Trauma counselling can be helpful after someone experiences a deeply traumatic event.
The specific type of event may vary; for example, a car crash, an assault (sexual or otherwise), loss or bereavement, being involved in war or violence, or even seeing terrible things happen to someone else.
What is Post Traumatic Stress?
A collection of reactions – feelings, thoughts, behaviour – which are experienced following a sudden distressing event which is outside the range of normal everyday human experience. It is the unexpectedness of the incident which seems to evoke the stress because it undermines a person’s trust in normalcy – you can never quite believe in an ordered existence any more.
When does it occur and to whom?
Signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), such as those listed below, may not appear for days, weeks or months after the event, and can affect those not directly involved in an incident – e.g. to those who witness an accident, or to rescue workers, or to relatives of those involved.
Why does it occur?
It is the way by which our mind and body ‘processes’ the event, to try to make sense of it, so that we can eventually react to it in a less distressing way. The processing is often made apparent through physical, emotional and psychological signs.
Signs and symptoms:
- recurrent intrusive recollections of the event
- changes in sleep (e.g. not being able to sleep, or wanting to sleep all the time)
- recurrent vivid dreams about the event
- feeling or behaving as if the event were happening again
- changes in behaviour (e.g. short temper)
- changes in feelings about yourself (e.g. feeling useless)
- numbed responses
- changes in work effectiveness (e.g. poor concentration)
- reduced interest in the external world (e.g. feelings of detachment and estrangement)
- a sense of always needing to be ultra-alert
- a sense of being vulnerable, leading to a fear of losing control
- avoidance of activities and / or places which arouse recollections of the event
- forgetting an important aspect of the event
- guilt at surviving, or for things not done
Treating PTSD and Trauma
As a general rule, the earlier the sufferer is treated, the more effective therapy is likely to be. However, even in cases when the original trauma happened a long time ago, psychotherapy can have a very dramatic positive impact. In the short term, there may be a benefit in using medication, such as an anti-depressant, but for the long term treatment of PTSD and trauma, therapies that work on changing reactions and behaviours, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitisation reprocessing (EMDR), are very helpful approaches, often in tandem with learning how to identify “avoidance behaviour”, and acquiring techniques that can help to keep anxiety levels under control.