremely anxious and easily startled. This ‘hypervigilance’ can also come coupled with irritability, angry outbursts, aggressive behaviour, sleep problems and concentration difficulties.
Avoiding memories. Reliving a traumatic experience is extremely upsetting, so understandably some sufferers attempt to avoid anything and anyone which may trigger a response. Sufferers sometimes believe that feeling nothing at all is better than the negative and upsetting feelings they keep experiencing so will try to numb themselves emotionally. Avoiding situations, people, conversation, activities and thoughts that directly relate to the trauma or are a reminder of the trauma is a common reaction.
Sufferers often try to keep themselves busy so that they don’t have time to think about the trauma and thus it becomes easier to repress those very difficult memories. Many sufferers will develop an extremely pessimistic outlook to life, losing interest in activates they once used to enjoy, disregarding the idea of making plans for the future, finding it difficult to keep or form close relationships and generally detaching themselves on both a physical and emotional level from others.
Other common symptoms and indicators of the condition include inexplicable physical symptoms such as severe headaches, dizzy spells, upset stomach, sweating, the shakes and chest pains, as well as mental health problems such as depression, phobias and anxiety. PTSD is a mental health condition in itself and the symptoms and side effects experienced can result in a breakdown of personal relationships and work relationships which can lead to further distress and upset. As discussed in the above, a very common symptom of PTSD is avoiding memories and repressing emotions, so it is often friends, family members or colleagues who identify warning symptoms and signs of the condition before the actual sufferers themselves. PTSD is a very sensitive issue and often sufferers may feel uncomfortable opening up about their experiences and may not be able to recognise that they require extra support.
Who suffers from PTSD?
Anyone who has witnessed a severe trauma could be susceptible to PTSD and it is estimated that up to one in 10 individuals may be affected by the condition at some stage during their lives. However, some individuals who work within certain professions, and some individuals who exhibit certain risk factors may be more prone to develop the condition than others. According to some studies the condition is present in approximately one in two female rape victims, one in three teenagers who have survived a car accident, two in three prisoners of war and one in five fire-fighters. Those who have previously suffered from a mental health condition or who have a family history of mental health concerns are also considered to be at a ‘high risk’ of developing PTSD after being exposed to a harrowing event. It is estimated that up to four in five PTSD sufferers are affected by other mental health problems.
PTSD diagnosis can be problematic for health care professionals because very often sufferers will not feel comfortable talking openly about how they are feeling, and in a large number of cases may not even seek treatment until weeks, months or even years after symptom onset. Visiting a GP can be a very difficult ordeal for sufferers, as discussing how they feel is required in order for a diagnosis to be reached. However, confronting these emotions and asking for professional help is the first step towards overcoming the condition so that sufferers are able to move forward in their lives. The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPSYCH) have developed several sets of criteria in order to help medical professionals reach an accurate diagnosis, including many of the symptoms mentioned above (in ‘What are the symptoms?’) such as flashbacks, nightmares, irritability, mood swings, exhaustion, depression and relationship difficulties.
If symptoms such as these began after a traumatic event but have started to ease off and improve in the six week post trauma period, then it may be that they were part of the body’s natural coping mechanism. However, if the symptoms persist for longer than six weeks and show no signs of improving then it is advisable to seek medical advice from your GP. Because each sufferer will experience their own unique PTSD symptoms, your GP will usually wish to discuss your symptoms with you in depth. They may ask you whether you believe the trauma is a result of a recent event or as a result of something from a long time ago, what symptoms you are experiencing, your physical and psychological health background and your current overall health status.
Hypnotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder
As well as undergoing the treatment recommended by their health care provider, some PTSD sufferers also find that hypnotherapy treatment is beneficial. Though there is no solid evidence to support the efficacy of hypnotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, many sufferers have experienced success with the treatment. The aim of hypnotherapy is to unlock stored emotion so that the trauma can be revisited and explored from a different perspective. There are various forms of hypnotherapy a practitioner may use and in order to determine which is the most suitable for you, a practitioner will usually begin by performing an assessment of your personal circumstances. In most cases practitioners will tend to use cognitive hypnotherapy or analytical hypnotherapy, both of which function on a deeper level than suggestion hypnotherapy and are able to work with the unconscious mind so that negative beliefs which were built up during the trauma can be explored and alleviated.
A hypnotherapy practitioner will treat you and your problems with sensitivity and understanding and will discuss and explain any decisions regarding you treatment plan with you thoroughly before treatment begins or any changes are implemented. If you would like to find out more about how hypnotherapy could help you to over come post-traumatic stress disorder, you can contact a qualified hypnotherapy practitioner in your local area by using the search tool located on the homepage of this site.
How Many Sessions To Start With?
It is advised to start with a minimum of 4 sessions and measure the progress being made along the way. This ensures time for feedback, acknowledgement of successes, rectifying any setbacks and fine-tuning positive behavioural changes. If the presenting situation is more serious with complications that must be addressed and dealt with, then it will be essential to take a set package of 8 or 12 sessions.
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